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May 25, 2006

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Feature Story

Build High-converting Subscription Pages

The tools you need: from privacy policies to RSS feeds

by Meryl K. Evans, Editor of eNewsletter Journal

When I find my way to a Web site, I may have gotten there through a search engine or through a link from a colleague or Web site. After I've scanned the content and fiddled around in the pages, the site may impress me if the information proves valuable.

What do I do then? The possibilities: Bookmark it, Furl it, subscribe to the feed or subscribe to the email newsletter. The action I take depends on how much I need the information and what options the site offers by way of feeds, newsletters and what-have-you.

Let's say I found the email newsletter link or subscription box. Would I subscribe? It depends on what's available on the site surrounding the newsletter. I won't subscribe if respecting my privacy isn’t mentioned. I also won't subscribe without finding archives to review. The third reason I won't subscribe is if the site asks for too much information.

Rather than causing your visitor to leave "empty handed," you can do more to improve your chances of capturing a new reader. With so many sites competing for new subscribers, it's amazing the readers found their way to your site, so do what you can to make them happy and stick with you.

Privacy policy: Long or short?

How often do you read privacy policies, if at all? Sure, you care, but you don't have time or patience to read through the legalese. Why use a lengthy policy on your site then, when you can simply put "We respect your privacy" next to the email address on the form? This applies to all forms requesting information, not just email newsletter subscriptions.

This approach is short and sweet. Yes, you can still have the long, dull policy for those who take policies seriously. This way you have both bases covered.

Forms: We must have your information!

How many fields are required to subscribe to an email newsletter? The only thing that should be required is the email address. Boy, it'd be lovely to get more information — a marketer's dream — but would you rather have one piece of information than zip? Go ahead and add a couple of more fields — but watch it — too many, and the visitor is lost for good.

Identify which fields are required. Visitors get aggravated when they fill in a couple of fields, hit submit and see they didn't fill in all the required fields. Weigh your priorities: a new subscriber with limited information versus a lost subscriber with no information.

Some newsletter subscription forms have "subscribe" and "unsubscribe" buttons. When someone becomes interested in your content, it's about subscribing not unsubscribing. Yet be sure that those who get fed up with the email newsletter can look for unsubscribe information within the newsletter or on its Web pages rather than in the subscription box.

Archives and feeds: Show 'em what you got

A link to the current newsletter or archives should appear right by the subscription box. I've often opted not to subscribe when I don't see an example. I don't want to subscribe and wait to see if the newsletter is good or bad, and then go through unsubscribing and sacrificing my email address.

If you offer a feed for your content and newsletter, put the RSS/XML button or link next to the subscription box. Again, you’ll cover your bases, as some people don't know XML from NFL, and others will scream if another email newsletter comes to their inboxes. If you provide multiple newsletters, put the RSS/XML icon next to each one — better yet, let the readers select the newsletters they want in the feed and get one feed for those selected. Organized folks love this.

Does the newsletter come in HTML (pretty pictures), text (plain Jane) or both? If you offer only one or the other, mention that somewhere. If both, provide the option to subscribe to one or the other. Either that, or get ready for emails asking about the text version. Save yourself trouble. Oh, and, don't just have an HTML or text checkbox. Not everyone assumes if the text checkbox is left unchecked that the newsletter comes in HTML. Or some people think we're idiots for offering one choice, since there appears to be no other choices.

Multiple newsletters: Simplify the subscribing

Many Web sites and companies provide multiple newsletters. Having the subscription page in one spot for all of them saves time. My publisher at InternetVIZ asked me to look at his subscription page draft. The thing was long! Every newsletter came with a detailed summary and other information.

Some people want to see everything you have to offer in the simplest format possible. That way during newsletter selection, they can see how many they've subscribed to and make sure they picked the right ones. Does that mean no summary? Of course not. Instead, write a one- or two-sentence overview of the newsletter and link to a page with more information. Next to the link, write "Opens in new window, so you won't lose your data. If you have pop-up windows turned off, turn it on temporarily to see the information."

How many times have you seen a link for more information, fearing you'll lose all the data you just entered if you click on it? That's why the message. Another option is to expand the section when the user clicks on the link. No pop-ups here, and the new information appears with a click and disappears with another click. These are just two ways to ensure the users know they won't lose the information while providing them with more information.

Be careful when listing many newsletters on a page. My publisher's draft page confused me. For example, the page had a box with events and tradeshows. My initial thought was this led to more information on events and tradeshows. The box turned out to be a category.

Learn from the good and the bad

Here are examples of newsletter subscription pages for inspiration and what's good and bad about them:

U.S. News & World Report

I like this one listing frequency, but it's missing archives.


This one's crowded and hard to read. Frequency and HTML/text are shown. But why have a checkbox for HTML if HTML is the only option? The preview helps, but it's not available for all items. Items in Tracks list a few links, and it's not readily clear why they're there.

GIS Development

The subscription checkboxes are at the bottom. Visitors might be better served if the checkboxes were on the left of each subscription's summary.


Nice, clean look and even has personalized newsletters.

PC Magazine

Well-organized by categories with summaries next to each. But where is the Subscribe or Submit button? Hard to find, but it's there.


A better version of PC Magazine's subscription page. No links to examples or archives, however.

Build smart — then hold on tight

Once you've reeled in visitors, do what you can to hold on and encourage them to take action. The newsletter subscription page sounds like a minor thing, but a lot of factors make the difference between "just visiting" and "subscribed reader."

Meryl K. Evans is the content maven behind this newsletter. She's been blogging since June 2000, and she’s available to take on your content needs and ensure you get the best results from every carefully selected word.


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Published by InternetVIZ
© 2006 InternetVIZ, 2885 Knox Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55408 - 612-871-4000. All rights reserved.
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