How to Grow an Email List: 7 Dumb Mistakes to Avoid in 2022

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There are many mistakes that people make when they try to “grow an email list”. However, I think the number one mistake is that they don’t even know what it means to grow a list.

Hint, you’re not really “growing a list” by just adding as many raw email-addresses as you can. Your list is only as big as the number of qualified leads on it, but I’m getting ahead of myself here. This is actually the first point on our list here, so keep reading to find out what I mean.

1) Prioritizing quantity, and not understanding quality

Listen, here’s the biggest secret to having a profitable list – it’s about how you define list size. All the best marketers that I know measure the size of their list based on the number of quality contacts.

If someone has a million cold email-addresses on their list, and they are just an email-address with no additional data, that’s quite unimpressive. In fact, a list with a 1000 engaged subscribers where you have additional data on each subscriber, is a lot more profitable!

And the number one mistake that I see among less successful marketers, is that they focus on just getting as many raw email addresses. Almost to an obsessive level where they lose a ton of profit because they’re sacrificing a lot of other things in the process.

If you switch your mindset to measuring list-size by the number of “quality” leads, you will stop making a lot of other mistakes, including most of the other mistakes on this list.

So how do you define quality then?

In order for an email address to count as an actual lead, and not just an “email address”, you want two things. The first is that this subscriber is warmed up and engages with your emails. And the other is that you have at least some data on them aside from the email address, and the more the better.

This is important for many reasons. If you funnel random addresses into your lists, and then they don’t engage, this will destroy your deliverability. It means that inbox providers won’t even deliver your emails to subscribers. That means even the people who do want to hear from you, will never get the chance as your emails aren’t even getting delivered.

So a good welcoming sequence is crucial to getting that subscriber engaged. But it is also a great chance to achieve the second thing, which is getting some additional data on them. Aside from knowing their address, you want to have at least some personalization data.

Are they interested more in one topic than another? Do they open more of a certain kind of email than others? Perhaps they visit your website and trigger custom events there? Do they click on the links in your emails?

The welcoming period is where you can gather this data. And if you get them to engage and gather some personalization data, you can say you have a quality lead. They are now more than a mere “email address”.

So it’s all about what you do after they sign up?

Not so fast… Yes, you should strive to learn about their preferences and needs after signing up. However, it doesn’t mean you can’t gather some of this data during the sign-up process.

In fact, you want to gather as much differentiating data as possible when they first give you their email address. This is so that you can treat people differently from day one.

Now, the trick is that if you ask for too much information, this is going to lower your conversion rates. So if you’re giving away a free PDF, but you ask them to answer 15 different questions aside from just giving you their email address, this is going to have very low conversion rates.

So you definitely need to find a way to strike a balance. Though, of course, some industries can get away with having longer questionnaires. For example there are industries where a potential lead will “request a quote”. In those industries its perfectly normal to ask a lot of questions, as the lead is willing to answer them.

With that said, please note that not all data is something that you have to explicitly ask for. What you can, and should do is to also store data based on how they originally signed up.

So you might store information on which lead-magnet made them give their email address. You might also keep and store information on what acquisition channel brought them to the landing page where they gave you their email address.

2) Forgetting to segment and personalize properly

It is almost sad seeing so many marketers failing to utilize personalization, especially in 2022. We have done so much work to make it as easy as possible, including advanced segment builders, elegant customizable automated journeys that can treat people differently, easy tagging technology, and so much more.

And as cool as all of these features are, remember that they all rely on gathering data. This is why failing to gather data is the biggest mistake you can make. You can always find cool and interesting ways to leverage the data you have on a subscriber.

However, you can’t go back in time and gather all the initial data that you had missed out on. So please pay attention to the first mistake that we discussed, and try to implement a good data-gathering strategy during the welcoming period.

With that said, the part where you utilize the data in order to personalize an experience is actually the cool fun part. This is kind of why I keep going back to the first mistake on this list. I find that most people don’t fail to personalize because it is difficult. They tend to put off the necessary prerequisite ground-work, such as gathering the necessary data.

This also includes things such as building advanced segments. On that note, we made this fun and easy with our new advanced segment builder. And if you want to create really useful and nuanced segments, it is now both fun and easy to do so.

Same thing if you want to gather the pre-requisite data, it’s really not that hard. All you have to do is set-up journeys with certain conditions. If a person opens a certain email, or visits a certain page on a website, automatically assign a given tag or custom field value to their name. But more on that later on.

3) Failing to revive stale subscribers

This is another huge mistake that I see amongst email marketers today. It’s like leaving a ton of money on the table. Giving up on subscribers who’ve lost interest over time is a mistake. You would be surprised how well re-engagement campaigns can work.

But let’s backtrack for a second, and go back to the beginning. As you should be starting to realize from all of my advice by now, tracking engagement is crucial. You want to start people off on a good welcoming sequence that warms them up, and creates engagement.

However, don’t just assume this is enough. You need to be constantly and consistently updating your segments based on engagement. And if you do this, you would also have a segment for people who have gone “stale”. For example, this might be people who have neither clicked on, or opened an email in 3 months.

Generally, it’s a good idea to send more emails to the more engaged segments, and less emails to the less engaged segments. However, you want to occasionally do re-engagement campaigns for those segments who have been completely inactive for a while.

The good news is that we have a really popular guide on re-engagement campaigns. Reviving unengaged subscribers is a lot easier than you might think. And consider this: if you manage to revive a 1000 inactive subscribers, this is the equivalent to adding a 1000 new quality leads.

4) Not utilizing automation properly

The one surprising thing that I find with marketers is that they either automate a process prematurely, or keep doing a process manually long after it’s clear exactly how to automate it.

