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Think Facebook’s one billion users are impressive? It still can’t top email, which had a staggering four billion users in 2020. Despite being invented in 1971, email is more relevant than ever, with over 300 billion emails sent and received daily.

Email’s popularity alone is a strong argument for building an email list. And as it turns out, most consumers prefer when brands contact them by email.

Add to that the fact that relying on platforms like Google, Facebook, or TikTok means that those companies sit in the middle of your relationship with your customers—and a single algorithm change can devastate your business—and it’s clear how email marketing reigns supreme. There’s still no better path than this 50-year-old technology.

So, how do you go about actually building your email list for marketing? There are countless tips and strategies. In this article, we’ve narrowed them down to 11 of the most effective, including:

  • Pop-up forms
  • Lead magnets
  • Giveaways
  • Social media
  • Business cards (seriously!)

Ready to supercharge your email list growth? Read on.

What Is An Email List?

At the most basic level, an email list is any collection of email addresses. Those emails might come from any number of sources: new customers who have bought something from you, people who have signed up for your product, business cards you’ve collected at in-person events, and so on.

But in a marketing context, this definition evolves:

An email list for marketing is a collection of people who’ve given you permission to contact them with your marketing outreach.

This is an important distinction.

People who never agreed to be contacted by you will quickly unsubscribe or mark your emails as spam. This can derail your email marketing efforts fast.

By contrast, people who’ve proactively said “Yes!” to being on your list are expecting more communication from you. And that gives you the chance to provide value and build a relationship with them.

The Benefits Of Building Your Email List

Let’s start with the big one—return on investment (ROI). Building an email list is a stellar investment. A 2020 survey by Litmus found that email produces a 36x ROI. The Data & Marketing Association found similar results in a 2019 survey of marketers. But ROI is just the start of why email should be a focus.

Direct Communication with Customers

Letting Facebook and Instagram own your audience is fraught with risk. Your business can be quickly destabilized as algorithms and platforms change.

And there’s another problem: Social media platforms have an engagement rate of around 0.6%. Email, on the other hand, has an average open rate of 22.86% and an average click-through rate of 3.71%, according to OptinMonster.

Social media platforms and search engines are powerful discovery tools, but email allows you to futureproof your connection with your customers.

Lower Costs Per Lead

Cost per lead varies widely by industry, but some estimates put email’s cost-per-lead lower than social media ads, display ads, content marketing, and search engine ads—and as much as 25x lower than traditional marketing and in-person events.

Email is unique. Unlike other channels, email takes people who already have some level of trust in you and gives you the chance to nurture them into strong leads. As you provide more value to your email audience, you’ll build more trust and a powerful brand that lowers your customer acquisition costs over time.

Access to More Potential Customers

The vast majority of people who reach your website leave without taking action—and they never come back. Email is your primary defense against this cycle. It helps you hold onto your audience rather than watch them slip through your fingers. Email can help you:

  1. Sell to prospects who wouldn’t have otherwise returned to your site.
  2. Build deeper relationships with customers and upsell them.
  3. Encourage past customers to buy again.

Increase Word of Mouth Marketing

64% of Millennials say email is the most personal communications channel, according to a 2016 survey by Bluecore. Email is where relationships are built—and relationships lead to referrals.

By sending valuable content, your emails will naturally be shared with your subscribers’ networks—promoting organic growth. The larger and more engaged your email subscriber base, the greater your potential for word-of-mouth marketing.

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11 Ways To Build Your Email List

Use Pop-Up or Sign-Up Forms

Adding sign-up forms strategically throughout your website is a good place to start, but when it comes to building your email list for marketing fast, pop-up forms outperform embedded forms. According to a 2023 study by Wisepops, email pop-ups convert 3.8% of website visitors. Yes, pop-up forms have a reputation for being annoying. But they don’t have to be.

Your email marketing software will have a number of less obtrusive pop-up options, from slide-ins to exit intent popups. And if you’re offering something truly valuable to your new subscribers, they won’t be annoyed by your pop-up—they’ll be intrigued. Experiment with different options and run A/B tests to see which performs best.

