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How To Build An Email List For Beginners

Email marketing can be extremely cost-effective. But before you can engage in email marketing you need to have an email subscriber list. In the guide below we’ll cover all aspects of creating an email list that will become an integral part of your growth strategy.

Why building an email list is crucial for your business

The importance of having a large email list that represents an accurate survey of people interested in your product or service cannot be overstated. The following are some of the most important benefits of building an email list for anyone hoping to carve out a space for themselves in the digital economy.

    • Email is the definition of affordable marketing: The cost of developing and placing digital ads increases every day. At the same time, click-through rates (CTRs) on digital ads decrease every year. Being able to reach countless customers and potential customers by way of email marketing redefines cost-effective marketing.

    • The people on your subscriber list want what you have: At least in theory. Sure, you will wind up with some subscribers who thought they were signing up for something else. But the vast majority of the people on your email list will be there because they’re interested in what you do or what you’re selling.

    • It’s more personal than other types of marketing: You can’t personalize ads that are served next to search results or during Youtube videos. But with email marketing, you can personally address everyone on your subscriber list and that will help cultivate trust and respect going forward.

How to get started with building your email list

Before you start building your email list there are a few questions you should ask yourself:

    1. How do you plan to use your email list once you have it? Remember, you cannot ask people to provide personal information during the signup process if you don’t know what you’re going to do with that information. All data collection must be compliant with your local data protection regulations (such as CCPA and GDPR).

    1. How often will you be sending out newsletters, promo emails and triggered emails? You want to have a well-formed idea of what shape your email marketing is going to take before you start collection names and email addresses. You will need to commit to making good (and frequent) use of the email addresses you collect or again, you run the risk of being non-compliant with data protection regulations.

    1. How will your emails fit into your larger marketing strategy? Will you use email to augment digital ads? Will you rely mostly on email marketing right out of the gate? And who will be writing your newsletters and promo mails anyway?

Once you have answers to these questions you will have a much better idea of why you are building an email list. This sense of purpose will bring focus to your efforts and fend off doubt and second-guessing if the process goes slower than you hoped.

The importance of defining your target audience

You need to know who you will be sending emails to if you are to make optimal use of this type of marketing. Here are a couple of ways you can define your target audience so that you can shape your email content to them more effectively.

Define what it is you do: If you are unsure who your target audience is, take a close look at your product or service. Who would want such products? Who would take advantage of such services? Where do they live? How old are they? Are they typically college educated? The answers to these questions will give you a rough idea of who your target audience is. You can then use this information to shape your email communications.

Study the analytics of your existing customers. If you have an existing customer base but are still not sure of its demographics, study the analytics from your website or community platform. This information will help clarify the picture of who your target audience is by telling you where they’re from, how engaged they are with your online community and how much they typically spend.

Choosing the right email marketing service provider

One of the most important steps in building an email list is to choose the right email service provider (ESP). You have a lot of options these days so when making your choice consider:

    • Ease of use: Make sure you choose an email marketing service provider that is easy to work with and offers robust support.

    • Variety of features: A good email marketing service provider will offer a range of services including email automation, integration with 3rd party apps and A/B testing.

    • Reliability: Make sure your chosen ESP has a proven record of delivering emails promptly and accurately.

Creating an effective email opt-in form

The opt-in form on your website must be effective in gaining the visitor’s attention without making them feel put-upon. The effectiveness of your opt-in form will go a long way toward determining the success or failure of your efforts to build a useful email subscriber list. During the process of developing your opt-in form take the following tips to heart:

    • Keep things simple: It should be perfectly clear to everyone who sees your opt-in form what you want and what you’re prepared to offer in return.

    • Make things visible: The opt-in form should be relatively low-key in tone but blazingly obvious to the visitor. The most visible way to handle it is to choose a pop up window that must be addressed in some way before the person can move on.

Offering incentives to encourage sign-ups

We mention this at other points throughout this guide because it’s vitally important. Offer incentives to encourage your prospective subscribers to sign up. That incentive could take the form of a discount, free admission, free shipping or a preview of an upcoming product. Doesn’t matter. Just sweeten the pot.

Best practices for promoting your email list on social media and beyond

One of the best ways to raise awareness of your email list on social media is to place a call to action (CTA) within every post that leads to the sign-up form when tapped or clicked. You won’t need to pay for special promotional posts. Just slip the CTA into all your normal posts in a discreet but visible fashion.

