“Selling to people who actually want to hear from you is more effective than interrupting strangers who don’t.”

Seth Godin

Your email list is your gold mine. It contains the part of your audience that’s genuinely interested in your brand, from prospects to loyal customers.

Building an email list has the following advantages:

  • Most people use email: It beats social media and even search engines.
  • Permission-based: Your email list contains only those who have chosen to be subjected to your stories.
  • Personalization: You can personalize every email with user data.
  • Non-intrusive: Your subscribers can open your email at their leisure.
  • Measurable: Measure the success of each message and the interest of each subscriber.
  • Independent: The list is yours. You’re independent of platforms that can strip you from your following by booting or demonetizing you.

Of course, it’s no cakewalk. You’ll have to comply with privacy rules, deal with design and have the right forms, visuals, and segmentation in place.

Then each year, your list loses about 22% of email addresses because users switch companies, change email provider or simply opt-out. Your list growth should outpace this decay. We’ll take a look at how.

Let’s cover the rules for email and how to build and grow an email list

Rules for email

Let’s start with the basics behind creating that goldmine for your brand.

Asking for an email is the easiest way to convert web traffic

About 70% of your website visitors never returns. 

Why? They’re on the internet, and there’s a lot of stuff to do. If you’re writing a blog, users read your things and leave. Or if you’re selling shoes, users browse and bail.

It’s just pretty hard to get an online sale or a donation from first-time visitors. That’s a major commitment, something that requires your visitor to trust your brand.

That’s why you try to get someone’s email first. 

It’s a small first step. It’s free and one can always unsubscribe.

The email address is then used to send (free) stuff that builds trust. 

The more people open, read and click around your mails, the more space your brand gains in their mind. By feeding your prospects valuable things, they can grow into real customers ready to make real commitments.

Get everyone you pitch on board

When you start out, no-one knows about you. But you’ll meet a lot of people as you build your brand. And everyone is or knows a potential customer, donator, voter or investor.

Ask everyone you pitch if they’d like to be kept in the loop with the occasional email. 

This might seem laborious, and a bit presumptuous, but this consolidates your encounter. The next time they open your mail, they’ll remember your bright, hopeful face. Perhaps they’ll even act on it – or forward it to a friend who might be interested.

Kickstart your list by converting every conversation.

The people you manually recruit will be amongst your most loyal subscribers.

Always send useful emails.

When you land in someone’s inbox, you enter their personal space.
People can guard it fiercely, especially those who love empty inboxes.

Most people’s inboxes are saturated with spammy, salesy emails. Don’t add to this pile.

Only enter their email box when you’ve got something valuable to bring. 

People hatcheting you (hitting the unsubscribe button) are statistically most likely to be annoyed with the volume of your irrelevant commercial drivel.

Ruthlessly judge the quality of your emails and list

The health of your email list can be derived from several statistics, each one tracked by every email marketing tool.

Your open rate shows how many recipients opened your email. 

If those on your list are really interested in your brand, they are happy to receive your emails and will open them. If they don’t open it, your emails are not expected to be interesting enough for them to bother. Try to add more value in the next ones.

Your click rate shows how many recipients clicked on at least one link in your email. 

The goal of every email should be getting people to engage with your brand. That’s why most people judge the success of a campaign by click rate.

If people aren’t clicking on the articles, offers or links in your email, they are not interesting enough to explore further. Try to adjust the copy and content of your emails.

Your unsubscribe rate shows how many recipients asked to be ‘unsubscribed’.

An unsubscribe means they judged your emails as unworthy of their time and attention. Try to find out why they left.

Did they leave shortly after signing up? Perhaps their expectations were off and you need to adjust your promises.

Did they leave after receiving commercial messages? Perhaps you need to rework them to be less intrusive or send them more free stuff before you pitch something.

Healthy lists have an open rate of 20%, a click rate of 3% and 0.25% unsubscribers per mail.

