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12 Winning Strategies for How to Build an Email List

How to build an email list

While email is one of the oldest digital marketing channels out there, it’s also one of the most effective, with strong conversion rates across multiple industries. In fact, the average conversion rate for landing page traffic sent through email is over 6%—a big jump from the standard commerce conversion rate of 2.5 to 3%. Email marketing is also cost effective: businesses can earn an average of $44 for every dollar spent on email marketing.

Convincing someone to give you their email address during their first visit to your ecommerce site is easier than convincing them to make a purchase: it doesn’t cost them anything, and you can layer on incentives, like discounts or freebies.

Of course, to unlock the potential of email marketing, you first need a list of emails. While your email subscriber list will grow as you begin generating sales, there are steps you can take today to start building your email list before you even sell your first product or subscription.

What makes a great email list?

Every successful email marketing campaign begins with a high-quality email list. There’s no point building advanced email campaigns with sophisticated design, engaging copy, and special offers if your email list isn’t properly segmented and targeted. 

To build a great email list that generates sales, your three priorities are:

  1. Quality. Get real, complete information from real people—and never buy email lists. Bots, spam accounts, and abandoned email addresses don’t make purchases.
  2. Relevance. It’s hard enough to convert prospects who already want what you’re selling. When building an email list, only target people who are genuinely interested in your products or services. Otherwise, you’ll see leads unsubscribe as quickly as they joined.
  3. Quantity. Once you’ve checked off the first two priorities, you can start focusing on growing your email list and expanding your reach to include new or wider audiences.

    5 ways to start building your email list

    Whether you’re just starting your ecommerce business, or renewing your focus on digital marketing channels, there are several basic list building strategies that can help you hit the ground running.

    1. Add a pop-up offer to your homepage
    2. Put an opt-in form in your navigation or footer
    3. Collect emails at your brick-and-mortar or in-person event
    4. Add a signup button to social media
    5. Build personalized landing pages
    6. Include a newsletter signup option at checkout

    1. Add a pop-up offer to your homepage

    While you shouldn’t train shoppers to wait for or expect discounts, promotional offers can be a powerful tool for converting first-time website visitors before they hit the back button. With homepage pop-up forms, you can add to your email list and save a potential sale in the process.

    If the term “pop up” gives you pause, consider that the average conversion rate for pop-up forms is just over 3%, with the best pop-ups converting at around 10%. Depending on your overall website traffic, numbers like these can dramatically increase your email signups.

    To begin using pop-up forms to capture emails on your ecommerce site, start with an exit intent pop-up. These will only show if a visitor moves their mouse off the page, which typically means they intend to navigate somewhere else. Using the targeting options in your marketing platform of choice, you can disable these pop-ups for previous customers and visitors who are already on your list. This lets you focus your copy around new customers only.

    Example of an email pop-up

    After visiting a “How It’s Made” post from the Grovemade newsletter, I received an offer of 10% off my first purchase.

    Because a visitor lost before their first purchase can be difficult to get back, you should consider including a discount of some kind—so long as the math makes sense. Your product’s overall price, profit margins, and potential offer will all determine how viable various discounts are for your business.

    2. Put an opt-in form in your site’s navigation or footer

    One key to capturing new subscribers for your email list is giving visitors ample chances. That’s why in addition to a homepage or product page pop-up form, you should also consider adding an email signup form across every page on your website. 

    Most website platforms enable you to place opt-in forms in locations where shoppers look for additional information about your business, including the margins, navigation bar, and footer. Because these forms are often subtle and located below the fold, your conversion rate will likely be low overall. However, the contribution they make to building your list can add up over time. 

    To boost your conversion rate, make sure you’re adding a strong CTA about the value of signing up, whether it’s a coupon, exclusive content, or regular news and updates. As a shopper makes their way down to your site’s footer to learn more about your brand, what sorts of offers might catch their attention and encourage them to subscribe?

