Last updated on February 17, 2021
I’ll be honest here. I know that there are lots of resources on the internet on this very topic of building and growing your email list. But you already have enough on your plate. You don’t want to increase complications with another list of usual list building/email marketing tips.
By the way, if you have any doubts about why you should build an email list and why you should keep your audience engaged, you are at the wrong place. The audience does not build “on its own”. It does not build with “let me focus on creating great content, readers will come if the content is good”.
Over the years, I’ve tried a number of ways to grow our mailing list. I’ve picked the best ones for you here. Most of them are easy to implement, some are not so obvious, but they all have given us the best results.
So, let’s understand list building tactics, strategies, and some guerilla tricks!
Have you clearly defined your target audience?
Building an email list without knowing your target audience is like driving your car, blindfolded! As an email marketer, I always remember one thing. I can’t please everyone! So, I try to target people who could actually be interested in my products/services. Don’t make the mistake of creating a broad email list, quality matters more than quantity here.
Whenever I send an email, I try to target one specific group of people. After a while, I started noticing that I don’t need to “convince” my prospects to buy. All I have to do is notify them about a product and they buy it themselves. That’s the beauty of engaging a small and relevant group of prospects.
How to improve your CTAs so they generate more opt-ins?
Did you know that a personalized Call to Action (CTA) works 202% better than a generic CTA? I always try to create audience-specific, page-specific, and contextual call to action buttons (CTAs) for my subscription forms, blogs, landing pages, or whatever else I’m trying to offer through emails.
Imagine that a particular blog about “How to repair minor dents and scratches on your new car” is getting a lot of traffic to your website. Can you identify the opportunity here? You can use this to your advantage and try to persuade these visitors to subscribe to your email list.
How about a CTA or opt-in headline like this:
“Save your hard-earned money in repairs and maintenance. Learn how to keep your car looking new even after years. Subscribe here to get one free tip every week.”
Similarly, try to add relatable CTAs to downloadable eBooks, fun templates, and so on. I try to ensure that my CTA doesn’t sound like an “advertisement” to the readers. What do you think?
Let’s consider another practical example. Here’s how DropBox uses a CTA to get more prospects to subscribe:
“DropBox works the way you do”
When I first came across this CTA, I felt a sense of support and relatability. DropBox has successfully connected with me on an emotional level with this CTA. That’s the feeling we all want to inject within our prospects, isn’t it?
Turning annoying popups into engaging surveys = higher conversion + higher engagement
We know that providing relevant content is a way to encourage people to subscribe to your list. But how do we know readers like the content? Can we use that knowledge to ask them to subscribe to our list?
Ryan Levesque invented the “Ask Method”. He’s proved time and again that asking people short questions, and personalizing their experience based on those responses provides a multi-fold increase in results.
I definitely recommend carrying out mini-surveys with your audience to understand them better. And then writing content based on audience interests. But can we use this technique even before the person subscribes to our list? Can we use it to encourage them to subscribe?
That’s what the University of Alberta did. They grew their email subscription list by 500% within a year. The strategy? Using timed popup surveys.
And here’s what I did.
I tracked the average time spent by visitors on each landing page/blog through Google Analytics. For a group of pages I evaluated, my average was 42 seconds. On digging deeper I also realized that people who found the content interesting actually spent close to 90 seconds on these pages. Others bounced sooner. The lesson was that anybody spending more than 35 seconds on these pages is highly likely to be interested in the content, and a very good target for a subscription popup.
Instead of making it a simple opt-in popup, I created a timed popup to show up after 35 seconds on the page, and included a single question survey:
When they clicked “Yes”, I showed the actual subscription form.
Contrary to my belief, this method actually increased subscription rates on these pages. Visitors who found content valuable were more interested in subscribing to my email list.
How can you try something like this? Remember, you don’t need advanced technology or new tools. Think about how you can do time-based mini-surveys on your site easily…
How valuable are your free giveaways and lead magnets?
