All marketers know the value of the email list.
It’s an owned channel. It’s not subject to uncontrolled phenomena like search engine algorithms or the popularity of a social network. Email is a great channel to both convert new customers and retain current ones.
But how can you build and maintain a high-quality email list?
There are several tactics, some easier than others to building a list. This post outlines 9 of them:
9 Strategies on How to Build an Email List
1. Offer Lead Magnets
The best way to ask someone for their email address is to offer something of value in exchange for it. That’s what a “lead magnet” is: an item of value given in exchange for an email address or other contact information.
If you’ve been in the marketing space for more than a minute, you’ve probably noticed top marketing blogs offering things such as eBooks, webinars, or white papers in exchange for an email. Or they might go a step further and possibly ask for a first name, company name, or more detailed info if the marketer gets greedy.
The premise is simple. Any time a website visitor is asked to make a decision, whether it is to buy your product or service, request a demo, or sign up for your email list, they’re always going to ask this question:
“What’s in it for me?”
With a well-aligned and high-value lead magnet, you make the answer to that question obvious.
While the preferred format of a lead magnet changes with time (as does any tactical trend), creating a high-value offer is timeless. So whether it’s an eBook, a video series, or an email course, make it spectacular!
Something like Amplitude’s Product Analytics Playbook is a good example. It’s a whole book, on an interesting topic (related to their business), and it’s free. If you’re interested in product analytics, why wouldn’t you sign up?
Next, make sure your offer is relevant. If someone is on a blog post about “cold email outreach,” they wouldn’t expect to find an offer for an eBook about “inbound marketing.” Even a broader umbrella topic, like “the ultimate guide to sales,” may fail, because the person looking for info on cold emails may not actually be in a sales role.
But if you align the offer well, with, for example, an email course about cold outreach email subject lines, your conversion rate will probably be quite high. Here’s an effective example of this technique from Mailshake:
2. Use Behavioral Targeting Pop-up Forms
A lead magnet is just a word for something you offer your audience. So far, we’ve discussed nothing about where to display said offer.
Of course, you can use a static form anywhere on your website to collect emails. Plenty of companies do that, with some throwing an email capture form right on their homepage, like Kopywriting Kourse:
However, you can also get creative about how you trigger your email capture forms. With the right technology setup, you can use behavioral data — how your users interact on your site — to trigger messages or forms.
The more popular iteration of this technique is probably the exit intent popup. Basically, when you move your mouse towards the top corner of the screen, as if you were planning on leaving the website, a message is triggered. Here’s a good example from WaitButWhy:
Another common one, at least on blog posts, is the scroll-triggered popup. When you’re scrolling down a post, at a given depth (usually around 50% or 75%), you’ll get a message. I’ve got one set up on my own website:
There are other creative variations, of course. I’ve seen forms triggered upon scrolling over an image, within the text of a blog post, and upon viewing a video. This is something you can experiment with and iterate upon.
First, try to determine where to try a form your site, and when, a user would be most prone to sign up for your list. Then, figure out a way to introduce a form at the exact right moment. This is a key method of how to build an email list.
If you’re using a lead magnet, one of the best places to trigger a popup is in the text of a blog post after a visitor clicks a link. This is known as a “content upgrade,” as you are offering an upgraded version of the blog post, such as a checklist, PDF, or ebook. Nick Kolenda has a great example here:
3. Create a Dedicated Subscription Landing Page
Use any free web form builder to create a dedicated form where a user can sign up.
Usually, you can get away with squeezing in a few extra form fields on a dedicated page (especially if you offer some sort of incentive for signing up such as a lead magnet). The form on my website may ask for superfluous information, but you get the point:
Another great place to put the form, is on the Contact Us page.
Obviously, in this case, the visitor has more of an active desire to reach out to you (in other words, they don’t simply want to receive your emails). But this is a great opportunity to throw a consent checkbox to see if they want to get your updates as well. Here’s an example from PeopleMetrics:
You may even want to create a blog-specific signup page, especially if your website is large and compartmentalized. In the example above of my own site, my site is tiny and only has content. I only need one subscribe page, as that’s pretty much the goal of my whole site.
But, a company like HubSpot? The funnel is much more complicated. The signup goal depends on the context, and in the context of someone reading the blog, they probably want to subscribe. So HubSpot has a page specifically for that:
4. Cover the Basics (Make It Easy to Sign Up for Your Email List)
The worst mistake you can make isn’t poor copy on a popup or a bad lead magnet on your homepage. No, the worst mistake you can make is having no visible form with which a user can sign up for the email list you’re creating.
You’d be surprised how common an issue this is.
Simply put, when a company embarks on a content marketing strategy, they usually expend so much time and effort thinking about keywords, wrangling resources, working with influencers, writing the content and promoting it, that they forget about lead capture.
The fact is, if your content is good, some subset of people will want to subscribe. All you need to do, at the very minimum, is make it very apparent how they can do that.
On the average blog, there are some prototypical lead capture form placements. First, on the sidebar. Here’s another good example from WaitButWhy:
And here’s another great example from LawnStarter:
Notice how, in both examples, the company explains the benefit of signing up or makes it desirable to do so. WaitButWhy uses the CTA “send me new posts,” implying you’ll get updated every time Tim Urban writes a post. And they employ some social proof too, mentioning that some 600,000 people have already signed up for the list (“you’re in good company!)”