    A newsletter CTA that focuses on value

    Beardbrand describes their newsletter in terms of the value the reader can expect to receive. It’s not just product updates: it’s a place to learn the art of grooming

    3. Collect email addresses at your store or in-person event

    Face-to-face connections are still the most effective tool for converting leads into customers—even if a transaction doesn’t happen in person. Whether you have a brick-and-mortar store, or you’re promoting your business at an event or pop-up shop, your in-person interactions can help you build your email list, leading to more digital sales.

    Remember, forms often associated with email marketing and lead generation can easily make the transition from URL to IRL. For instance, you can bring a clipboard and ask people to write down their name and email address or, to better sync with your email marketing tool of choice, you can provide an iPad where people can submit their address directly. You can even include a CTA on your business cards to incentivize email signups.

    As with your online forms, make sure you use a strong CTA to incentivize in-person signups. For example, “Sign up for our mailing list for a chance win a $25 gift card,” or “Subscribe to our newsletter for 25% off your first online purchase.” It’s also a good idea to segment these lists by location or event, so that you can send emails tailored to each audience’s needs.

    Learn More: How to Write an Effective Welcome Email

    4. Add a signup button to social media

    People follow brands on social media for many reasons, but the biggest reason given in most surveys is to stay up to date on new products. By adding an option on your Facebook, Instagram, and other social media accounts to sign up for email updates, you can give followers another way to stay in the know while pulling them into more personalized email nurturing campaigns. 

    Most social media platforms support buttons or forms, enabling you to add a simple email signup option to your page. For instance, you can include a call-to-action button on your Facebook business page to encourage your followers to sign up for your email list.

    For social platforms that are less link friendly, like Instagram, explore workarounds to drive email signups. For instance, you can use Linktree to include multiple links in your Instagram bio: one for your ecommerce website, and another to direct visitors to a sign-up form for your email list. You may want to consider separating new subscribers added through Instagram so you can track roughly how well it’s influencing the growth of your list.

    5. Build personalized landing pages

    When it comes to convincing visitors or followers to provide their emails, there’s no one-size-fits-all offer. Depending on where they discovered your online business and where they are in their buyer journey, different prospects will respond to different email signup CTAs. With that in mind, you should plan on creating multiple landing pages with opt-in forms and messaging tailored to a particular segment of your audience. 

    To begin using personalized landing pages, consider your ecommerce website’s traffic sources. What are Facebook users looking for? What about Amazon users, or trade show leads? Whether you’re crafting a landing page for an evergreen audience, or capitalizing on an event or holiday, Be sure that your on-page message and CTA are clear and consistent with the offer that inspired prospects to click over to your site in the first place.

    Shopify’s App Store includes dozens of tools with easy templates to help you quickly design, test, and publish landing pages to generate more email signups. While it will require an up-front investment, creating individualized landing pages will pay off in the long run: research shows personalized calls-to-action have a 42% higher form submission rate than generic CTAs.

    6. Include a newsletter signup option at checkout

    It’s unsurprising that many online business owners neglect their checkout page as a marketing tool—after all, they’ve already secured a customer. Yet the buyer’s journey doesn’t end with a single transaction. Indeed, many customers opt to complete their purchase without creating an account, limiting your future interactions to messages about their transaction. By encouraging users to sign up for your email list at checkout, you can turn a single transaction into a lifelong fan and repeat customer.

    Adding a checkout newsletter signup option can be as simple as including a checkbox under the field customers are using to provide an email for their order confirmation. Be specific about the value buyers will receive, whether it’s email-exclusive discounts, how-to content, or updates about new products. This will not only outline their incentive to opt in, but also ensure you’re in compliance with GDPR and other privacy regulations.

    Apart from a checkbox or text field, you can also take your checkout CTA to the next level with a popup or banner on your purchase confirmation screen. By investing in a more exciting design, you’ll have a better chance of grabbing a customer’s attention and earning an email list signup.

    Read more: The Top 11 Email Marketing Software For Online Stores

    6 advanced strategies to accelerate email list growth

    Once you’ve laid a solid foundation and started adding subscribers to your email list, it’s time to look at more advanced tactics to accelerate the growth of your email list. Here are a few out-of-the-box solutions to help you take your email list building to the next level.

