How to Build Your Email List On A Firm Foundation

Updated January 2019

In my previous article, I outlined why email marketing is still so powerful even in a social media marketing world.

However, there is no point in generating a list of email subscribers if you don’t have a strategy in place to do something with it.

You can’t just start emailing people randomly and expect to see great results.

“The best campaigns start with the best lists,” according to OptinMonster, “so building a targeted email list should be your number one priority. ”

In this post, I will guide you through the steps you need to take to build your email list the right way.

1. Define your marketing goal

As with all marketing strategies, you need to start with a clear goal in mind. Consider what you want to accomplish from your email campaign. You can’t write an effective email if aren’t clear why you are sending it. When defining your goal, be specific. What action do you want your email recipient to take? How will this action drive value for your business (e.g. conversions, generating new leads or nurturing existing leads)?

Think beyond clicks and opens. As McKinsey & Company succinctly puts it in their email marketing study, “focus on the journey, not the click.” E-mail is merely the first click (literally) in a person’s decision journey.

2. Choose Your Email Service Provider (ESP)

Your next step is to choose an email service provider (ESP) to help you streamline and manage your email marketing more efficiently. A good ESP will help you to manage your opt-in process (new subscribers will be added automatically to your list), and track your open rates, click-through rates, and unsubscribes. It will ensure you are compliant by automatically adding an unsubscribe link to the bottom of every email message you send. This way subscribers can be easily removed from your list if they want to unsubscribe.

Some popular ESPs include MailChimp, Constant Contact, AWeber, FeedBlitz, Infusionsoft, and iContact. Your choice of ESP will depend on factors such as your budget (ESPs vary in price points from free to costly); ease of use, the types of emails you want to send and tech support you require (basic email marketing won’t require high tech feature or support).

Further Reading: How to Choose a Solid Email Service and Build Your List on a Firm Foundation

3. Build A Compliant List

The foundation of a great email marketing plan is to grow a list of subscribers who want to hear from you and engage with your brand. When it comes to building your list your focus should be firmly on subscribers who are genuinely interested in receiving information about your brand and industry.

The most important thing you need is permission to email your list. Permission is getting stricter; with GDPR what marketers can do with data is going to be more tightly regulated. Unless you have express permission your emails are technically spam.This is why the practice of buying email lists, rather than building one from scratch, is never a good idea. Firstly, you will damage your credibility and trust. Similar to those cold-calls you receive at home in the evening, if you receive an email from an unknown business you will most likely see this spam. Secondly, emailing recipients who don’t want to hear from you will result in your email being marked as spam. Your email provider will start to block sending your emails when this happens.

Further Reading: 8 Reasons Why You Should Never Buy an Email List

Tips for Remaining Compliant

Tip #1: Include an unsubscribe link. Every email you send must include clear instructions for unsubscribing from your list. Your ESP will automatically add this link, but you need to make sure it’s clearly visible and functioning correctly.

Tip #2: Remove people who have unsubscribed. Your ESP should have a feature that helps automate this process for you.

Tip #3: Ask your recipients to whitelist your emails. Even when your subscriber wants to hear from you, your email can still end up in their junk folder. To avoid this, it’s important to ask your recipients to whitelist your emails. Whitelisting involves your subscriber actively marking your emails as trusted.

Tip #4: Include your address in your email signature. Most ESPs require you to add your address to every email you send. This is a good way to show credibility and transparency.

Tip #5 Avoid spammy-sounding words. Many ESPs include a spam checker within their editors. If yours doesn’t have a spam checker, you can use this one. Not sure what a spammy-sounding word is? Check out HubSpot’s list of spammy words.

4. Create An Opt-In Form

An email sign-up form, also known as an opt-in form, is the best way for you to build a targeted list of permission-based subscribers. Typically, it’s a small box embedded on your website, blog, or social media sites so that a visitor can sign up to receive a newsletter, email offer, or similar from you. (For suggestions on where to add your opt-in form to your website, see 14 High Converting Places to Add Email Signup Forms to Build Your List).