LawnStarter too uses the “stay up to date” offer, but they further clarify that you’ll get the occasional lawn care tip in your mailbox. Clear offer and clear value.
What not to do? Just throw a random “subscribe” button next to a vague form field. It’s surprisingly common, especially in E-commerce:
Another common place for a subscription form is at the bottom of a blog post. This is often where I’ll look when I know I want to sign up to get future emails. Here’s an example from a piece authored by yours truly on the ConversionXL blog:
A popup of some sort is almost expected nowadays, at least on marketing blogs. Don’t be afraid to put one on your site. Just make sure to not make it annoying, and try to use smart behavioral targeting. Here’s a good simple signup form on Wordable’s blog:
It’s super common to trigger these pop-ups on-arrival on E-commerce sites when you don’t have very long to catch someone’s attention. For first time visitors, it’s common to “sweeten the deal” and give them a little discount or some sort of incentive (it’s even better if you include urgency as well):
The above example from Ralph Lauren could actually be improved quite a bit, in my opinion. Why not lead with the 10% discount, instead of burying it in tiny font underneath the generic headline “Be the First to Know?”
Hint to (most) E-commerce retailers: being the first to know is not an enticing offer even though it may seem like an appealing way how to build an email list.
5. Use Creative, Fun Quizzes and Surveys
When you want to get a little creative and make it fun for website visitors, you have a few options, one of which is the Buzzfeed-style quiz. You know, those quizzes like “Which Mad Men Character Are You?” that were super popular a few years ago:
You can also use these quizzes as fodder for content on your own blog, like this example from Outbrain:
The best option, though, is when you also include the ability to sign up for your email list. Sometimes companies will require an email in order to see the results of the quiz. I’m not a huge fan of this option unless the email is collected up front (otherwise you’re using the sunk cost fallacy in a somewhat duplicitous manner to get the person to hand over their email).
In my opinion, the most natural way to capture an email is to create a fun and engaging quiz and then ask for the email on the results page. In short, offer some sort of upgrade.
You can use a tool like Survey Anyplace to create surveys and quizzes for lead generation:
6. Partner with Similar Companies to Offer Giveaways
Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of this tactic. I think that if you make the deal sweet enough, you’re going to get a lot of emails, but they’re going to be bad emails.
For example, General Assembly routinely partners with strange and unrelated companies to do giveaways. The premise is that each company emails their list, gets some percentage to sign up, and then all companies in the giveaway get to share the pool of email addresses.
I’m not quite sure what travel and style have to do with data science classes though…
A more relevant way to pull these off is to sponsor a giveaway in your niche. Walks, a company that offers walking tours, sponsored Scott’s Cheap Flights’ giveaway. This is a much more clear-cut partnership (also, you’re not sharing emails with like six companies, which always feels a bit weird anyway):
If you want to run a giveaway, look into using a tool like Rafflecopter.
7. Host Webinars and Online Conferences
This tactic is somewhat of a mix between your standard lead magnet and a partnership giveaway. Essentially, you can partner with similar companies to co-promote an online event, such as a webinar or an online conference (which is a giant, glorified webinar).
If your online conference is popular enough, you may even be able to pull in sponsors and monetize it. Though, at heart, it’s just a great list building method.
As always, make sure your offer is of value, and you pack the lineup with speakers who are interesting.
8. Use a Bot or Collect Your Email List Through Live Chat
You don’t need to rely simply on a static form or a popup form to collect email subscriptions. You can do so in a conversational format, such as live chat or a chatbot.
This is becoming increasingly common, especially with a chatbot. Look at this example from Digital Marketer:
First, they ask a qualifying question about the type of business where I work. This makes it easy to start the conversation, and it also gives the company valuable information. Once you’re in a conversation, as the visitor, you’ve already got your foot in the door. You’re already engaged. The premise is that once you start engaging a prospect, it becomes easier to ask for the email (or phone number or another contact field).
You can also collect email addresses with live chat. It’s not automated like a chatbot, so you sort of have to treat it as an ad-hoc thing, or as a secondary goal of a conversation (mostly you just want to answer questions and clear up doubts), but it’s a good way to get emails as well.
9. Build a Pre-Launch Email List
Finally, if you have any sort of waiting list, you can use that as an opportunity to build demand and grow your email list. Conferences are an obvious use case since tickets are limited in quantity and usually drop all at once. It’s actually a benefit to be on the list since you’ll get first dibs when tickets are released. Look at the example from Conversion Hotel below:
This method also works for product launches. The most famous example is with Harry’s Razors, who built a pre-launch list of 100,000 emails in one week.
Harry’s was a completely new business, but this tactic can work even better if you’ve already built up a fan base, some customers, and a website with a steady flow of traffic. All you have to do is direct people towards your upcoming launches, and compel them to join the list to get notified when the product drops.
There are many ways how to build an email list. This article outlined nine of them, but of course, the world is your oyster and you can come up with creative ideas outside of those presented on this list.
If you’re just starting out, get the fundamentals right. Create a compelling “why” for joining your list:
- Make sure you have forms in the prototypical locations.
- Make sure your list is actually on-topic.
- Make sure any lead magnets you’re using to get emails are actually valuable.
Lots of optimization and creative ideas lie at the margins of list building. But the basics will get you a large part of the way towards success!