Most HVAC contractors don't realize this, but an opt-in email list is perhaps one of the most important aspects of a successful social media program. Why is that? It's because, often times, great content from your website that’s ultimately shared on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, first get to the customer through email.

Building an email list admittedly requires some effort. But with an effective business model in place, you can successfully grow a list and turn email subscribers into committed customers.

Content marketing is one effective business model for list building. If you have a business blog, you’re already doing it. Combining your blogging efforts and social media marketing tools with email list building boosts the power of content marketing.

There are three basic steps your business will have to take to build an email list.

The E-Newsletter

If you are collecting email names, you have to make sure you ultimately send those who sign up on your site something of value. That value is the e-newsletter. Your e-newsletter has to be either weekly or, at minimum, monthly in frequency and include valuable information for your customers and prospects. Yes, you can include a coupon code, but the majority of your content should be helpful and informational. So many HVAC contractors collect email names but never nurture the relationship by communicating ongoing value.

Generate Traffic

There are many ways to generate website traffic. For service-oriented businesses, blogging offers one of the more effective means to generate web traffic. With a blog, your business can educate consumers about various topics of interest — a key step in the sales process. Blogging also gives you an opportunity to describe how your services benefit potential consumers, a critical step in winning them over — and setting you apart from the competition as an authority.

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are also effective at generating traffic to your blog and/or website. The more people that like and share your content, the more opportunities you'll have to get those prospects back to your website. Regardless, it all starts with the content. If you don't have something interesting to say, you won't get web traffic from social media or search engines like Google.

Placing Calls-to-Action for Your E-newsletter

An opt-in form is simply a means to request additional information about users who visit your website or blog. And if you want to convert general web traffic into outrageously loyal fans, get visitors to your website to “opt in” to what you’re delivering — be it free content, a class or discounts.

Here are some best practices to follow when developing e-newsletter email opt-in forms:

Location, location, location – Where you place the form on a landing page matters a great deal. Most experts advise businesses to place the form “above the line,” which simply means that it’s easily viewable as the page opens, because most users will not scroll down farther on the page.

Repetition – Not all experts agree on how often to place an email opt-in form within a website. Some experts believe that the form should appear on each of your web pages, while others believe a single strategically placed opt-in form works best. Where you place it often depends on your business model. A more traditional marketer, for instance, might place it on every page, whereas content marketing professionals are moving toward a single-page approach, and then directing traffic specifically to that landing page.

Be brief – A simple form that gets the information you need and doesn’t take long to fill out will lead to more opt-ins. For e-newsletters, a first name and an email address will generally suffice.

Motivate – Users need a reason to opt in, so give it to them. Let them know that by subscribing they’ll get access to special deals or promotions, a free e-book, and so forth. Some industry experts estimate that offering a reward for opting in can increase responses by as much as 250%.

Land quality leads – More and more, businesses are using double opt-in requests. This method requires that a user first fills out the opt-in form, but then also has to later verify the request to join your mailing list. The theory behind double opt-ins is that it vets higher-quality leads, or users who are truly interested in what you have to offer.

Develop your e-newsletter email opt-in form carefully, and watch the email addresses roll in.

Joe Pulizzi is CEO for SocialTract, the leading blogging/social media service for HVACR Contractors. Joe’s new book, Managing Content Marketing, is now available on Amazon and Kindle. Joe can be reached on Twitter @juntajoe or by email joe@socialtract.com.