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Marketing - 8 min READ

How to Build an Engaged Email List

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Author photo: Carrie Shaw

Carrie Shaw

Chief Marketing Officer

Most businesses get email list-building wrong. Like really wrong.

They purchase lists. Spam their subscribers with content they don’t want and didn’t ask for in the first place. Send an endless barrage of emails selling their products without stopping to think about what’s valuable to their audience.

It’s not on purpose. Building a great email list is hard. It takes time, and there’s no quick magic formula.

Building that elusive engaged email list is about quality over quantity. You're not just trying to gather as many email addresses as you can—you have to create a high-quality group of subscribers who are interested in you and interact with your brand regularly. That’s the dream.

Stellar email lists are a gold mine. They’re valuable warm leads you can nurture into full-fledged customers, and brand evangelists who will forward and share your content and recommend you to their friends and colleagues.

Today I’ll share some of my favorite tips to build an email list:

  1. Create the email sign-up form.
  2. Use incentives to get more subscribers to your email list.
  3. Persuade them with copy.
  4. Maintain a healthy list.

I’ll also cover what email KPIs you should be tracking, so you know how to monitor the health and effectiveness of your list (hint: it’s not just about list size.)

Step 1: Create an enticing email sign-up form.

First, your audience needs a place where they can sign up for your emails. Here’s how to start building your email list.

Add a pop-up form to your site.

Pop-up forms are a great way to get people to subscribe to your email list.

  • Timed pop-up ads
    • Timed pop-up forms appear after a visitor spends a certain amount of time on your page, typically around 3 to 5 seconds. It gives visitors a chance to interact with the page before asking for their email address.
  • Exit pop-ups
    • These forms appear when someone is about to leave the page. A screen prompts them to sign up before they navigate away.
  • Scroll pop-ups
    • Scroll pop-ups appear after you scroll down a certain length of the page. (You've already indicated you're interested, which means you might be more likely to hand over your email address.)

Here’s an example from GuiltySoles:

Your next question is probably, “Well, which one should I do?”

It depends! Test a few different pop-ups and see which one works best for you.

I want to add a caveat here though. Make sure all pop-ups have a visible "Close" button and/or “X” in the corner, so it’s easy to navigate away. There’s nothing more annoying than not being able to remove a pop-up. You don’t want visitors to get frustrated and leave your site for good.

Integrate your email list with your CRM.

Before building your list, you should also make sure it’s integrated with your CRM. This lets you both update your list in real-time and export leads or people from your CRM directly to your email platform to add to an email campaign.

Pro-tip: If your email platform is hooked up to your CRM, then you can quickly add all of the prospects in your CRM to an email list and quickly send them a mass email with a discount to persuade them to become buyers!

Here’s an example of the Mailchimp (email platform) and Copper (CRM) integration, which lets you easily add prospects, customers, and other types of contacts to Mailchimp:

Step 2: Use incentives to get more subscribers to your email list.

After you set up your sign-up form, now you need to convince people to join your email list.

Offering an incentive is a highly effective way to build your list—people are more likely to share their email address if they receive something in return. Here are a few of my favorite ideas.

Give them an ebook or resource.

Offer a free resource or ebook. If it’s on a blog page, maybe you follow up and offer them a free download on a related subject.

For example, on our blog post about customer loyalty, we offer an ebook with tips on how to use customer information to provide a better experience:

Host a webinar.

Webinars are a valuable tactic to build your email list. Not only do you get the registrant’s email address, but it also establishes your brand as an expert or authority. Webinars are huge for us!

Offer a discount for first-time sign-ups.

If you work for an e-commerce brand, you can also offer a discount for first-time email subscribers like H&M does here:

Give subscribers a sneak peek.

Have a new product you’re launching? Offer a beta launch sign-up form or sneak peek.

Offer a free course or training.

Teach your audience something! Give new subscribers access to a training video or course:

Make it interactive.

Take free content a step further and make it interactive.

