A piece of advice heard often in marketing is that “the money is in the list.” 

It’s therefore not uncommon for website owners to have an email list numbering in the thousands. 

But at the same time, size doesn’t always equate to value when it comes to selling your site. 

An email list of 1,000 subscribers could be much more valuable to a website owner than one with 10,000 or more if it is properly optimized. And in turn, that smaller list could fetch you a much higher multiple when selling your site. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at:

  • The types of email lists most valuable to a potential buyer
  • How to measure the value of your email list
  • How to maximize the value of your list

The Type of Email List That’s Valuable to a Buyer

Having an email list is considered Online Marketing 101. So it’s not that having a list is the problem for many website owners; it’s having a valuable list. 

But even better than having a valuable list is having one that’s valuable to a potential buyer. 

Let’s start with what’s not valuable to a buyer:

  • A list with no known ROI. The #1 (and #2, #3, #4 #5…) thing a buyer will care about when it comes to an email list is return on investment (ROI). Your goal isn’t only to build an email list, but to build one with a measurable ROI that you can prove (more on this to come). 

  • A dead or inactive list. Just building an email list isn’t enough. You need to be actively mailing that list. At a bare minimum, that means sending at least one email per month if you’re a B2B website. If you’re B2C, ideally you’d increase your frequency to a minimum of twice monthly. 

  • An unsegmented list. Email segmentation is a widely-known best practice for successful email marketing. There are many ways to segment your list, but much of the process starts with how you get people on the list itself. The end goal is to have a list (or multiple lists) of subscribers, where you can send them highly-targeted emails.

  • A resource-intensive list. A buyer will not only want to know what your ROI is, but they’ll also do their best to track their own ROI. And more specifically, how much time they’ll have to invest in keeping this list active. If you have a dozen different segments, each getting a new custom email every week, that’s going to impact their ROI. Contrariwise, having two to three automated email funnels that require little to no upkeep is something a buyer loves.

When you avoid these common mistakes, what the buyer tends to see is a list that’s very valuable. Just as important, a buyer may identify opportunities to grow the site faster after the acquisition. 

For example, they may have existing assets and resources that will allow them to grow the email list quicker than you could, such as an expert on staff that understands how to drive email subscribers via paid traffic, or an email list of their own that they can use to grow the subscriber count quickly. 

How to Measure the Value of Your Email List

For a buyer, ROI is everything. Your job is to prove, without a doubt, that your email list carries substantial value. 

The basic formula for ROI is Revenue/Expenses

How you then determine email marketing ROI depends on your site’s business model. 

But first things first: know that attribution is never perfect. It can get complicated. Very complicated. 

As an example, if someone comes to your site via paid social, joins the email list (which increases their brand recognition), then returns on a direct visit for a conversion, what channel should you attribute that conversion to?

There’s no perfect answer here, but for most site owners, simpler is better when it comes to tracking. 

Here are some practical and easy-to-implement tips and resources to help you calculate your own email ROI based on your site’s business model. 

E-Commerce and Product-Based Sites

Sites that sell products have things the easiest when it comes to measuring ROI. Using free tools like Google Analytics, you can track every sale that comes directly from email. 

Affiliate Sites

For affiliate sites, you can use SubIDs when mentioning an affiliate product in an email. For example, if you use the SubID “email” for each link placed, most affiliate tracking software will allow you to easily see the revenue of every link with that specific tag. 

Google Tags also allows you to track conversions on your website that came from email. This way, if you send someone to your website via an email that converts into an affiliate sale, you can properly attribute that sale to email marketing. 

Ad-Based Sites

If your site earns revenue only from ads, you can track clicks to the site via email (e.g., page views) and how much revenue that generates. 

increase the roi of your email list

4 Tips for Increasing the ROI of Your Email List

Now that you know how to track your email list, let’s focus on some advanced strategies for optimizing the ROI of your list. 

