You’ve probably heard the expression, “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” It’s really bad advice when it comes to marketing today. Emails are more likely to yield results when the recipient has actually asked for them. That’s what opt-in marketing is about. You get the user to see the value in your newsletter, and they’ll agree to receive it — they opt-in. Data has shown that opt-in email marketing is pretty much the only effective method available. That’s as much about changing buyer behaviors as the new anti-spam technologies.

All that is pretty much common wisdom at this point, but for most small business owners, that’s all it is: something they know about. What matters is realizing how to make it work in practice. Learning how to set up and use opt-in email marketing in your business will give you an immediate edge over most competitors. This guide will see you through that, starting from practical, valuable definitions.

What is Opt-In Email Marketing

Let’s start by discussing what opt-in email marketing means. The part about email marketing should be clear enough. Email marketing is a type of direct marketing where you present users with content and information delivered to their inbox. It has an impressive track record in converting prospects and inspiring trust.

Naturally, we’re not going to talk about any old email marketing method. You’ll need all the advantages email marketing can give you if you plan to see your small business thrive and grow, y. That means using opt-in. Opt-in email marketing is simply about sending newsletters and emails to people who have permitted you to do that.

Before Opt-In: Emails by the Bulk

Here’s what your average email marketer would do before. They’d just buy a list of emails and start bombarding them with newsletters and promotions. There was a wholesale, by-the-bulk mentality to the whole process. The lists they had bought didn’t exactly come with a lot of info on each recipient. So, they’d send a lot of emails thinking that some would end up in the inbox of the right person. They could do that because the smart anti-spam tech back then wasn’t all that smart. It could be easily fooled to place unwanted, irrelevant emails into the user’s inbox. That doesn’t fly anymore.

With AI and smart anti-spam software advancing by leaps and bounds over the recent years, that type of email “marketing” is out of the picture. Instead, we try to get people’s permission to provide them with relevant and interesting information that actually adds value. And it’s not about asking random people to opt-in — the visitors that land on your website will already be interested in your field or your business. That means they’d be happy to receive newsletters and content-rich emails from you.

Combined with a good CRM like RunSensible, opt-in email marketing brings you the added advantage of customization. Since you know which lead magnet the user wanted, you can discover their problems and preferences. You can leverage this extra info to design and send customized newsletters. Obviously, that leads to much better conversion rates. The primary reason you should focus on “opt-in” in your email marketing is to avoid spam status. If you start sending emails to people who have had no dealings with you or have not asked for your newsletter, both your Email Service Provider (ESP) and the recipient’s inbox service (like Gmail, for example) will decide that you’re sending spam. That means your emails will never even be seen by anybody, let alone being read.

Next, I’ll reveal how you can start your opt-in email marketing by making an email list. Before that, however, I want to introduce you to a controversy about what type of opt-in businesses should use. You may have heard the terms single and double opt-in before. They’re the two ways you can get permission to send emails to your visitor. But what are they and why should it matter to you?

Single Opt-in or Double Opt-In?

A visitor lands on your website and sees the ebook you’ve used as a lead magnet. It’s relevant and has an interesting title, and the user decides it’s valuable enough to subscribe to your newsletter. They fill out the form, get the content, and end up in your email nurture list. Now, have they really opted in? Not everyone answers this with a “yes.”

The scenario I described is known as a single opt-in. The fact that the user entered their info is permission enough to add them to your email list. But some marketers believe that you should go for a double opt-in instead. In the double opt-in, the user will receive an email telling them they’ve signed up for your newsletter and asks them to verify that by following a link in the email. The user is only considered as a lead and added to your email list when they verify that first opt-in.

Naturally, the second opt-in seems like a bad idea — they’ve already given their permission, and asking for another action may drive them away. This is also backed up by data, which suggests businesses that use a single opt-in can grow their list faster by 30%. If you’re just starting your email marketing, a faster way of growing your list is invaluable.

