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Email is a permission-based medium. Before you say “duh” let me explain.

Of course, your email list should consist only of opted-in addresses, but the fact is, true consumer permission is more than just ticking a box in a signup form.

It all comes down to how you acquire email addresses and what you do after you acquire them. Mastering the art of email acquisition and customer nurturance will pay off in deliverability and revenue.

Here’s my take on making the most of the common email acquisition tactics:


Thanks in part to the ease of installing pop-ups on content management systems like WordPress, pop-ups have proliferated all over the place. Unfortunately for web visitors, these plugins don’t come with information on best practices.

Too many pop-ups appear before a visitor has had time to evaluate a site and its offerings. The visitor must make a quick decision about whether the content is worth the hassle. This tactic makes bounces more likely. It also increases the likelihood that the visitor will provide a bad address or one that’s not used in order to access the content. Even people who do offer a valid email may not remember later that they did so and mark your message as spam.

The best practice is to wait until a visitor has signaled intent – and to capture as much information as possible about that intent during signup. For example, say I visit the website of a furniture retailer. I may click to living room furniture and then to sofas. I have now clearly signaled that I’m shopping for furniture and even better, that I’m looking for sofas.

A pop-up delivered at this point that includes a special offer is more likely to collect a solid, usable email address. Common and successful tactics include the offer of a discount to be used at purchase, membership in a VIP club or free shipping.

At the same time, if possible, this furniture retailer should append to my record the data point that I looked at living room furniture and, specifically, sofas.

Social media

You should definitely add email signup forms to each of your social media channels that enables it. Your audience on social media could be substantially different from your website audience, but nevertheless, these followers do read email – almost everyone does. For channels that don’t allow this, such as Twitter and Google+, you can add a link to email signup in your about or bio page.

Social media is an excellent way to distribute information about incentive programs, contests and promotions.

Ideally, you will combine emails collected via social media to your master CRM tool. Each record should include the channel through which it was acquired.



This practice is used successfully by media companies. They let you access X amount of content for free but require a free registration if you want to exceed that amount. Some publishers may gate usage by the day; others limit it by the month.

The New York Times, while keeping most content behind a paywall, allows 10 free articles a month. After that, it offers readers an introductory rate for a digital subscription. Ten articles are enough to evaluate the content – and perhaps enough to get a segment of readers hooked.

While such media companies would have a much higher success rate for email acquisition if they asked for immediate registration, the fewer emails captured this way are of higher value.

Point of sale (POS)

This is a valuable way to gather emails from customers offline. The offer to email the receipt is an excellent way to incentivize customers to provide their addresses.

The biggest issue with this tactic is that in the rush to make a purchase, the email may be captured incorrectly. This likelihood is increased if sales clerks are manually entering addresses or when emails are captured on paper forms.

The most reliable way to acquire emails at the POS is to ask customers to input their own addresses electronically.

Taking this further, the best practice is to append sales information to these email addresses as they are captured. The data point that someone made an in-store purchase is valuable; additional info about order value or customer preferences is gold.

One final thing: If you are appending good data about where, when and how each email was captured, you can merge emails from every source into one CRM. That way, you have more options for segmenting them.

Getting clean new emails into your CRM is important. What’s just as important is what you do after that.

The more people open and engage with the emails you send, the higher your deliverability score will be. Onboarding new customers is an art all on its own. To find out the best practices for the next stage of customer acquisition, read my recent article: Onboarding: The Path to Customer Engagement and Retention.

Remember that email acquisition isn’t an end in itself; it’s simply one step on the customer journey.