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How to Grow Your Email List

Kiely Kuligowski
Kiely Kuligowski

A quality email list is a vital part of email marketing and can determine the success of your campaign. Here's how to build one.

Email marketing is an incredibly effective way to market your business, and your email list is arguably the most important component of your strategy. Your email list can have immeasurable impact on your marketing campaigns and a serious effect on your traffic and sales. If you're looking to grow your email list, we have 25 tips to help your small business reach a wider audience.

What is an email list?

An email list, also referred to as a mailing list or subscribers list, is a collection of email addresses from visitors and customers who have consented to a business sending them communications, such as information, updates or discounts. Your list may grow and shrink as followers unsubscribe or new ones join over time. 

Email marketing is a huge asset for a business. Nearly every customer has an email address, so there are billions of potential customers available for you to reach with just a few clicks. Additionally, email marketing is 40 times more effective in acquiring and retaining new customers than social media, and it has a significantly higher click-through rate than social media posts, which means more customers receive and read your content than they would if they came across your content on social media.

25 ways to grow your email list

There are many ways to grow your email list organically. Follow these 25 tips to grow your list the right way.

1. Create valuable content.

Your followers signed up to receive emails from you for a reason. Your job is to make it worth their while by providing interesting, engaging content. You will quickly lose subscribers if your content is boring or not applicable to your followers.

2. Know your audience.

Knowing your audience will help you create content they like. You can use email analytics or information you've collected on your own to inform your content. Look at things like demographics, customer behavior and clicks to better understand your audience.

3. Make it easy for followers to share your emails.

Include buttons that link to your social media and "email a friend" links in each of your emails to make your content easily shareable. You don't want your subscribers to have to work hard to send your content to another potential customer.

4. Segment your lists.

Once you understand who your audience is, you can segment them into groups – for example, by age, location or buyer behavior – and send emails based on those groups, making your messages more targeted to each part of your audience for a more positive effect.

5. Send out an opt-in campaign.

If you have an old email list that doesn't yield much engagement, you can send out an email with an opt-in message and a promise to remove any email addresses that don't respond. While it might seem counterintuitive to remove contacts from your list, it can actually give you better results by ensuring you only send emails to people who want to receive them.

6. Include a link in employee signatures.

Including a link to a landing page where people can sign up for emails in all your employees' email signatures is a quick and easy way to help build your email list.

7. Include gated offers on your website.

If you have valuable content to offer, like whitepapers or e-books, you can host it on your website with a pop-up that requires an email address and an opt-in to receive emails from you in order for the user to download it.

8. Require an email address to get a quote or access a resource.

Similarly, you can require a customer to provide their email address if they want to contact you for a quote or access a unique resource your business offers on your website.

9. Host a contest.

You could host a contest and require an email address for entry. Post about the contest on your social media pages to drum up interest and awareness, with a link directing viewers to where they can sign up on your website. [Read related article: How to Create a Giveaway Campaign That Boosts Sales]

10. Have a pop-up on your website.

"The single best method I've used to grow email lists rapidly is via website pop-ups," said Kent Lewis, president and founder of Anvil Media. "Add a pop-up to your site to ask for an email address to send updates. The strategy still works, especially if you cookie the visitor and only hit them once, instead of every time they refresh or visit a new page. Make sure the incentive is clearly articulated and relevant to your brand to maximize conversions."

11. Put a call-to-action button on your social media.

You can add a CTA to sign up for your email list on your social media pages to make it easy for interested customers to sign up to receive your emails. Here's how HubSpot Academy integrates a CTA on its Facebook page:

12. Ask website visitors for their feedback.

Visitors enjoy providing feedback on a topic they're interested in or that pertains to them, so you can provide a form on your website that asks them to leave their feedback on your business or website, and make their email address a required field.

13. Keep lead-capturing forms short.

When you ask customers to provide information, you don't want to overwhelm them with lengthy forms that ask for a lot of information upfront. Stick to the basics, like their name and email address.

14. Utilize Facebook groups.

"Over the years, I've added thousands to my email list by using Facebook groups," said Rick Orford, founder of The Financially Independent Millennial. "As part of the joining process, I ask for users' email address in exchange for free information, such as a PDF. Facebook groups can be an invaluable way to increase engagement with your audience, while allowing you the opportunity to keep in touch with everyone by email."

15. Make subscribing easy on your website.

A customer who wants to subscribe to your emails should not have to hunt around your website to find the subscribe button. Make it plain and easy to find in several different places on your website, such as your homepage, your "about" page and your "contact us" page.

16. Conduct A/B tests of your email content.

When you first start out with email marketing, you don't know what content will perform best. To find out (or at least better predict), you can send out different versions of the same email – with different subject lines or images, for example – to sample groups to see which performs better with your audience. [Read related article: 16 Effective Methods to Make the Most Out of A/B Testing]

17. Set expectations.

"Set expectations so that a subscriber knows exactly what he/she is signing up for and how often he/she will receive email from you, and immediately send a welcome email upon sign-up that matches the expectations you just set," said Katie Bonadies, content and social media strategist at Berxi.

18. Have a blog.

Blogs are a great way to boost your online presence. They can increase your ranking on search engines like Google and go a long way to establish brand credibility. You can also collect email addresses via blog subscriptions and deliver quality content right to their inboxes.

19. Allow customer reviews on your website.

Alongside a blog, a place for customers to leave reviews on your website can boost your image as a reputable business while giving you another opportunity to gather email addresses. Make an email address a required field for a user to leave a review.

