05.05.20176 min read

5 Reasons People Aren’t Subscribing to Your Email List – and How to Fix It

People aren’t signing up for your email list? The key question you need to ask is, “Why?” 

Whether your sign-up process is more convoluted than Frodo getting the ring to Mordor, or your value proposition is aiming champagne messaging at an audience on a beer budget, finding and eliminating these points of friction is critical. If you’re selling products or getting visitors to your website, then you’ve got a conversion problem and can experiment with different solutions to get your email recruitment back on track.

They don’t know you have an email list

Recently, an entrepreneur was lamenting that after he redesigned his company website, email subscriptions had dropped off. As we chatted, I loaded his website. A beautiful custom video flashed across the screen. Sharp copywriting spoke to his market. Eventually, the navigation popped up. Finally, after 30 seconds of scrolling, I saw a small sign-up bar on the bottom of the page. “We didn’t want to sacrifice the real estate for design,” was his reasoning.

Simply put, if people don’t know you have an email list, they can’t sign up. It’s not enough to have it as an option on your page—you need a big, bold, interesting sign-up that captures people’s attention and gets them to take action now. Ask yourself three questions:

  • Does the website give visitors the option to sign up the moment they land on the web page?
  • Is the sign-up box or bar bold and eye-catching?
  • Do options repeat throughout the site? For example, do we try both a pop-up and boxes on each page?

Your value proposition isn’t clear in your CTA copy

The strongest businesses know exactly who they’re targeting and selling to—and they reflect that throughout their businesses. It’s not enough to sell to moms; you need to know you’re targeting a 30-something with multiple children in middle America, for example. The clearer you are, the more every detail of your messaging moves your audience toward your goal. In this case, think about the difference between how you might market the CTA copy in a fan club website for a show like Downtown Abbey and for followers of the Real Housewives franchise. To sharpen your value prop in your CTA copy:

  • Clarify your exact audience. Try to sum them up in a 2-sentence profile
  • Read your copy. Is it the generically unpersuasive “Sign up for my newsletter today”?
  • Think about how to speak to your audience in a way that shows you understand them. “Find out the latest gossip from above stairs and below” would work for Downton Abbey, for example.

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You’re not offering immediate value

Everyone wants email addresses and, over time, consumers and B2B buyers alike have become more stingy with how they give out that information. Before giving out their email address and potentially opening the floodgates to spam, people are asking, “What’s in it for me?” It’s important to demonstrate long-term value—more on that in a minute. But often it helps if you provide something that’s immediately interesting, valuable, and establishes your expertise. Some options include:

  • White paper
  • EBook
  • Original research data
  • Exclusive interviews or Q&A
  • Worksheets or roadmaps for completing tasks
  • Templates
  • Visual content, such as videos or infographics
  • A short course

The long-term value isn’t clear

It’s not enough to create a lead gen product and assume your job is done. Email marketing is about building relationships. What’s in it for subscribers over the long term? If that’s unclear to people who visit your site or consider signing up for your list, here are some options to consider:

  • Explain what the value is. For example, do you produce exclusive content or interviews with experts or provide loyalty discounts to subscribers? If there’s not a unique benefit now, think of one that’s appropriate to your audience.
  • Provide teasers. For example, consider creating an archive of some of your best newsletters and sharing those with people who want to sign up for your newsletter.
  • Create a new subscriber drip campaign or course and advertise it. One great example of this was from a digital marketer whose techniques with SEO are considered pretty advanced. People who sign up for his newsletter get access to a 14-part course that shares “inside secrets” and a tactic per day. It’s a great way to deliver immediate value and then showcase that your relationship is valuable over time.

You’re not testing and evolving

As the adage goes, that which is measured can be improved. More importantly, every aspect of your marketing strategy should be tested on a regular basis. The world changes, and if your strategy doesn’t evolve with it, you risk becoming outdated. Think about the speed at which new technologies, social platforms, and memes flow through our collective consciousness. Messaging that was innovative 12 months ago may be stale today. Topics that your audience loved last month might be oversubscribed now.


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Consistently test different elements of your email sign-up strategy, and continuously tweak and improve your delivery. Areas to focus on include:

  • Type of sign-up prompt, such as banners or pop-ups
  • The placement of sign-up boxes and bars
  • The audience profiles you’re using
  • Your CTAs
  • Your lead gen items
  • The level and type of engagement you’re promising
  • The copywriting around your sign-up experience

If people aren’t signing up for your email list, it’s time to play detective and figure out what’s not working. Look at your site with fresh eyes. Ask colleagues, trusted friends, and most importantly, people in your audience—or those who are similar to your audience—to do the same. What’s missing? What opportunity could you jump on today to make things clear? What’s confusing? Often, just a few small tweaks can open the floodgates and start converting customers and site visitors into long-term email subscribers.

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