The Drawbacks of Getting Email Subscribers With Opt-In Bait [Video]

The following is a video guest post from Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing. Danny has been featured on blogs such as Problogger, Copyblogger, and countless others. To get his (free) Naked Marketing Manifesto click here!  Also, check out his Write Like Freddy Blogging Program.

If you go on just about any blog, you’re immediately slammed in the face with email opt-in offers similar to the following.

Subscribe with your name and email address and we’ll send you The Best Social Media Marketing Guide Mankind Has Ever Seen.

So you sign up!  I mean, who wouldn’t want to the best marketing guide mankind has ever seen?  Turns out that incredible opt-in gift is a four page PDF that reads something like…

  • Don’t be a jerk.  Be nice to other people on Facebook and Twitter!
  • Start a blog.  Blogs are good and you can write on topics you’re passionate about.
  • Use images a lot, because people like to see great images.
  • Social media is not just a trend and your business should be using it!

You get the point — it’s information completely lacking value and you immediately feel like you’ve been tricked into giving up your email address.

This common scenario raises the question:

Is it necessary or good to have opt-in bait on your blog when building an email list?


  If the video doesn’t work, try watching with this link.

Broken Promises Don’t Foster Good Relationships

There are two major issues with the type of opt-in bait many bloggers offer.  The first problem was hinted at just above — trust.  If you say you’re going to deliver tons of value to someone in exchange for their email, you damn well better deliver on that promise.

This is important to the gazillionth power if someone is on your blog for the first or second time.  If you break that trust as soon as they give their email, your relationship with that reader is probably shot forever…along with everyone who sees their complaint on Twitter.

Don’t make lofty promises unless you’re going to deliver on them.  That applies to blogging as much as it applies to the “real world.”  People hate broken promises.  (See: LeBron James versus the city of Cleveland fiasco for evidence.)

Getting Email Subscribers

Generating an email list with opt-in bait is a great strategy as long as you avoid the pitfalls of broken promises and bad subscribers.

Bad Subscribers Are Bad

It’s common practice among companies to segment their customers.  For example, a business might classify its most profitable customers as “A” customers, somewhat profitable customers as “B” customers, and customers who essentially cost the company money as “C” customers.

Obviously, a company would want to minimize the percentage of customers in the C category and maximize the other two categories.

In much the same way, you can (and should) segment blog subscribers.  You want to maximize the number of subscribers who are genuinely interested in what you write and are willing to share it with others.

While you may gain more overall subscribers by having opt-in bait, they’re not necessarily “A” subscribers.  In fact, it’s fairly common for people to have junk email accounts they use solely to sign up for free stuff.

Danny Iny on Getting Email Subscribers

Keep these things in mind when making decisions about opt-in bait on your blog.

A large email list is an incredible force, unless the email addresses on your list happen to be junk “C” email accounts with 3,000 unread messages sitting in the inbox.

Food for Thought

This post isn’t meant to imply that opt-in bait is a bad strategy for getting email subscribers, because it most definitely can be a powerful strategy.  But before you save that Word document as a PDF, keep a few things in mind…

  • Only promise potential subscribers what you can consistently deliver.  If you want to be a little more strategic, make promises to your subscribers at a level just a little below what you can consistently deliver.  This will ensure you not only meet their expectations, but also frequently exceed those expectations.
  • If you have valuable content readily available on your blog, typically all you need to bring in subscribers is a promise of more valuable content to come.  After all, that’s what subscribers genuinely want.  You can get eBooks all over the place, but unique, helpful blogs are a minority.  Position yourself as a constant producer of valuable content and you’ll have no difficulty building an email list without opt-in bait.
  • If you do have a really great eBook, report, case study, or guide – and that means something more than a four page Word document saved as a PDF – by all means offer it as an opt-in gift.  Just be sure you tell subscribers exactly what they’re getting and deliver it to them exactly how they expect to get it.
Your Thoughts?

How do you feel about opt-in bait?  Have you had a lot of success building an email list with or without an opt-in gift?  I’d love to read about your experiences in the comments!


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About Jonathan Payne

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  1. The video is great. Great post because you combine so many aspects many of us have learned studying marketing yet forgotten (ie. A, B, C type subscribers. Also, ”
    Only promise potential subscribers what you can consistently deliver. If you want to be a little more strategic, make promises to your subscribers at a level just a little below what you can consistently deliver. This will ensure you not only meet their expectations, but also frequently exceed those expectations. .” I love this quote specifically because it can be applied to so many things especially in the service industry. Thank you for the post Jonathan!

    • Thank you! That quote reminds me of something Lewis Howes (@LewisHowes) often says about his products and marketing — he always over-delivers no matter what he’s doing, because value is essentially how well a product meets the consumer’s needs. If you can meet and exceed the needs of your customer, you’ve created value over and above, which ideally leads to brand loyalty.

  2. I get tired of those that have multiple companies that send you stuff, especially after you opt out of the first one… or that they sell the list. Some good info here and I enjoyed the video.

  3. Hey Jonathan, thanks for sharing my video in your excellent post! 🙂

  4. Excellent information here. Bottom line – offer great content and deliver on your promises. I learned something today. Thank you.

  5. Opt-In Trolling… the problem is, most small business owners have no idea what constitutes good, personalized content. And they’re only “keeping up with the Jonses”. I think finding the right pitch, tenor, and value for your individual audience is key… otherwise you’re just copying what other small business owners are doing without really thinking about what’s best for your business and your readers.

    Great tips, Jonathan!

    • Thanks Nick. I completely agree with you that most small business owners don’t fully grasp the importance of e-reputation and the necessary steps to building online relationships with consumers.

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