You know that having an email list is valuable, but how do you actually go from 0 subscribers to a thriving list? Unfortunately, when you're just getting started, learning how to build an email list from scratch can feel overwhelming...
It doesn't have to be though, and by following the tactics that we're about to share in this post, you can start growing your email list and turning it into that evergreen asset you know it can be.
Better yet, many of these tips will also show you how to build an email list for free, which means that you might not even need to crack open your wallet to start getting more subscribers.
Ready to start building? Let's dive right into the tips...
1. Give your opt-in forms the attention they deserve
If you want to get people to sign up for your list, you need to make it obvious exactly how they can do that. That's what your email opt-in forms do.
I know — adding an opt-in form isn't exactly a mind-blowing tip, but you'd be surprised how many people ignore the most fundamental aspect of building an email list and just tuck away an ugly opt-in form in the footer of their site.
Your opt-in forms are the engine that drives your list growth. So, if you want to learn how to build an email list, a lot of it is going to come from experimenting with when, where, and how you display your forms.
Over the next 16 tips, you'll see a lot more actionable and specific tips for exactly how to optimize your forms — this first tip is just to put you in the right mindset!
2. Experiment with different opt-in form types
Ok, now let's start getting a little more actionable with your forms.
Rather than just throwing an opt-in form on your site and calling it a day, you should run some experiments to figure out which types of opt-in forms get you the most email signups.
For example, one way to boost your conversion rate is to use a form type that "triggers" as a user interacts with your page. The most common example here is a lightbox popup, but you don't always have to be that aggressive. You could also consider a more unobtrusive slide-in or a floating bar.
The GetSiteControl email subscription widget can help you experiment with opt-in forms in 9 different locations, including everything from popups to notification bars, slide-ins, and floating action buttons.
3. Let visitors subscribe from other areas
Dedicated email opt-in forms aren't the only way to build an email list — you can also harness other areas where people are already interacting with your site.
For example, you have:
- Contact forms
- Registration forms
- Comments sections
- Order forms
By adding a checkbox that lets people subscribe to your email list, you can use these areas to grow your email list. If you're using WordPress and Mailchimp, the free Mailchimp for WordPress plugin lets you add a "check to subscribe" box to a ton of different areas on your site, including:
- Comment forms
- WooCommerce/Easy Digital Downloads purchase forms
- Registration forms
You can also find other plugins that work for different email marketing services.
4. Use a lead magnet or content upgrade to incentivize signups
Which sounds more enticing to you?
- Sign up to our email list
- Sign up to our email list and get a free eBook on how to build an email list
It's the second one, right? You feel like you're immediately getting something back in exchange for your email. It's a quid pro quo transaction, rather than just you handing over your email address for free. These types of incentives are called lead magnets or content upgrades and they're one of the most popular strategies to get more subscribers.
There are a ton of different incentives that you can offer depending on what your website is about. Some good ideas are:
- Coupons for eCommerce stores
- Checklists to help people implement a blog post
For example, look how ThemeIsle, a WordPress blog, entices people with a guide to speed up WordPress at the end of their blog posts:
5. Personalize your opt-in forms
Here's another common-sense rule:
If your visitors feel that your email list is related to their interests, they'll be more likely to subscribe. To maximize the chances of that happening, though, you should consider personalizing your email opt-ins.
For example, let's say you have two different sections on your site:
- One about WordPress
- Another about digital marketing
Rather than using a single opt-in on both sections, you'll be more successful if:
- The opt-in for the WordPress section relates to WordPress
- The opt-in for the digital marketing section relates to digital marketing
That way, you can make sure that each visitor sees an email opt-in form that's related to what they like.
The GetSiteControl opt-in forms let you use targeting rules to control exactly which pages/sections they display on – and that makes it really easy and fast to create personalized experience for the visitors.
6. Try a two-step opt-in
A two-step opt-in is a different take on an email opt-in form that harnesses a psychological principle called the Zeigarnik Effect. The Zeigarnik Effect basically says that people are more likely to finish a task that they've started than one they haven't started.
Here's how that applies to growing your email list:
With a two-step opt-in, you do not display your form right away. Instead, you just show a button. You only display the opt-in form after a visitor has clicked the button – that is, after they've started the process.
You start with the easy thing — having them click a button – and then only move to the harder thing – filling in their email address and name — after you've already gotten them started on the process.
You can see an example of this in action at the popular Smart Blogger blog, where they use this two-step approach to drive webinar signups:
7. Experiment with opt-in copy
Your opt-in forms themselves aren't the only things that matter. All the text outside the form plays a role, too. So, if you want to maximize the number of people that sign up for your email list, it's important to experiment with this copy to find what works best.
The most important bit of text is your opt-in's call to action (CTA). The CTA is what visitors click to sign up for your email list. A lot of people will just go with something generic like "subscribe". But while "subscribe" is descriptive, it's not very motivating.
To get more email subscribers, experiment with more enticing CTAs.
For example, if you have a fitness website, using something like "Get Weekly Fitness Tips" is better than a generic "Subscribe" button.
8. Run A/B tests to optimize forms
Speaking of experimenting, another great way to optimize your opt-in forms is with something called A/B testing. With A/B testing, you compare two different variations by sending one segment of traffic to Variation A and another segment to Variation B.
