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Why People Don’t Join Your List – The Top 5 Things to Check

Pete Sandeen Landing Page CritiqueMany marketing tactics become more or less worthless if people refuse to join your list. An effective marketing strategy that doesn’t involve building a list is an exception.

If you’re not in contact with your potential customers, you struggle to demonstrate your expertise and can’t make anyone even consider buying what you sell.

The first step is getting people to an opt-in landing page. And sure, they have to be interested in what you have to offer.

But for the purposes of this post, I’ll assume that some people already find their way to your opt-in landing page and that the issue is your conversion rate. Few (if any) of the people who visit your landing page decide to join your list.

So, here are the top 5 reasons why people who “really should” join your list, don’t.

#5 – Lost Scent

People end up on your opt-in landing pages with a purpose. They don’t just want to see the page; they clicked a link that they expected to help them reach a specific goal or solve a specific problem.

The page has to immediately reassure the visitor that they are indeed closer to reaching that goal or solving that problem. If they aren’t reassured, people feel like they lost the “scent” of what they were after, and they turn back to find the scent once again.

You can’t hope to reach good conversion numbers if the virtual scent trail isn’t easy to follow. Every detour and distraction leads to fewer subscribers.

For example, the image you’re looking for a classic wedding dress and end up on this product page:

Zappos Badgley Mischka Ikat Combo Dress

Even if you find the dress interesting, you’re almost certainly going to leave the page. Why? Because it doesn’t lead you closer to what you were looking for.

But in many situations the issue is a lot less striking. Just remember to think about what people want to achieve when they click a link leading to your landing page.

Your opt-in landing page has to clearly and immediately reassure visitors that they clicked a link to take them closer to what they’re after. Don’t try to lead them to a new scent trail.

#4 – Dodgy Design

Your landing pages don’t need the sleekest design. And you shouldn’t even try to include all the latest bells and whistles.

But if your page’s design clearly fails your visitors’ expectations, they’re likely to leave. So, the amount of effort you need to put into your design really depends on your visitors and your competitors.

For example, if you’re in the general health field, you have so many big-budget competitors that your visitors expect at least close to a professional design.

But if you target a small sub-segment of people (for example, people who suffer from a rare disease), you don’t have many big-budget competitors and your visitors’ design expectations may be less high.

Rather than showing a what-not-to-do example and embarrassing someone, here’s a good example of a fairly simple, clean opt-in landing page design that would show well against almost any competitor:

Information HighwayMan Landing Page

You could even simplify some of the graphics without losing any of the impact.

Look at your closest competitors and aim for at least a similar level of professionalism between their design and yours. If you don’t, people will naturally gravitate toward your competitors because they have put in more effort to polish how things look.

#3 – Beside-The-Point Headline

The headline is the most important part of your landing page. And by most important, I mean that it affects your conversion rate more than any other element.

Crafting a headline that goes into the history books (or copywriting books) for ingenuity and persuasiveness is tough—really tough.

But coming up with a headline that gets the job done isn’t really that complicated.

The simplest way to make sure your headline isn’t pushing visitors away is to simply state the main benefit of joining your list and/or getting the freebie you’re offering.

Here are three examples of simple, good headlines that get the job done:

Digital Insight Landing Page

Buffer App Landing Page

Simple Writing 4 NonWriters Landing Page

As you can see, there’s nothing earth-shattering about any of these headlines. But they get the right idea across, so it’s fair to assume the conversion rates are at least decent.

#2 – Sales-y Copy

When people come to your opt-in landing pages, you haven’t earned the right to sell yet. So, don’t even try.

Since you’re not asking for money, it could be argued that you’re not technically selling anything. Even so, copy that has a sales-y vibe is enough to scare most people away.

Language like “Finally a solution to…” and “Act now before it’s too late!” sound too much like sales hype to work on most opt-in landing pages. (I’d usually avoid these on sales pages, too, but that’s another story).

If people feel like you’re exaggerating or too pushy, you lose credibility and they lose interest in what you have to say.

All that said, don’t downplay the value you have to offer. Just don’t go so far that people can’t believe you.

For example, this page promises a lot. But not so much that you don’t believe that the e-book will deliver on what’s promised.

HubSpot Landing Page

If the language got much more “aggressive,” you might start doubting everything on the page. Would you believe HubSpot if they claimed, “Just read this e-book and you’ll be on the first page of Google by tomorrow?”

