December 01, 2018
How to Grow Your Email Distribution List

Email is a proven tool that can help you win the online marketing battle. But not everyone succeeds with it.

If you are going to enjoy the kind of email marketing results you want, what do you need to do? Well, you need to follow email marketing best practices. You also need to choose the right email marketing software platform for you.

Email distribution tips

Today, let’s dive into another topic critical to your email marketing success — your email distribution list. More specifically, how to build an email list. Not only will we talk about how to create a large mailing list, but how to build a high quality, engaged list as well.

Take a Holistic Approach

Growing an email list requires three things: An offer or reason for people to sign up, a method of getting that offer in front of people — and patience.

Jeff Moriarty runs a small jewelry store as well as an online company. His company collects emails from people who come to the store by asking on social media, with paid lead generation ads in the local area, and with pop-up ads on his website. “Over the past three years we have built our list from zero to a little over 7,000 subscribers,” says Jeff. “It takes time, but implement just a few strategies, and it will build on its own.

Nicole Rohde is in charge of communication for the luxury fashion brand Maxwell-Scott. One of their major marketing focuses over the past few years has been growing their mailing list. They optimized their home page for email sign-ups, put a permanent email sign-up at the bottom of every page, and created a pop-up that encourages website visitors to subscribe for the latest offers and product launches. “This has worked great,” Nicole says. “We now have over 25,000 subscribers worldwide.”

Email signup example

Whether you’re a small jewelry store or an international luxury brand, the tactics aren’t really that different.

Develop an Offer

First, put yourself in the shoes of your potential email list subscribers. When someone considers giving you their email address, they are asking themselves, “What’s in it for me?” So when you are trying to persuade them to join your list, tell them what’s in it for them if they do.

“The honest truth is that the majority of people couldn’t really care less about your list — they need to know how they can benefit,” says Stephen Hart, CEO of Cardswitcher, the U.K.’s first payment processing comparison website.

Educate Through Content

A lot of online marketers produce a useful, written “special report” or other pieces of content that builds email lists, boost brands, and helps drive sales numbers upward. This is a tried-and-true option you can consider.

This written report is often referred to as a lead magnet, a piece of content you give subscribers after they opt into your email distribution list. Offering the right lead magnet will substantially increase your email subscription rates. So what constitutes the “right lead magnet” for your business? That depends, but it needs to be in some way related to the products you offer in your ecommerce store.

For example, let’s say you sell equipment for home-based fitness workouts. Your target audience members will naturally be interested in proper nutrition. So a report on “Foods to Avoid If You Want Six-Pack Abs” would likely resonate with them.

“My most successful tactic has been packaging a free report around a difficult problem and using paid traffic to grow my list,” says Jeffrey Nelson of Salesachievers, Inc. “Reports should talk about what and why, and leave out how so you can monetize your list.”

“We run webinars and provide eBooks on our site that require email sign-up to access,” says Dennis Cassøe of the data feed marketing tool WakeupData (a product data feed optimization tool). “These were the most successful as they immediately showed the value of sign-up to the prospect — in the form of helpful content.”

SaleHoo guides

Simon Slade, CEO and Co-founder of SaleHoo, a research community for online stores, suggests advertising email newsletters as “courses” that soft sell. “Consumers are much more intrigued by a 'course' which promises useful information, and specifying the number of installments tells potential customers what to expect.”

The course can turn into a conversion opportunity. “Focus on excellent content for the first six editions with the occasional soft sell, and then go for the sale on the seventh email with a hard sell,” mentions Slade.

Drill Down With Your Content

Ruggero Loda, of Running Shoes Guru, a running shoes reviews site, had their in-house running coach develop a marathon training plan to entice email subscriptions. “This was very well received,” he says. “People write to us weekly thanking us for it.”

But they took it one step further. “Our first expansion decision was to start offering not only a marathon plan, but a plan for every distance (5k, 10k, half marathon). This approach doubled our subscription rate.