Craft a clear headline which conveys the value of opting in to your list. Your headline needs to grab a reader’s attention and make them want to learn more. Including a visual of your offer increases sign-ups, as in the example below.

Further Reading: 63-Point Checklist for Creating the Ultimate Optin Form

5. Make Subscribing to Your Email List Easy

Keep things simple. If your form isn’t simple and intuitive, visitors will quickly lose interest. Don’t ask for too much information up front — collect first name and email address only (if you target professionals, ask for their work email address).

According to research by Unbounce, on average, asking visitors to complete three fields results in a 25% conversion rate, compared to six or more fields, which see a 15% conversion rate. Earn people’s trust by making it clear what they are subscribing to. Assure them their contact information will remain private

6. Confirm Subscription

When you create a sign-up form, you have two options. You can either select a single opt-in (which will add subscribers to your list as soon as they submit their details) or a double opt-in (where someone subscribes and you immediately send them an email asking them to confirm their subscription). The first method will help you grow your list more quickly, but it also can decrease the quality of your list by allowing illegitimate email addresses, spambots, and errors. The double opt-in will protect you from invalid and inaccurate email addresses, but it’s important to note that initial subscribers may not complete this first step.

Further Reading: Double Opt-In vs. Single Opt-In: Which Is Better for Conversions?

7. Create a Clear Call to Action (CTA) Button

A Call to Action (CTA) is the action you are asking your visitor to take, for example, “sign up to our newsletter.” Using a button for your call to action draws significantly more attention to it, making it easier for a reader to take the conversion action and ultimately resulting in an increased number of people doing so. According to a test by Campaign Monitor buttons for your call to action can increase conversion by 28%. This is because buttons have a number of unique attributes linked text doesn’t, including its size, colour and use of whitespace.

Your CTA button is the most important point of action on your page, so it’s important to make sure it stands out. Choose a font size which is clear, bold and big (though not too big that it’s overpowering). Choose a contrasting colour for your button that stands out in relation to the rest of your design. Don’t forget to include plenty of white space around your button to help it stand out. Campaign Monitor also advises using rounded square backgrounds for your button and adding a gradient or stroke to the button. You could also use arrows to point to your CTA, as in this example from Michael Port.

Finally, keep the text of your CTA short (approx 3–4 words) and snappy. Use short, action-oriented words and be specific about what will happen when the reader clicks the button. Use first-person language, for example, “Sign Me Up”. This gives people perceived ownership of the offer, by replacing “you” with “my”.

Follow Joanna Wiebe’s “I-want” strategy:

Write button/CTA copy that completes this phrase: I want to ________________ The underlined part becomes the button copy.

Insider Tip

For the highest conversion rate, it’s best to have only one call-to-action in your email.

Having more than one CTA creates too much choice and confusion. As the number of choices increases, the recipient may feel that making a decision is too complex. The conversion goal should be clear and the recipient should only have the choice — claiming your offer or not. — Wishpond

Make sure your CTA is in a clear and noticeable position on your page. You will need to test the best position for its placement, i.e, above or below the fold. A good rule of thumb from Tower One is to insert your CTA “directly after the relevant text so that your message is clear in the reader’s mind and there is no time-gap to allow them to get distracted or delay action.”

Recommended Reading: 63-Point Checklist for Creating the Ultimate Optin Form (with Examples)

8. Create An Email Incentive

One of the best ways to build your list of subscribers is to offer something of value upfront, which shows subscribers the value of your offering. This email incentive known as an opt-in offer or a lead magnet is something of value you are willing to give away for free which requires people to provide an email address to download.

Want to subscribe to my newsletter?

Each Monday I send out a weekly digest of social media marketing tips and the latest social media updates.

Click here to subscribe to my mailing list.

Social Media Consultant. Keynote Speaker. Digital Storyteller.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store