How to Build an Email List Fast from Scratch in 2023

how to build an email list fast from scratch

Despite all of the sexy new social media sites and platforms coming out, email is still the king of acquisition. 

In fact, email is 40x more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter but business success is dependent on knowing how to build an email list fast, don’t let your competitors beat you to the punch.

campaign monitor email stat - How to Build an Email List Fast from Scratch in 2023

Source: Campaign Monitor

If you build an email list correctly, you 

  1. Create an intimate channel of communication between you and your customers 
  2. Build an engaged following of people who absolutely love you and your brand and 
  3. Sell with a lot of ease to people who are already big fans of yours

With that being said, good email lists aren’t easy to build. When something isn’t easy, there inevitably will be people looking for shortcuts. In email list building, that shortcut is purchasing a list. 

This is an awful idea. 

Why? Here are a few reasons: 

  • Buying an email list violates consent (GDPR).
  • Reputable email marketing platforms will not let you email purchased lists.
  • The people on the purchased list don’t actually know you.
  • You’ll come across as annoying.
  • You’ll harm your reputation.

Those are just a few out of literally thousands of reasons why buying an email list is a horrible idea. 

What you should do instead is strap in, take out your notebook, and get a cup of your favorite beverage, because I’m going to show you how to build an email list fast from scratch, breaking down the best (and 100% legal) ways! 

Let’s dive in.

How to build an email list fast the right way?

1. Give a good reason to subscribe

“Why should I subscribe?” also known as “what’s in it for me?” is the number one question people have when prompted with the ubiquitous “sign up to our newsletter” proposition. 

Visitors on your website get email propositions EVERYWHERE, so why would they sign up to yours?

What do you have to offer that’s different, interesting, fresh, helpful? 

Not sure? 

Here are a few ways you can answer those questions: 

Offer powerful incentives

Do you have a loyalty program or discount program for your store? Let them know and position it as an “insider” or exclusive program to those who are signed up. 

This is also a great opportunity to tell the “insiders” on your email list about sales, pop-up events, and other cool announcements!

Exclusivity is a powerful incentive to get people excited about seeing your name in their inbox! 

Take this Forever 21 notification bar for example: 10% off the first purchase is a pretty good incentive to sign up, don’t you think? 

forever21 example 1 - How to Build an Email List Fast from Scratch in 2023

Source: Forever 21

Be careful not to overdo it though. Your visitors don’t want to receive too many emails from you either.

This is where your customer research comes in handy. Make sure to email them only when there’s something they’d be interested, not every single time something is 10% off. 

Give away a piece of content (eBook, white paper, checklist, etc.) 

Another powerful technique you can use to collect emails is to give away a useful piece of content. In this era of options, data privacy, and content overload, users who are genuinely interested in what you have to offer will give you their email address. 

I want to highlight the engaged users here for a second because there’s no point in wasting resources and energy building an email list full of “tire kickers”.

You want to have people in your email who are excited to hear from you, who are engaged and reply back when you put a call-to-action, and most importantly, you want people who want to spend money with you. 

What does a strong, intriguing piece of content look like? 

For example, if you have a store selling women’s footwear, you might want to create a cool piece of content like “Boot Guide: How To Rock Boots Like A Star This Fall”. 

In this gated offer, visitors to your website would have to opt into your email list to receive the Fall Boot Guide. 

See below how BoomByCindyJoseph, a cosmetic company, used a lead magnet to generate leads.

boombycindyjoseph example - How to Build an Email List Fast from Scratch in 2023

Now let’s see other techniques you can leverage to build your email list.

Hosting a webinar where you share practical advice on a topic your audience would find interesting 

Slimy salespeople and “online marketing gurus” have given webinars a horrible reputation. These days, the aforementioned slimy salespeople run the webinar in a laughably predictable manner: 

Step 1) Use emotional copy and attractive marketing (usually involving paid people to play a certain role) to prey on the top desires of their audience, which are usually, getting more money quickly, losing weight magically, or attracting supermodels with ease. 

(This is the part where we collectively roll our eyes at this shady marketing). 

Step 2) Promise the audience a life-changing webinar that they’ll walk out of as completely new people and add some urgency in the webinar reminder emails as if they’ll never have the chance to improve their life without this webinar. 

Step 3) In the webinar, they’ll talk about their failures and how they were at rock bottom until one day, everything changed (insert suspenseful music). 

They learned the secret to (making more money instantly, losing weight dramatically, or attracting supermodels, you take your pick) and they’ve since dedicated their lives to teaching other people.