1. Have Opt-Ins That Signal High Intent

Say you run a general personal finance site. It covers all things money, from paying off debt, to making money on the side, to landing a remote job. 

What many site owners do in this case is create a general email list. Usually, you find these on the home page or sidebar, with copy that reads something like “Subscribe for updates.”

Not only do these types of email lists perform badly over time — both in terms of conversion on the front-end and long-term engagement — but the bigger issue is that it’s harder to monetize this type of list because it’s impossible to know if you’re delivering value to your subscribers. 

Say you were to write an evergreen piece of content on how to pay off debt, sending that out to your list. Unfortunately, since not everyone has the goal of paying off debt, this email is only relevant to a fraction of your subscribers. 

As a general rule, you want every email you send to be relevant to those you’re sending it to. 

This is where segmentation comes into play. By segmenting your list based on different demographics, and delivering only targeted emails based on what interests those subscribers, you’ll be improving important engagement metrics like open rate and click-through rate. This will, in turn, provide a higher ROI. 

There are a number of ways you can segment a list. 

You can segment by:

  • Geographic area
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Repeat buyers
  • Open-rate

My favorite way of segmenting a list, however, is by a common problem — especially if that problem is urgent. 

As an example, one of the most popular pages on my website, The Ways To Wealth, is about online jobs. Knowing that the intent of people coming to this page is to find ways to make money from home, I created an opt-in on how to start a profitable blog. 

People subscribing to this list have a common problem: they’re looking to generate revenue from home by starting a website. On my end, I know exactly how to deliver value to these subscribers, as well as what products I can recommend.

As you can probably guess, this generates a great return for the site — much greater than a list of the same size that would have subscribed for weekly updates. 

2. Use Automated Sales Funnels

The more resources a potential buyer has to put into managing an email list, the lower it’s ROI for them. So ideally, you want to automate your email list as much as possible. 

The best way to do this is through a series of automated emails a new subscriber gets when they opt-in to a list — i.e., a welcome funnel. 

A lot of site owners create welcome funnels that stop after a few days or weeks. But there’s no rule against having an automated campaign last longer than a year. And that’s actually what you should do. 

The benefit here is that you can constantly be testing this funnel. If an email gets poor engagement, edit the subject line, rewrite it, or simply delete it. 

#3. Track Short-Term and Long-Term ROI

When a new subscriber joins your list, what does that mean for your business over the next seven days, the next month, or even the next year?

Knowing these metrics can help you find opportunities within your existing list, but the information is also invaluable for a potential buyer. 

The quicker you can start seeing revenue from a new subscriber the better. But you also have to think long-term here. You don’t want to burn out your relationship with a new subscriber by constantly pitching them within these first few emails. And you can avoid doing so by delivering real value that addresses their problems up-front. 

#4. The Importance of Continuous Optimization with Email Marketing

Email marketing is a very measurable marketing activity. 

There’s open rates, click-through rates, email deliverability, landing page conversion percentages, average order per sale and much more. 

While there’s a lot there to think about, the benefit is that each of these things can be easily A/B tested and improved over time. 

And it’s here where the real money is made. 

Make a 1% improvement every day for a year, and that compounds into a 37X increase. A 1% weekly improvement compounds into a 67% increase. 

Many email marketing programs allow you to easily track these important metrics. Your goal is to continuously improve them over time, testing and retesting to find out exactly what works best for you.

Making Money With Email Marketing

There’s no question that email marketing done right takes some time and resources on your end. It’s for this reason that many email lists are worthless to potential buyers. 

But, in the end, it can both increase your site’s revenue in the short-term and have a substantial impact on long-term revenue. 

In turn, this will significantly improve your overall revenue and make your site much more attractive to a potential buyer. 

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RJ Weiss

R.J. Weiss is the founder and CEO of TheWaysToWealth.com, a personal finance blog focused on all things money management. He's spent the last 10+ years writing about personal finance and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg, MSN Money, and other publications. You can follow The Ways To Wealth on Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook.