What’s the single most profitable online marketing channel?
It drives a $40 return on investment (ROI) for every marketing dollar spent, higher than any other channel.
So, if you haven’t done your email list building yet, or it’s just so-so, you’d better power it up by learning how to build an email list right, starting now.
Why Build Email Lists?
There are now 4.3 billion email users in the world, sending and receiving 333.2 billion emails every day. They are expected to increase in number to 4.6 billion by 2025, sending and receiving 376.4 billion emails daily.
Aside from generating the highest ROI across all digital marketing channels, there are three other significant reasons why building an email list is essential:
1. Direct, personalized connection
With emails, you’ll directly get your messages to your prospects and customers, get them to keep returning to your website if you do your email marketing right, and personalize your marketing communications all throughout your relationship with them.
Also, email is still the most preferred brand communication channel among consumers across all demographics. Consumers also feel it’s the most personal channel, with Gmail the preferred email provider among Millennials and Gen Z.
2. Owned media
Since email is owned media, you’re immune to sudden algorithm changes by search engines and social media platforms. It lets you fully craft and shape your brand storytelling. Eighty-one percent (81%) of small and medium businesses depend on email as their primary customer acquisition channel, and 80% use it for customer retention.
Compared to conventional marketing efforts, you don’t have to pay for printing, postage, ad space, and any other related costs.
Compared to other digital marketing channels, email marketing can reach up to 4,400% ROI, earning businesses $44 for every marketing dollar spent), in contrast to 200% for paid advertising. Among social media platforms, Instagram has the highest ROI at 25%, Facebook at 23%, and YouTube at 14%. Still, these are definitely far from 4,400%.
However, email list building is complex and requires a well-thought-out and implemented strategy.
Email List Building 101
Since successful email marketing begins with a good email list, we’ll start with the basics of what an email list is and what list building is.
What is an email list?
An email list is simply the list of emails (including other necessary information such as name, location, age, and sex) you have gathered about prospects and customers from all your different marketing channels.
Ideally, this list is populated by email contacts who have indicated their interest in receiving communication from you. This communication typically contains information, product or service updates, discounts, special promotions, and other details about your business that you send in digital format to their email inboxes.
What does list building mean?
List building is the process of finding and collecting emails from your marketing channel visitors and users, often through your website and social media accounts.
This lets you build and grow a contacts database that you use for your email marketing efforts. It also enables you to personalize your communication and nurture relationships with your prospects and customers.
Through list building, you can develop more interested and engaged email list subscribers and contacts. You can also gain a wider audience and bigger opportunities for market segmentation, establish your brand identity and authority in your industry, and create effective email marketing campaigns that drive high conversions.
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How To Build An Email List For Business: 15 Best Strategies
You can build an email list for your business through offline channels, using your website, and using your social media platforms, employing these fifteen strategies.
Using offline channels
Offline channels would be those marketing channels that don’t use the internet. They are also referred to as traditional marketing channels.
There are several offline channels, but we show you three ways to build your email list using in-store, trade shows, and direct mail channels.
Optimize your store’s foot traffic by providing sign-up sheets at areas where people would likely be waiting around, such as checkout desks.
You can also offer product samples and special discounts along heavy foot traffic areas and ask them to sign up to avail of these.
If your store is in a mall, you can also set up a booth at your store entrance during mall events, where you can give promotional items away as you ask visitors to sign up.
2. Trade shows
At trade shows, you not only get to network with suppliers and wholesalers but also sell directly to customers.
You can collect email contacts by providing sign-up sheets to people who visit your booth and to customers who buy. You can also give away product samples or promotional items with your business cards and ask the recipients to sign up.
3. Direct mail
Direct mail involves sending a physical item to a recipient. This can include brochures, mailed coupons, newsletters, and postcards.
For example, meal box brands such as GoodFood in Canada and HelloFresh in the U.S. regularly send mailers out with discounts. The mailed coupons invite new and existing customers to directly engage with their brand by using the coupon to buy from them.
According to a 2023 Association of National Advertisers (ANA) response report, direct mail letters average 43% ROI. Based on Lob’s 2023 State of Direct Mail Report, direct mail delivers the best ROI, response, and conversion rates across all channels.
Consumers have gotten tired of digital clutter. Still, the report qualifies that there’s a direct correlation between the use of technology and response rates, as 81% of the marketers surveyed also used a software platform for their direct mail efforts.
Using your website
Most list-building strategies involve businesses’ own websites. They begin with email signup forms but expand to several other creative strategies for list building.
Here are eight strategies for email list building using your website:
4. Embed email signup forms
Embed static email signup forms on high-traffic pages in visible areas of your website, such as headers, footers, and sidebars.
Embedded sign-up forms are non-intrusive, and visitors usually sign up if they find your content interesting and useful enough for them and they want to know more from you.
5. Install pop-ups and overlays
When used properly, pop-ups convert. In 2023, the average conversion rate for pop-ups is 6%. Using pop-ups properly means helping website visitors find what they need.
This is done by solving a real problem of theirs or offering them something valuable, such as signing up for your newsletters so they can learn more about a topic. Pop-ups that annoy users are basically those that interrupt their user experience.
There are four particular types of pop-ups that are excellent tools for building an email list:
Welcome pop-ups greet site visitors within 15 seconds of their arrival at a landing page. For welcome pop-ups not to be disruptive, they have to be accompanied by a strong call-to-action (CTA), such as a time-sensitive special discount or any other form of value offered in exchange for visitors’ email addresses and basic information.
Welcome pop-ups should also be as simple as possible, often with only a single field for the user’s email address. Email sign-up forms with several fields take up the user’s time and do not convert well.
Timing is key. Find out how much time the average user spends on a specific page.
For example, on homepages, users don’t spend much time there because they’d rather go to a particular page that contains the information they’re looking for. So, you might want to serve a welcome pop-up on your homepage as soon as a user lands there.
However, on product pages where users are expected to dwell longer while examining the products displayed, you can set the welcome pop-up to appear after they’ve scrolled 30% of the page.
Promotional pop-ups use exclusive offers and discounts. They can appear at any point in the customer journey. But you have to understand what stage of the customer journey the customer is currently in and match your promotion to nudge them along.
For example, if they’ve shown interest but aren’t in the purchase consideration stage yet, discount offers are more appropriate. If they’re already in the purchase consideration stage, buy-one-get-one (BOGO) and time-sensitive offers work better.
At whatever stage they’re in, and they haven’t subscribed to your email list yet, you can send them a “Subscribe to get the discount/offer code” pop-up message to build your list.
Timed pop-up forms
Timed pop-up forms show up only after a pre-determined amount of time that a visitor has been on your website or webpage.
If they’ve spent 5 seconds or more, then the pop-up form appears. It’s a way of qualifying leads because a visitor who lingers on your website or webpage is probably interested in what you have to offer.
You can then invite them to sign up for your email list by sending a message such as, “You seem interested in (your brand/company). Would you like to sign up for (your brand’s/company’s) email newsletter?”
For example, Post Planner, an automated social media post planner site, shows this timed pop-up to visitors within 20 seconds of their clicking on Post Planner’s blog –
Then, they ask the visitor to submit their email address in exchange for more information and tips on how to succeed in publishing content on Facebook.
Exit intent pop-ups
When crafted well, exit intent pop-ups can potentially recover 10% to 15% of lost visitors.
Using exit-intent technology that monitors user interaction with a website page and detects when the user is about to leave, exit-intent pop-ups then appear. Good exit-intent pop-ups attract users’ attention and give them a good reason to stay on the page.
Exclusive offers and promotions are often used to entice visitors back, but you are not limited to these techniques. The key thing to remember is that the exit intent pop-up message should be both bold and simple.
For example, entrepreneur and investor Tim Ferriss, famous for his book, “The 4-Hour Workweek,” and lifestyle optimization content, intrigues a visitor about to leave his website with this exit intent pop-up email signup form. It mainly plays to people’s fear of missing out (FOMO) –
6. Engage with gamification
Gamification for list building uses interactive elements of game playing to encourage lead capture engagement of users. Gamification strategies such as short quizzes, surveys, scratchcards, and spin-to-win wheel pop-ups achieve this purpose.
