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ROI for email marketing remains the highest among all marketing channels – $40 for each $1 spent. No other channels come even close to these heights.

So it’s obvious why a long email list is so desirable by ecommerce businesses nowadays.

Deciding to build an email list is one thing, but actually seeing success can be quite hard for retailers. This is especially true since there are often so many other aspects of running an ecommerce store.

The two main conditions for successful email list building are the following:

  1. Decent traffic to your website
  2. Decent signup forms on your website

Although this article won’t help you with improving your customer acquisition, it will definitely help with learning about the most effective signup forms.

Even better, the 9 methods that we discuss below are very easy to implement and results can be seen within a few short hours or days.

But first, let’s cover some basics.

What Is an Email List?

An email list is a collection of email addresses: anyone who has subscribed to your newsletter, blog or website, or emails that you gathered from people in person.

However, when it comes to marketing and sales, it’s much more than that. The popular marketing quote says:

“The money’s in the list.”

That means that your income depends on how long and healthy an email list you have. Engaged customers can bring you a fortune. And vice versa – your efforts to approach customers will be useless if the contacts you have aren’t relevant, email addresses are inactive, or you don’t have them at all.

The main purpose of growing your database of email addresses is to increase the number of your potential leads. So later you could convert them into loyal shoppers.

DOs and DON’Ts About Your New Email List

1. Get an email service provider

Honestly, before we even start, it’s very important that you get an email marketing provider that you’re comfortable with and which works well with your particular business model.

Of course, at this point we’d recommend our own service, Omnisend to fulfill that need, but for the purposes of list building, there are many options to choose from.

What is important is that your email marketing provider has the following capabilities:

  • a variety of signup forms
  • the ability to send those signups to different lists
  • the ability to monitor the effectiveness of each signup form
  • the ability to segment your subscribers based on various behaviors
  • the ability to send automated messages based on these lists and segments

With that, you’ll have everything in place to start building your email list from scratch.

2. Keep your list healthy

Healthy email list means that you approach those people who are aware of you, engaged with your brand and have signed up for your newsletter. Only this kind of contacts results in high conversion and generate accurate marketing results.

Plus, 30% of subscribers change email addresses every year. So no matter how long and hard you have been collecting your emails, you should delete inactive email addresses on a regular basis. At least once per year.

Focus on the quality, not quantity.

3. NEVER buy an email list

This one is such an important point to make, and one that many new ecommerce marketers are falling for.

There are many shady people on the internet who will sell you email lists with hundreds of thousands of “quality” (read: not quality) contacts that are perfect for your business.

But you know they’re not. You’re just hoping that at least some of them are (maybe 2% wouldn’t be bad, right?).

But that’s bad thinking.Never buy an email listHere’s why:

  • If you’re buying an email list, there’s a huge chance that other people are buying the same email list.
  • That email list may be a pure spam trap, or have spam traps, meaning if you send emails to those contacts, your sender’s email address and IP address will be blacklisted as spam.
  • Those people may not be spam traps, but they’re unfortunately not quality leads for your business and they mark you as spam. Think about it: 100,000 contacts marking you as spam. Your sender’s reputation is as good as dead.
  • With enough spam complaints, your email service provider will terminate your account.
  • You are violating the GDPR, as those contacts (who reside in the EU) did not opt in to your list. You can face heavy penalties (read more about GDPR for ecommerce marketers).
  • You will spend a decent amount of money on acquiring that list, and for sending your campaign to the contacts on that list. But instead of sales, you will get all the consequences mentioned above.

If you want to kill your email marketing career before you’ve even started, go ahead and buy an email list.

However, if you want to be a smart marketer, follow these 9 proven tactics on how to build your (clean) email list from scratch.

The 9 Proven Email List-Building Techniques

#1 Underestimated standard opt-in form

One of the first, and default ways, for you to build an email list is by having a standard opt-in form on your site.

Pretty much every Shopify site will have this opt-in form enabled, normally at the bottom or in the middle of the screen.

The default Shopify opt-in form

As a store owner, you can disable this, but you really should only do that if you have another signup form available.

For other ecommerce platforms (like Woocommerce), it’s important to include this in your website design. Instead of having a specific opt-in form, you can place a sticky sign up form on the bottom or side of the screen.

Here’s an example of one of Omnisend’s forms:

You can use a sticky signup form that will always be visible for your visitors, without disturbing them

It’s important not to underestimate the importance of opt-in forms for ecommerce stores. I go over some of the most important uses and best practices in this article about signup forms.

You also can find valuable this guide to persuasive email opt-in forms.

While the opt-in form is important, it is nonetheless still quite passive. You are hoping that your visitors will sign up for your newsletters by their own will.

Furthermore, you can’t really gauge whether they’re already interested in your brand. Instead, you should be using a popup form.

The default Omnisend exit-intent popup with a few changes

Popup forms are dynamic in nature. You can set them to pop up at certain times or for certain events and they are a great way to deliver lead magnets for lead generation.

For example, in our signup forms, there are options to show the popup after a certain amount of seconds, after the user visits a certain amount of pages, after a certain percentage scrolled, or when the user is getting ready to leave (exit-intent).

You can set your popup signup forms to activate after certain triggers

You can play around with these options and when you get it right, the signup rate will increase significantly.

#3 A power of incentive

If you want visitors to sign up, you need to give them something in exchange. Something that they would find relevant.

The most common incentive is to offer a discount, sale or free shipping for a limited time.

But don’t offer “free updates”. No one really cares about free updates, it might even seem spammy.

A nice example of the signup form is below.