Of course, those who promote double opt-in make some good points too. They argue that while your list won’t grow as much or as fast, it will be more high-quality. There is evidence suggesting that double opt-in lists can get you a higher click-through rate and a lower bounce rate. These advantages are more appealing to businesses who already have an email nurture list and want to enhance it. It’s up to you to decide which of these two types suits your business best. Whichever you choose, you’ll need to follow some basic steps to start your list.


How to Start and Grow your Opt-In Email List

The first thing you need to start your opt-in email list is a lead magnet on your website. You’ll need to offer something of value. Ebooks and whitepapers are standard lead magnets, for example. To make an ebook, you can put together some comprehensive data and info on a subject relevant to your business. The point is to provide a practical and helpful resource that your visitors will find interesting. You can start by creating a single lead magnet and placing it on its special landing page. You also need to include a form so the visitor can enter their information. Typically, businesses ask people for just their name and email address. Some may also include a question about what kind of job the visitor has. Be sure to only ask for information that you really need. Every extra question increases the chances of the visitor just walking away. To get people to opt-in for their newsletters, some businesses use paid ads that provide an incentive for subscribing. If you do a good job on the content, however, you won’t have to blow a big chunk of your budget on ads.

Naturally, you should try for more than one or two of these ebooks. The more lead magnets you have, and the more diverse their subjects, the more effective your email marketing will be. Knowing the type of content that interested each prospect gives you a tactical advantage in moving them through the sales funnel.

No matter if you go for ads or gated content, you’ll soon start receiving names and email addresses. A CRM system like RunSensbile will just automatically collect the names and addresses into individual prospect profiles. That frees you up to come up with ways to personalize your email campaigns. You can draw the content for your newsletter from the blog posts you have already printed or the ones that you will print when the email is sent. Choosing which articles to include in each recipient’s newsletter may be hard at first, but a CRM can help by classifying your prospects based on the lead magnet and the info they provided.


Best Practices to Get Opt-In Emails Right

Even if you want to go all-in with opt-in marketing, you need to get it right or it will never get off the ground. There are rules and guidelines you can follow to make opt-in email marketing work for you. I’ve compiled a list of essential best practices you can use right now to improve your marketing. Let’s take a look without wasting more time.

Best Practices for Growing your Email List

Make your Lead Magnet Shine

You only get people to subscribe to your newsletter when they believe they actually want what you are offering as a lead magnet. Whether the free resource you have on offer is an ebook, a podcast episode, or an infographic, your visitors need to see how fantastic it is. Of course, I know that you’ve created the perfect content, but how can people see that before they even read it? The answer is in how you present it. There are different ways to make your offering shine. You can design a cool cover illustration, for example. Another excellent idea is to use a few short sentences telling visitors what they’ll find inside and why they should appreciate that. In short, you want people to see your freebie as invaluable, an ideal bargain.

Offer Real Value

Just because you can make your freebie look impressive, you shouldn’t skimp out on the content. Nobody expects to download a 200-page history of the light bulb from an electric goods company. But that doesn’t mean reusing a barely modified 4-page blog post is enough either. So, try to balance the content you’re including in your free resource to provide real value to visitors. You don’t want to spend so much time and money on it as to leave little for your other magnets and landings.

Use Social Proof

Your visitors will be more likely to subscribe to your mailing list if they know others have done the same. You should try to find ways to prove they won’t be alone in trusting you. One of the most convincing types of social proof I’ve seen on lead magnet landings involves a ticker. It counted how many people have subscribed to your newsletter already. Of course, it may not be such a good idea if you’re just starting out. You don’t want visitors to see a ticker that shows only two people have opted in so far. When you have a decent email list, however, a ticker can work like a charm.

Best Practices for Better Opt-In Marketing Results

Avoid Looking like Spam

There are so many different criteria that ESPs and web email services use to separate spam from wanted emails. Some of these are based on technical matters. For example, can use protocols like DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) to show email exchange software and ESPs that you’re a real company and not a spammer.