Give Exclusive Discounts

“We decided to use our email list to offer exclusive discounts to those who were subscribed to it,” says Stephen Hart of Cardswitcher. “Compared to previous campaigns that we’d tried, we noticed a marked improvement in sign-up rates when we started offering an incentive — around 35%.”

Provide Entertainment

Vix Meldrew, an email marketing coach, started building quizzes on her site using the lead-generation quizmaker Interact. “I use Interact on my website, and I grow on average 20 to 50 subscribers a day currently,” she says.

Popup example

Spin-the-wheel apps are increasingly popular on ecommerce sites, turning email collection into a Vegas-style experience. One ecommerce owner credits a wheel-spinning pop-up with increasing email sign-ups 131%.

Consider Giveaways

Product giveaways are an increasingly popular and effective means of collecting email subscribers. Online marketer Naresh Vissa describes a successful campaign for a client with a podcast:

“We gave away free digital subscriptions to a paid newsletter if people entered their email on a landing page, we created on a vanity URL. We plugged the URL on-air during the podcasts. We built our mailing list to more than 10,000 subscribers from scratch over a one-month period because of this campaign.”

Ruggero Loda, of Running Shoes Guru, says that giveaways don’t just convert at a high rate, they have the possibility of going viral, and “25 to 30 percent of people that see our monthly shoe giveaway page subscribe to our email newsletter.” Plus, the contest app they use,, allows people to share the giveaway with their friends, in exchange for more entries. They get a better chance to win, and “on our side, we get free viral advertising of our email list.”

Marketing Your Offer

The most successful way to drive email sign-ups is with pop-ups. Nearly all of the business owners we surveyed use them. “Website pop-ups are good because they are low maintenance and mostly look after themselves,” says Richard George, a digital marketer at Print4Hospitality which creates printed products for luxury hotels.

But you have to decide which is right for your audience — and what you’re comfortable offering.

Which Pop-Up Is Best for Your Store?

Ruggero Loda, of Running Shoes Guru stopped running some pop-ups, even though they had the highest conversion rate. “After a while, we decided against it because many people hated them and giving users the best experience while on the website is paramount,” he says.

Although Loda hasn’t abandoned pop-ups entirely.

“Right now, we see the most success with exit intent pop-ups which only appear once a user is trying to leave the website,” he says. “These are not disruptive because only users that were about to leave the site see them.” Loda says that he’s satisfied with the conversion rate — 1% of their daily visitors convert into an email subscriber.

Louis Wood, the owner of DefendItYourself, an ecommerce store focusing on home security products, says the exit-intent pop-up he uses gets three times the conversions of the static form in page footers.

A popup example

Loda notes that exit intent pop-ups do have one downside — they don’t really work on mobile. “But,“ he continues, “I also believe that people on mobile have even less tolerance for intrusive experiences so until we find a better solution, no pop-ups for mobile visitors.”

Pop-Up Messaging

On your email list sign-up form, and in any other place where you are trying to convince visitors to subscribe, “sell” them on the value your emails will bring them. Tell them in glowing, benefit-laden terms why they would want to invest their time and energy into your emails. Include a specific, powerful call to action that compels viewers to join your list.

Your email distribution list sign-up forms can have a “make or break” effect on your email marketing campaign’s effectiveness. So it pays to learn from companies that are getting this critical step right.

Rob Powell, who helps bloggers grow their traffic, has a specific recommendation for the all-important call-to-action buttons on pop-up messages: “Use strong action words that convey a clear benefit, such as ‘Start’, ‘Join’, or ‘Download’.”

Steven Macdonald of has helped grow their list from zero to 10,000 subscribers. One simple messaging tactic made a big difference. He says, “When we included social proofing (companies like Coca-Cola, Breitling, and Emirates who get our weekly updates to grow their business), then we really started to see our list grow.”

“My best piece of advice is to split-test everything!” So says McKinzie Bean, a mentor and coach for bloggers. “Test your landing pages, your headlines, your actual emails, your graphics, etc. By testing, you can significantly increase your conversion rate as well as your ROI.”