By offering exclusive special discounts, prizes, and other free items that website visitors or shoppers can claim by entering their email addresses, you can build your email list and make it fun for your site users at the same time.
Gamification appeals to consumer psychology. People are motivated by prizes that look easily attainable and give site users the feeling that they are getting something for nothing. So, people often eagerly sign up to take advantage of the gamification freebie.
For example, Southern Breeze Sweet Tea encourages visitors to sign up for their email newsletter with a spin-to-win wheel which offers various prizes like different discount tiers and free shipping.
7. Use squeeze pages
Squeeze pages are lead capture landing pages that are designed to “squeeze” information out of a visitor by restricting access to a desired piece of content or offer. This restriction is created using a gate such as a lead capture form.
Once the website visitor fills out the form with their information, they are able to access the desired content or offer.
For example, Forbes’ squeeze page below entices the visitor with powerfully persuasive words such as “Exclusive,” “Secrets,” “Premium,” “Richer,” and “Free.”
The content is short but informative. Users know exactly what they’re going to get when they give their email address—a copy of “The Little Black Book of Billionaire Secrets.”
Who wouldn’t want to know what these secrets are? Providing one’s email address in exchange for the secrets sounds like a very small price to pay.
8. Invite to subscribe for exclusive notifications
Offer exclusive notifications that aren’t offered to other customers by inviting your website visitors to sign up for these exclusive notifications. Examples would be pre-sale notifications, back-in-stock notifications, and new collection notifications.
Pre-sale notifications conveniently remind busy consumers who are avid shoppers to avail of pre-sale deals, even when they don’t have time to visit your website to check for these.
Back-in-stock notifications capture the information of consumers who are already prepared to buy but can’t do so because of product unavailability. This also gives you useful information on demand levels across all your products. If a large number of website visitors sign up to your email list to be notified about a particular product over other products, this indicates a higher demand for that product. You can then plan to develop or sell items similar to this most sought-after product while it’s still out of stock.
If you’re selling in-demand items that tend to go away fast, your visitors and customers would want to hear about these new arrivals first in exchange for their emails.
People like feeling that they’re special. Exclusive notifications help them feel this way because they get the good news of pre-sale, back-in-stock, and new collection offers first, unlike the general public.
9. Entice with high-quality content and content upgrades
First, create enticing content consistently. When people know you are able to provide quality content that meets their needs, they are more willing to sign up for your email list to receive more content like the ones you’ve already provided.
As you establish your credibility and brand authority, create content upgrades or gated content such as guides, catalogs, free email courses, webinars or masterclasses, checklists and cheat sheets, 7-day challenges, toolkits, and free trials. Invite your new website visitors to access these content upgrades in exchange for their email addresses.
The point is to make your content upgrade offer more valuable to them than the value of their email addresses.
10. Integrate opt-in fields at checkout
Shoppers already know that they will need to enter their information at checkout pages. Take advantage of this opportunity by asking for their email addresses and/or phone numbers so you can update them on the progress of their order.
This would also make them feel secure knowing your business has these ways of contacting them, even if they don’t follow up on the progress of their orders at your website.
11. Create loyalty and referral programs
Loyalty programs sponsored by retailers and other businesses offer rewards, discounts, and other special incentives to attract and retain customers.
Consumers are more likely to shop at stores that have loyalty programs. Saving money is their main reason for participating. They also want loyalty programs tied to smartphone apps, with social rewards such as digital badges, not a desired feature at all. They do want perks, such as being granted VIP status.
You can use loyalty programs for email list building by offering people really attractive benefits and making it easy for them to sign up with their email addresses and contact details. Once the person has signed up, personalize the loyalty program experience for them.
Good target market research would help you understand your prospects and customers better, so you’d know what would be attractive benefits for them. Benefits can include free gifts, members-only sales, valuable content, special events, and more.
Referral programs use the power of word-of-mouth marketing to give brand advocates even more benefits when they refer their contacts to a business’ product or service. According to a Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Study, 88% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know above all other forms of marketing messaging.
Typically, you have to offer incentives for both the referrer and the referred, and the reward will only be issued once the referred signs up and submits their email address and other details to the program or makes a purchase.
