Counter-Intuitive List Building: The Reverse Opt-In

Have you ever looked at what everyone else is doing and thought there must be a different way…

Maybe you’re like me, and you can get a little rebellious when it comes to commonplace marketing advice.

When everyone else is zigging, it makes sense to zag.

That’s exactly what this counter-intuitive tribe building and email list growing technique is all about. Keep reading.

Typical List Building Opt-In Pages

You know that the status quo is to drive traffic to an opt-in squeeze page, where the only option on the page is to opt-in or leave.

These types of landing pages are extremely effective, sometimes getting opt-in conversion rates from 20% up to 80% depending on who lands there.

They’re so popular that there’s an entire market of tools designed to help you build these “lead pages” and squeeze pages.

But there’s a reason they’re called “squeeze pages”… because you’re trying to squeeze a website visitor into opting in to your email list.

This absolutely does work, and when you’re spending money advertising you might want to keep sending people to squeeze pages…

However, if you really want to build your tribe and email list, and build a community of people who share your amazing work for you, there’s another way.

It’s called The Reverse Opt-In.

Introducing The Reverse Opt-In

Tired of The Usual List Building Tactics? Try The Reverse Opt-In Instead...


As the name implies, this is a different type of web page… where instead of asking someone to opt-in to your email list and THEN giving them the goods, you first give them something of value and then you ask them to join your list.

Let’s look at a few examples, to illustrate the difference.

With a traditional lead page, you’ll ask someone to sign up for your email list and then they get to attend a webinar that you’ll be hosting.

With a reverse opt-in, you would send someone to a webinar recording or live webinar if you’re hosting it live… and then on the page people would have the option of joining your email list for more.

This “more” could be another webinar, a checklist download, a series of emails, or anything else that might be of value to people.

Here’s another example for you. With a traditional squeeze page, you tell someone about this amazing ebook that you want to give them. They give you their name and email and they get access to the ebook.

The risk here is that the visitor doesn’t know how good your ebook really is, and they need to take a chance and hope that you’re not just full of hype. (This is especially true in certain industries, that tend to over promise and under deliver!)

On the other hand, with a reverse opt-in you can send people to a page and give them the download link for your ebook immediately.

On the same page you’d have an opt-in box, where people can stay in the loop and get more of the same type of information you provide in your book.

See the difference? Here if someone downloads your ebook and thinks it’s ho-hum, they won’t opt-in for more. But if you’re giving a super high quality gift, then people will be clicking that “opt-in submit button” faster than you can “free”.

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The Subtle Benefits Of The Reverse Opt-In

If someone downloads your ebook or attends your webinar without first opting in… they get to know if you’re a good match.

This is part of the wooing process, and sometimes a first date doesn’t impress you… And people are becoming more discerning with their email addresses and the amount of emails that they sign up for.

A hard squeeze page might discourage people from even going on a first date with you or your business, so a reverse opt-in is a gentler way of bringing someone into your world.

This method of tribe building actually helps you attract the RIGHT people, and it converts the skeptics who would have been on the fence or totally turned off by pushy marketing tactics.

I believe that a reverse opt in technique can make us more human, and approachable, too.

Reverse Opt-Ins Increase Social Sharing, Building Your Tribe Faster

Reverse Opt in Example
The first time I used the reverse opt-in was in my first online business, where I was giving away a book called “28 Desserts You Can Eat Every Day”.

I had befriended a few influencers on Twitter and at large on social media… but I had a feeling that if I approached them asking them to share a squeeze page they wouldn’t go for it.

Think about it: who wants to ask their friends to opt-in for something? (The big exception I’ve seen is when the content is so freaking good that it should be a paid course, like the 30 Day List Building Challenge).

So instead, I put the download link for the ebook directly on the page I wanted people to share. I also included an opt-in box in the sidebar on the site, so it was really easy for people who liked the ebook to get more stuff.

I also explained what they’d get when they joined the list – which included recipe videos and a live webinar.

The result of using the reverse opt-in and having a really freaking awesome ebook that I was giving away for free? I added nearly 500 new people to my email list.

I didn’t have to beg people to share the ebook, because the first few people who downloaded it loved it so much that it was a no brainer to retweet or share the link with their audiences.

When To Use a Reverse Opt-In

Obviously, you’ll notice that I don’t use the reverse opt-in exclusively on my sites… I do have landing pages and opt-in pages, depending on what I’m promoting.

I don’t necessarily believe you should give “everything you’ve got” away without asking for an opt-in… but there are times when using the reverse opt-in will help your message spread further, and your list build even faster.