Add a Button to Landing Pages

If your brand has a large website, you’re sitting on a huge potential email growth tool. A simple change, like adding an email signup link to your highest-traffic pages, can pay off big time. Make it as easy as possible for people to share their email addresses with you. There are a couple approaches here:

  1. Site-wide buttons
  2. Customized buttons for each landing page

If you’re short on time, add a site-wide email signup button and see what happens. However, you’ll probably find that customizing the button and call to action for each landing page increases your conversion rate.

Try Lead Generation Offers

Lead generation offers, or 'lead magnets,' are one of the most powerful steps you can take to build your email list for marketing. Remember—people sign up for emails in exchange for something useful, and lead magnets fill that need.

According to a 2020 survey by HubSpot, free e-books are the most popular lead magnet (27.7%) followed by webinars (24.9%) and free tools (21.3%).

There’s also a counterintuitive dynamic that goes on with lead magnets: The highest conversion rates can sometimes come from the simplest things. Your audience might be intimidated by lead magnets that require a big-time investment—in-depth courses or lengthy e-books, for example.

That means the lead magnet that works best for you depends heavily on your audience. Webinar recordings or access to free tools might work best for your audience—but they might be even happier with a one-page PDF that solves a specific problem.

Offer Giveaways or Freebies

Giveaways can be a powerful email growth strategy. Harry’s, a shaving products company, gathered 100,000 emails in a week by using an incentive-based referral program that let customers earn free products.

One way to amplify this strategy is to partner with influencers or related brands, taking advantage of their audience to accelerate your growth. A program like this can result in a spike in sign-ups. Just be careful to design a giveaway that’s tightly related to your brand and target audience. The wrong type of promotion can attract subscribers who are more interested in the freebies than your brand, increasing your bounce rate and unsubscribe rate.

Run Social Media Campaigns

Social media is a powerful way to help your target audience discover you. The challenge is to move your audience from social media to email.

Whether you’re dealing with Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok, or another platform, social media companies have a vested interest in having users stay on their platforms. That means when you share external links—like a link to sign up to your email list—you’ll hurt your reach.

One approach to this issue is to create social media campaigns designed around getting people onto your email list. A lead magnet approach can work well here. Just make sure to add links to the comments (on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter) or natively within the content itself (on Instagram and TikTok) so as not to hurt your reach.

To drive additional signups, you can also promote your lead magnet in your social media profiles and background images.

Create Subscription Content

When browsing through sites like the New York Times or The Economist, you’ve probably seen a notice like this before:

You’ve already read 3 of 3 articles this month. Sign up for 5 more free articles.”

This is what’s known as “gated” content. Providing your email unlocks a bit more content, allowing you to enjoy a few more free articles while giving the publication a chance to establish an email relationship with you—and potentially upsell you into a paid subscription.

In the SaaS and B2B sectors, it's uncommon for companies to gate content. However, a similar strategy can be used for free access to tools, or free trial access to a product. One example is the SEO tool Ahrefs, which gives access to a free version of its software in exchange for an email address.

It seems simple, but adding a link in your email signature works. Since you’re already engaged in dozens, hundreds, or thousands of email conversations, adding a link to your signature is a low-effort way to build your email list.

This tactic becomes more effective as your team grows. However, make sure you give people a reason to subscribe. (Don’t just say "Join our email list!").

Use it As Your Call to Action (CTA)

Let’s say you’re in the market for affiliate marketing software. How interested would you be in the following CTA?

Sign up to get our latest updates.”

Yikes. Not too interested, right? And yet, that’s exactly what countless companies do when promoting their email list. Don’t make the same mistake. Instead, design a CTA and an accompanying lead magnet that gives your audience a compelling reason to join your list. For example:

5 ways you can double your affiliate income this year (Free Download).”

By putting CTAs like this on your homepage or throughout your content, you’ll give readers a clear next step—and boost your email list in the process.

Ask In Person at Point of Sale

One of your biggest advantages of having a brick & mortar location for your business is the in-person relationships you build with your customers. Asking them to sign up for your email list in person helps cut through the noise of the online world. If you run a chain of stores, this can be especially powerful.

Just make sure to follow the same rule as online sign-ups: Offer them something of value. It can be a small physical gift, a discount on their current order, or some other incentive that will be sent to them by email. Get creative.

Collect Business Cards

If your business is fast-paced, collecting business cards can be more convenient than asking customers to write down their contact information.

