Building an email list can feel like a herculean task when you’re just getting started. This post aims to give you a solid starting point by outlining the proper ways to build an email list. (Also, what you absolutely must not do.)

We’ve previously established that email marketing remains one of the best ways to communicate with – and market to – prospective as well as existing customers.

But an email campaign’s success is also largely reliant on the quality of the email list. A list that is lacking in detail or that has a lot of errors isn’t likely to yield great results.

That’s why it’s so important to build your email list properly.

You might also like: Why start an e-mail list? 6 reasons you can’t ignore!

How to build an email list

Well begun is half done, so let’s take a look at some of the different ways small businesses can start building their list.

Optimize your website for opt-ins

Make it easy for visitors to your website to opt in to your email list. The option to subscribe (plugin / widget / button) should be easily seen and accessible.

Here’s an example from Marketing Land:

Build an email list: Optimize your website for opt-ins by making the option to subscribe easily visible and accessible

They’ve made it super easy to sign up for their newsletter with a subscribe button in the main navigation bar as well as with a sidebar opt-in widget. They’ve also got an opt-in plugin in the footer section of the website.

Pro Tip: Getting subscribers is one thing, keeping them happy and subscribed is another. Make sure you’re always providing content of value.

Add CTAs to your blog posts

If you’ve got a blog, go ahead and incorporate a call-to-action (CTA) for your newsletter in your blog posts.

For the best outcome, you’ll need to craft your CTAs well. Minimize reluctance by making it clear what the person will be getting, how often he’ll be receiving your emails, and how easy it is to unsubscribe.

Make use of landing pages

Landing pages are specifically designed to increase conversions and for lead generation, so make use of them!

Use forms to collect such information as the person’s name and email address, which – with the appropriate opt-in notice – can be used to build your email list.

You might also like: Benefits of landing pages for your business

Use your social media accounts

Whether it’s Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube etc., your social media accounts are prime real estate for various calls-to-action.

Use your bio section, pin a CTA tweet, or add posts to promote your newsletter and encourage signups.

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Offer email-only benefits to encourage sign ups

Encourage sign ups by making it worth your audience’s while. For example: Exclusive offers for subscribers and / or email-only benefits that can include such things as first dibs / advance purchase on select limited time offers.

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Pro Tip: Ask your audience what kind of information or content would be most interesting and useful to them. You can do this at sign up or through other means. Then use that insight to segment your list and to gather content ideas.

Use the marketing avenues already at your disposal

You have various marketing materials or collateral that you can use to promote your email newsletters and encourage signups.

  • Offer sign-up incentives via your invoices
  • Incorporate information about your newsletter in product packaging
  • Add a little note to sign up for awesome insights to your email signature

And so on.

Simply look at what is available to you and find an organic way to mention your newsletter.

Email in exchange for freebies

Make it a requirement to provide an email address and / or further personal information in exchange for value freebies. Freebies can include limited access to what would normally be paid content, a free e-book, downloadable guide, etc.

Build an email list: Capture email addresses in exchange for freebies like a free e-book or access to content

Use popups or slide-ins

I’ve put this method at the very end because, depending on your business, it may not be a suitable option for you.

While some hate popups and slide-ins because they’re annoying, they can apparently increase conversions by 2100%—at least in some cases. That’s why you’ll have noticed that a lot of websites have employed this tactic as a means to capture email addresses.

There are different kinds of popups and slide-ins. For example:

  • Exit-intent popup: This popup only shows up when people are about to leave the site.
  • Timed popup: As its name suggests, it is timed to appear after the visitor has been on the page for a certain period of time.
  • Scroll popup: This popup appears once the visitor has scrolled up to a certain point e.g. the half-way mark on a page or blog post.
  • Entry popup: This is a popup that is shown as soon as the page loads. It can be a small popup or one that takes up the whole screen, so that visitors cannot see the page (or proceed) until they’ve interacted with the popup.
  • Click popup: This is a popup that appears once someone has clicked on a CTA e.g. a “download free e-book” button that then loads a form where the person has to submit information.

Pro Tip: The success of your popup / slide-in is partly contingent on your copy, so put thought into what you’re writing. Where possible, don’t forget to test different versions out to see which works best.

This is an example of an exit popup that I think is absolutely genius:

Build an email list: Use popups or slide-ins for lead generation

The copy instantly captures your attention with its earnest “don’t leave please…” headline down to the offer itself. Chances are you’ll click through to see what kind of ‘wishes’ can be granted.

What you shouldn’t do

If you’ve read through the above suggestions and thought to yourself “there has to be an easier way” or “how do I build an email list quickly”, then this section is particularly important for you. Why? Because “easy” isn’t always better. In fact when it comes to email marketing, “easy” could get you blacklisted.

Pro Tip: In today’s environment, people have become increasingly cautious about sharing their contact information. No one wants to be spammed, scammed or have their personal information compromised in some way. Show that you are trustworthy for better results.

Here are the three things you absolutely must not do when building your email list.

You might also like: Earn customers’ trust

Don’t buy email lists

As Mailchimp puts it, “a purchased audience is a useless audience”. So don’t even bother with buying or renting email lists.

Those who haven’t signed up to receive your emails are unlikely to actually do anything with your email—they won’t read your mails and they certainly won’t be making a purchase. What they will do, however, is report you as spam.

Likewise, don’t add contacts that didn’t explicitly agree or opt in to receive your email campaigns. Remember that you are legally obligated to get permission to contact people with marketing campaigns.

If you plan to use an email marketing service provider, compliance with opt in rules is a standard requirement.

Here’s where you can read more about this:
The Importance of Permission
About Compliance for Email Marketing

Don’t make it difficult to opt out

Just as you are required to get permission to contact people with marketing messages, you are also obligated to give them a way to stop receiving those messages.

In other words, you must give people the option to unsubscribe.

It should also go without saying that you must not make it difficult to opt out. Don’t hide the unsubscribe button or make the unsubscribe process unnecessarily lengthy or complicated.

Here’s where you can read more this:
Anti-Spam Requirements for Email

Don’t over-communicate

This falls under ‘best practices’ rather than legal requirements but it is equally important.

Don’t wear out your welcome by bombarding subscribers with too many emails. Make it a point to find the right balance to your communications. Too little and you run the risk of subscribers forgetting about you or why they signed up in the first place. Too many emails and you’ll annoy.

If you haven’t figured out the ideal newsletter frequency, a good rule of thumb is to communicate when you have something important or useful to say. Or segment your list according to their selected preferences (if you gave them the option to choose, that is) e.g. daily, weekly, monthly updates.

And there you have it. Now you’re all set to build an email list!