Step 4) Sell you an overpriced program that is highly unlikely to produce those dramatic results they promised you throughout the 2-hour webinar. 

Does this sound familiar?  

You’re not alone if you’ve fallen for these types of webinars before. 

As ambitious people, we’re always seeking to learn from those who have accomplished more than us and those who can give us valuable nuggets of information to help us achieve our goals. 

The bad news is that some people take advantage of that. 

The good news is that webinars are still a highly effective strategy to build your email list in 2023.

Yes, despite the slimy salesmen and their marketing gimmicks, over 73% of sales and marketing leaders report webinars as one of the best ways to generate leads for businesses.

Moreover, GoToWebinar (a leading webinar hosting platform), reported that the average webinar viewing time was 61 minutes in 2018, meaning that people are sticking around and paying attention to webinars. 

Check out below how Drift uses a webinar to generate leads – as you can see a simple email subscription form is not the only way to capture email subscribers.

webinar example - How to Build an Email List Fast from Scratch in 2023

Source: Drift

So, how can you use the power of webinars effectively in 2023? Here’s a solid guide and breakdown. 

Offer subscribers-only deals 

The scarcity principle states that the more unattainable or rare something is, the more valuable it is. 

This is what leads people to line up hours and sometimes days in advance to get new Supreme releases. 

supreme example - How to Build an Email List Fast from Scratch in 2023

Source: VICE

This what makes people take days off work, pay people to stand in line, and camp outside the Apple Store to have the first crack at the newest gadgets. 

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is real and is amplified in today’s digital age. As human beings, we crave belonging and community. 

Abraham Maslow is one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century and is best known for this “Hierarchy of Needs” theory.

In this theory comprised of 5 steps in a pyramid, Maslow puts Love/Belonging dead center.

Before reaching self-actualization (the highest-ranking need in the pyramid), we must find our communities/belong to something that will serve as a breeding ground for new ideas and the catalyst for higher levels of being. 

Create content based on most trafficked blog posts

You’ve probably seen the sentence “Content is King” hundreds of times on the internet by now. I’ll go a step further and say that “Useful Content is King.” 

I say that because it’s easier than ever to create content given the tools available to us today. What you need to cut through the noise and build an engaged email list is content that is useful in some way, shape, or form to your audience. 

So, how do you create pieces of content that your audience finds useful?

Start with Google Analytics.

Here’s a great guide to see how to track blog traffic with Google Analytics and use that data to keep the content ideas flowing.

Another way for you to create useful content is by keeping a pulse on the conversations happening in your industry. Tools like Buzzsumo help you zone in on the content that spreads like wildfire so that you can create content that your audience will be thrilled to get. 

Use gamification 

With email marketing, it’s always important to think outside the box.

This means sometimes going beyond the discounts and exclusive and doing something fresh. You can offer something that offers immediate rewards – like recreating a scratchcard that the audience moves their mouse around to scratch and then gets rewarded with a special offer. 

Another idea involves creating an interactive asset like a holiday card for your audience like this one sent by EmailMonks. 

gamification bunnys egg - How to Build an Email List Fast from Scratch in 2023

Source: SendPulse Blog

Another powerful gamification technique in email list building is quizzes. (Yes, I’m also guilty of taking the “Which Game of Thrones Character are you?” quiz). 

Quizzes are great for building your list because it feels like a fair exchange for the user.

They’re getting the immediate satisfaction of knowing their quiz results and you get an excited person on your email list. Of course, the most powerful quizzes are laser-focused on the right audience the questions on the quizzes are tailored. 

wwf example - How to Build an Email List Fast from Scratch in 2023

Source: WWF

Consider these things when creating your quizzes: 

  • Add some personality to them and speak as your audience speaks. Don’t forget that there’s another human being on the other side of the screen. 
  • Use relevant images to keep things interesting. 
  • Less is more. Keep your quizzes short and sweet by not having more than 5-7 questions and 2-3 sentences. 

What are some of the most effective types of quizzes? 

  • The Knowledge Test (This type tests your audience on their knowledge of a given topic. If we use the example for the women’s footwear shop above, you might want to create questions like “Which Italian Designer released this shocking boot in 2012?”) 
  • The Personality Quiz (This one can serve as a great sales tool for ecommerce store owners. Based on the responses your audience gives, you can use those answers to proposition them with tailored product recommendations). 