Other criteria are based on the text itself. There are also some guidelines to observe when writing the email to ensure it doesn’t look like spam. Some of the more obvious pointers are not to use too many exclamation marks or use all-caps uppercase words. You can look at email best practices in more detail in this article.

Remove Non-Existent Addresses

If you use the single opt-in method, your list is bound to include some bad email addresses. These are fake email addresses that actually don’t exist. When you continue sending emails to a bunch of nonexistent addresses, your ESP may flag you down as a spammer. If you use a CRM with email marketing capabilities, you can find out which emails never get delivered. RunSensible, for example, includes all the email marketing tools your small business needs. Knowing which email addresses are fake, you can quickly remove them from the list. Not only will you avoid seeming like a spammer, but you’ll also have a more efficient list.

Provide an Unsubscribe page

Okay, this may seem like a contradiction, but you need to make it easy for users to unsubscribe from your newsletter. Expert email marketers will tell you that it’s in your best interest to include a clear unsubscribe button or link in each email you send. That should ideally take users to a part of your website called a preference center. There they can reduce the frequency of the newsletters they get or unsubscribe altogether. If you don’t provide this channel, users will be forced to report your newsletter as spam. The ESP will then unsubscribe them from your list automatically. But the damage each spam report does to your authority is huge, and you can’t afford to take that kind of damage when you’re a small business only beginning to run email marketing.

In some countries, including a visible unsubscribe link in each email is required by law. The United States CAN-SPAM act of 2003 and Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation are famous examples. Even if you’re not in a country with unsubscribe regulations, a preference center will have the added benefit of asking the user for one last chance. You can give them an alternative to unsubscribing. For example, you can offer to lower the newsletter frequency to once every month. So, letting people unsubscribe on your terms is actually a plus for your business.

Offer Precise Details

After a visitor opts in to a newsletter, it’s common practice to send them a confirmation email. That’s actually a transactional email that you can use to increase your open rates by including details about your newsletter.

When people first sign up for your newsletter, tell them what they can expect. If you’re going to send them a marketing email every week, tell them that. You should also include a small sample of the content you’ll include in your newsletter. That will motivate them to look forward to your newsletters. Also, like the unsubscribe policy I discussed above, it may be a good idea to tell them how they can unsubscribe or change their preferences in that first email.

Use Transactional Emails

Email marketing data suggests that so-called transactional emails have a much higher open rate than marketing emails. Transactional emails refer to those users receive after they complete a task on your website. For example, most businesses send a confirmation email to users after they sign up for their newsletter. Because these emails are in response to something they’ve done, users are more likely to see them as vital and your ESP will see their relevance.

Now, you want to make this distinction work for you. Why write tons of content and miss a better opportunity to present them? You can try adding some short sections with links to content on your website. Pick eye-catching feature images and attention-grabbing headlines to make the most out of these email marketing boosters.

Leverage Segmentation

You can segment your recipients based on how they engage with your emails. It’s actually a common way to ensure an email marketing campaign is as efficient as possible. Some try

A good CRM will let you define different email triggers that can help you discover how your email campaign is doing. Take, for example, the “last open” parameter. It shows the most recent date the recipient actually opened one of your emails. A last open segmentation is an excellent way for small businesses to focus their resources on interested customers and away from those that haven’t engaged with your newsletter in a long time.

Last open is not the only valuable parameter that a CRM like RunSensible can provide. There are also other criteria, like “last click,” and “first sent.” Together, these parameters can form the foundation of comprehensive analytics that can help you optimize your marketing as you grow.


Is Opt-In Email Marketing Right for Your Small Business?

Granted, creating an opt-in email list from scratch can take some time. However, if you place some valuable lead magnets and follow the best practices I’ve included here, you’ll be seeing results pretty soon. If your business is in its growth phase, you may even consider supplementing organic lead generation with a few well-placed ads.

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