Using lead magnets to attract subscribers

Lead magnets are resources that add value to the user experience. They may take the form of an ebook, PDF, image, instructional booklet or something else. Make sure the visitor understands that all they have to do to secure the lead magnet is to sign up for your newsletter.

Creating a referral program to increase sign-ups

Offer your existing subscribers a reward if they refer someone who signs up for your newsletter. The reward doesn’t have to be huge but it should probably be something more than a PDF or ebook. After all, your subscriber is going out on a personal limb recommending you to their friend, so it’s important they are fairly compensated for their trouble. That might mean a free gift or a £20 discount coupon or a T-shirt.

Host a webinar or event to grow your list

People respond better to a face-to-face request than they do to an impersonal CTA. So if you have a Live Streaming event planned make sure you include a pitch for people to sign up for your newsletter and provide instructions on how to do that. If you will be making an in-person appearance bring a clipboard or a tablet with you and ask attendees to write down their name and email address throughout the course of the event.

How to use paid advertising to promote your email list

As imperfect as it can be, online advertisement can still be effective in driving email list sign-ups. If you think your target demographic are big consumers of Youtube content, placing ads before or during videos can drive new subscribers to your site to sign up.

Google Ads and Facebook Ads can also help raise awareness of your brand and drive people to your website where they’ll be greeted by a pop-up urging them to subscribe.

Optimizing your website for email list sign-ups

Speaking of your website, make sure the pop-up you use to host your sign-up form is tastefully done and avoids the hard sell. Historically people have an aversion to pop-ups but if they’re carefully considered and well executed they can be a valuable addition to your site and help increase subscriber numbers.

Partnering with other businesses to cross-promote

There’s nothing wrong with approaching your competitors and proposing you try and help each other by engaging in some collaborative marketing that raises awareness of both of you. The crossover between you does not have to be 1-to-1. It could just as well be indirect. For example, you sell shoes and they sell socks.

Best practices for segmenting your email list

There are a few ways to segment your list email list for more effective marketing:

    • By demographics: Segment your subscribers by location, age, gender or income

    • By interests: Segment your followers using their purchase history to discern their interests

    • By behaviour: Segment your followers based on how much they spend, or how often they visit your site.

Personalizing your emails for better engagement

Personalizing emails is a proven way to enhance subscriber engagement with your brand, to cultivate trust and to encourage loyalty. Here are a couple of the most common benefits of personalizing emails:

It increases open rates on emails

Marketing research is crystal clear on the fact that personalized emails get opened far more frequently than generic emails. The latest industry data suggests those open rates may be as much as 20% higher for personalized as opposed to non-personalized emails. If you have a large subscriber list that 20% difference can be quite significant.

It increases subscriber engagement

Your subscribers will not only open personalized emails more frequently, they are also more likely to click through on an offer. Some industry studies indicate the increase in click-through rate can be more than double what it is for non-personalized, generic emails. That’s a lot of potential conversions you don’t want to miss.

A/B testing and optimizing your email campaigns

A/B testing is a reliable way for you to test the effectiveness of your email campaigns. The concept is simple in that you create two or more variations on a similar email (typically a promotional email of some sort) and then you use open rates, click-through-rates and conversion rates to determine which version of the email was more effective.

Most email marketing campaigns run by professionals rely heavily on the A/B testing method in order to determine which version will be more cost-effective and create greater ROI for the client. This type of testing removes the guesswork from the process of trying to figure out what’s working and what’s not when it comes to your marketing efforts.

If you really want to gain control of your email marketing and transform it into a lead and conversion generating machine you would be wise to engage in regular, not occasional, A/B testing.

Using triggered emails to increase engagement and conversions

Triggered emails are generated automatically in response to a particular event or set of circumstances. For example, you can programme an email to be triggered if a person has not opened any of your past 6 newsletters, or if they have not logged in to your site in the past 3 months (the classic “We Miss You” email).

Triggered emails are an effective way to nudge wayward followers to re-engage, to increase conversions and to build trust. Unlike newsletters or promotional emails sent to inform your community about an upcoming event or product launch, triggered emails are sent to individuals. The Welcome Email is probably the most common type of triggered email as it is sent to every new subscriber right after they sign up.

How to measure the success of your email list building efforts

The most carefully constructed email list-building strategy won’t be much good if you do not have some way of measuring the results of the resulting email marketing efforts. Here are some key metrics you should monitor to determine if your efforts are paying off: 

The open rate: Step 1 in determining if your email efforts are successful is to measure the open rate of your emails. This will also tell you if your email building efforts have been effective. For instance, if your emails only have an open rate of 2% it indicates a disconnect between who you are and what they thought you were when they signed up.

