How To Build An Email List: 7 Best List Building Strategies

Collecting email addresses isn’t an easy task. Some people are so bothered by unsolicited emails that they’re willing to share almost anything else with you before they will share their email addresses. Others might give you their email addresses, but when the emails they receive from you don’t meet their expectations, they resort to unsubscribing or marking the emails as spam, even if they’re loyal customers.

Fortunately, an email list needn’t be large to be effective. The best email lists are those that contain the names of loyal, repeat customers; referral sources who respect others’ privacy; and interested prospects who know you and your business well enough to recognize your emails.

This article guides you through some of the best tactics for building a permission-based email list with a high number of quality subscribers. A quality list helps ensure that your email messages are received by the people who are most likely to respond with repeat and referral business.

What is an Email List?

Email lists are simply lists of emails collected from visitors/customers who want to receive information, updates, discounts, and other details about your business in a digital format that is sent to their inbox.

Email lists are important for connecting with customers because they are more effective than social media. When you send an email instead of a tweet, you are 6x more likely to get a higher click-through rate. The use of email to acquire new customers is 40 times more effective than using Facebook or Twitter.

What is Email List Building?

Building an email list is essential to connecting with customers through your compiled email list.

Building your email list involves getting more subscribers. Your homepage could act as a source for building up your email list if you have a call to action. In order to grow your email list, you need to offer different ways for visitors to subscribe.

How to Build An Email List Using Your Website

1. Use embedded signup forms

Embedded signup forms come in many different shapes and sizes and can be put in many different places in your website’s layout. Some are small and less intrusive, such as in a sidebar or below the fold of a website, but are less likely to be seen by users. Others are larger, well-placed, and hard to miss, and will generally get much better opt-in rates.

Here are some common types of opt-in forms that are used on the web today:

Footer Opt-In

A footer opt-in is simply an opt-in form that appears at the bottom of an article. After a user is done reading an article on your website, they are naturally ready to read another article or take another action, such as signing up for your mailing list. Footer opt-in forms can attract highly engaged subscribers because every subscriber that completes a footer opt-in has probably already read at least one article on your website.

Footer opt-ins are also very unobtrusive because they appear below the fold and only command a user’s attention after they are reading an article. You can view an example of a footer opt-in by reading any article located on AmericanBankingNews.com.

Sidebar Opt-in

A sidebar opt-in is simply an opt-in form that appears in the sidebar of your website. These often get lower opt-in rates than other types because they are not in the main column of content that a user is reading. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid sidebar opt-ins altogether, because sidebar opt-ins can complement other forms on your website. You can view an example of a sidebar opt-in by visiting AmericanBankingNews.com.

Hello Bar

A hello bar is a wide, rectangular opt-in form that sits at the top or bottom of your web browser. A hello bar will typically be about 50 pixels tall and span the entire width of your screen.

Because of their relatively small size, a hello bar will typically only have a headline, a textbox for your email address, and a submit button. You can see what a hello bar might look like on your website by using the demo tool provided on HelloBar.com. 

Scroll Box

A scroll box is a square or rectangular box that appears in the bottom right corner of your website after a user scrolls down. A scroll box will float above the rest of the content on your website and is generally viewed as unobtrusive because they do not cover up the main content of your website. You can view a demo of a scroll box or add one to your website using the plugin produced by SumoMe at sumome.com/app/scroll-box.

2. Deploy pop-ups

Email popups are small windows that appear on a website visitor’s screen asking for their email address. 

A popup can be effective, but if it’s too big or hard to close, it can make the page’s content inaccessible, hurting the user experience.

As a result of limited screen space on mobile devices, Google penalized sites that used intrusive interstitials in 2016.

Since then, most websites now use popups that slide in from the left or right of the screen, instead, to ensure their content is still accessible to the visitor.

According to an analysis on 1+ billion popup sessions from more than 3,000 customers, Popups with a countdown timer outperform those without one by a whopping 112.93 percent.

Adding a countdown timer to an on-site giveaway, for instance, can add urgency, resulting in more signups.

The following are some of the most common types of pop-ups used by eCommerce businesses to grow their email lists substantially.

Entry Popup

This is a rectangular opt-in form that appears at the center of the user’s screen when they first navigate to your website. Typically, the rest of the web page will be dimmed to place an emphasis on the opt-in form. Entry popups will also usually contain an “X” or “close” button that allows users to exit the opt-in form so they can view the rest of the website.