Other Email Collection Tactics

Pop-ups and on-site messaging are the most efficient way to get email sign-ups, but some of these other tactics may work for you as well.

Participate in Online Communities

You don’t have to wait for people to come to your site to benefit from your expertise — you can bring it directly to them. One marketer found success answering questions on Quora. “Many questions on Quora require a professional response,” says Ketan Pande, founder of Goodvitae, a website for entrepreneurs. “I have found if you properly combine photos, text, and emotion, your answer can go viral. Once, I wrote an answer which got more than 5,000 upvotes, and at the end of the answer, I added a link to my landing page. This particular answer helped me gain 150 subscribers in two days.”

Attend Events — or Hold Your Own

Brian Sheehan is the Marketing and Sales Manager at Hollingsworth, a supply chain management company. They have pop-ups on their website, but they also collect emails in person. “At trade shows (we attend 12 annually) we collect emails by offering giveaways,” he says. “These events garner about 500 to 800 emails.”

If you’re a high-volume, high-sales business, this tactic may not make sense, but if you’re trying to develop lasting relationships, it’s worth considering. “For us, there’s no substitute for going out and signing up people in person,” says Adam Cole, Co-Director of Grant Park Academy of the Arts. “There’s no substitute for a one-on-one conversation. It’s slow. It also generates clients who really want to be on our list and have a face to put by a name.”

Enthusiastic Fans! Not Just “Subscribers”

As an eager, ambitious email marketer, you want to have a large email distribution list. That’s an admirable goal, but list size is only part of the email marketing success formula. What’s much more important? Quality. And engagement. You want a list that is engaged.

It’s better to have 1,000 subscribers who are your eager buyers, fans, and brand ambassadors than it is to have 10,000 email subscribers who are inactive. So look for ways to get your list engaged and involved with your emails.

How? Try re-engaging inactive subscribers, staying hyper-focused with the content, and using engaging copywriting.

Re-Engage Inactive Subscribers

Create an email list segment of your subscribers who have not opened your emails in one month. Send them a “re-engagement” email with a special lead magnet or other premium offers to get them energized and involved with your email content.

Be Hyper-Focused

Don’t try to be “all things to all people” with your email marketing messages. It’s clichéd but true, if you try to appeal to everyone, you end up appealing to no one.

So understand your core audience very well. Write hyper-focused email marketing content that appeals to them. Although you are not necessarily trying to be controversial, and you don’t want to offend those outside of your target audience, you are not focused on trying to resonate with them either.

She Is Rebel email acquisition example

“Don’t over-focus on who unsubscribed,” says Melis Sawerschel, founder of the online style brand She Is Rebel. “People who are uninterested but remain on your list are more costly than those who state their disinterest by unsubscribing themselves. Unsubscribes are actually doing a favor for your business.”

Engaging Copywriting Is a Must

Write email marketing content your readers actually want to read. How? In addition to the previous advice, employ great copywriting principles and techniques. Learn to write conversationally. You aren’t writing a stuffy, formal academic research paper. You are having a conversation in print. Think about how you would be interacting with an old friend over lunch and write your email content like you talk. Also, write at a fairly basic level, not like you are talking to a room full of PhD candidates. Don’t use industry jargon.

One of the best ways for you to understand how to write conversational, engaging, yet persuasive emails is to observe and dissect the email marketing campaigns of companies who are doing email well. This article gives you seven examples. As you read it, pay special attention to the part on Birchbox. Notice how conversational their email copy feels. Look at how often the words “you” and “your” are included.

Successful Email List Growth Gives You the Best of Both Worlds

Today, we’ve talked about proven steps to help you build email list subscriber quantity. We’ve also talked about building list quality. They are not mutually exclusive. In your quest for email marketing success, you can enjoy both. These steps will go a long way toward helping you build a large, quality email list full of not just subscribers, but eager followers and enthusiastic buyers as well.

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