You can also structure your referral program campaign in a way that allows users to invite their family and friends with similar interests to your members-only pre-sale events. This way, you don’t even have to give discounts since people joined for the exclusivity appeal. But it lets you gain more contacts for your email list-building efforts.
Using social media
12. Embed signup buttons on social media accounts
An easy, no-cost way to advertise your business email newsletter to social media users is to add a “Sign Up” call-to-action (CTA) button on your social profiles.
You can also invite them to join your email list right there at the end of the content you post.
13. Launch giveaways and contests
Make use of social media platform features to reach, personalize, and interact with your audiences. For example, use Instagram stories that include Q&A features, polls, and quizzes to generate user engagement.
You can also promote a contest or a 5-Day Challenge with special prizes or announce special giveaways and limited-time special events, then lead them to a landing page where they are asked to sign up to participate. Facebook Ads campaigns with a landing page have a conversion rate of 10.47%, with a cost-per-action of $13.26.
14. Use lead forms via Facebook Ads
Facebook Ads lets businesses run lead form ads, which allows users to subscribe (convert) without leaving Facebook. Facebook lead form ads have a conversion rate of 12.54%, on average, with the average cost-per-action for lead ads at $17.98.
15. Run X/Twitter lead generation campaigns
X (formerly Twitter) tools for identifying leads include Leadsift and Adobe Marketo.
Leadsift locates potential leads on X and categorizes their intent as either “churn” (attrition), “seek assistance,” or “purchase.” This helps you identify hot leads, promptly engage with them, and invite them to provide their email addresses and contact details in return for a benefit you offer them.
Leadsift does this by scanning millions of conversations to identify both direct and indirect leads with an assigned lead rating. You can then strategize how to capture them for your email list.
Adobe Marketo turns customer events such as mention triggers into action. It also gives you real-time data to predict your lead’s next move. Marketo coordinates email, paid media, social, and more into one central hub, so it’s easier for you to identify and follow up on good leads for your list-building efforts.
What Makes A Good Email List?
It’s not just the quantity of email contacts you’ve gathered that matters, but the quality of these contacts. A high-quality email list must have the following four key characteristics:
1. You have a consent-based list-building strategy.
Maintain your brand reputation and comply with data privacy regulations such as GDPR and the CAN-SPAM Act by always getting users’ permission from your email subscribers before sending them campaigns.
Begin by making sure those who sign up to your email list really want to sign up by using double opt-in features. Using double opt-in to sign up email contacts is an effective, sustainable method for building a quality and healthy mailing list.
Double opt-in works by emailing users who signed up for your email list and asking them to confirm their subscription through a link you provide them in the email. When they click on this click, they have double-opted in.
Double opt-in not only shows authentic user interest in your brand and content and keeps you legally compliant but also increases your email deliverability. They also protect and even boost your brand reputation as a credible email sender, not a spammer.
2. Contacts are receptive to your content.
Double opt-in ensures that the contacts you collect for your email list are genuinely interested in both your business and the content in the email newsletters you share.
Along with this, also make sure that your subscribed contacts can easily unsubscribe at any time.
This is also why you should never buy email lists. Although buying email lists helps you grow your list quickly, the contacts you purchase are likely to unsubscribe from your emails and even mark your emails as spam.
3. Contacts are easy to segment.
Once you start building your list, your contacts should be easy to segment. Email segmentation is key to sending targeted email campaigns. When gathering data from new subscribers, capture not only the basic demographic data but also their preferences.
4. Contacts are steadily increasing.
Your email list should be growing consistently over time and should be one of your marketing goals. A big, quality email list helps you reach potential new customers and drive conversions for your business.
When you engage with your email contacts effectively, your email list provides a steady stream of traffic to your website and provides a regular source of ideas for your content as you engage with your contacts.
Your email list can be a powerful, revenue-generating machine. So, cast your net often.
3 Case Studies: Best Email List Building Practices
Here are three brief case studies of how real-life businesses did their email list building successfully:
AppSumo is the entrepreneur’s platform for buying and selling digital products in the daily deals roundup industry. Using giveaways as an email list-building strategy, they gained 147,973 subscribers in 10 months and 528,238 subscribers in four years.