To avoid being overly intrusive, many webmasters will only show a popup to their users the first time they visit their website each week. Entry popups are an extremely effective tool to gather email opt-ins and often have rates three to five times higher than an opt-in form in a sidebar or at the bottom of an article. You can view an example of an entry popup opt-in form on the MarketBeat website at MarketBeat.com.

Exit Popup

An exit popup operates very similarly to an entry popup, but only appears when the user has taken an action indicating they are getting ready to leave a website. If a user’s mouse cursor leaves the main window of your website or if a user clicks on a link, an exit popup will appear. Webmasters sometimes choose exit popups over entry popups because they are perceived as less obtrusive, but they are also less visible than entry popups because not all users leaving a website will see an exit popup before moving on to another website.

Welcome Popup

A welcome page is an entry popup on steroids. A welcome page will cover the user’s entire screen with a large opt-in form and require them to click a close button or scroll down to see the webpage that they are trying to access.

3. Introduce Lucky Wheel

Get rid of boring methods of growing your email list. Engage store visitors in giving their email addresses by making it fun and engaging. Here’s where a Lucky Wheel comes in! On your website, subscribers who enter their email have a chance to win a discount coupon by spinning the lucky wheel. 

The plugin does the following: 

  • allows customers to subscribe with an email to spin for a discount coupon
  • auto-generates unique coupons whenever a customer wins the wheel
  • sends a coupon code to the email address that is required to spin the wheel
  • syncs customer emails to your Mailchimp account

 You can customize: 

  • the look and feel of the wheel
  • discount percentage to be displayed 
  • create conditions and limits for the coupon

4. Create squeeze pages

A squeeze page is a landing page with the sole purpose of collecting (or squeezing) an email address from visitors. There are some squeeze pages that ask for a name as well, but this is less important than the email address.

People aren’t going to give their email addresses away for no reason. In exchange for a piece of content (called a lead magnet), squeeze pages usually offer a piece of content. Visitors are essentially trading their email address for an ebook, whitepaper, checklist, or video that contains the information they need.

If you provide SEO services, you might offer a checklist people can use to optimize their websites. Visitors to your squeeze page receive actionable advice that helps them solve a problem, and you receive qualified leads you can convert into customers.

There is a 50% increase in conversion rate reported by marketers using lead magnets, so it is definitely worth implementing.

An effective squeeze page:

  • Is short and concise.
  • Has a single CTA (submit your email address).
  • Includes a brief description of the lead magnet they’ll receive.
  • Has one form field that only asks for an email address (and possibly a name).
  • Is followed by a thank you page that includes the next steps for visitors to take.

5. Offer content upgrades

A content upgrade is a lead magnet (or opt-in bribe) created specifically for a particular blog post or page. A good lead magnet will help your website visitors learn a specific skill, solve a specific problem, or accomplish a specific task. The lead magnet on any given page of your website should be directly related to the content on that page. This may require creating multiple lead magnets for different parts of your website over time, but the additional work will significantly improve your opt-in rates.

Here are a few common varieties of lead magnets that are typically offered in opt-in forms:

Free Report or Guide

Free reports are the most common type of lead magnet. It should help your users learn about something they are interested in or help them accomplish a specific goal. For example, if you had a website about marketing, you might offer a free guide that helps people create their first Facebook ad campaign. The content of your free report should not otherwise be available on your website.

Resource List

A resource list is simply a list of products, services, tools, and worksheets that will help your subscribers get started more quickly with what you want to teach them. If you had a personal finance blog, you might offer your subscribers a list of software budgeting tools and resources to keep track of their debt, ensure they have the right kinds of insurance, and determine whether they are saving enough for retirement.

Free Trial

If you run a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company, you might consider offering a 14-day or 30-day trial of your service as a lead magnet. Offering a free trial will get users engaged in your SaaS application and give you the opportunity to send them marketing content via email.

6. Include opt-in fields at checkout

Online shoppers have come to expect that their personal information will be collected during checkout. Most of us feel more secure when we receive a confirmation of our order by text or email, and we feel more assured knowing the business will keep us informed about the order’s progress. 