    1. Add chatbots to engage with prospects
    2. Leverage third-party email list growth tools
    3. Drive email signups with ad campaigns
    4. Survey your target audience
    5. Entice visitors with valuable content
    6. Run a giveaway, contest, or sweepstakes

    1. Use a chatbot to engage with prospects

    While it’s still realizing its full potential, chatbot technology already offers a number of effective tools to help you automate your messaging with website visitors. This can help you not only save you valuable time and effort in customer support, but also create unique offers generate email list signups.

    MobileMonkey, for example, allows you to take advantage of messaging automation by creating marketing campaigns within a custom chatbot. You can share an offer via your chatbot campaign to encourage users to submit their email in exchange for a special discount from your shop. If this sounds similar to traditional form, it’s worth noting that messaging is an extremely popular method among consumers for interacting with brands, and may succeed where a standard lead capture form or landing page fails.

    2. Leverage third-party email list growth tools

    There are lots of easy-to-use apps to help you build your email list, some of which add clever twists to proven approaches. Better yet, many integrate with your Shopify store. Here are a couple to consider:

    Spin to Win is an app that can be used to collect email addresses on your website Wheel of Fortune–style. In an interesting, well, spin on the usual pop-up offer, by entering their email shoppers can win various prizes (such as discount coupons) that you set. Just be thoughtful and cautious about what it might mean if shoppers “lose” this game and miss out on an offer completely.

    Personizely includes a host of features to help you prompt visitors with a just-in-time pop-up. What makes it interesting for merchants looking to build their newsletter is the built-in capability to use a traditional form or the Facebook Messenger integration, which gives you the chance to contact Messenger users the same way you’d contact a subscriber on an email list.

    List building tools for email or Messenger

    Many pop-up tools like, such as Personizely, offer a variety of ways to convert passerby readers to subscribers, whether through email or messaging apps.

    3. Drive email signups with ad campaigns

    Since landing pages are usually built with a single outcome or conversion point in mind, they’re often very useful for building your email list. By isolating landing pages to specific campaigns, you can not only craft a clear offer on a distraction-free page, but also measure your results more accurately. Because of this, landing pages are also a great place to send traffic from digital ad campaigns.

    Whether you’re looking at social media, search, or some other advertising channel, there are countless options for driving email list signups with online ads. For instance, you can place banner ads on YouTube videos related to your industry, or run targeted Facebook ads to drive visitors to a downloadable guide that’s related to your product (e.g., a recipe book to pair with your kitchen gadgets.) 

    With the powerful audience targeting tools in Google AdWords and Facebook Ads Manager, you can build an offer with an audience already in mind, then tweak attributes like location, age, gender, profession, interests, and more to reach the right people.

    4. Survey your target audience

    Building an effective digital marketing strategy is all about collecting the right data. With visitor surveys and questionnaires, you can gather valuable information about your audience’s wants, needs, and feedback while capturing their emails for marketing purposes. 

    To use an online survey, start with a specific goal, like market research or even crowdsourced blog content. You can include a field in your survey to capture email addresses, then invite survey takers to opt into your email list at the end. Once you have a goal in mind, there are plenty of lightweight tools and services out there for creating customer surveys, including Google Forms, Typeform, and SurveyMonkey

    Send your survey to friends and family, post it in Facebook groups, mention it on social media, and include a special offer for people who fill it out. For example, you could say, “Upon filling out our short questionnaire, you’ll get a special code for 10% off your first online purchase.” You might even consider sending out a questionnaire before your product launches. This is a great way to get your email list started and bring friends, family, and potential customers on your startup journey.

    5. Entice visitors with valuable content

    When building your email list, it’s important to remember that your physical product or subscription is not your only value proposition. You started your online business to solve a problem or address a need, which means you have some valuable ideas and solutions. By sharing those ideas in the form of blogging or downloadable content, you can create a lead magnet that adds value for your target audience and builds trust in your brand, generating more email signups and, eventually, more customers.

    Downloadable guide for email list

    Tortuga backpacks offers a free packing list in addition to ongoing tips for travelers, when you sign up for their newsletter.

