Email Capture Best Practices: The Ultimate Guide

email capture best practices

You’ve heard the news: the Facebook news feed is changing, and it’s not for the better, at least as far as brands and publishers are concerned. But now that Facebook is squeezing publishers out of the news feed and compressing organic reach down to almost nothing, how can publishers keep engaging their audiences?

Personally, we like email for the job, and a lot of other publishers do too. As The New Yorker’s newsletter director puts it, “Email is kind of like a living room. It’s a very personal space. You let in your friends, the coworkers you like, and a couple of brands you really trust…”

The email inbox gives publishers a direct connection to the audience, and the first step to forging that connection is getting your audience to sign up for your newsletter. That makes email capture forms an important part of any audience development strategy, but what’s the best way to implement email capture? What’s the difference between catching a few stragglers and opening up a steady stream of engaged audiences?

When you’re aiming to be invited into your audience’s living room, you have to wipe your boots and walk the fine line between getting their attention and making a good impression. We’ve brought you email capture mistakes; now we’ve compiled a few email capture best practices. Keep this guide in mind as you craft your capture strategy.

1. Make it easy to find your email newsletter signup.

Remember, you can’t make a good first impression if you don’t make an impression at all!

Odds are, potential email subscribers probably aren’t going to go hunting down your email signup. Unless you’re offering a puzzle-solving newsletter, it’s best not to play hide-and-seek with your potential subscribers. Just go to them!

If you’ve got a single newsletter, don’t hide it away on its own page; place your capture form out in the open (and not in your site’s footer!) for easy access. For publishers with multiple newsletters, you can always direct your audience to additional newsletters with a preference center. Either way, make sure a newsletter signup is never more than a click away.

2. Try active capture widgets to convert more email subscribers.

Now that your capture forms are easily accessible, go one step further and try using active capture widgets. Static capture forms allow audiences to find you; active capture forms ensure that audiences don’t have to go looking for you in the first place.

From sliders to sticky footers, these dynamic widgets get your audience’s attention without getting in the way. When implemented correctly, active capture widgets can be up to 500% more effective than static capture forms at converting newsletter subscribers. Want to see how top publishers are implementing active capture in their audience development strategy? Check out this handy lookbook.

3. Give users a reason to give up their email address.

Email is an effective way to convert your anonymous visitors into known audiences, but don’t get ahead of yourself! While asking anonymous visitors to give away their email might seem like a low hurdle, anonymous visitors don’t always see it that way. Just try going outside and asking a real-life stranger for their email.

To get the conversion, offer something in exchange for the email address. For marketers, this might be an eBook or other piece of content. For publishers with political or entertainment content, capture widgets using quizzes or polls can capture emails from curious audiences. Premium publishers with a metered paywall might leverage email to give readers access to one more article. The most common (and effective) way to provide continuous value and engage audiences is through a newsletter, which allows subscribers regular access to your quality content from the comfort of their inbox.

4. Tell your potential email subscribers what they’re getting.

Of course, it’s not enough just to offer the value. When you provide value in exchange for the email address, you have to make sure you make that value clear. That means your capture widget copy must compel the user to subscribe in a limited space.

A capture form that says “sign up for our newsletter” might pull in the people who are dead-set on subscribing, but how do you bring in people who need a bit of persuasion? Tell them what specific content they can expect from your newsletter — and maybe even how often they can expect it — whether that content is recipes, sports scores, or detailed analysis of foreign policy.

NBC Golf capture widget copy

NBC Golf lets visitors know exactly what they're signing up for(e).

The more relevant this copy is to the user’s interests, the more likely they are to subscribe. How can publishers maximize the relevance of their email capture strategy?

5. Provide a relevant offer by using contextual capture widgets.

That’s how.

With contextual capture widgets, publishers can optimize the newsletter offer based on the content. That way, the newsletter offer is all but guaranteed to be relevant. For instance, if a visitor comes to your site to view a recipe, publishers can infer the visitor is probably interested in food content. In this case, it would probably be more effective to invite them to a recipe newsletter than a more generic digest of all site content.

According to PostUp data, contextual capture widgets convert 3 times as many email subscribers as generic capture. That’s 3 times as many site visitors publishers can connect with relevant content.

6. Don’t ask for too much information on your capture forms.

It’s in the interest of both publishers and their audience to make the signup process as simple as possible. Each additional field is a hurdle between you and your potential subscribers, which means that the more information you ask for, the less likely a user is to subscribe.