Since shoppers are already familiar with entering their information in a secure checkout environment, adding an option to subscribe to an email list is a non-invasive way to encourage subscriptions. GDPR rules prohibit pre-checking the check box, however.

7. Referral programs

As part of affiliate marketing campaigns, referrals are a classic method of growing a customer base. Using referral programs, you reward customers for referring new customers.

Use incentives

In most cases, you’ll need to offer an incentive to both the referrer and the referee. The reward will only be issued once the referee submits their details or makes a purchase. For instance: Give $20, get $20; or Get $25 when your friend spends $75 or more, etc. 

A referral campaign can also be structured by allowing users to invite friends with similar interests to pre-sale events. By doing this, you won’t need to discount at first but can contact those who have been referred.

Create a private-access community

Creating a premium-access community is another way to encourage referrals. It is typically a paid membership that includes sneak previews, exclusive discounts, and swag. 

For growing your email list, you can create a community and charge a set number of referrals as the entry fee. The draw of exclusivity and “free” entry is ideal.

How to Build An Email List Using Social Media

1. YouTube Annotations and Links

If you or your company have a YouTube channel, add calls-to-action and hyperlinks in your videos to subscribe to your mailing list. Include hyperlinks in annotations and your video description that direct viewers to a landing page on your website where users can opt in to your email list or respond to another offer.

2. Run a Contest or Giveaway

Find something of high-perceived value that you can use as a giveaway or a contest prize, like an iPad or an iPhone. Require everyone participating in the contest to sign up for your mailing list in order to enter the contest. Promote the contest through your personal and company social media channels, as well as any other marketing channels you might have available. Remember to add social sharing buttons to the contest page on your website, so it is easily shareable.

3. Add a Facebook Page Call-To-Action

If your organization has a Facebook business page set up, you can add a call-to-action button on the header of your Facebook page to attract email sign-ups. In order to create a call-to-action button on your organization’s Facebook page, navigate to your page, and click the “Create Call to Action” button in the header of your page. You can choose between a number of button texts including “book now,” “contact us,” “use app,” “play game,” “shop now,” “sign up,” and “watch video.” I personally recommend using “sign up” because it’s simple and it tends to convert well. You will also be asked to provide the URL where users can then add themselves to your mailing list. The URL should be a landing page that provides an introduction to your mailing list and a form so users can easily sign up.

How to Build An Email List Offline

In order to build your email list, you should use your website, but that doesn’t mean you should rely solely on it. Offline channels can also be used to grow your email list. You can do this in a variety of ways, such as:

1. Put QR Codes in Your Print Marketing Material

If your business makes use of print marketing material, add a QR code that users can easily scan with their phones. Use the code to redirect users to a mobile-friendly landing page on your website where you can ask them to opt in to your email list. 

You can easily create a QR code using any number of websites that offer free generators, such as qr-code-generator.com. Also, include a short URL that redirects to your mobile-friendly landing page directly below the QR code. Not everyone has a QR code scanner on their phone, and it may be easier for them to simply type a URL into their smartphone’s web browser or write it down for later use.

2. Trade shows

If your organization is presenting at a trade show, you have a prime opportunity to gather new email sign-ups. Run a giveaway and offer a highly desirable prize. New electronic gadgets such as iPads, Kindles, and video game systems work great as prizes. Allow attendees to enter your drawing by dropping their business card into a fishbowl. You will need to make it clear that contest participants are signing up for your mailing list. 

At the end of the conference, pick a winner and then add all participants to your mailing list. Send a welcome email to every new mailing list member. Your welcome email should remind them about the contest, and why they have been added to your mailing list, and provide information about your products and services. You should also include an opt-out link in your welcome email so that anyone who doesn’t want to receive email from you can easily unsubscribe.

3. In-store

If you own a physical store or have any other kind of retail location, ask every customer if they want to sign up for your email list at checkout. You can ask each customer something like, “Would you like to sign up for our mailing list and periodically get coupons in your email?” If the customer says yes, have them write down their email address on a sign-up sheet on a clipboard. At the end of the day, add these customers to your email list.

Best Opt-in Form Plugins and Services For Building An Email List

In order to design and place opt-in forms on your website for collecting emails, you will most likely need to make use of an opt-in form plugin or a cloud-based opt-in form service. As email marketing has grown in popularity over the years, a number of high-quality opt-in form plugins have been developed for all major content management systems.