#1 – Banal Promises

So, this is basically what it all boils down to: your landing page has to promise what your visitors want. If it doesn’t, they have no reason to be interested in what you do, right?

The best reasons people should be interested in what you do and join your list (and ultimately buy what you sell) form your value proposition. Those are the elements your landing page has to focus on to entice people to opt-in to your list.

You need to know what those reasons are and how to communicate them, so that they make a full impact.

But just any old “good” reasons won’t work. They have to be unique to you; they have to make subscribing to your list a good choice.

It’s difficult to give simple and good examples of this because so many things affect the value proposition. This makes evaluating them (without insider knowledge) complicated.

Changing the target audience, the format of the offer, or even the topic could result in a totally different value proposition (even if the changes are very small).

But here are a few phrases you might have come across on several different sites, which makes them barely worth mentioning on yours:

“Get your site to the first page of Google,” “earn a six-figure income from home,” and “build a massive social media following” are just a few marketing-related phrases that have lost their impact. Even if your offer could create those results, people are unlikely to believe it.

“Get rock-hard six-pack abs,” “lose 10 pounds in a week,” and “the only supplement you need to make your friends jealous” are typical claims in the weight-loss/body-building industries.

Other industries have their own sales phrases that have turned into clichés. If you use any of them, your visitors will likely just turn away in search of something they haven’t already seen.

So, figure out what makes you and your offer worth subscribing for. And then make your value proposition blatantly obvious to anyone who ventures onto your landing page.

Over to You

When you look at your landing pages, have you made any of these mistakes? Or did you avoid all the most typical conversion-killing blunders? Share your experiences in the comments below.

About Peter Sandeen

Peter Sandeen dreams of sailing with his wife and dogs on the Finnish coast-unless he's helping someone build a clear marketing message and strategy that creates sales consistently. Download the quick 5-step exercise that shows what ideas are most likely to make people want to buy your products and services.


  1. Afzol says:

    Nice Article and thank you. It is interesting topic that you shared, I appreciated it. I also learned why mos people don’t join.

  2. Faigie says:

    I’m actually in the process of totally revamping my value proposition after spending a couple of years trying to interest people in changing the way they do things. I finally realized that I need to actually get into a different part of my niche to get people to opt in. Now only time will tell

    1. Hi Faigie,

      Great that you noticed it, though. A lot of people just keep trying the same thing no matter what the results; it’s really hard to let go of a direction you’ve been on for a long time.


  3. Kate says:

    Peter – this is super relevant for me right now as I am looking to come up with a new offer. Much to add to the stew as far as creating new content and connection. Thank you!

  4. Thought provoking points which apply to any business that is trying to build a list of prospects. From a list-builder’s perspective, I think it also depends on who your target audience is. Having too many opt-ins of unqualified prospects for one’s services doesn’t help anyone. Neither the list-builder nor the person who opts-in to get the freebie gets any real benefit. In that context, one has to sit down and think really hard if the landing page is meeting the criterion that have been detailed in the post and tweak as required.

  5. Mike Devaney says:


    How do manage to write so incisively ALL the time???

    Particularly since English is not your native language?!!

    Anyway, I think you nailed it w No.5 – losing the scent. I’ve made too much of leap between link and landing page in the past. Incorrect assumptions have taught me to make the landing page ULTRA-specific to where the visitor is coming from.

    1. Hey Mike,

      Thanks 🙂 I use far more English than Finnish nowadays (we even talk English with my wife—even though we’re both Finnish).

      Yep, the scent is surprisingly important. And very few people really put in the effort to consider it… So, if you do, you have a nice advantage 😉


  6. Jagoda says:

    Clear and actionable post. Thank you. I was wondering if the way you sign your name with the hyperlink to your landing page (like on a guest post) helps to pre-qualify people to download.
    For example yours, Peter, says, “But you can download the quick 5-step system for finding the core of your value proposition, so you’ll know what makes people notice you, join your list, and buy your products.”

    That’s way more than I usually say in my signature but yours would tell me exactly why to go to your landing page.

  7. Sherine says:

    Asking for too much information is the main reason for me. Why do I need to give my address, occupation and phone number to just join a list? If it asks for more than name and email address then I’m not joining.

  8. Lynn Silva says:

    Hi Peter! : )

    I value and respect all of your content as it always gives actionable tips you can implement right now. Thank you once again for an awesome article.

