6 List Building Mistakes That Kill Your Sales (And How to Avoid Them)

Does your email list help to make sales and grow your business? If you’re not getting measurable results from your email marketing, you could be making one of these serious list building mistakes.

Smart marketers know they need to build an email list, but the end goal isn’t just to increase that subscriber number. You’re not in the business of list building; your list is a means to an end. And if you’re going about it the wrong way, you could be hurting your business more than helping.

A good list building strategy takes cold website visitors and leads them through the process to becoming loyal subscribers and customers. If that isn’t happening, chances are you’re committing one of these list building mistakes.

1. Not Understanding Your Ideal Customers

According to a study by Marketo, on average, 50% of leads are not yet ready to buy. Most of your website visitors will visit only once, and leave without returning. That’s why email marketing is the best way to create a lasting relationship with your potential customers, developing them into loyal brand advocates.

But there’s no way you can succeed at that if you don’t understand them.

Clearly defining your target audience is one of the essential tasks to ensure the success of your lead generation and nurturing campaigns. By understanding your customers and their needs, you’ll be able to define your sales funnel in order to get an idea about how to turn your leads into customers.

For an established business, the easiest way to do this is by surveying your existing customers to understand their situation before purchasing your product, and how your product solved their problem. This way, you can get to know more about your customers and craft your unique selling proposition to convert more visitors into subscribers and customers.

If your business is relatively new, this will take a bit more research. Luckily, there’s an easy shortcut to get around spending tons of money on market research.

Facebook’s Audience Insights is a quick way to get insights on your target audience by researching similar audiences. To do this, you can just enter your competitor’s Facebook page into the Interests field, and all sorts of information on their audience will come up.

The Audience Insights reveals more demographics data, likes and other details about their audience. Gathering this data could be helpful to create a lead magnet addressing the likes and needs of the audience in your niche.

You can also research your competitor and find out what content is performing best for them.

2. Not Optimizing Your Lead Magnets

Once you get an idea about what content is popular in your niche, you can plan out similar pieces of content for your lead magnet in a unique perspective.

Offering a generic lead magnet, or “opt-in bribe,” to subscribers in exchange for their email addresses is better than offering nothing at all. But since more and more marketers are following the same practice for lead generation, people are now picky about what they subscribe to.

That’s not to say that lead magnets are dead… But if your lead magnet isn’t targeted enough, your offer is likely to be ignored.

And this is where content upgrades come in.

Content upgrades are a great way to offer what your visitors are looking for. Content upgrades are lead magnets created specifically for readers of a particular blog post or article. They offer exactly what your visitors are interested in reading as a downloadable resource. I’ve used this strategy myself to increase conversions by 845%.

After creating the lead magnet, the next thing you should do is to gate this content behind an opt-in form. You can create a stunning opt-in form to encourage people to download the lead magnet and subscribe to your list.

3. Not Optimizing Your Opt-in Location and Type

You may have already heard about “banner blindness”… but did you know it applies not just to banner ads, but opt-ins too?

If your opt-in is placed in a location typically used for ads – like your blog’s sidebar or header – it’s likely your visitors are literally not even seeing it.

Below are a few tips if you’re looking to easily grab the attention of your visitors.

  • Use a lightbox popup: Lightbox popups are unbeatable when it comes to converting your visitors into subscribers. To avoid annoying your visitors, though, make sure to use a highly targeted opt-in with an offer they can’t refuse.
  • Use a floating bar form: Unlike popups, floating bar forms are non-intrusive but still ensures maximum visibility for your opt-in form. These “sticky” opt-in forms appear at the top or bottom of your visitors’ screen and scroll along with them.
  • Use a clickable two-step opt-in form: You can turn any link or image into a two-step opt-in process. When a user clicks on the link or an image, a popup opens up asking them to subscribe. Two-step opt-ins use the psychology principle known as the “Zeigarnik Effect” which states those who initiate are more likely to finish the process.

4. Not Qualifying Leads

Most of these tips are about getting more people to opt-in to your list.

But indiscriminately adding subscribers is a common mistake – you could be hurting your business by getting too many of the wrong subscribers.

Remember that list building isn’t the goal in and of itself. The goal is really business building. And you can’t do that if your subscribers are all unqualified leads.

Having a targeted lead magnet will help with this, but another way you can qualify leads is within your opt-in form itself.

Using form validation can help you to stop wasting time on bad leads.

For example, Iron Mountain found that asking just the name and email address is not enough to qualify leads. By asking more relevant information, they find it easier to qualify a lead because sales development representatives can spend less time digging for facts.

In their case, a form submission is considered qualified if a lead submits accurate information for sales inquiry. So, they decided to validate the form fields as they’re being entered. This practice helped them to improve the number of qualified leads by 140%.

5. Not Testing Your opt-ins

Enticing your visitors to submit your opt-in form is key to the success of your lead generation campaign. Your opt-in forms require various elements to attract your visitors and encourage signups.

While your opt-in forms should be visually appealing, the primary goal is to optimize them for high conversions.

Below are a few takeaways to create high conversion opt-in forms.

  • A/B test various elements of your opt-ins: You can try testing with different colors, headlines, styles, etc. to see what converts best.
  • Formulate a test hypothesis: Come up with a test hypothesis to test against your current opt-in forms. Hypothesis helps you keep honest because it is a reflection of your assumptions. This way, you can eliminate the guesswork and make data-driven decisions to boost conversions.
  • Minor changes can make a big difference: Is your opt-in form lacks trust? Test by adding customer testimonials. Are you using a misleading image? Try removing it and gather data on conversions. Once you have enough data, you can evaluate the outcomes and stick to what works best for you.

6. Failing to Nurture

If you want to generate more sales, just acquiring subscribers is not enough.

It’s not really list building if you’re losing all those new subscribers from a lack of nurturing your list.

“Nurturing” can be a vague term, but what it really means is helping subscribers to take the next step in their customer journey.

But in order to do that, first you have to know what step of the journey they’re in. That’s why segmenting your email list is so important. You can classify your leads into a distinct segment based on various demographics such as stages in sales cycle, buyer personas, interests, geographical location, on-site behaviors, etc. This way, you can make sure that emails you send to each prospect are laser targeted, and will be just what they need in order to take the next step in their journey. Here’s a good guide on segmenting your email list to get you started.

I hope this article showed you some common pitfalls of lead generation. Each mistake is going to cost you conversions, so it is important for your business to rectify them sooner.


 Syed Balkhi is the founder of WPBeginner, the largest free WordPress resource site. With over 10 years of experience, he’s the leading WordPress expert in the industry. You can learn more about Syed and his portfolio of companies by following him on Twitter @syedbalkhi.

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