I recommend using the reverse opt-in when you:

  • Want a super valuable piece of content to go “viral” on social media
  • Plan on using retargeting ads to capture people who don’t immediately opt-in, by showing them further opportunities to join your list later
  • Want to make it super easy for affiliates to share your content, and still get sales commissions if people sign up down the line (because of cookie tracking)
  • Need to test how you talk about something to make sure you “nail” the language and best way to promote a gift or topic

You can also make the most of a reverse opt-in if you’re using email marketing automation because you can see un-gated content to people who are already on your list, but haven’t checked out a specific topic area from you yet.

Choose The Right Email Marketing Platform

If you haven’t selected your email marketing platform yet, you can check out our full CRM comparison guide, and see how the top tools compare.

You’ll want to find something that lets you test different opt-in offers through a reverse opt-in, and tag people based on what actions they take from there.

So Are You Feeling Rebellious?

If you made it this far, your curiosity about the reverse opt-in might be piqued! If you’re feeling rebellious toward traditional list-building landing pages, then it might be time to take the reverse opt-in for a spin!

I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below!

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43 Comments

  • Jennifer

    We are doing this!

  • Hi Nathalie!
    Excited to give it a go! Saw this post first thing this morning and it inspired me to try it out.
    Thanks for your fresh perspectives and polite presence! ❤️

  • I’ve never been a fan of traditional squeeze pages, so I definitely have to try this. I’m going to create my first reverse opt-in this weekend

  • I love this idea! I’ve been stressing a bit about creating opt-ins, as I really want to offer value and show a true representation of what it’s like to work with me. This approach feels authentic, thanks for giving a new perspective!

  • Love having a name for this method & to know that it resonates so much with other people. I’ve been doing it for years too…but always felt like it was “wrong” somehow. I do have opt ins, but a lot more things are available for download before committing to anything.
    I’d sort of stopped blogging this past year because I’m so exhausted from all the rules (create a special download, set up a new opt in form, create awesome graphics in 4 different layouts)… Maybe uploading my files and sharing will help me feel like I’m getting back to my roots!
    Thanks for this Nathalie

  • So glad to know this approach works, I’ve always felt sooooo rebellious against the traditional opt-in tactic that I have never put a big a emphasis or effort on building my list, silly I know but what can I say? I was making decent money anyhow, without a list, so I shrugged it off…but
    In the past few weeks, like I often do every now and then I’ve been arguing with myself about it and thought of this idea but was wondering whether it would work or not. Glad to see if does, thanks for sharing!

  • LOVE this! I have been spending a lot of time lately just unsubscribing from emails that no longer serve me and my business (or never did). I sign up for a ton of stuff, but LOVE it when I actually 100% resonate with someone and want to open up every email they send. That’s so much more what I hope to do with my tribe.. so definitely going to be testing this out.

  • Dear Nathalie,
    Breath of fresh air!
    Thanks, am going to implement that on my website.
    Apart from being a new strategy, it is actually more generous.
    May your ideas multiply!
    Regards

  • I hear ya sister! you are so refreshing! 🙂
    I totally agree. When in comes to marketing tactics I often ask myself, “Seriously? That is the only way to do it? Maybe the reason typical marketing works is simply because there are no other options. I find it hard to believe people are fooled by typical marketing manipulations. It really does surprise me, because I like to think people are NOT stupid.
    I am just about finished some videos that I will be posting. This is another area where there are certain “rules” one is supposed to follow for success. For example, “everyone” recommends you lock eyes with the camera and I though, well, that just is not real! I never lock eyes with a viewer when I speak to them. It will be interesting to see if my rebellious nature to consider alternatives will pay off. 🙂
    Thanks for your insights.

  • Frances

    This is awesome! One clarifying question: when they click download, are they taken to a page where they can download the item and that is where the opt in box is? Thanks!

    • ambitionally

      It depends how you want to implement that. The way I had done it, they could click download and the PDF would immediately download to their computer. And on the “click to download” page there was a sidebar opt-in. You could also include the link to an opt-in page in your download, but whatever makes it easy is key.

  • Great stuff Nathalie! It’s very true that if your material is quality, people will come back time and again and sign up to be sure they don’t miss out.
    I’ve got a recorded webinar this would work fantastic with since I already refer to the lead magnet in the recording! I think I’ll set that up this weekend 🙂
    Thanks for your continuing inspiration!
    Jill

    • ambitionally

      Absolutely, and way to go taking action this so quickly Jill!

  • Love this. And funny enough, I just planned a reverse opt-in without realizing it before I read this: super valuable blog post with an optin to get the call recording that the post is based on. Now I feel even more confident about my plan!

