How to Build a Great Email Marketing List From Scratch


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A constant question that pops up for marketers is whether email is still relevant in 2021.

The answer is a big, loud ‘yes’! With all the other ecommerce marketing tools available nowadays, email marketing may not be the groundbreaking asset it once was. But it remains a valuable part of any strategy and an opportunity to make a great first impression.

For starters, it’s affordable, and with over 90% of customers using email, the numbers are simply too high to ignore. Of course, the market is well saturated but done well; you can use your email list to stay in touch with your customers, cement your relationships, and directly promote your services and products.

So, where to begin when you want to grow your customer base through email marketing? Old school tactics of merely purchasing a list of email addresses are unlikely to offer much value these days. There’s simply no way of knowing how many names on an email list have any relevance to the people you’re looking to sell to.

To build a quality list that can help grow your business, you need to put in some groundwork and consider a range of tactics. Follow our guide below to get started on your own strategy.

Check the Tech

It goes without saying that every business needs to be online these days. But once you’ve got your website up and running, make sure you do everything in your power to increase load times. A few seconds here and there may not seem like much, but they can make all the difference to whether users visit your site or not. If a page fails to load after two seconds, around 40% of people will simply look elsewhere.

It’s worth doing some research to work on the technical set-up of your site during its creation. Something as small as compressing all of your images to 150KB or lower can significantly impact a site. Educate yourself about SEO (search engine optimization), CSS (cascading style sheets), Javascript, AMP (accelerated mobile pages), and page caching and discuss these with your developer in the design stage. Exhaustive research and alignment is necessary in this stage so maximize communication using conference calling software.

Once your site is live, run a site crawl through the likes of Screaming Frog to check any outstanding speed issues and fix them as soon as possible. Building a great email list starts with getting as many visitors to your site as possible.

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Create Customer Personas

Another indirect essential for building your list is getting to know your customers. You should find out their age, gender, family size, income, and interests. With this in mind, you can plan your website content around them. Every page should be of use and contain different information that your customers are interested in.

When it comes to attracting email sign-ups, people are much more likely to comply when an offer is of direct use to them. Knowing your customers will help further down the line should you upgrade to a CRM system in the future. You’ll learn how customers like to be contacted, as well as their preferences across all areas.

Offer Lots of Quality Content

Quality content is a big pull when it comes to building your list. For starters, SEO-optimized, expert content has a better chance of achieving page-1 status on Google’s search results. Secondly, the more pages you have, the more customers you’re likely to attract.

Each page should be dedicated to a specific topic and address potential consumer pain-points. The more pages you can create, the more pain-points you can answer. Use an email communication plan example, so the tone of your business is consistent throughout. Every page can serve as a tool to gather more subscriptions.

Offer a Quality Newsletter

Once your email marketing list has taken off, make sure you’re offering something professional and of value. This is your opportunity to talk with your customers without using a call center customer service representative. You want them to open your correspondence and feel like they’re gaining something by doing so.

If you’re simply churning out a newsletter to pass the time, click rates will quickly drop, and the chance of a customer leaving your business will increase. Moreover, if you’re offering a quality, optimized newsletter, your business is far more likely to spread by word of mouth – meaning more sign-ups in the future.

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Simplify Your Subscription Form

If users don’t have two seconds to spare to wait for a site to load, they won’t want to spend longer than a few seconds filling out a form. The quicker and easier it is to fill out a form, the more chances people will invest some of their precious time to do so. Just as it’s easier to get your employees to use a scheduling app if it’s straightforward to use, simplicity is the key here.

Offer Additional Content

The content on your site should be expert in itself, but offering something even more in-depth for the price of an email sign-up is a helpful tactic. If a user has got to the end of a particular piece of content, the chances are that they’re interested in whatever subject they’ve been reading about. Your call-to-action here can offer additional, ultra-relevant information sent straight to their inbox. For free, of course!


As above, offering the download of a free eBook has (gently) pushed many users into sharing their email addresses. The focus here has to be on quality and usefulness. Many brands have also used a free eBook as a landing pad for additional paid-for eBooks available through their site.


When executed poorly, a pop-up can result in users dropping out of your site immediately. To some, they’re as welcome as an outbound call (many companies use an outbound call center solution and they usually come as cold sales calls, aimed at promoting a product or service to potential customers). But when done well, both pop-ups and cold calls can be of great benefit to both parties. Make them simple, and make them interesting.

A good pop-up is like dangling a carrot in front of a donkey. You might include your existing subscriber figures and welcome people to join your community – we all hate the feeling of missing out on a party. If you’ve won an award or received good press in a major publication, you could also summarize this in your pop-ups.

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Referrals and Discounts

A simple method of growing your list is to turn your existing subscribers into salespeople. Drop them an email offering a discount on their next order if they refer a friend to your business (or two, or three). You could also provide the friend an initial discount on their first order. Everyone loves a discount, and the advice of friends holds excellent value.


Marketers utilize all sorts of visual material to attract attention like videos, images, and gifs. Webinars utilize video, which over 80% of users prefer to written content. But the difference between these and regular videos is their limited run time. If you can create a sense of urgency – that ‘this vital information won’t be available to watch on YouTube, so book now’ – there’s a good chance of gaining sign-ups through people not wanting to miss out.

Keep them short (twenty minutes is ample), but make sure they offer something that subscribers won’t be able to find elsewhere. Potential customers will be turned off if they’re told something they already know.

Other Freebies

Not every business can offer this, but if you’re working in the tech or financial sector, you may be able to provide a handy free online tool in exchange for an email address. These could come in the form of a calculator, estimator, enterprise ecommerce platform, or website-aid.

This works as an excellent sales gimmick too. Your freebie must be valuable and worth signing up for, but a more advanced, paid-for version can also be made available. Having tried the free version, a user will not only be on your email marketing list, but they may also upgrade to a paid-for version in the future.

Use Surveys

We all love to be asked our opinion and have the opportunity to express it. Asking your customers to fill in a survey – along with their email, of course – may simply be too tempting for them to resist. Of course, you can get much more out of this tactic than merely using it to build your marketing list. Always try to make the questions of use both to your business and the consumer. You can use an inbound sales call center system to collect feedback from customers or other communication channels.

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Utilize Social Media

Along with a great website, a social media presence is essential for businesses in the modern age. You can use different social media platforms to tempt email sign-ups in a similar fashion to the tactics you’ve used on your website.

Social media can offer different opportunities – often, the language used on the likes of Facebook or Instagram can be less formal and severe than that used on your website. You may also have different customer types who follow you socially without visiting your website much. But the fact they follow you shows their interest, and there’s every chance your newsletter will also appeal. You can offer an online brochure, and other enticing content to encourage reponses.

In-Store Sign-Ups

If your business has a physical store, you can utilize that to build up your list too. There’s potential to offer in-store surveys, freebies, and competitions in return for an email address. Some stores have found offering digital receipts has helped grow their list in place of bad-for-the-planet, old-school paper ones.


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