20. Be consistent.

"Don't expect to have a massive email list overnight," said Shmuel Fogel, web designer and online marketer at Talmudico. "It takes time to build email lists, but they can be extremely effective in marketing to your customers. By maintaining in-store signage, website banners and campaigns to grow your email addresses year-round, you will ultimately build up a large list over time that continues to grow."

21. Collect email addresses at a trade show or conference.

There is always the old-fashioned way to collect emails: in person. Have a sign-up sheet readily available for anyone who stops by your booth or table, and have a welcome email ready to go once you add the email addresses into your system.

22. Add QR codes to your promotional materials.

Another quick and easy way to collect email addresses and maximize your advertising materials is to add a QR code to your printed advertisements. This way, you can collect email addresses even from a poster or brochure.

23. Offer an incentive.

"The best way to grow an email list is to offer some incentive for being on it," said Rex Freiberger, CEO of Gadget Review. "Sometimes, if customers really want to know about an upcoming product or possible promotions, this is enough. Usually they need enticement in the form of free content, trial services or large discounts."

24. Include timed pop-up surveys on your site.

You can create surveys that come up only after a customer has spent a certain amount of time on your website. This works because the customer has demonstrated interest in your content and is much more likely to sign up to receive emails from you if you make it quick and easy.

25. Leverage your social media.

"You can set up Twitter and Facebook campaigns to boost your lead generation efforts," said Anthony Mixides, managing director of The London Vape Company. "By giving links to your various offerings and resources on social media, you allow more users to find you, and this helps you tap into a newer sect of people. This is also a very useful technique for growing your target audience base."

What to avoid when building an email list

Because solid email lists are so vital to the email marketing process, there is some specific etiquette to keep in mind, as well as missteps to avoid. Here are 10 things not to do when building your email list.

1. Buying email lists

This is the No. 1 mistake marketers and business owners make in building their email lists. Many think the best and quickest way to build a list is to buy one. While it's true that this is the fastest method, it generally comes back to bite you, since there's no way to guarantee that the purchased email addresses are real or associated with users who are interested in your content. As such, you could purchase a list with 1,000 addresses but discover that only a few engage with your content.

2. Adding email addresses without permission

This is another huge mistake many marketers make, and it could even get you in legal trouble. You should only send marketing emails to addresses who have given you permission in some form. These are the two main types of permission for email marketing:

  • Implied, which covers those with whom you have an existing business relationship – like current customers, donors or members of your website
  • Express, which is when someone gives you clear permission to send them emails, such as by entering their information in a subscription form

3. Asking for too much information

When you're asking someone to provide personal information for your email campaign, you don't want to ask for too much and risk coming off as a spammer. You want to make subscribing quick and easy, and make the customer feel at ease providing you with their contact information. Give the customer plenty of time to learn about your business and establish that you are a credible organization.

4. Offering a nonvaluable incentive

Offering an incentive is a common way to get people to sign up for a targeted email list, but it can backfire if the incentive isn't actually valuable to the customer. For example, you don't want to offer a coupon that expires the next day, or a discount that can only be applied at one store at a specific time. Make your incentive as valuable to and usable by as many of your customers as you can.

5. Using stolen email addresses

"There are bots that can search the web and aggregate a list of found emails," said Steffa Mantilla, founder of Money Tamer. "If you add these emails to your list, you'll likely get reported as spam, and your deliverability will go down drastically."

6. Skipping the welcome email

When a new subscriber signs up, it's important to send out a welcome email as soon as possible. This greeting makes the new subscriber feel valued, encouraging them to become a repeat customer. Your welcome email should have a clear subject line, engaging visuals and content, and a link to whatever incentive you promised when they signed up.

7. Using paid advertising too soon

"You don't want to grow your email list with paid advertising until it's proven," according to Kelan and Brittany Kline, founders of The Savvy Couple. "You always want to focus on organic growth to find what actually works, then you can scale things up by running paid ads."

8. Sending emails without a goal

A clear goal for your overall email marketing campaign as well as each email you send will go a long way in making your emails worth your subscribers' while. You don't want to send out emails for the sake of sending emails; this will be clearly felt by subscribers, who may be put off by content that isn't valuable to them. You should know what you want to accomplish with your emails before you send them. Is it sharing news about your company? Sending a discount code? Informing your customers of a new product? Shape your email marketing content around that goal.

9. Being disingenuous

"I'd stay away from anything disingenuous to the reader," said Jakub Rudnik, vice president of content at Shortlister. "Ultimately, any bait-and-switch tactics will lead to the sign-ups that you earned unsubscribing more often than not. People are protective of their inboxes, so tell them exactly what types of content they'll get and how often they'll get it. You'll gain their trust far better that way."

10. Sending too many (or not enough) emails

With email marketing, the best way to retain your customers is to be consistent in your sending habits and let subscribers know what to expect. If you send a burst of five emails every few months, or three emails every day, your subscribers could get annoyed and unsubscribe. Set and stick to a regular posting schedule. Many email marketing services have scheduling features to make this effortless, even allowing you to schedule emails months in advance.

Kiely Kuligowski
Kiely Kuligowski,
business.com Writer
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Kiely is a staff writer based in New York City. She worked as a marketing copywriter after graduating with her bachelor’s in English from Miami University (OH) and now writes on small business, social media, and marketing. You can reach her on Twitter or by email.