    Content marketing is a big, complex topic, and there are lots of content options that will inspire prospects to give an email address, including podcasts, webinars, and videos. If you don’t currently have a great understanding of how much the average subscriber is worth to your business, you may want to invest in an initial content marketing offer that has an upfront cost, but no ongoing costs once the offer is complete. 

    A free ebook or guide, usually in the form of how-to content, case studies, or additional tips and tricks in your product category, is the perfect example. After the cost of your time (and yes, your time is very valuable!) or the associated writing and design fees, you can offer a strong incentive to join your email newsletter and you won’t have any recurring costs, aside from hosting the guide itself.

    6. Hold contests or giveaways on social media

    Contests and giveaways can help accelerate list growth by turning the act of subscribing into a shareable and winnable event. The added momentum of a contest can be especially valuable in the early days, when your list of subscribers is small and you don’t have existing traffic to leverage.

    One way to amplify this strategy is by partnering with other ecommerce brands who sell to similar customers. With the right partner, your products will complement each other, making the offer more compelling than if you ran the contest alone.

    List building through influencers

    Another option is to look for influencers who are already reaching your ideal customers on social platforms like Instagram. Since influencers often use giveaways for their own purposes—typically, to break through the noise and grow their following—you may be able to justify the cost of offering your product in exchange for their ability to kickstart your giveaway campaign.

    If you want to create a dedicated landing page for your giveaway so there’s a single destination and traffic is easier to track, you can try solutions like ShortStack or ConvertFlow.

    Bonus: marketing tools for managing your email list

    As you grow your email list from a few subscribers to a few thousand, it’s important to invest in tools and platforms to help you manage, organize, and leverage your data. Here are a few email marketing solutions to get you started.

    Shopify Email

    If you need a simple, lightweight solution to help you build an email list for your ecommerce business, look no further than Shopify Email, Shopify’s own email marketing solution. With Shopify Email, you can create, send, and track campaigns to grow your email list, all from within your existing Shopify account. With an upper bound of 10,000 email sends per month, and affordable rates after that, Shopify Email is the perfect tool to help you start putting your email list to work.

    MailChimp

    Looking for a more advanced solution to take your email marketing to the next level? MailChimp is a great place to start. MailChimp’s offerings start with a free plan that offers basic email template creation, as well as scheduling and automation options. With a paid subscription, you’ll have access to more premium email templates, as well as advanced tools to give you insight on your email list and campaigns.

    Zapier

    One of the most challenging aspects of building and leveraging an email list is figuring out how to seamlessly integrate all of the different platforms and technologies you’re using to run your online business. Zapier allows you to create automated workflows that close the gaps between your tools without the need for a software developer. With Zapier’s workflows, you can automatically pull new email subscribers from social media, landing pages, survey tools, or live events into your email database, eliminating the manual labor of organizing your lists.

    Building an email list is just the beginning

    No two businesses are exactly alike, so it’s important to test various strategies for building your email list to find what works best. Once you have a solid collection of targeted, relevant prospects, you can begin refining your email marketing to achieve your specific goals. 

    For ideas and examples of successful email marketing campaigns, check out our guide: 18 Best Ecommerce Email Marketing Campaigns for 2022.

    What list building tactics helped you build your email list? Let us know in the comments below.

    Email list building FAQ

    How do you build an email list from scratch?

    1. Add a pop-up offer to your homepage
    2. Put an opt-in form in your navigation or foote
    3. Collect emails at your brick-and-mortar or in-person event
    4. Add a signup button to social media
    5. Build personalized landing pages
    6. Include a newsletter signup option at checkout

    How do I make an email list for free?

    There are dozens of email list building and marketing apps out there with free plans or trials to help you get started, including MailChimp, Sendinblue, HubSpot, and Shopify Email.

    How can I create an email list for free without a website?

    Starting an email list can be as simple as capturing leads on social media and adding them to a spreadsheet or your CRM of choice. For best results, however, you should plan on making your ecommerce website the cornerstone of your brand and marketing.
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