Now, this is something you’ve likely heard before. Arrange giveaways and offer free stuff to your prospects. Invite them to subscribe to your list and in return, send them something useful. Won’t you subscribe to a free email list where you get premium stuff for free in return? I would!
But hey, let me make myself clear, I’m NOT talking about random lead magnet techniques here. The internet is filled with low-quality lead magnets – downloadable resources like PDFs, eBooks, etc.. People expect that they can just include an 8 page badly formatted ebook as a giveaway, and will get hundreds of people to sign up for their list. Doesn’t happen right?
To build a responsive email list, you will need to offer a premium giveaway. Think about a movie trailer. The movie trailer includes the best parts of the movie. And it raises curiosity. That’s what you need to do with your lead magnets and giveaways. Include some exclusive, yet-to-be-launched, unique, and valuable stuff for free. Then you can instantly grab prospects’ attention. Everyone likes to get valuable, useful things as free gifts!
Let’s take an example. Suppose you’re about to launch a new product. But, before that, you want to grow your email list. So how about an offer like this:
You can show this as a popup or an inline box after your content. I’m sure you will get a lot more people to sign up to your list now! What do you foresee?
Is your subscription form fun enough?
Nobody likes the same-old bland opt-in forms and CTAs. I have grown tired of the opt-in forms that say, “Please subscribe to our email list for the latest updates”. And sure, I’ve done many forms like that myself!
But as a prospect, I feel the site is not putting in enough effort to convince me. I mean, couldn’t they be a little more creative?
For my own list building strategy now, I try to create fun opt-in forms and CTAs. We can include the essence of our brand personality in these segments. For example, when I am reading a cold email from a hair-loss product, I expect CTAs like “Yes, I want to grow more hair” or “No, I am ready to go bald!” Such a line will crack me up for sure!
Design your opt-in form with contextual images and fun punch lines. These could be instant attention seekers for the potential customers. And the result? An expanded mailing list.
Are you cleaning up your email list regularly?
In the long run, growing your mailing list won’t be your only goal. If your list has lots of email addresses, but a lot of them are invalid, you will have a lot of trouble. Your bounce rate will be high, you will spend more time and money sending out emails and many email services may downgrade your ratings. On top of it, your conversion rates will stay low.
Sometimes people enter invalid, mistyped, or fake emails while subscribing – intentionally or by mistake. Also, over time some previously working addresses may turn inactive. People stop using an email address or their domain names expire or they change jobs.
Keeping your subscriber database clean becomes a big task. What I prefer is to automate this list of hygiene. Our Email Subscribers plugin checks and filters out bad and disposable emails both at the time of subscription and later. It checks against our own spam blacklists too. This way you don’t have to worry about misleading conversion results, higher costs, and worsening reputation.
Another way to further clean your list is to send a few emails asking people to unsubscribe if they are no longer interested in your content. Or to ask them to re-subscribe to a new list if they want to continue receiving emails from you. This is another of those counter-intuitive tactics that worked well for us. It does make the list size smaller, but then you only have super-interested folks in your audience.
Once you get rid of the inert contacts, you’ll have a fresh email list to continue the email marketing campaign. Also, you’ll get the reassurance that you’re not wasting your hard-earned money and resources!
Have you considered adding a social share link to emails?
Let us step back for a moment and remember, why are we creating an email list in the first place? To increase website traffic with maximum Click Through Rate (CTR), right? You want prospects to visit your website, blog, and landing pages… don’t you? So, from a conversion perspective, adding call to action links to your website and blogs is a perfect idea.
But, how about adding a social sharing button to your emails? Sounds odd, right? I mean, you can add social sharing buttons on your blog posts and website. That way people who like that content can spread the word within their friend circle. You can even put your social media links in an email footer – with the hope that they will join your social communities.
But why on earth would you put social sharing links for a landing page or blog post in an outgoing email you’re sending to your own readers? Why will they click those links and share them even before they’ve come to your site and read the content?