For more tips on how to grow your email list faster and more efficiently, watch this short video: 

2. How to design your website to convert?

You can build your email list rapidly if your website is designed to convert. What does that mean?

It means looking for the obvious (low-hanging fruit) and not-so-obvious ways that you could drive users to your email list. 

Let’s start with the obvious ways: 

1) Using a standard opt-in form on your website

If you don’t have one, get one immediately. Most store owners even get a standard opt-in form built in on their site with a free WordPress theme.

Intercom displays a standard opt-in form on their blog – this is a common practice:

intercom sign up form - How to Build an Email List Fast from Scratch in 2023

Source: Intercom

To add a little pop to the standard opt-in form, add some fun copy about why visitors should sign up.

(Please, do not use the mind-numbingly generic “Sign up for our Newsletter” as your copy of choice!)

Here are some examples of compelling calls-to-action and microcopy for email signups. 

2) Create a separate landing page for opt-ins 

This is the perfect opportunity to get users signed up so that they can receive that e-book, webinar, or other useful pieces of content you have for them.

A separate landing with a strong image, powerful headline, and enthralling copy can do wonders for your email list building strategy.

Want to find great examples that you can borrow ideas from? 

Check out this round up by HubSpot. You’ll find plenty of solid landing pages examples from companies like Lyft, Muck Rack, The Khan Academy and more to use as inspiration for your own landing pages. 

3) Create well-timed, personalized popups 

Random popups that don’t close are annoying. Well-timed popups can increase conversions by as much as 60%.

They can be full-page, mid-screen, or just a little banner (your choice) but they must be appropriate and well-timed. 

cygnett example - How to Build an Email List Fast from Scratch in 2023

Source: Cygnett.com

One of the best free tools to use to grow your email list and generate leads is OptiMonk.

OptiMonk has all sorts of templates for popups that can be customized to your liking and your website needs without spending a whole bunch of time on design or using difficult software.

Recommended reading: 12 Best Email List Building Tools to Grow Your List

The Not-So-Obvious

4) Use your 404/Error Pages to build your email list

The 404 page pops up when you try to access a webpage that doesn’t exist.

Most brands have a standard 404 page that either 1) redirects the user back to the homepage or blog or 2) have a page that’s just static and the user has to type in the correct URL. 

However, they can be a whole lot more with some creativity and customization. Here’s how you can turn your 404 page into a lead generator and showcase your brand’s personality: 

  • Include a search bar in the 404 page. This makes it easier for users to quickly search for something else or refine their search from the 404 page. 
  • Link to your most popular blog posts or new items on sale.
  • Showcase your personality, wit, and humor and explain what went wrong. 
  • Implement a simple contact form in your 404 page (works especially well for sites and projects yet to launch). 
  • Translate the 404 page into multiple languages (Use Google Analytics to see where you get the most non-English speaking traffic).

Check out this great example from eHarmony, the online matchmaking service, to generate leads on your 404 page:

eharmony example - How to Build an Email List Fast from Scratch in 2023

Source: eHarmony

This was just one great example, the possibilities are endless with 404 pages.

To get more inspiration, head over to this article by the team over at Creative Bloq. 

5) Include an email field in the checkout process 

On top of making your checkout process a breeze for your users, the checkout page can also be a great way to build your email list. When someone is on your checkout page, it’s an indicator of them liking your product and possibly returning to purchase more. 

You can use the checkout page to suggest subscribing to the email list to get first dibs on new product colorways, collaborations, and deals. 

Again, the checkout process should be simple and fast so make sure that you’re not being too pushy with asking about their email.

6) Use Qualaroo

Qualaroo pride themselves on being the leaders of respectful lead generation. With non-intrusive UI, incentivization, and focused targeting, Qualaroo is a top choice for rapidly building your email list. 

The University of Alberta tried this strategy to generate leads. And they achieved amazing results with this little nudge.

universityalberta example - How to Build an Email List Fast from Scratch in 2023

Check out this resource they’ve put together on 6 inventive ways to generate leads without being annoying. 

7) Add Social Proof 

If you walked past two restaurants, one with tons of people inside and a line of people waiting outside, the other with just a few people inside and no lineup outside, which one would you be more excited to go to? 

Most of the time, it would be the one with more people. 

More people means the food and service must be great right? If it wasn’t, then people wouldn’t be lining up outside waiting to get a table.

That’s social proof in action. 

Even if the emptier restaurant has better food and service, the perceived value of that restaurant is that it’s inferior to the one with plenty of people. 

You can use this concept in your own store and create a better buying environment by having real, powerful reviews about your products. 