Once you have an email address, you have a way to connect with your audience at a later date. If you need more information, consider progressive capture forms. These forms collect the email address, then provide users with the opportunity to enter additional information. This can be especially useful for B2B publishers, who can maximize both top-of-funnel email conversions and additional user data

7. Create a compelling call-to-action.

Like any marketing content, the CTA is the final piece that brings it all home. Using a button that just says “subscribe” might work for you, but if your brand has a strong voice, use it!

That being said, make sure your CTA isn’t too strong for your brand. This works for theCHIVE…

…but if it doesn’t mesh with your content, you might want to keep thinking.

8. Deploy mobile-friendly capture widgets.

Like the rest of you site, your email capture widgets should be optimized for smaller screens. Follow mobile design best practices, making sure your form fields and CTA buttons don’t trip up any fingers when they show up on mobile devices.

Some publishers use one-touch newsletter subscription buttons for mobile displays. Mobile one-touch capture allows visitors to subscribe with the touch of a button. A tap of the button opens the reader’s email client, and a second tap sends an email that automatically subscribes them to your list. This makes it easier for your subscribers, and it also eliminates inevitable typos.

9. Don’t leave anyone behind: provide multiple places to subscribe.

What if a visitor accidentally clicks out of a dynamic widget before subscribing? What if visitors exit because they want to finish reading the article before they sign up? It would help to have an additional capture form.

Dynamic capture widgets convert visitors, but don’t forget about good old inline capture forms too. Ultimately, you want to have multiple touchpoints with visitors, ensuring you catch everyone when they’re ready to sign up.

10. Use lightboxes and takeover widgets with care

If you’re looking to grab a new visitor’s attention, taking over their computer with a full-screen lightbox is definitely a way to do that. Still, lightboxes work best when they’re executed effectively; otherwise, they risk leaving new visitors with a bad taste.

For instance, immediately hitting a new visitor with a full-screen takeover asking for their email address isn’t the way to make a good first impression. Not only is it rude, it doesn’t give them a chance to see your content first. How will they know if they want to subscribe if they don’t know who you are? Try delaying the lightbox based on the length of the visit, progress made in the article, or another characteristic you might find that works with your audience.

11. Optimize capture widget behavior to the user.

Your capture strategy might be expertly tailored to your audience, but no audience is a monolith. By optimizing capture to individual users based on their onsite behavior, you can improve the user experience and possibly even increase revenue in the long run.

Consider this: Are they using ad blockers? Are they browsing in incognito mode? You might try to maximize revenue from these users by deploying a more aggressive capture strategy for ad block/incognito users. If it gets more of your ad-blocking visitors to your email list, you can monetize this audience in other ways. For instance, in-email ads are less likely to fall prey to ad blocking software.

Otherwise, new visitors from certain traffic sources might be more likely to spend more time on the site. For them, you might suppress the dynamic capture widgets until the second or third page. For known users, you might suppress the widget entirely, or you might try something different.

12. Offer returning visitors and current subscribers something new.

When a returning user visits your site from a newsletter, inviting them to subscribe to the same newsletter is annoying. It’s also a missed opportunity for publishers looking to nurture their known audience.

If these returning visitors subscribe to a digest of general content, why not deploy a capture widget asking them to sign up for a newsletter with more content like the article they’re viewing? Getting your audience to subscribe to more newsletters gives you more opportunities to engage them, increasing your revenue.

13. A/B test your capture widgets

You’re probably using A/B testing in your email program. There are a near-infinite number of variables to be tested in the inbox, and just as many tests to be conducted with your capture widgets.

Try testing your capture copy, design, and even what type of widgets you deploy. You can also test deploying your capture widgets at different times, adjusting based on whether a visitor arrived from social media, or other behavioral triggers. Testing allows you to optimize your capture strategy, and therefore, your revenue.

14. Finally, make sure your on-site capture strategy doesn’t harm your KPIs

Growing your email list is a critical part of any audience development strategy, but don’t do it at the expense of your site KPIs. If you notice a decline in your time on site, bounce rate, or other engagement metrics, you may want to rethink your email capture strategy. You can always confirm this with additional A/B testing.

To see how PostUp helps publishers implement email capture best practices, grow audiences, and hedge against the diminishing reach of the platforms, download our Audience Development Solution Guide.

Editor, PostUp PlayBook