    I’m really into using what I was taught are ‘power’ words as demonstrated here My question is whether the use of power words on a landing page would be considered ‘salesy.’ I’d love to know your opinion on this matter.

    1. Hi Lynn,

      I don’t think the words necessarily make you sound sales-y. But the more grandiose words you use, the easier it is to sound sales-y. In other words, it’s just more difficult to write non-sales-y copy with those kinds of words.

      That said, it’s not especially difficult with most words. E.g., “Find out why gullible people risk dying an agonizing death after blindly trusting the ‘common knowledge.'” doesn’t sound super sales-y (depends on what’s around it, though). But you could easily use pretty much the same words and come off as pushy.


  9. Sonia Thompson ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    This is such an important concept. Perhaps some additional reasons as to why people don’t join email lists are 1. They aren’t asked, and 2. they aren’t given a compelling enough reason to do so.

    Once the lightbulb clicks at just how important this is – we’ll see lots more business owners work to up their landing page game.

  10. Michael Bely says:

    Peter, thanks for the article.

    In addition to the 5 reasons why people might not want to join your list you have outlined, I also thought of another one.

    This is the lack of the pillar content on your website.

    So for example, if I go to someone’s website and see that the only thing it can offer is a landing page, I will less likely to opt-in (if we talk about email opt-in).

    Of course, it depends on what that landing page has 🙂
    And also it matters whether I have heard of this person before etc.

    But anyway, what do you think about having enough high-quality content on your website as a factor of getting more opt-ins?

    1. Alan says:

      @Micheal Bely, you know that’s a two way street. There are people who opt-in in landing pages with only an email form, and two sentences explaining you why you should enter your email address.

      However, I agree with you that it makes a huge difference who referred you that landing page in the first place.

      For instance, if I get an unsolicited email from an unknown person asking me to enter my email address in his spammy looking landing page, yeah that’s a big red flag.

      But if one of the persons who I’m already subscribed to, sends me the same link, to the same page, regardless of how it looks I’m more prone to sign up without even reading the text.

        1. Hey Michael,

          You’re more of an exception if after landing on a landing page, you go looking for other content before coming back and opting in. The vast majority of people just opt in or leave. That said, there are people like you who first explore the site and only then opt in. So, in that light, it’s great to have great content on your site, too.

          But as far as getting the best “return” for your time, dedicating almost all of your content-creation time to guest blogging will grow your list faster 🙂


          1. Michael Bely says:

            Peter, I really appreciate your reply.

            Yes, it is really awkward to me to opt-in without exploring a little bit. There are too many websites in the web that offer you to opt in 🙂

            The principle of quest blogging and landing pages with minimum content on your own website (AFAIK Danny teaches these principles in his program) still seems kind of something fantastic (yes, even despite of $1K of ‘insurance’ that Danny offers for his students in case of failure – almost unbelievable!) 🙂

            By the way, it’s interesting to know what is the failure rate among Danny’s students?

            It also seems strange to me that people go and buy something relying on their feelings ‘now and here’ being heated with selling tricks kind of ‘right now’, ‘discount only 24 hours’ etc. But it is all about cookies in their browser (and sometimes email address, very seldom it is about IP). Why don’t people understand it if they are (or want to be) in the field of INTERNET marketing? (Perhaps I overestimate people’s thinking ability too often?)

            There is something intangible and very interesting in these facts of people behavior.
            I know Seth Godin says that people are not rational. But are they really too irrational? (rhetoric question :))

          2. Hey Michael,

            I don’t actually know the failure rate, but as far as I know, everyone who has actually put in the effort has gotten the promised results (from Danny’s ABM program).

            To answer your rhetoric question ;), yes, people act seemingly irrationally more often than you’d think. But in most cases, the reason is that they don’t know the right questions to ask. For example, “How can they offer this 24-hour discount just for me? Can someone else get it tomorrow? If so, can I get it tomorrow, too?”


          3. Paul says:

            After reading this thread I felt compelled to confirm what Peter said about guest blogging being the “best return for your time.” I clicked on his link and another link in the article because they were endorsed by being in Danny’s blog. I am not quick to click on anything and feel I have good discernment on what is a link worth checking. This certainly substantiates what Peter says in my opinion. Which even further substantiates everything Peter says IMHO.

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