These can be reviews with real, smiling people, copy that says “Doctor Approved”,  having a big name endorsement, listing the number of people who’ve subscribed to your email list so far, etc. 

Here are some other creative ways to use social proof in your email list building efforts. 

3. Get more subscribers by using social media

Selfies and meme-sharing aside, social media can be a blessing for your email list building efforts.

Here are some ways to harness the power of social for list building: 

  • Put a link on your social profiles to your website. This is a great opportunity to use the link to lead them to a landing page where they can opt-in to receive their free piece of content, discount, etc. 
  • Use a click-to-tweet plugin to share a variety of milestones, a link to an opt-in page, and more. This plugin makes sharing on popular social media sites like Twitter simple and instantaneous. 
  • Add a signup button and opt-in form on your Facebook Page.
  • Hold social media contests and giveaways. This popular method is often used by influencers as a technique to turn followers into email subscribers who will them become customers. 
  • Use Facebook Ads to speed up list building. With proper targeting, enticing copy, and kick-ass landing page, Facebook Ads can turbocharge your list building efforts.

Because social media changes so rapidly, you’ve got to keep experimenting with new lead generation techniques regularly. Is it worth it? Absolutely. 

With over 3.2 billion people active users on social media (42% of the world’s population!), there’s an infinite number of ways to find your audience and get them on your list.

For now, here are 10 more creative ways to leverage social media and pump up your email list. 

4. Common email list building mistakes

Anybody who’s built up an engaged following, especially on email, will tell you that it’s not easy. There are plenty of things to get wrong in the list building process that can be very costly and set you back. 

To save you time, money and a whole bunch of headaches down the road, I’ve rounded up the 6 common mistakes in list building: 

1) Not providing enough value 

You’re probably inundated with emails daily that are left unread or automatically deleted as soon as they show up in our inboxes. 

Why? 

Probably because they don’t provide enough value. 

There’s nothing interesting, fresh, exciting about that brand anymore and they’ve become yet another of the thousands sent to the email graveyard. 

Now, think about the emails that you do open regularly, the ones that you open with excitement even. Those are the ones that are providing something valuable on a regular basis for you to enjoy, whether it be a fun read, a discount, or something else. 

The lesson: Provide value regularly and make the person reading the email feel like a VIP guest that you’re honored to have attend an event you’re hosting. 

2) Littering your website with email sign-up forms

Don’t be pushy and spammy with email sign-up forms popping up at every click. 

You’re not going to do very well with your list building efforts and will probably earn a horrible reputation as well. Keep the signup forms to a minimum, have well-timed timed popups (using tools like OptiMonk), and be creative with the type of forms you use. 

The takeaway: Keep user experience top of mind and do not be pushy with email sign-up forms. 

3) Focusing on yourself and not your subscribers 

Email marketing is about having a constructive channel of communication with your subscribers. It’s one of the best ways to build real dialogues with your audience and an even better way to sell them on products they love. 

As you start building your list, never lose sight of that or your subscribers will be quick to unsubscribe or worse, never open your emails again. The focus should always be on providing your subscribers with the most value first and then you’ll be rewarded with the referrals, sales, and positive brand recognition. 

The takeaway: It’s about them, not you. Keep providing value and keep the subscribers engaged. 

4) Not making it clear what’s in it for your subscribers 

When people opt-in, they should know what they’re getting. There should always be continuity from your landing page to your first email and subsequent emails. 

Remember, email marketing is a two-way relationship and if you want to have success with your email list, you need to be crystal clear on the value you’ll be providing for your audience.

The takeaway: Make sure your audience knows what to expect from you by opting in. 

5) Asking for too much information

In the age of data breaches and scandals, GDPR and tighter privacy laws are being taken more seriously. This means that personal data that is excessive or unnecessary cannot be collected or processed. 

Avoid asking for too much unless you want to get hit with enormous fines or get shut down by breaching privacy rules. MailChimp has created an insightful resource on what compliance and non-compliance look like

6) Not segmenting your list 

List segmentation is an important aspect of proper email marketing. As you build up your list, you’re going to have people who are on different levels on the buying journey which means they’ll need different types of communication from you. By properly segmenting your list, you’ll make sure that every person receives a tailored message. 

Too many people just blast their email list and then cross their fingers hoping someone will buy something. The best way to get results from your email is to divide and conquer. 

Use this guide to learn how to segment your list by buying behavior, content interest, demographics, and many more divisions. 