I touched on automation in the first points, as that is one way to automatically gather data during the welcoming warm-up period. However, a lot of people then proceed to do absolutely everything else manually.

There is no reason to do your processes manually, when automation can do so much of the work for you. This is especially true with a platform like Emercury where an automation can do so much more than just “drip emails in a sequence”. Just consider the power of things like incoming webhooks and outgoing webhooks.

Building an automated sequence that warms people up and gathers data on their behaviour from inside the welcome period is great. However, it’s just a first step. You want to continue to think about how you can outsource as much of your manual work as possible.

However, an opposite problem is that many people over-automate

Or to put it more accurately, they tend to automate prematurely. What do I mean by that? Well, email marketing is a skill that takes time to learn, and you will try and attempt different strategies to see how they work.

However, in a lot of cases you first need to do a process manually and tweak it for some time, in order to understand how it works. After you have a good process that you’re happy with, this is when you try to figure out how to automate it.

Basically, it’s a balance. You don’t want to wait until you’ve reached manual perfection and there is nothing left to improve. You do not need perfect processes before you can automate them. It’s fine to just get a basic understanding of a process, and then proceed to automate it.

On the other hand, if you rush into automating a process or an idea that you just learned about 3 days ago, chances are you will be automating your mistakes. That is, you will be putting your errors on autopilot.

I realize all of the above is a big vague. However, in order to give you more custom-tailored and personalized advice, I would have to talk to you personally. I would need to know your exact situation and what you are trying to accomplish.

Note that this type of personalized attention and strategy sessions are included in some of our plans. If you want to get a sense for this kind of personalized experience, consider requesting a free demo.

5) Forgetting to leverage fans

This is kind of the reverse of the mistake that we discussed at number 3. When you segment people out, it is easy to forget about the extremes. When it comes to those who have been stale for months, you want to do re-engagement campaigns and see if you can revive them.

The same is true with the opposite end of the spectrum. Some subscribers are more than just engaged, they are engaged a lot more than the rest of your subscribers. And so, it is a good idea to track this group of people as a segment of “fans”.

And once you have built such a segment, you can go ahead and leverage it in several different ways. Depending on your business model, there is certain information that is exciting to fans, but not as relevant to others.

To make this less vague, let’s consider an example

Let’s consider a software company for a moment here. Their fans will be interested in learning about every little bugfix, feature update and upcoming feature. And in turn, they will generally evangelize the product around internet forums, comment sections and even try to pitch it to friends and colleagues.

Now, your business might be of a different kind, but there is usually something parallel to this in your own business. That is, there are certain kinds of information that are going to make fans very happy, and might even motivate them to generate buzz around your products. Once you can figure this out for your business, it is a good idea to send certain broadcasts (or variations) with more information to the “fans” segment.

In addition to this, consider the following: asking for referrals and help works. I am surprised by how many marketers are “shy” about asking for help when it comes to growth. It is generally a good idea to link to your social media and ask people to follow your stuff.

It is also a good idea to occasionally ask your subscribers if they can refer a friend to the newsletter, share or forward your emails, or even incentivize them to do so. At the very least however, you need to be doing this with your “fans” segment.

6) Using the wrong recipes

When I look at people trying to grow an email list, most of the mistakes that I see can be boiled down to one particular category of mistake. What I find often is that less-efficient marketers tend to either overdo something, or not do enough of it.

The truth is that getting things right is like following the correct recipe. You need to know both which ingredients to use, but also how much of each ingredient to use. Get the ratio wrong and the whole thing can (literally) fall apart.

I know this is a bit vague, so let me give you some specific examples. We already discussed one example in point number 4. Most marketers either automate prematurely, or never automate at all.

An even more crucial example might be that most marketers either put all of their efforts into automation, or they try to do everything through broadcasts.

The secret is that there is an optimal ratio where you need to know how to balance the two. Only using one or the other is like only using a spoon, or only using a fork.

To get the recipe right, bookmark the super-popular guide we wrote for MailCon: Automation or Broadcast, How to Reach the Pinnacle of Marketing by Using Both

7) Choosing the wrong ESP

Look, we’re very happy about the fact that experienced veteran marketers are moving their huge lists to Emercury. At the same time, it is kind of sad to hear them say that they wish they had done this much sooner.

The main reason that people stay with the wrong ESP is because it takes some experience to learn what matters in a marketing platform. When you are just starting out, it is easy to get misled by the flashy marketing.

This is where different companies try to attract you to overpriced plans with a ton of fancy decorative features that don’t actually make a difference most of the time. They’re designed to sell software to newbies, not designed to help you make more money with email.

You don’t have to wait until you have millions of subscribers and realize that you’ve sacrificed a lot of potential profit due to things like poor service and low deliverability. No need to waste years on playing with toy-features that don’t contribute much to your bottom-line.

That doesn’t mean you have to give up on the fancy features

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying to mean that we’re against cool features. We actually love fancy new features as well. However, we have a different philosophy where we do not charge you for a feature set. The way that we achieve this is that we put a strong focus on those core features that need to be done by the platform itself, and let you plug-in your favorite best-of-breed solutions for the other features.

Our pricing plans mostly differ based on the levels of human-service included with a given tier. Especially when it comes to things such as strategy and helping you achieve peak deliverability and performance.

If you look at all our 5-star reviews, you might notice a pattern. Everyone is raving about the human attention they get from the core Emercury team. You actually get access to a team that actually cares that you make the most out of email marketing.

If you want to get a sense for this experience, consider requesting a free demo. Alternatively, or in addition to that, be sure to grab a forever-free plan, while we still have those.

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