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One of the most commonly used techniques in web marketing is the use of a giveaway to entice people to subscribe to your email contact list. If you are considering doing this, here is some advice on creating a "list building system".

A "list building system" consists of several components:

Component1: The GiveAway Item(s) - Most online marketers use a free "report", free video (or set of videos), or even a free piece of software. Real Estate promotion lends itself nicely to the free report. The report is usually on some "hot" topic of the moment - something that your target market wants to know about.

The giveaway item does not have to be something original (that you wrote). It can be a report purchased from a service you subscribe to, an organization you belong to, etc. But if you use something created by someone else, be sure to give the original writer or creator credit where required. Don't just steal stuff from other people without explicit permission to use it.

Component 1: Your list - This is usually just a list of contacts with names, email addresses, and other relevant information such as phone numbers and addresses. Where you keep your list is the important question. In order to "build" your list you will need to keep it in some kind of database - normally in an autoresponder. If you don't know what an autoresponder is, read on.

Component 2: Your Database - A "database" (db) is simply a file containing information in table form - arranged in columns and rows. Most of us are familiar with Microsoft Excel - you've probably seen the ubiquitous "Excel spreadsheet" on a few occasions.

The advantage of keeping your contact information in a spreadsheet like Excel is that it can be easily updated and exported. For example, if you are using Outlook to do your mailing, you can export your file from your database program, and then import it into Outlook. It comes in with all the information neatly arranged so you can use it immediately. You don't have to enter everything manually.

If you don't own MS Excel (and even if you do) a good alternative is Google Docs. Google Docs is free and contains a spreadsheet program that does 99.9% of what you will need it to do. See my blog post about Google Docs for more information.

Component 3: Your Autoresponder - Once you learn how to use an autoresponder you will consider it the heart of your list building system. Most good autoresponders do a number of things:

  1. Sends out emails to your list.
  2. Contains your list in database form. That means you can import lists into it. (See below for importing limitations.)
  3. Lets you create a subscription form that can be placed on a web page. When someone fills in the form their information is added to your list.
  4. Sends an automatic email response to subscribers when they sign up.

The significance of this last point (#4) can easily be missed if you are not familiar with what autoresponders do. Imagine that you have set up a giveaway, offering a free report download. Someone signs up from your website. Their contact information is automatically "captured" in your db (if you have it set up to work this way). And then... what?

What you want to happen is to have your subscribers directed to the download page. The easiest and most effective way to do this is to use an autoresponse. When they subscribe your autoresponder immediately sends them an email message saying: "Thanks for signing up. You can find your download at LINK."

The fact is, once you have your "system" set up your autoresponder takes care of the rest. It collects the contact information, stores it in a special database, and sends out responses directing your subscribers to the download page.

You can even set up most autoresponders to send out a series of messages at timed intervals. Say, for example, your giveaway is a "course" in "What to Look for in Your Dream Home". Of course you can put all this information into one report. But why not stretch it out over a series of email messages. Turn it into 5 or 6 shorter "lessons", and send them out over 5 days (1 each day) or 10 days (1 every 2 days). This puts your name in front of them 5 times rather than once.

In many cases autoresponder functions will be built into standard contact management programs - the sort of thing you may already be using. Check it out before you go looking for another program to master.

If you don't already have autoresponder capabilities, then you will need to find the best and easiest solution for you. There are two basic types: hosted (by the provider) and self-hosted.

Self-hosting requires that you have access to a web server (usually where your website is hosted), and know something about setting up scripts on the server. It is not difficult once you know how to do it, but can be baffling when you don't. The easiest self-hosted autoresponder I've found is called ListMailPro.

Hosted autoresponder services are set up on the provider's server and you are given access to your own account for a monthly fee. By far the most popular is called AWeber. I wrote an overview of the AWeber system a couple of years ago.

I used hosted services for quite a few years before changing over to self-hosted ones. The biggest advantages of a hosted service are first, that you don't have to worry about the technical stuff gong on in the background. Second, the system is (supposedly) set up in a "user friendly" way to help you get things done.

I say "supposedly" user friendly because after trying two or three different systems over the course of about 5 years I concluded they had just too many options and getting little things done involved too much wading through of stuff I had no interest in.

The other disadvantage of a hosted system like AWeber is that they will not just let you import your contact list into their system. They do this to protect themselves against spammer abuse. If they just let everybody load their lists into the system, many would go out and buy a list of 50 or 100,000 "targeted consumers" and start spamming people using the hosted system.

You can load your list into the system, but they force you to send an opt-in message to everyone. And they have to approve the message.

Component 4: The Capture Page - Internet marketers often call this a "squeeze page" because it is intended to "squeeze" your website visitors down to a form where they fill in their name and email address.

Basically your capture page is a web page that contains a signup form. It often contains a "pitch" as well - to get people to sign up. But the important component on this page is the form that captures the information. Usually this is generated by your autoresponder program. When you set up your list in the autoresponder there will be an option called something like "Create Subscribe Form". Clicking on that will give you some code that you then integrate into your web page.

Obviously if you don't know anything about web pages this will be a challenge. But it should be a piece of cake for you web designer.

Here is an example of a capture page integrated with a list in ListMailPro:

Free Blogs That Work Report - filling in this form will generate an email response that gives you the address of the free download.

Here is an example of a capture page integrated with access to a membership site:

Free Green Tips Membership (yes it's free!)

Either of these pages can serve as a template for a signup page. Just have a look at the source code (View/Source) to see how it is done.

Comments (6)

Edward & Celia Maddox
The Celtic Connection Realty - Queen Creek, AZ

Thanks for article.  We always learn a lot from Active Rain blogs.  Best Regards,

Jan 05, 2010 01:42 AM
Jeff Craig
Hang Me Up Photos - Jamestown, NC
Greensboro Area Real Estate Photography

Thanks for the info Rick.  This is something I had not thought of doing.

Jan 05, 2010 01:45 AM
Dave Iliff
Patterson Schwartz - Hockessin, DE
Real Estate Agent in Hockessin, DE

Thanks for the great info Rick!

Jan 05, 2010 01:50 AM
Rick Hendershot
BlogEasy for Real Estate Agents - International, IT

Hi Edward and Celia - Yes I do too. Tons of information. So much to do, so little time.

Jan 05, 2010 01:51 AM
Rick Hendershot
BlogEasy for Real Estate Agents - International, IT

Hi Jeff,

I'm glad you found it interesting.

Jan 05, 2010 01:52 AM
Rick Hendershot
BlogEasy for Real Estate Agents - International, IT

Hi Dave - You're welcome. I hope it is useful.

Jan 05, 2010 01:52 AM