Build an Email List: 9 Proven Methods to Do That in 2021
The ROI for email marketing remains the highest among all marketing channels—$40 for every $1 spent. No other channels come even close to these heights.
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:
- Decent traffic to your website
- Decent sign-up forms on your website
This article should be part of a larger strategy, which involves customer acquisition. Together, these tips will show you how to build an email list from scratch.
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.
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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 any emails that you gathered from people in person. Your email subscribers are simply people who want to hear from you.
However, when it comes to email marketing and sales, it’s much more than that. The popular marketing quote says:
“The money’s in the list.”
That means that your revenue depends on how large and healthy your email list is. Email subscribers, if they are engaged and active, can bring you a fortune. On the other hand, your efforts to approach customers will be useless if the contacts you have aren’t relevant, the email addresses are inactive, or you don’t have them at all.
The main purpose of building an email list is to increase the number of your potential leads. That way, you can convert them into loyal shoppers at a later point.
Best Practices—the Do’s and Don’ts of an 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 can really help you to build your email list.
Of course, at this point we’d recommend our own service, Omnisend to fulfil that need, but for the purposes of list building, there are many options to choose from.
This is one of the top list building strategies, but it will require a bit of homework from your side. What is important is that your email marketing provider has the following capabilities:
- a variety of sign-up forms
- the ability to send the signup to different lists
- the ability to monitor the effectiveness of each sign-up 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
A 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 these kinds of contacts will provide you with high conversion rates and generate strong ecommerce marketing results.
Even more, 30% of subscribers change their email addresses every year, even after they join your list. So no matter how long and hard you have been collecting your emails, you should delete any inactive subscriber on a regular basis.
This should be done at least once per year. Most good email marketing solutions will make it easy to do so.
Focus on the quality, not quantity.
3. Never, ever buy an email list
Most marketers are looking for ways on how to build an email list fast. Remember, neither a free mailing list found online nor a buyable one can be your way to go. It might be fast but it’s not right.
This one is such an important point to make, and one that many new ecommerce marketers are falling for. Repeat after me: this is not how to build your email list.
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.
- 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. Your goal of building an email list is dead in the water.
- You are violating the GDPR, as those contacts (who reside in the EU) did not opt into your list. You don’t have proof of their signup, and you can face heavy penalties.
- 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 from your email marketing activities, 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. This cannot be on any brand’s list building strategies.
However, if you want to be a smart marketer, follow these 9 proven tactics on how to build an email list from scratch.
Getting Visitors to Your Site First
Building an email list necessarily requires one thing: that you have visitors to your site. While this article focuses mainly on converting existing site traffic, we’ll quickly go over some proven methods for getting that traffic in the first place.
For the most part, you have a few options:
- Use ads, most likely Facebook ads. Ads allow you to target your perfect audience at the time and on the platform most suitable for them. However, some ads can be quite expensive. For that reason, many ecommerce businesses opt to use Facebook ads which are cost-effective and can easily scale as your needs and business grow. Read more about the most effective ecommerce ads.
- Create engaging content. If you create great content that has the possibility to go viral, then you can use that to bring visitors to your site. You can distribute this content as you please—on YouTube (if it’s a video), TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and anywhere else. You just need to ensure that you have a clear call to action and a link that goes directly to your store. This can be either to the home page or a specific product or landing page you’d like your visitors to see.
- Create engaging content via SEO. Another option is to create great content on your website consistently and wait as Google and other search engines pick it up. This is a much slower strategy. It can take weeks, months or even years to see considerable growth in your organic traffic. However, the major benefits here are that it’s completely free and platform-agnostic. This means that, no matter what happens to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. (such as policy changes or reach restrictions), you can still get traffic directly to your site.
To get deeper insights into how you can get more visitors, you should read our 7 tips to flood your store with amazing traffic. Now let’s look at how to setup a mailing list.
Email List Building Tactics
1. The underestimated standard opt-in form
On most ecommerce platforms, you already know how to build an email list. That’s because one of the first, and default ways to collect email subscribers 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.
As a store owner, you can disable this, but you really should only do that if you have another sign-up 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 also can find more information in this guide to persuasive email opt-in forms.
2. A surprise pop-up form
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 pop-up form.
Pop-up 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 sign-up forms, there are options to show the pop-up after a certain amount of seconds, after the user visits a certain number of pages, after a certain percentage is scrolled, or when the user is getting ready to leave (exit-intent).
You can play around with these options and when you get it right, you’ll see significant increases in how many subscribers join your email list.
When wondering how to build your email list, this is likely the most popular.
Just make sure to have a strong call to action or incentive in your pop-up form.
3. The power of incentive
If you want visitors to subscribe to your email list, 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 to incentive someone to join your list.
But don’t offer “free updates.” No one really cares about free updates, and it might even seem spammy.
A nice example of the sign-up form is below.
You can also simply offer visitors access to your newsletter to grow your email, like Shop Hereford below:
They are straightforward in their attempts to build an email list, and their visitors know exactly what to expect in their inboxes.
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 sign-up 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 for email marketing messages.
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 when they join, 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.
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 subscribe to email list.
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 pop-up from AdEspresso offering a lead magnet in exchange for the visitor’s email address:
You can also host your lead magnet on a separate page, as we did with our Ecommerce Case Studies lead magnet landing page:
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 on Facebook or Instagram, both because they’re popular, but also because the advertising costs are very reasonable. The various giveaway strategies have proven successful for many types of businesses.
And, with an intriguing (even viral) offer, you can get your cost-per-clicks as low as one 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:
To increase their chances of getting natural shares and gaining reach, they added bonus entry points:
You can host your giveaway landing page on your site, but it’s usually easiest to use a landing page or some other software that provides this 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 email subscribers).
An amazing way to do that is to use referral programs. It’s a tactic that helped excel Starbucks, Dropbox, and McDonald’s 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, and thereby to grow your email.
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 at 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 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.
- Print your business cards and exchange them with people when you meet them and talk about your business. Add received contacts to your list.
- Participate in in-person fairs and events and always have a registration list with an email column at your booth.
- Ask customers for their email if you sell your products somewhere offline.
- 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. So if you use offline forms, make sure they have the same legal statements as online ones.
Of course, while some parts of offline list-building can be done automatically, you may have to add these email subscribers manually to your marketing automation software.
At the end of the day, the important thing here is to have a specific strategy for growth 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 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.”