Click through rate: CTR is an effective way to measure whether people are excited by a new product or service. If one CTA generates a 90% CTR and another generates a 15% CTR you’ll know in no uncertain terms what your customers like and don’t like.

Conversion rate: Exactly what constitutes a conversion will vary depending on what the goal of the email was. If what you wanted was to get people to sign up for a new course then everyone who does is a conversion. If the goal was to try and generate reviews for your product or service then everyone who leaves a review will be considered a conversion.

The unsubscribe rate: No one retains 100% of their subscribers so some churn is to be expected. What you want to look for are spikes in unsubscribe requests. If you see a surge after a particular email you can be sure that your subscribers didn’t like something about the content of that email.

Common mistakes to avoid when building your email list

Building an email list will be a time-consuming, often tedious process. Don’t make it any more difficult than it has to be by avoiding these 4 common mistakes.

#1: Don’t buy an email list

The notion of buying a ready-made email list is too tempting for some to resist. Unfortunately, most of those who give into the temptation wind up regretting it. Why? Too many obsolete email addresses, too many email addresses of people not interested in your product or service and the potential loss of reputation by emailing people who did not sign up.

#2: Asking people to provide too much information

During the process of building an email list, you have an opportunity to collect a lot of potentially useful information about your customers. But what you shouldn’t do is try and get too much from them. If they feel you’re being too invasive with the questions you ask and the information you require your efforts are likely to backfire.

#3: Not incentivizing the sign-up process

People today don’t want to give away personal information for nothing. They want something in return. If you want to maximize the number of people on your list, give them something they can enjoy or appreciate in the here and now, like a discount on one of your products.

#4: Failing to send a welcome email

If someone has gone to all the trouble of signing up to your email list the least you can do is generate a personalized Welcome Email. This will make it seem like you care about them (which of course you do), and help jump start the process of building trust with them.

How to stay GDPR and CCPA compliant while building your email list

You may not have considered this but when you ask people for personal information relative to creating an email list you are collecting data on those people. Therefore, your efforts must align with data collection rules established by the GDPR and the CCPA (California data protection protocols). Here are a couple of easy ways to fend off data collection and storage problems:

Be very clear with your opt-in language

Tell potential subscribers exactly what you want from them and exactly what they will get in return. Data collection regulations are largely concerned with preventing businesses from collecting personal data for no particular reason. By being clear about what you want and what you will provide in return you can help fend off problems with regulators.

Include a link to your Privacy Policy

When you ask people for their email and other information make sure you explain exactly what you plan to do with that information and include a link to your Privacy Policy where the details will be spelled out. Also, make sure there is a checkbox where the subscriber indicates they consent to your terms and conditions.

Tips for keeping your subscribers engaged and loyal

Take the following tips to heart and help ensure your email subscribers don’t wander from the flock.

Tip 1: Provide value

The people who coughed up you their email address did so because they hope to get something of value in return. If all you give them are sales-heavy promotional emails, or emails devoid of compelling content or value they’re going to unsubscribe and take their interest elsewhere. Always focus on providing something useful in your emails be it tips, resources, discounts or solutions they can use in their lives.

Tip 2: Segment

Not everyone who provided you with an email address has the same interests. Therefore, they should not all get the same emails with the same promos or info. Instead segment your email list based on people’s purchase history, location, age, or other metrics and then shape your emails to address the different segments of your following.

Tip 3: Encourage feedback

If your subscribers feel like they have a say in things they’ll feel more personally invested in your brand, product, service or movement. So make sure you encourage feedback and provide various avenues your subscribers can use to provide that feedback. Sure, a lot of that feedback will be disposable, but just giving subscribers the opportunity to speak their minds will enhance the trust dynamic, and that’s a good thing.

Tip 4: Fine tune continuously

You should always test your email communications to ensure they’re engaging. There are various tools available that will enable you to measure the effectiveness of your subject lines, headlines, copy, images and more. Using the information obtained you can then fine tune your email newsletters to make sure they are speaking to your subscribers rather than speaking past them.


Email marketing can lift your business out of the doldrums and set it on a path to sustainable growth. But before you can engage in email marketing you need an email list. Use the above information and tips to build an email list that will serve your business interests for years.

Sam Hudson in
12 min read
Sam Hudson in Community building
Sam Hudson in
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