GetResponse did a test where they sent two variations of the same email. One with a social sharing button and the other without. What happened then? The click-through rate of email without a social sharing button was a decent 2.4%. But the one with social sharing links generated a whopping 6.2% CTR. That’s almost three times…
That means people may want to share content just by its headline or intro content. And each social share can bring in more website traffic and can add more subscribers to your email list. Creating a spiraling, snowball effect!
Does your prospect know about your social presence?
There’s hardly anything more reassuring than a strong social proof. Bigger the volume of your social proof, the better. Suppose, I already have 2K+ Facebook followers, 1K+ Instagram followers, and 500+ email subscribers. Well, they may not be very high numbers, but I’m already doing better than many.
However, there’s no point in having these many followers if I don’t leverage my social proof. So what I can do is add these numbers in the opt-in form itself. If I find out that 500+ people have already subscribed to a mailing list, I will think, “Wow, if so many people have subscribed, I must give it a shot too. This person’s content surely has something!”
Michael Hyatt’s podcast is a great example of applying this strategy. You can find the total numbers of subscribers mentioned in the top right corner of his opt-in form. When I visited his website, I saw that over 500K people have already subscribed to his emails. I thought, “It must really be worth it” and I went on to hit the “Subscribe” button.
Are you offering a referral bonus yet?
Referrals can quickly grow your email list. I mean if my BFF tells me “Hey, subscribe to that email list, there’s some great content on offer”, will I not listen to her? The common human psychology is to listen to the suggestions coming from our dear ones.
The most common way to earn referrals is by making your email subscribers happy with regular and awesome content. If they’re happy with what you’re giving them, they’ll naturally reciprocate and refer their friends and family. Also, there’s nothing wrong with asking! You can just ask your subscribers to refer their friends to join your free email list.
But, you know what? I promised to include some not-so-obvious steps for email list building. So, here’s what you can do instead of simply asking for referrals.
You can add a referral bonus offer that your email subscribers simply can not refuse! It can be a discount, a store credit, early access to a new program, entry to an exclusive community… whatever may work for you and your audience.
Airbnb has a cool referral program where referrers receive $18 credit on each qualifying stay. And you’d very well know that most successful businesses have an affiliate or referral program. Referrals can be a great way to grow business, but they can also double your email list!
BTW, another neat trick is to ask your readers or affiliate partners to share your content or free resources. When they share that content, new people will come to your site. And then you can run them through your lead magnets, and then welcome emails, and then they become your fans too!
Content upgrades in exchange for email (and one more bonus tip about content)
What does this mean? It’s another spin on the movie trailer and premium lead magnet idea.
You write a great long post/article. Then you create a shorter version with key highlights. Publish the shorter version on your blog for everyone. And then put an opt-in subscription form for people to get the extended, full version for free. People who’re interested will share their email addresses and your list will keep filling with high-quality leads.
What I love about this strategy is its simplicity. I mean everyone can use this trick. You are already writing great blog posts, your readers are already interested in your content. It’s time you collect their email addresses for the full-length content and continue building rapport and credibility via email marketing campaigns.
VideoFruit used this exact strategy to increase their blog subscription rates by 62%. The content upgrade strategy may seem long and time-consuming. But, trust me, it’s not as hard as it sounds and the results are worth all the efforts.
And here’s one more bonus tip about using content to grow your subscribers' list.
Update your content regularly.
When you revise, refresh, redesign and generally improve the quality of your blog posts regularly, you have two significant advantages.
First, people will engage more, get better value out of the content. And will also subscribe to your opt-ins on the page.
And second, Google will notice people are spending more time on your page, its quality has improved, and in turn, will send even more visitors to that page.
Double win, isn’t it?
I hope you discovered some new, not-so-obvious tricks to grow your email list in this guide. Please don’t wait to implement them. Feel free to download our WordPress plugins – Icegram Engage (for on-site opt-ins, calls to action, etc), Email Subscribers (for running all sorts of email marketing campaigns), and Rainmaker – for better forms and lead management.
And yes, do share your own lessons and results here so others benefit too!