Which came first, the subscribership or the subscribe form? The answer is simple, writes Ellen Martin. Without an optimised subscribe form, that subscribership of yours will undoubtedly remain in the single digits. Follow this framework and you’ll have website visitors scrambling for the sign-up button.

Email. A tool so powerful, it earns paying customers at a rate nearly 40 times greater than that of Facebook and Twitter combined. So valuable, each and every dollar spent on it returns an average of $44.25. So effective, consumers spend 138 per cent more when marketed to via their inboxes.

I could go on but instead, I’ll save you the headache and say this: email works. As a marketer, it’s your best friend and breadwinner. But for email marketing to work for you, you’re going to need a knock-out email subscribe form.

The four elements of high-converting email subscribe forms

It’s not enough to simply embed a ‘Sign up to our enewsletter’ box into the header and footer of your website and hope visitors will stumble across it. You need to build yourself a form using the following four elements:

  1. Clear and captivating copy
  2. Thoughtful design
  3. Just the right number of form fields
  4. Prime positioning

Craft clear and captivating copy

When writing your form’s copy, the goal is to use few words with much meaning, packing punches into every syllable. To ensure conversions, consider the following:

The header and sub header

Your visitors will be asking themselves: ‘What’s in it for me?’. So tell them. Emphasise exactly what it is that they’re going to get out of their subscription, avoiding language that focuses on the act of signing up. Take project management app BaseCamp as an example. They use few words to tell potential subscribers exactly what they’ll get if they sign up, as well as how the organisation has helped previous customers achieve their goals – they even highlight the no-cost nature of their trial offering.

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Remember: If a visitor has taken time out of their day to provide you with their details, they want to know it’s going to be worth it – they don’t want to be told that they’re signing up to yet another enewsletter.

The button

Three words: Low. Hanging. Fruit. We humans love buttons. While it seems we can’t help but press them, it is no excuse to create lacklustre copy for your form’s button. Use active language and, again, focus on what will be gained from pressing the button – like ZenPayroll here.

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Remember: combine active language with a strong sense of urgency and you’ll have yourself one irresistibly pressable button.

The privacy policy

In April of last year, a whopping 71 per cent of all email traffic was spam – a percentage that email users the world over, yourself included, can exhaustedly attest to. Let your soon-to-be subscribers know you’re not in the business of spamming (that is, unless you are, in which case we’d like to say to you, on behalf of your poor, poor victims: stop it, please). Here’s a short and sweet example of an email subscribe form’s privacy policy done right from our friends at HelpScout:

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Remember: Legal jargon is fun for precisely no one. Make it short and sweet, use easy-to-understand language and be sure to offer potential subscribers with an opportunity to read the policy in full. Too much jargon and not enough disclosure only increases your subscriber drop-off rate. Why? Because it looks sneaky.

Be thoughtful in your design

Subscriber form logic and layout: If you’re thinking these are two components entirely inconsequential to the growth of your subscribership, think again. On the contrary, they make or break the user experience and, ultimately, can determine the success or failure of your email marketing efforts. To ensure your website visitors enjoy (or at the very least, complete) your email subscription form, consider the following:

Don’t blend in. Stand out

Do like video giant Vimeo and use colour and contrast to capture the attention of your potential subscribers. Thanks to its brightly illustrated background, Vimeo’s white sign-up boxes are difficult to miss, appearing to almost jump off the page.

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Use directional cues like arrows to guide the visitor’s eye

We see an arrow, our eyes can’t help but follow. Even an arrow as subtle as this one from Broadcast2World will draw your visitors’ gaze onto your subscribe form. Notice how the arrow pops off the page – use contrasting colours to highlight your forms’ specific directional cues.

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Contrasting colours make for impactful call-to-action buttons

Contrast catches the eye, we all know this. You know who else knows this? Barack Obama. Here are a few examples of Mr Obama making an impact with contrasting call-to-action buttons.

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Form fields: Ask only for what you need

Your website visitors are busy people. They’ve already used a portion of their precious time to visit your website. Some have even gone so far as to consider handing over their personal information.

For those visitors who’re walking the line between visitor and subscriber, how many form fields should you force them to fill out? The answer will vary depending on the quality of your offering and the level of trust shared between you and your visitors.

If you’re offering a never-before-seen product or service capable of changing the lives of your website visitors forever, by all means, go crazy with your form fields – people will hand over as much information about themselves as necessary to get their hands on something they desperately want.

But if the desperation is all on your side, the email subscribe form creator, we suggest keeping your form fields to a minimum – a simple email address will earn conversions. Here’s a great example of a simple yet effective email subscribe form from content marketing powerhouse Copyblogger (they flaunt a 200,000-strong subscriber list, by the way).

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Remember: Strike a balance between lead quality and lead quantity. While fewer boxes give you a chance at a higher quantity of leads, you’re left with very little information about them. Asking for more targeted info will garner fewer leads, but the quality of those leads will be greater.

Make strategic placement decisions

An obvious yet nevertheless underrated way to bolster your subscriber form conversion rate is to provide website visitors with ample opportunities to sign up. It’s simple: By increasing the number of capture points scattered across your site, you ensure that, a) visitors are most definitely aware of your subscription service and, b) they don’t have to trawl your website’s various pages in search of a single sign-up form.

Buffer recently applied this approach to its email marketing efforts and the results were overwhelmingly positive. (You can read more about this here)

Conclusion: optimise, optimise, optimise

It’s not enough to simply embed a sign-up box into the header and footer of your website and hope visitors will subscribe in their droves. The effectiveness of your email subscribe form and, ultimately, the growth of your subscribership, depends on four key ingredients – resonance, clarity, understanding and ubiquity.

For resonance, use few words with much meaning – remember your copy should be possessive of such spark, it moves website visitors into your email list.

For clarity, ask yourself: Does the logic and layout of my form’s design make it practically irresistible to subscribe?

For understanding, don’t ask too much of your website visitors. Ask only for what you need and they’ll reward you with information.

And finally, for ubiquity, take every opportunity to increase the number of capture points across your site.

Be sure to add these ingredients into your email marketing mix – they’ll be the difference between a large, attentive crowd of potential customers and a sub-par, bitsy handful of tenuously relevant time-wasters.

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