What's the worst email marketing advice you ever got?

Hi folks,

what’s the WORST email marketing advice you ever got?

Mine was “Don’t collect email addresses - get them to follow you on Twitter. Social is going to be huge!”. Well, yeah…

I’m writing an expert roundup and would love to hear your stories.

A SEO specialist I hired when I didn’t know that I shouldn’t hire a SEO specialist recommended to ask for emails before allowing to download our desktop app.

So you required an email before letting them download?

Or did you try to collect email addresses on the website, but still offer a demo download?

We don’t collect emails at all (but will start soon when a blog is ready), the suggestion was to show “Enter your email to download” popup on clicking the “Download” button instead of downloading the app instantly.

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Depending on the market that actually might not be bad advice.

Why do you think it was bad advice for you? Did you test?

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That’s a great mindset. Some of those “always do X” truisms, might not actually apply to every situation.

I’m curious on this answer too. I’m considering requesting email addresses before download. It’s a niched product so specific users.

It adds strong unnecessary friction for trying an app by:

  1. failing to comply to what the button says, “Download”
  2. requiring to trust your email to an unknown site while not being a registration process
  3. being generally weird because I’ve never seen a desktop app doing this

So the advice came from a standard SEO idea “all downloads must ask for an email”, without thinking of cultural norms for this kind of action or that it’s not a freebie but a paid product.

“I’ve never seen a desktop app doing this” - Strange as I’ve seen lots. I’ve even seen websites that wont let you view much without registering. I’ve even seen e-commerce sites that won’t let you browse a page clicked through from google without registering. Not saying that its right for everyone. But its not wrong for everyone either.

So did you test it?

Websites – yes, but I’m yet to see an app doing this.

I’m not going to test it because:

  • I believe it damages conversions into downloads because of the reasons above
  • we are getting emails on purchase anyway
  • to try I need convert the “Download” button into an “Enter email to download” form or it would be a borderline shady UX pattern – breaking a promise to users to gain something from them

So my thoughts re: Email Registration for the 2p its worth. But sure this has been done to death elsewhere…

The advantage is simple - you get the email address so you can do on- boarding / autoresponders / marketing automation to nudge them into the steps required to actually install and/or use your app and ultimately become a paying customer. Also potential for x-selling at later date - despite the insta-twitter-book email lists are valuable.

I really can’t think of many apps (outside of really simple phone type apps) that wouldn’t benefit in some way from on-boarding. (And most of the successful phone apps do ‘in app onboarding’ but you have to get them using the app in the first place for that to work).

The downsides - some users may be reluctant and either give you false/throwaway address or just bounce/abandon. The false/throwaway address doesn’t really cause you problems - nothing lost over no download form. Bounces may cause you problems, but its not the number of bounces you need to be worried about - its the subset of bouncers who would have become customers. And this is hard to test.

So for everyone having a sign up form is sure to reduce the number of downloads, but the unknown is how many of those downloaders you’ve lost were serious prospects.

After resisting a signup form in my own business for a long time I would now have one in just about every circumstance I can think of.

Final thought - you are not your customer. We’re nerds. I am super protective of my email address. I hate spam. I wouldn’t download something that I wasn’t going to try out straight away. I want to read up and try out a product myself. The last thing I want is some salesperson trying to talk to me, and definitely not by phone god dammit! Most people are not nerds. Your customers may not be like you.


It could be an additional form nearby “enter your email to get best practices” but not a hidden download step.

We can do this because paying customers share their emails during the purchase process.

Sure, somebody can get distracted and forget about the app but it’s still in their “Downloads” folder, waiting for them.

I’m ok with signups when they’re appropriate and transparent.

Maybe not all of my customers but we have plenty of advanced users like developers, designers, freelancers in general. The app has an accent on privacy and advanced features like scripting.

Thats cool - maybe your customers are sensitive to that. Though you haven’t tested so you don’t actually know for sure. But you can’t test everything and taking a stand based on beliefs and principals is great, really.

However to say that the advice was bad (and not even defining what bad means : downloads, revenue, trust?) and imply that its generally bad when you don’t actually know is a bit of a reach isn’t it? Even for your particular circumstance I think you have to accept that it may have been ‘good’ advice.

(By the way I had pretty much this exact conversation 6 years ago with me playing you and a colleague playing me! Turns out they were right for my circumstance…)

Anyway am am hijacking @itengelhardt’s thread now so no more from me - all the best!


@Rhino I don’t think you’re hijacking. That’s such an insightful, educated discussion fiercly fought with arguments instead of personal insults. If anything, the internet needs more of this!

May be, there’s also a probability that all the downloadable apps are too “traditional” and we should start asking for emails like SaaS products do. Anyway, I’ll definitely place more email forms around the site when there’s something useful to send.

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts!

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Just today I had to download two applications (for business) and both not only required me to leave my email, but in fact required a full-blown registration. Which I had to complete because well this is the corporate choice of the apps, what can I do?

My point is: the threshold is probably not in being traditional or not, but how warm the downloader is; if the decision is already made to use this app, then registration or not, but I have to walk thru it. If however I’m just kicking tires I’d be reluctant to leave even the email.

Coming back on topic: I guess the absolutely worst advice about email marketing is not to do the email marketing, right? Nothing can beat it.

Websites – yes, but I’m yet to see an app doing this.

I’m not going to test it because:

  • I believe it damages conversions into downloads because of the reasons above
  • we are getting emails on purchase anyway
  • to try I need convert the “Download” button into an “Enter email to download” form or it would be a borderline shady UX pattern – breaking a promise to users to gain something from them

I truly, 100% understand you. This looks shady, borderline and plain spammy.

Still, I placed an email-to-download form on my product page (a macOS app: cashnotify.com), and I can’t say I regret it.
I’d still like to replace it (probably with some in-app form), but in no case would I remove it.

Sure, we have our lot of fake emails. I didn’t run the number, but that looks like less than 20%.
The big upshot is that I can properly onboard and follow up.
I have yet to test without the email-to-download form, but as of now, we’re at about 35% conversion rate trials to customers, which I wouldn’t be close to without the emails.

As with most things, it depends a lot on your context. I’d say the only way to know for sure is to test.


There is an article on http://www.alwinhoogerdijk.com/ somewhere where they tested asking for email before download vs not asking. Asking for the email resulted in less downloads, but more sales in their case. Note that they had a well crafted drip email sequence.

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The question I’m worried about and which makes me consider the whole idea as “bad” even if the sales are higher: what happens to people who don’t download or enter fake emails?

I think they experience negative emotions about this kind of UI flow, not strong ones but probably the same “this annoying form again, nope” that I feel when sites bring popups in the middle of me reading the article or try to catch up when I move my pointer to a tab to close the page.

Let’s say if downloads 20% lower and the remaining 20% enter fake emails – this is a lot of visitors who do not approve this, not just nerds like me. Plus many can surrender to the requirement because they really want to try the app but feel the same.

Based on the nature of your product and the pricing, I’d think an email barrier for downloads would not be a good idea. An email barrier would be more appropriate for a big-ticket B2B pricing.

What I do recommend is that when someone clicks on your “free download” button, you begin the download and then a couple of seconds later, redirect the user to a “Thanks for downloading!” page. On that page, you can have a “Subscribe to our email newsletter” form.

I’ve been doing this for a while for Poker Copilot, and I’ve built up a sizeable list as a result. You can see the “Thanks for downloading” page here.