5. How to choose an email marketing platform?

The right email marketing platform can amplify all of your list building efforts and take your email marketing game to the next level.

The wrong one will bring unnecessary stress and frustration to your life, something that nobody wants!

To help you make the best choice, I’ve rounded up the top 6 email platforms to use in 2023! 

Before that, let’s go over the important things to consider when choosing email marketing software: 

Personalization 

Top email marketing software has plenty of customization tools for you to play with. We’re living in the age of personalization and tailored experiences, so your email marketing software needs to offer a plethora of customization tools. 

Reading and Viewing Options 

Choose an email marketing tool that offers mobile-optimized templates and one that is able to work with a variety of devices. 

Functionality 

Your email marketing software has to be high performing. Sounds like it should be a default for any software but unfortunately, it’s not. 

This is crucial for autoresponders and drip campaigns that send out customized, automated emails for birthdays, anniversaries, promo for a special launch, etc. 

You want to ensure that the platform you use is reliable and has a reputation for delivery and fixing internal issues quickly. 

Proper Statistics Reporting 

Select an email marketing platform that puts together your campaign stats in an organized and easy-to-understand manner. 

You should be able to track your results and quickly determine the effectiveness of a campaign with integrated metrics like open rate, conversion rate, bounce rate, and the number of unsubscribes amongst others. 

The Best Email Marketing Platforms 

MailChimp 

Mailchimp Logo Horizontal Black oe6qduenxy4msfy569f34pxus624qoqeeyh0ku7vaw - How to Build an Email List Fast from Scratch in 2023

MailChimp is one of the best email marketing platforms on the planet. Their all-in-one marketing platform makes email list building, segmenting, advertising, customization and analyzing results a breeze.

Over the 18 years or so they’ve been in business, they’ve been able to perfect email marketing and have created a tool trusted by small and large businesses in every industry. 

Campaign Monitor 

campaignmonitor logotype biggest 2 oe6qgarj089g9778x5sq82nj9vq283ppdevztaj4fg - How to Build an Email List Fast from Scratch in 2023

Campaign Monitor is another giant in the email marketing space. Their features make it easy to create personalized customer journeys to build a more human approach to email and create smarter segments to improve your results.

They also have a suite of custom sign up forms that you can use to build rapidly build your email list and create an engaged audience. 

iContact 

icontact oe6qjycxl19lelw3kqohx5g2ftpg5q84ji7z014118 - How to Build an Email List Fast from Scratch in 2023

In addition to offering powerful email marketing features, iContact is especially appealing to marketers due to its (relatively) low price. If you’re just starting out but still want the gamut of features like automation, segmentation, reporting, and audience management, this is a great platform to use.

Moreover, iContact offers a 20% nonprofit discount for qualifying nonprofits in the US and eligibility for a free account for ones located in North Carolina. 

ActiveCampaign 

active campaign 1024x512 20190322 oe6qm0m5z0pbb3hihpoo3n7b1inqcvsnik7nuo2slm - How to Build an Email List Fast from Scratch in 2023

ActiveCampaign is another all-in-one marketing platform with a strong focus on automation. 

Their advanced suite of tools is perfect for marketers and business owners that like to go deep into advanced reporting, creating automation goals, and creating complex drip campaigns. 

GetResponse

getresponse o9lwshadh1y4hwvn6qena4ewfra220dbki8eg675z4 - How to Build an Email List Fast from Scratch in 2023

GetResponse is another great option for reliable email marketing software. You get the customization, automation, and responsiveness that all of the email marketing platforms listed here provide but you also get a 99% email deliverability

HubSpot

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Last but certainly not least is HubSpot. HubSpot is a leader in the digital marketing space offering a large number of sales and marketing software. 

Their email marketing software is actually free to use (perfect for starting out) and as you grow, you can opt for their all-in-one premium email marketing suite. 

Conclusion

In this article, we’ve covered how to build an email list from scratch. You learned how to provide powerful incentives to get users to sign up for your email list. 

You discovered how to create “gated offers”, use gamification, and exclusivity to grow your list. You learned the obvious and not-so-obvious ways of priming your website for conversions. 

You unearthed the best ways to drive social traffic to your website and turn followers into customers. 

Lastly, you learned the common marketers make when building their list and discovered the best tools on the planet to boost your email marketing. 

List building is a continuous process, so bookmark this article and come back to it regularly! 

Over to you, what was the biggest takeaway you got from this article? What list building technique are you most excited to try out? Leave a comment below 👇👇

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