Digital Ads and Landing Pages: How to Grow Your Email List (pt 1)

By: Spencer Brooks

Please note that this is Part 1 of a three-part series. You can also read Part 2 and Part 3

This article is about a big-win tactic for growing your nonprofit’s email list -- a tactic that I’ve personally seen generate 94,328 new subscribers for one nonprofit my team works with. (And this organization did it in just 24 months while operating with less than $1M in revenue!)

Now, I’m not promising a magic bullet here. Getting these kind of results is hard work and isn’t free. But dollar-for-dollar, this tactic has a very high return on investment compared the cost of setting it up and managing it.

The high level tactic: digital advertising + custom landing pages

The concept is simple. You’ll be setting up paid advertisements to bring in more website visitors, and then directing them to specialized pages on your site called landing pages.

These landing pages have a much higher chance of converting your visitors to subscribers (aka future supporters) than just sending them to your homepage. And because these visitors came from a targeted advertisement, you can speak more directly to them because you know who they are and what they clicked on.

The process goes something like this:

You launch a digital advertising campaign (through Google, Facebook, etc), which drives a wave of new visitors to your site.

Visitors arrive at a landing page you have specifically designed to convert them into email subscribers. This is usually done by offering them some sort of free resource in exchange for entering their email address.
A percentage of those visitors sign up and receive a series of follow-up emails to nurture them into loyal supporters.

That doesn’t sound so hard, right?

Well, while the concept is straightforward, proper execution will make the difference between incremental and exponential results. Thankfully, with a bit of work (and the help of this article, hopefully), you can fall on the latter end of the spectrum.

3 common concerns with landing pages

Landing pages have the potential to completely transform your marketing efforts. Still, there are certain aspects of this strategy that make many nonprofits hesitant to commit. I’ve outlined three common concerns below.

How am I supposed to pay for advertising on a nonprofit budget?
That’s the obvious question, right? The great thing about this approach is that the biggest player in paid advertising, Google AdWords, will give eligible nonprofits up to $120,000 (sometimes as high as $480,000) every year in advertising grants. So you can spend a small fortune on advertising without actually having to pay for it.

TechSoup Canada administers Google AdWords Grants -- and because you’re reading this on the TechSoup Canada blog, there’s a good chance you already have this grant. However, I’ll wager you’re probably not capitalizing on the massive potential of those dollars by implementing tactics such as landing pages.

To amplify the impact of this strategy, many organizations choose to set aside a small budget for additional paid advertising channels like Facebook. While this is optional, finding and capitalizing on paid advertising opportunities outside of Google can further increase your results.

Isn’t this tactic kind of sneaky? I entered my email on a landing page once and got spammed for months.

I know some of you have probably signed up for a landing page in the past, only to receive non-stop spam. But, as an organization, you can design your landing page strategy to be completely above-board. For starters, you can:

  • Make it clear that signing up for your resources includes a free newsletter subscription.
  • Have people confirm their subscription so they have a choice not to opt in if they don’t want to.
  • Send them a welcome email letting them know what to expect in the future (more on this later).

Simply put, don’t be sneaky. And if you did happen to have a bad experience with someone else’s landing page, you can use that a benchmark for how not to treat your website visitors.

Yeah, but doesn’t placing my resources behind a landing page make it harder for people to get the information? That seems counterintuitive.

I realize this tactic runs against commonly-held thinking. You probably have great information and proof that it actually helps people. Putting up a barrier seems like madness -- don’t you want to make it as easy as possible for people to get it?

But ask yourself: if someone casually clicking an ad isn’t willing to cross a small barrier to receive your information, are they really interested enough to actually read it and put it to use? Is that the kind of person that’s going to be engaged and support your organization?

The uncomfortable truth is that many organizations are so focused on getting anyone and everyone to consume their information that they sacrifice opportunities to better engage the people who are likely to be their best supporters. These are the people who will actually read your materials, put them to use, and then remember you when giving season comes.

Yes, landing pages will put your information in comparatively less hands than giving it away without barriers. But that information will be in the hands of engaged people, and they’ll be on your email list to boot. That’s a powerful combo when it comes to growing your organization’s digital impact.

In Part 2, I’ll teach you how to design opt-in bonuses and landing pages that maximize conversion. 


About the Author

Spencer Brooks is the founder of Brooks Digital, a long-term Drupal support firm built for nonprofits. He enjoys teaching organizations how to maximize their online results by using data-driven strategies to constantly improve their website. In his free time, Spencer volunteers as a drummer for his local church and experiments with different ways of hand-brewing insanely delicious coffee.

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