Here’s an example by digital marketer and photographer Jenna Kutcher. She has a quiz for first-time visitors to identify their “secret sauce” or skill set:

It’s more work up-front, but since it's more interactive and fun, someone who engages with this quiz is more likely to be engaged with your brand in the long run compared to, say, someone who just saw a pop-up on your site.

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Step 3: Persuade them with copy.

When you’re trying to build your email list, it’s not just about what you say, but how you say it too. Everyone's telling people to sign up for their email lists—what makes yours special? (Hint: That means saying more than just “Sign up for our emails!!!”)

Here are a few copy tactics to entice people to sign up.

Create personalized CTAs for every blog/landing page.

First, the way in which you collect emails on your website should be personalized to match the intent on the page. That means having unique calls to action (CTAs) and email sign-up forms.

For example, on our blog post about "how to close a sale," we've got a CTA with a related content offer: to download an ebook on sales closing strategies (for the small price of an email address).

About half-way down the page, we've got a link to grab the ebook.

It’s relevant to the page they’re on and provides an incentive to share their email address.

On an ecommerce checkout page, the copy would be different. If they’re purchasing from you, they’re also most likely interested in the latest discounts, coupons, and sales.

With that in mind, a CTA on an ecommerce checkout page could be something like this: “Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get access to exclusive subscriber discounts and early-bird sales":

Use humor in your copy.

Another way to encourage people to subscribe to your email list is with humor. This won’t work for all brands, but creating funny email sign-ups or funny CTAs is a creative way to entice people to sign up for your email list:

Demonstrate value for them.

It’s really easy when writing CTA copy to think from your own perspective as an employee or business owner.

You’re so familiar with the company and product, you assume the audience will be just as knowledgeable. But that mindset results in vague, general copy that doesn’t convert very well.

When you offer a free incentive, always tell people the value of what they’re getting. Here’s a good example. This CTA is for a “free resource bundle”:

Notice the very specific copy: subscribers get over 100 types of vectors, logos, and patterns they can use for their designs. The copy provides specific, concrete details about the value of what they’re getting.

Step 4: Maintain a healthy list.

A healthy email list has two benefits. It gives you an opportunity to build and nurture relationships with current customers, and helps you attract and convert subscribers into new customers. If your email list isn’t opening or reading your emails, then obviously your email marketing won’t be effective.

But having a "healthy" email list isn’t just about having a large number of people in your email database.

So, how do you measure your email list?

There are three key metrics: your bounce rate, open rate, and click-through rate.

The bounce rate refers to the number of people who didn’t receive your email.

Emails "bounce" for two main reasons, and each one has a name:

  • Soft bounce rate: Typically a temporary issue, it could be due to a network problem, someone’s full mailbox, or it could be going into the spam folder.
  • Hard bounce rate: These are emails that just cannot be delivered because the email address has a typo, or is outdated and no longer in use (like when an employee leaves a company).

Pro-tip: Bounce rates vary depending on the industry, from 1 to 4%. In general, aim to keep your bounce rate at less than 2%.

To build a great email list, you'll also want to track your engagement by looking at your open rate, click-through rate, and unsubscribe rate.

  • Open rate is the number of people who open a message. It’s a quick indicator of whether your email list is interested in your content. Open rates vary depending on the industry, but a good range is generally 15-20%.
  • Click-through rate is the percentage of people who click on the content in your newsletter. Your call to action could be anything from "buy this product" to "read this blog post." A good average click-through rate is 1 to 4%.
  • Your unsubscribe rate is the number of people who opt out of your emails. Even if your email list is growing, it won’t help you if your subscribers keep leaving. (It’s also a reliable indicator they’re not interested in your content.) Try to keep your unsubscribe rate below 3%.

My best secret to building an email list:

Building a solid email list of subscribers who are clicking, reading, and buying from you ultimately hinges on one simple tactic: create content that your audience wants to read.

That includes everything from the frequency to the design, to the copy and offers.

Tailor your content to your audience and keep consistently improving your content. It’s not going to be a one-time job based on a single massive push—it's the small, consistent tweaks that will help you build a robust and engaged email list.

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