They will provide templates that allow you to customize the look and feel of your opt-in form and generate the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript necessary for your opt-in forms to run. These plugins will also integrate with your email service provider (ESP), so new sign-ups are automatically funneled to your ESP.

Here are some of the most popular opt-in form plugins:

1. OptinMonster

OptinMonster is a widely-used service that can place many different types of opt-ins on your website. This service integrates with all content management systems, has integrated split-testing functionality, and enables you to use custom messaging on a per page or per category basis. OptinMonster works with nearly all email service providers including MailChimp, AWeber, Infusionsoft, Constant Contact, and 15 others. While OptinMonster is incredibly flexible and feature-rich, it is one of the few services that charge an ongoing monthly fee for its use. Depending on your level of traffic, you will pay between $9.00 and $49.00 per month to use their service

2. Optin Cat

Optin Cat is a WordPress plugin created by Fatcat Apps. Optin Cat allows you to add popups, sidebar widgets, post boxes (forms that can be placed at the bottom of a post or inside any post or page), and 2-step opt-in forms to your website. Optin Cat’s popups have extremely customizable targeting options (based on time on page, number of page views, scrolled down percentage, category, exit intent, etc.). Optin Cat also allows you to customize the content of your messages on a per-category basis. The plugin is available for a one-time fee ranging between $39.00 and $99.00 depending on which tier you select.

3. Sumo List Builder

Sumo offers a highly customizable list-building script called List Builder that can be added to any website. List Builder works either as an entry popup or exit popup and works with most major email service providers. SumoMe is a freemium service that allows you to use their basic tools for free, but more advanced features, such as split-testing, cost either $29.00 or $79.00 per month depending on which features you need.

4. HelloBar

HelloBar is a service that allows you to integrate a hello bar, entry popup, scroll box, or welcome page on your website. The look and feel of their forms are highly customizable and mobile-friendly. HelloBar is a freemium service that offers basic services for free with additional features available for $29.00 or $99.00 per month.

5. Popup Domination

Popup Domination is a WordPress plugin that will allow you to create entry and exit popups on your website. It features integrated A/B testing and analytics and allows you to show different popups on a per-page or per-category basis. Popup Domination offers very visually appealing opt-in form templates that are a step above many other opt-in form plugins. Popup Domination works with all major email service providers and is available for an annual fee of $54.00 per year to $174.00 per year.

6. Bloom

Bloom is a newer WordPress opt-in plugin created by Elegant Themes. Bloom can add an entry popup, footer opt-in form, or sidebar opt-in form to your website. It boasts more than 100 customizable templates, has integrated A/B testing, and works with nearly all major email service providers. Bloom is available as part of Elegant Themes’ membership program, which costs $89.00 per year.

Should You Buy An Email List?

While renting an email list is a commonly accepted practice in the email marketing industry, buying an email list is not advisable under any circumstances. When renting a list, you are paying a list owner to email their list on your behalf. You are effectively borrowing the permission that their subscribers have given the list owner to email them. While there is nothing that’s necessarily illegal or immoral about purchasing a mailing list, generally it’s a bad idea, because individuals on a purchased list have not opted in and haven’t given you permission to email them.

Using purchased email lists in order to get customers is usually not a very effective marketing strategy. Most email lists available for sale are low-quality, out-of-date, and not maintained very well. People on these lists won’t find your content engaging and won’t want to receive your emails. More importantly, they are very unlikely to buy anything from you or respond to any of your offers.

Many email service providers (ESPs) will not let you use a purchased list with their services because of the damage that mailing a purchased list can do to the reputation of your domain name and IP address. Emailing purchased lists usually results in an unacceptably large number of spam complaints and undeliverable emails.

This runs the risk of your domain name and IP address being added to a blacklist, which causes your future mailings to end up in subscribers’ spam folders or not be delivered at all. In order to maintain your reputation, your best bet is to only email people that have directly given you permission to do so.

Final Words

Implementing good opt-in forms on your website is your first step to building a large and profitable email list. Collecting opt-ins from your website should be the core of your list-building efforts. 

While other list-building strategies might require an upfront cash investment, subscribers who opt-in through your website are effectively free. Spend sufficient time writing compelling copy, create a highly-desirable lead magnet, and implement an opt-in form plugin, and your mailing list will grow steadily over time.

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