Make sure you segment these signups and run them through a custom welcome email sequence. They may have forgotten they signed up for your list, so you can reduce unsubscribes by reminding them:

Hey! Thanks for signing up to our email list by dropping your business card off with us. As promised, here’s a coupon for 25% off your next order.”

Host a Webinar

Webinars are all about deepening your relationship with your prospects. Unlike most forms of lead generation, webinars put your face in front of your audience—often for 30-60 minutes or more.

By hosting a webinar, you’ll tend to attract more highly-qualified leads than offering an e-book or other form of digital download. Attendees also get more value from you. Since you have the full attention of your audience, they’re more receptive to learning and absorbing the information you have to offer.

So, how do you grow your email list for marketing by hosting a webinar? Easy—participants need to give their email in advance in order to join the webinar.

If you’ve designed a webinar that tackles core pain points for your audience, your webinar audience—and email list—will fill up quickly.

A Few Email List Building Tips

Ensure Recipients Opt In

Make sure your prospects give you explicit permission to send them email campaigns by “opting in.”

Sending unsolicited emails is not only bad for digital marketing performance—it’s also illegal in many places. If you have a significant European audience, make sure to follow General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules to avoid potential legal issues. You’ll also want to be aware of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

By allowing consumers the chance to proactively check an “opt-in to marketing communications” box, you’ll have a record of their consent.

Never Buy Email Lists

While buying an email list itself is not illegal, sending unsolicited messages is. Even if you buy a list of emails from a company that obtained the emails legally from scratch, the people on the list agreed to get email marketing campaigns from them—not from you. In the worst-case scenario, buying email lists can land you in legal trouble.

And your beautifully crafted email marketing template won't save you.

But even in the best-case scenario, you’ll end up with a poorly performing list. As more and more recipients mark your emails as spam, your email deliverability will decline. Your email IP might even end up on a blacklist.

In summary: don’t do it.

Use Email Segmentation

While people hate getting spam, they love getting emails that speak directly to them. That’s what makes email segmentation so powerful. In fact, a case study by Marketing Sherpa found that targeted emails can improve open rates by 20 to 40%.

Personalizing quality emails also lets you build a stronger connection with your audience. You can segment by factors like demographics, location, age, gender, and interests to deliver the right content to the right people. Instead of seeing your brand in their inbox and immediately deleting the email, recipients will be more likely to engage because you have a history of sending relevant email content.

Keep Your Email Lists Organized

A messy email list can hurt more than you might think. When you blast emails to invalid or inactive email addresses, you steadily chip away at your deliverability and sender reputation. That means all the hard work you put in to build your email list is less effective.

One of the easiest ways to keep a clean email list is to use double opt-in forms. You’ve seen these emails before—the ones that send you an email to confirm you’d like to join the list. And while the double opt-in method does work—and can improve your list performance—it will also significantly reduce the number of people who end up on your email lists. Another method to consider is regular email list maintenance or using a CRM.

The best email marketing tools all have ways to clean your list at scale, removing inactive subscribers and invalid email addresses at the touch of a button.

Get the Most Out of Your Data

You are starting to build an email list, and now what? You need to turn customer data and email marketing intelligence into something that works for you. Use email marketing analytics tools to start measuring who interacts with your content (age, location, job title) and how they interact with your content (CTR, conversions, time on page). Your next steps will be to convert your email list into actionable insights that can help you deepen your brand's relationship with customers.

Supercharge Your Marketing With A Robust Email List

Email is one of the strongest, highest-ROI marketing channels, and it has advantages that are hard to find anywhere else—especially the full ownership it gives you of the relationship with your audience.

If you don’t have an email list, have never thought about sending an email newsletter, or haven’t taken email marketing seriously, there’s no better time than the present. Start with easy wins like adding a sign-up form to your brand’s email signature or adding unobtrusive pop-up forms on your website.

Then, as your list starts to grow, make sure you manage it properly: Clean your list. Segment subscribers. Email people only when relevant. Look at automation tools to keep it easy, and track your email open and conversion rates. In a decade where tech is changing fast, email is still more relevant than ever and building your list may be the most valuable thing you do for your business.

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Ryan Kane
By Ryan Kane

Ryan Kane has been researching, writing about and improving customer experiences for much of his career and in a wide variety of B2B and B2C contexts, from tech startups and agencies to a manufacturer for Fortune 500 clients.