  • I have always thought “opposite”! When I am looking at two lines at the airport , I will “opt-in” for the left one. It is always less crowded than the right.
    Your logic makes a lot of sense because I want people who are signing up for my e-mail community who are truly interested in what I have to offer. I would prefer sampling before buying into the site as well. I think that brings ownership, trust and loyalty.
    I used to own ballet studios and people were given free trial lessons. I could get to know their child too and see if it was a fit. If it was on both sides, they always signed up and were supportive for years!
    I love your 30 Day Challenge. Spending a lot of thought on the opt-in as my first ones were just no good and did not represent what I could truly offer. The chart is a great help. Also find that with three interests on one site, I will need the PopAlly Pro to offer more than one choice on the opt-in.
    Thanks for your brilliance Natalie!

    • ambitionally

      Love that you mention the ballet classes – that’s how I started doing ballet and then later martial arts. It’s much easier to get a feel for how you like it by trying it out. 🙂

      • Definitely and the proof is in the pudding! You look like a dancer, I am not surprised you tried ballet 🙂
        I am jumping in and will put my reverse opt-in today!

  • Just love this idea thank you!
    Funny enough, your pop up popped up at the end and was not a reverse optin ;P

    • ambitionally

      Like I mentioned, I don’t use reverse opt-ins everywhere because I don’t think it applies in all cases. I’d love to see an example of a popup with a reverse opt-in done well though!

  • I’ve done reverse opt-ins before, and I’ve had a lot of success with them. It seems like the more I give away for free, the more subscribers and paid clients I get. Great advice, as always. 🙂

    • ambitionally

      Thanks for sharing your experience with this! It’s so counter to what we’ve been led to believe, right? Love it.

  • I do love this idea, you got me when you mentioned rebellious 😉 I also feel I want to do things my way instead of following what everybody says. And I am fed up of giving my email for opt-ins that are really not that good, and then I have to unsubscribe when I notice I don’t even read their emails… So… thinking about that, now I only have an opt-in (a free 7 day Feel Good instantly e-course), and a weekly Monday Motivation Mail after the course but I am writing a book I am planning to sell. So maybe I could offer a chapter for free as another root-in? Plus I am planning on doing a webinar / workshop when I launch the book, so maybe the webinar recording can also be one? Anyway, thanks very much for this idea!!!

    • ambitionally

      So happy this spoke to you Madeleine! And yes, a free book chapter and webinar are both great for this, too!

  • Love the reverse opt-in Nathalie. I’m reworking my website and this would work beautifully. Something else I’ve noticed and like it actually seeing a few pages of the opt-in where you have a sneak peek first. That’s got me in a few times.

    • ambitionally

      Ooh that’s a great idea too Diana! A little preview before you hand over your email address, why not?

  • Love this, Nathalie! I’m so over getting opt ins from folks who aren’t my ideal customer (and often end up unsubscribing fairly quickly as a result). This is a great way to “qualify” them before they join my community. Thanks, lady! 🙂

    • ambitionally

      Absolutely – if they were just in for the gift but they’re not a good fit, they don’t need to be on your list… but if they know they love you and your style, they’ll stick around!

  • I love the idea of mixing it up and surprising people. Thanks for helping me think outside the box!

    • ambitionally

      You’re so welcome Linda! Glad this is sparking some ideas for you. 🙂

  • This is exactly what I’ve done with my Ultimate Guide to Leaving Your Job and Planning a Business You Can Bank On. The whole 5,000 word guide can be read for free on my web site, but you can opt in to get it all in a PDF and also get access to the juicy business tips (and occasional rants) I deliver in my newsletter. Thanks, Nathalie, for explaining how this works! It’s a great strategy.

    • ambitionally

      Ooh love that you’ve already been using this idea Jessica – and your guide has such a great title, too! Keep rocking it. 🙂

  • Thanks for this tip, although I have to admit I’m struggling with the concept! I’ve just finished writing my first opt-in and it took such a lot of work I’d be really reluctant to give it away without first collecting an email! So maybe this isn’t the best time to go for the reverse option. But what I will do is create something less weighty later on and try this tactic out. Thanks!

    • ambitionally

      Awesome Emma. You definitely need to feel out what’s comfortable for you to give away sans-opt-in and what you feel is a fair exchange for an email. But definitely give it a shot with another project and see how it pans out!

  • Seriously awesome article, thank you! It’s quite rare to read something that is a completely new idea to me, so thank you! I’m already thinking about how I can incorporate this. It’s especially relevant for me as my business really revolves around having a very targeted, loyal and community based list. (you’re totally right about the 30 day list building challenge, I’m always sending people the link to that!)

    • ambitionally

      Yay so happy to hear that this was a new one for you Iris! And also that you’ve realized how you’re trying to build a focused and loyal community and how this might help. Woohoo!

  • I love this idea! Putting it on my list!
    Thanks!

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