Through experimentation, AppSumo learned what giveaway fans know: niche giveaways create better leads than general giveaways. Broad, generic giveaways build broad, generic audiences.
In one of its giveaway campaigns, AppSumo hosted a MacBook Air giveaway that created 48,000 new subscribers but only $11,550.08 in gross profit.
In another campaign, AppSumo offered a one-on-one business consultation getaway with its founder, Noah Kagan, which created only 3,846 new subscribers but resulted in $26,572.90.
AppSumo also learned the following key lessons in email list building:
- Partner with other companies who will promote your business and provide the giveaway items.
- A/B test the giveaway messaging.
- Frequent giveaways yield diminishing returns – do them only once every quarter, at the very least.
In the four years it gained 528,238 subscribers using giveaways, AppSumo hosted only 25 giveaways.
Hubble Contacts offers a subscription service for ordering contact lenses online simply and affordably.
Before it even launched its product, it used Facebook lead generation ads to acquire 3,000 email addresses at $2.30 per lead from people who wanted to hear about the product they’re launching.
With the earlier interest in the product they were still about to launch, they raised a $3.5 million seed bridge before launch, which was the capital they used to invest heavily in marketing the product, starting from day one.
Video Fruit (now Growth Tools)
Video Fruit is a good example of building an email list from scratch successfully.
Video Fruit was a blog started by Brian Harris in March 2013, who made explainer videos for online businesses and political campaigns. In 2015, he built an email list from scratch by leveraging personal relationships and hosting a giveaway.
He started building his email list with a list of family members and friends who he knew would be interested in the topic; he was building his email list around the great outdoors. He personally asked each of them if they’d join his list. In 12 hours, he had 46 new list members.
Then, he partnered with a local sporting goods store. They sponsored the giveaway (a canoe and two ENO hammocks), and, in exchange, they were featured in his email newsletter.
In order to enter the giveaway, people had to share a link to his landing page. The giveaway resulted in 159 more new list members, bringing the email list contacts to 205 members in just 24 hours.
Harris didn’t have a product for his list yet, but he used the responses from these early adopters to inform him of what people would pay money for. Then, he announced and accepted pre-orders for his yet-to-be-started products and then sought suppliers for those products.
Brian Harris’ story shows that list building need not be flashy or expensive. In fact, he didn’t spend anything for the $800 giveaway. His approach to starting his list was informal and conversational. He simply asked them, “Hey, if I did this, would you be interested?” before he committed his energy to it.
Choosing The Best Email List Builder
Email list building can start manually as Brian Harris did, but it’s best to automate it using good email list-building software.
In choosing the right email marketing software for your business, it’s best to look for one that stores your contacts in customer relationship management (CRM) software.
This way, you can easily keep track of customer information, such as their preferences and behavior. It’s also easier to integrate your emails with other digital marketing channels such as chat, SMS, and WhatsApp.
But first, clarify what your email marketing goals are and how much you are prepared to spend on an email list builder and email service provider. There are a lot of free tools out there, yes, but they are seriously limited in analytics and security, so they also restrict your eventual revenues.
Once you’ve clarified your goals and budget, look for features and price points that match them. Important features you should particularly watch out for are ease of use, security, automation, integrations, tracking, delivery rates for email services, support, and track record.
What is the difference between an email list and email leads?
An email list is a collection of contacts with some basic information that you can use for marketing. Leads are individual contacts who have expressed interest in your product or service through any digital channel. Email leads expressed this interest by subscribing to your emails. Email leads, then, are qualified contacts from your email list.
What’s the fastest way to build an email list?
Use a variety of methods on different channels, then test and see which methods generate the best results over time. Invest more resources in the best methods, and let go of ineffective methods.
How many emails is a good email list?
A list of 100 contacts is a good start, but the magic happens at 10,000, as it unlocks more opportunities for different monetization methods.
How often should you send emails to your email list?
Start with twice a month, then increase it to weekly. If you have frequent offers or regular promotions, and you also have great content, and your audience responds well, you can further increase it to twice or thrice a week.
Do Email List Building Right The First Time
Good email list building is essential to effective email marketing. Do it right when you start list-building using these strategies. You’ll be paving the way for successful email marketing down the line.