Of course, this benchmark varies a bit per industry.

Stick to the law

Every country on earth has privacy and spam laws. If they don’t, there’s probably no email there either.

You have to follow the rules on privacy and spam. 

This is easy because they’re only a few of them. However, ignoring the rules can get you – in order of probability:

• Hatred from your audience;
• Booted from email platforms;
• Fined or persecuted by institutions.

Here’s a list what you should and shouldn’t do:

  • Ask for permission: don’t collect emails without consent.
  • Write a privacy policy. Include at minimum:
    • A bullet list of data you collect from your audience.
    • What you are using this data for.
    • How people can review and change the data you have on them.
    • The effective date of the document.
  • Only use the emails for the purposes as described in your privacy policy.
  • Keep your email list secure. Use an established email marketing service.
  • Do not web scrape emails – this is the practice of having a bot or a Bangladeshi scour the internet for leads and put the emails on your list.
  • Do not use deceptive subject lines or header information.
  • Do not sell your list or borrow it out. Don’t buy or borrow one either.

If you’re ever tempted to play cowboy with other people’s data, think about Facebook. People breed permanent distrust with every shenanigan discovered.

Step 1: Select your email tool

You have many choices for email tools . Most are free to get start with.

A. Make sure your tool has all the functionality you need:

  • Does the tool integrate with my CRM/Store? Are new customers pushed to the tool? Are open rates and click rates pushed to the CRM/Store?
  • Can the tool send automated emails to new subscribers? This allows you to send a mini-course or other documents.
  • You’ll get more responses as your list grows. Is it able to send automated responses or convert customer responses into support tickets?

Got one? Well done!

B. Register for your tool of choice and complete its setup.

Step 2: Enable personalization and segmentation

Email tools offer personalization options. 

This means including a first name or company name in the subject line of your mail, or in the body text. This makes the email feel more personal and relevant.

Email tools offer segmentation options, so you can target emails. 

You can send an email to contact who match a certain condition, like language = English, or interest = press.

Naturally, both personalization and segmentation require you to add data to each contact in your list. I recommend adding the following where possible:
• First name
• Last name
• Company name
• Language
• Interest (With a dropdown: customer, investor, press)

A. Define the data for segmenting and personalization within your tool.

If you’re building your list online, you shouldn’t ask users for more than their first name and email address. It’s just too much of a hassle.

Every form field causes friction. And friction destroys the conversion rate. 

Once they become a real paying customer through your store or app, you can ask for the rest of your data. If you choose an email tool that integrates with your shop or CRM, new data points will be pushed to your list.

However, if you are getting users on the list manually, you can use a form asking for every data point you want.

B. For adding people to the list manually, design a form and save the URL.

Step 3: Define and produce an incentive.

No-one will just give you their email. You’ll have to bribe them somehow.

A. Define an incentive to offer in exchange for a user’s

Incentives convert best if they are:

  • Specific: ‘updates’ or ‘information’ won’t spark the imagination. Give them a real solution to a real problem they have.
  • Actionable: Your incentive should provide a tool, checklist, skill or to-do list that the audience can easily and immediately apply.
  • Instantly accessible: make sure your email tool sends it right away, or the website becomes instantly available.

Here are some examples:
Gated content. Use a tool to lock website pages or a file. Their emailunlocks it.
Premium content. Enter your email to unlock exclusive content.”
Giveaways. Their email is used to send a free digital product, a discount code, or participate in a raffle. “Enter your email to win a dog house worth $500.”
Create a quiz. Create a quiz with a tool. Their email unlocks the result. “How agreeable are you in the office? Do our quiz and find out.”
Mini-course. Send your customers a series of emails that teaches them the essentials of a subject they care about. “Gardening Beginner’s Course – learn the basics of gardening in 5 days.”