Ararose Clothing Exit-intent Popup Example

You can also simply offer visitors access to your newsletter, like Shop Hereford below:

Shop Hereford uses a newsletter as an incentive in his popup forms

They are straightforward in their attempts to build an email list, and their visitors know exactly what to expect in their inboxes.

#4 Gamification

In order to build an email list, you need to attract and engage your visitors. Sometimes, however, discounts and sales are not enough.

In those cases, it’s a great idea to think outside of the box. There are now many interactive signup forms that are fun for visitors and effective for ecommerce store owners.

One of these is the Wheel of Fortune, a fun wheel that the visitor “spins” to get a prize. In order to spin the wheel, the visitor first has to sign up.

Soundest's Wheel of Fortune is a great interactive form to help you build an email list

You can determine the prize as you wish, either as a specific amount or percentage discount.

Either way, it’s a win-win. The visitor gets savings on their purchase, and you get to build your email list.

#5 A targeted landing page

You can also build an email list outside of your home page.

When you are running your marketing and advertising campaigns, you should be focusing on specific funnels to get your sales or subscribers.

For example, you can offer a limited time, major sale or a free plus shipping offer.

Instead of sending them to your homepage (where they can get lost), you should send them to a landing page.

A landing page where free shipping is offered

This landing page will have far fewer elements than your store pages, as it is intended for high conversions by focusing on one product only.

In order for your visitors to get that product or offer, they’ll need to sign up.

With adequate testing, you’ll be able to improve your landing page’s conversion rates, build your email list and boost your sales.

#6 Powerful lead magnets

People are generally skeptical of new stores and normally quite reluctant to purchase anything the first time.

That’s why the average conversion rate for many ecommerce stores is around 3%, which means that a full 97% of visitors will leave your store and most will never come back.

In order to avoid that, you can convert your visitors into subscribers—at no cost to them—with a lead magnet.

A lead magnet is a valuable resource—like a PDF guide, ebook, gift guide, stock images, etc.—that your visitors really want and one of the best ways to build an email list.

In order to get that resource, they will need to sign up for your newsletter and email campaigns.

Here’s a popup from AdEspresso offering a lead magnet in exchange for the visitor’s email address:

AdEspresso popup offering an ebook in exchange for an email

You can also host your lead magnet on a separate page, as we did with our Ecommerce Case Studies lead magnet landing page:A landing page for one of Omnisend's lead magnets One note: the lead magnet should be directly related to your niche.

If you sell fidget spinners, the lead magnet shouldn’t be a collection of 500+ cute cats.

Although your audience may enjoy both cat pictures and fidget spinners, the cats won’t prime them for the sales pitch.

#7 Giveaways that work

Another great tactic that all ecommerce stores should be considering is to utilize the powerful giveaway, especially on your audience’s’ favorite social media channels.

This will most likely be Facebook or Instagram, both because they’re popular, but also because the advertising costs are very reasonable.

And, with an intriguing (even viral) offer, you can get cost-per-clicks as low as 1 cent.

Just remember, similar to what I mentioned above about the lead magnet: make sure the prize that you’ll be giving away is directly aimed at your target audience.

If you want dog lovers, give away something that only dog lovers would highly value. Don’t give away an iPad or Bose headphones.

Make it specific, so that your entrants are also your qualified leads—which is the entire point of the giveaway.

Here, the jewelry candle company JewelScent is giving away one of their (very specific) products with a simple entry form:

Here's an example of JewelScent's giveaway opt-in form

To increase their chances of getting natural shares and gaining reach, they added bonus entry points:

This is how JewelScent incentivized social sharing of its giveaway

You can host your giveaway landing page on your site, but it’s usually easiest to use a landing page or some other service.

#8 Referral programs

Related to growing your email list by using giveaways (especially how JewelScent improved their social reach in the image above), we want to use what we have (current subscribers) to get more of what we want to have (more subscribers).

An amazing way to do that is to use referral programs. It’s a tactic that helped excel Uber, PayPal, Dropbox, and Hotmail to become industry leaders in their fields.

With referral programs, you’re basically bribing (in a loose definition of the word) your subscribers to share your offers with their friends, family, and colleagues.

There are free ways to get referrals, where you don’t have to bribe your contacts with anything. These include:

  • adding the option to forward or share your newsletters or welcome email with others
  • adding the same option add the end of your lead magnets (videos, PDFs, cheat sheets, etc.)

They’re fine, but they may not be enticing enough.

Instead, try to give away something valuable in exchange for a referral.

This can be free shipping, a $50 coupon or discount, a 25% discount, or even a free gift.

This works wonders and helps you get new contacts, and even new customers, which—as I’ve mentioned—is the point of all of this.

#9 Offline list building

As you can see, the continuous list building process should be organized online – on your website, landing pages, social media, etc.

However, always take advantage of and use “old-school” offline ways to collect emails when you can.

For example:

  1. Print your business cards and exchange with people when you meet them and talk about your business. Add received contacts into your list.
  2. Take participation in the faires. Always have a registration list with email column at your booth.
  3. Ask customers for emails if you sell your products somewhere offline.
  4. Consider organizing meetups and gather like-minded people for discussions. Use a registration form for this.

All means of list building are proper if only they are legal.

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At the end of the day, the important thing here it is to have a specific strategy and to be consistent in your communications for both customer acquisition and customer retention.

A long email list of good quality will allow you to move your leads further through the sales funnel and to convert them from new subscribers into loyal customers. And that’s the main purpose of the entire list building process.

Remember, “the money’s in the list”.

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