Once you get enough data, you can make an evidence-based decision about which variation gets the most email subscribers. Some things that you can A/B test are:
- Form types
- Form triggers (e.g. displaying a form right away vs exit-intent)
- Text and button copy
- Form fields
GetSiteControl makes it easy to test up to 5 opt-in forms against one another, which lets you try out different timing, locations, text copy, etc.
9. Consider a negative opt-out form
A negative opt-out form is another way that you can play with optimizing your list building strategy. It takes the same basic approach as the two-step opt-in form from above, but adds another little twist to boost your conversion rate (here' some data that backs that up).
Specifically, it uses a popup with two buttons instead of one:
- One button starts the two-step opt-in process
- The other button is a negative button that closes the popup
However, rather than just using a generic "close" text, this "negative" button uses a phrase that makes people think. For example, if I were creating a negative opt-out form for this post, I might use something like this:
- Positive button – I want to grow my list
- Negative button – I'm not interested in growing my list right now
As long as you don't get too negative, this can be a great approach for how to build an email list.
10. Build a blog at your site
I haven't forgotten that this post is about how to build an email list for your business. But in order to grow an email list, you need traffic. And when it comes to web traffic, building a blog is one of the best ways to draw in targeted visitors.
Once you draw them in with your blog content, you can use all these other tactics to convert them to subscribers.
11. Write guest posts on other websites
Writing guest blog posts is a popular general marketing tactic. However, if done right, it can also be a great way to build your list.
What you should not do is use your guest blog byline to just link to your generic homepage. That's fine for general SEO, but it's not the most optimal strategy if you want to build your email list.
Instead, use a custom byline to drive visitors to a customized landing page that:
- Connects to the topic of your guest post (remember — personalization is key)
- Puts an extra emphasis on getting people to subscribe to your email list
For extra emphasis, you can even dangle a lead magnet or content upgrade in your guest post byline.
For example, look at how Sarah Peterson, the founder of Unsettle, uses the byline to grow her email list with a lead magnet:
12. Use your social media accounts to cross promote
If you've already done the hard work to grow a social media presence, don't forget to leverage that existing audience to get people to subscribe to your email list, too.
This is especially important because of how social networks have been decreasing the organic reach for content. So, if you can get social media followers to subscribe to your email list, you'll always be able to reach them, rather than just hoping they see your content in their social media feeds.
13. Let people choose their own preferences
When people are considering subscribing to your email list, you have to help them overcome two big fears. They're worried that you'll send them...
- Too many emails
- Content that they're not interested in
According to Mapp, a digital marketing platform for B2C, the most common reason people unsubscribe from email lists is too many emails, and that giving people an option to receive emails less frequently is one of the best ways to keep them around.
A good way to overcome those fears right at the beginning and convince people to sign up is to simply let them choose their own preferences for:
- How often to receive emails
- What types of emails to receive
If you only send a few emails per month, this might be overkill. But if you're very active with your emails, this approach can pay dividends. Most email marketing services should let you do this with list segments. For example, here's a tutorial for AWeber.
14. Add microcopy to alleviate fears
Beyond letting people choose their own preferences, another way to boost your email list is to use smart microcopy to help alleviate those fears.
Microcopy is basically small text that explains more about your opt-in form. It's unobtrusive, but it lets people know exactly what to expect from your newsletter.
For example, look how Hustle Panda sets expectations that subscribers will receive emails "every few weeks":
15. Show an example of past emails
A third way to overcome people's fears is by showing them exactly what types of emails they'll receive. To accomplish this, you can create a public web archive of your most recent emails (most email marketing services have a built-in feature that lets you do this).
When your visitors know exactly what they're going to receive, they'll feel more comfortable sharing their email addresses with you.
16. Add a CTA to your email signature
For another little boost, consider adding a newsletter signup CTA to your email signature to push people to sign up to your email list. Being able to "meet people in their email inboxes" like this is a great way to pick up some extra subscribers with no extra effort on your part.
Sure, it won't make or break your list building efforts, but every little bit counts, right?
17. Add a "forward this email" option
No matter what business you're in, word of mouth is always a good thing. When it comes to your email list, "word of mouth" means making it easy for subscribers to share your emails with their friends and family.
A good way to push subscribers to do this is with a "Forward to a friend" link. Adding this link is better than relying on people to use their email software's "forward" feature because it also ensures that your subscribers don't get accidentally unsubscribed by their friends.
Here's how to create a forward to a friend link at Mailchimp — other email marketing services offer similar features.
18. Harness your receipts
If you run a store, don't ignore the power of your receipts. When you give someone a receipt, it's because they've just made a purchase from you (that's kind of how receipts work!). That fact is super important though because it means that you know that person is interested in what you do.
So, capitalize on that interest by adding a CTA for your email list. The cool thing about this approach is that it works great for both physical stores and eCommerce stores.
And that wraps up our best tips on how to build an email list from scratch! By applying these tips to your site, you'll start picking up more email subscribers in no time.
Colin Newcomer is a freelance writer with a background in SEO and affiliate marketing. He helps clients grow their web visibility by writing primarily about WordPress and digital marketing.