B. Produce the incentive.

This means you write that eBook, design that infographic or buy that raffle gift. If it’s a digital download, make sure to:
1. Export your document as an interactive PDF with Use the export options to keep your documents under 2 MB.
2. Rename it so it’s easily searched for: “12 Tips for Self-Publishing.pdf”
3. Upload the document to your server or into your WordPress CRM.
4. Use a tool to create a link that analyses the traffic to the document.(Optional)
5. Create an automatic welcome for new subscribers in your email tool and include a link to your document.

4: Deploy the opt-in form

By now you should know (1) the data you want from your customer, (2) what bribe you offer in exchange.

So when and how should you offer this deal? 

At some point in your customer journey, you’ll have to present them with a form where they can fill in their data.

Don’t ask for their email too early. 

They won’t trust you with their email if you haven’t been of value to them yet. So don’t jam a popup in their face when they land on your site. You will have to calibrate the sweet spot.

Don’t ask for their email too late. 

If you wait to ask for 5 minutes on your websites, they might be gone by then. Or perhaps they’re already warm enough to be nudged towards a real commitment instead of just giving an email.

A. Pick the place and time to present your opt-in forms. 

So when to present the form? And what method to use? Always empathize with your user – imagine their intent when they’re browsing your site.
You can use tools  to observe this.

Be assertive enough to get those emails, but don’t be pushy or annoying. 

So pick the methods that rhyme with your audience and brand. As for what converts best, you can try different places and times.
In a popup. The classic method is reviled and loved all over the internet. Darken the rest of the screen and put a bright form in their face.
In a landing page. You can embed your form in a landing page – one that is built only for convincing your visitor to fill in that form.
In your email signature.  You can add a link in your email signature that goes to a form or a landing page.
Welcome gate. Present the form immediately when they land on site.
Header or footer bars. Add your form to the header and footer, or in a bar that stays with the user.
Upon leaving. If you detect someone is about to close the tab, you can present the visitor with a popup.
In your blog post. You can add the form in a sidebar or underneath each blog post, where users are most likely to be impressed by your knowledge.
Download pages. Wherever people can get brochures, documents or other resources you can ask them for their email.
On request. You can sprinkle links to your opt-in form throughout your content.

B. Choose a method to build and integrate your forms.

  1. Use a tool that synchronizes with your email They allow for everything described in this chapter, plus a whole lot more.
  2. Use the functionality of your email Every email tool offers simple forms to embed in your site. No effort required, no result expected.
  3. Build it all If you resent using third-party tools, you can build the functionality you need yourself. Coding knowledge required.

C. Design an opt-in form that converts. 

Never use crummy forms. Make sure they’re well designed, blend with your website and use bright buttons.

They should contain at least:

  • A captivating headline. The big benefit of giving you their email should be instantly clear.
  • A short description. A few lines clarifying the headline. Don’t forget to mention it’s free.
  • Charming visuals. Offering a free eBook? Add a mockup. A free course? Add a picture of the instructor looking at the form.
  • Descriptive button. Never be creative in the text on your button. Buttons should describe exactly what happens: “Send me the eBook”.

Remember to use as little form fields as possible. First name and email should be enough for now.

Summary and to-do for building an email list.

Because it’s hard to get real commitment from first-time visitors, you ask for their email first. The email address is then used to send (free) stuff that builds trust.

Stick to the laws and keep judging the quality of your list using the open rate, click rate and unsubscribe rate.

Step 1: Select your email tool:

  1. A. Make sure it has all the functionality you need.
  2. B. Register for your tool of choice and complete its setup.

Step 2: Enable personalization and segmentation:

  1. A. Define the data you want to segment and personalize with.
  2. B. Design a form and save the URL.

Step 3: Get an incentive:

  1. A. Define a specific, actionable and immediate incentive.
  2. B. Produce the incentive.

Step 4: Deploy the opt-in form:

  1. A. Pick the place and time to present your opt-in forms.
  2. B. Choose a method to build and integrate your forms.
  3. C. Design and deploy an opt-in form that converts.