Email marketing has the highest ROI – 42:1 – compared to any other form of communication. As such, it’s the best approach for businesses to build a relationship with their customers. Yet, if you are starting from square one, creating an impressive email list can feel like a Herculean task.

“A small list that wants exactly what you’re offering is better than a bigger list that isn’t committed.” – Ramsay Leimenstoll

You’ve designed the perfect marketing email. However, if you don’t have an email list to send it to, what good is it? Regardless of your business’s industry sector, the most vital element of your email marketing strategy, as well as one of your most valuable business assets, is the email list. Except, did you know that attracting new customers costs five times more than nurturing existing ones? Don’t worry though. Even if you are starting from ground zero, with no email lists whatsoever, there are a few tried-and-tested email list building techniques you can implement to attract new subscribers.

In this article, we’ll cover the following email list building topics:

  1. What is an email list?
  2. Pre-email list building DOs and DON’Ts
  3. Email list building techniques

Let’s dive in.

No matter if you are an experienced email marketer or a newcomer, having an effective email list building strategy could make all the difference to your business. Especially if you are operating on a sparse budget.
Let’s face it, without a good-quality email list all your email marketing efforts may well be a waste of time and funds from that shoestring budget you have. No need to despair though. Growing an email list from the ground up might not be easy. But, it’s certainly not impossible.
In the email marketing world, email list building from scratch is also known as organic email list building. It’s a permission-based strategy where only people who expressed explicit consent will be added to your email list.
Before we reveal some of the best email list building techniques for you to take advantage of, let’s talk about some basic terms.

What Is An Email List?

As email marketers, the term email list is not foreign to us. However, a refresher is always a good thing.
An email list is a collection of email addresses from customers, leads and subscribers that have been gathered through a blog, website, lead-generating campaigns, live events, leveraging business cards, etc. It allows for widespread distribution of marketing emails to multiple recipients.
Email lists shrink for two reasons: a) people opting-out and b) natural decay. Did you know that an email list naturally decays by about 22.5% every year? On the other hand, there are numerous email list building strategies that can be implemented in order to continuously attract new contacts as well as engage with and nurture both new subscribers and existing ones.

Pre-Email List Building DOs and DON’Ts

Before you even start building your email list(s) and implementing all the awesome techniques we are about to divulge, there are a few things you must have in place first.


1) Get to know your target audience. Who are the people that you’re targeting? What’s their name? Their job? Their goals? How old are they? Where are they located? In the marketing world, this is referred to as a buyer persona. Once you’ve understood who your ideal email subscribers are, you can easily craft the perfect email campaign to attract them.

2) Make sure you have a website with a landing page. You need a place for all your potential email list members to gather. A website is a good start. But, even if you don’t have one with all the bells and whistles, you don’t need to worry. All you actually need is a landing page which hosts your opt-in/sign up form. In fact, stats point out that only 64% of small businesses have a website – meaning that a whopping 36% of small businesses do not have a significant online presence!

3) Get a trustworthy ESP. Some email marketers may not perceive the need to complement their current ESP (such as Gmail or Outlook) with a professional email marketing provider. Yet, whichever email service you use to handle your one-2-one business emails won’t be set up for handling, tracking, analysing, data segmentation and automation of thousands of emails. Furthermore, many well-known business email providers can only send 50 emails at once before your account gets flagged and potentially disabled. Therefore, considering a professional email marketing provider that will work in collaboration with your chosen ESP will certainly be a strategic win-win move. If you are interested in taking your email marketing game to the next level, you can try EmailOut – at no cost.

4) Always keep your email lists healthy. Regardless of how long you’ve been building your email lists, make sure you do a regular spring clean to remove inactive subscribers. Up to 30% of subscribers change their email address every year. Thus, our recommendation would be to ‘cleanse’ your lists every 6 months at a minimum. Don’t focus on having a huge email list, focus on having a high-quality one. EmailOut offers a one-click list cleaning tool ensuring that only engaged recipients receive your marketing – better engagement, increased open rates, improved click-through and increased domain reputation leads to even better inbox delivery & placement (winning!).


There is only one crucially important DON’T many marketers are falling for – buying or renting email lists. Never, ever buy or rent an email list. It doesn’t matter that it might seem like an easy, low-cost, accelerated shortcut to growing your email list, as well as your business. It’s a huge no-no for email marketing. Here are the reasons why –

a) the quality of the list is unreliable;
b) reputable ESPs will not allow you to send to purchased or rented lists;
c) people on those lists have no idea who you are;
d) you will definitely be marked as a spammer; and
e) you will be violating anti-spam laws which will result in serious ramifications for your business.
If you decide to ignore our warning, that’s your prerogative. However, beware that by buying/renting email lists, you will kill your email marketing strategy before you’ve even started.

Email List Building Techniques

Waiting for people to come across your website organically is not the best email list building approach. Instead, focus your marketing efforts to potential subscribers around various email list building techniques. This approach differs from that of marketing to customers as its main purpose is to get more subscribers rather than outright sales. Just remember, gaining more subscribers ultimately aids generating more sales.
Now, here is a list of comprehensive email database building techniques that can certainly help you build your list from start to finish –

1) Don’t underestimate the power of pop-ups

Don’t use pop-ups on just one landing page. If you’re not part of the 36% of small businesses that don’t have a website site then you definitely must add a pop-up/slide-in or two or three to your website. But, be mindful. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Don’t overwhelm or annoy your potential subscribers. Just gently remind them of your newsletter. Google OptinMonster. We found this tool to be great when it comes to designing awesome pop-ups. You may find the most effective method of deploying them is to set the first pop-up with a timer, which is 85% of your Google Analytics ‘Session Duration’, and have an additional exit pop-up that will remind website visitors that you offer valuable weekly newsletter content, discount, flash sales, etc.

2) Surprise potential subscribers with sign up CTAs on every page

Why not take advantage of that small empty space at the end of your blog post by adding a simple, standard sign up form? Yes, we are well aware that ‘white spaces’ give a more polished and easily readable vibe. However, why not utilise that to achieve your email list building goals. If it creates too much clutter though, have the sign up form appear on the website’s footer or sidebar. Potential subscribers visiting your website or blog are looking for something specific. Therefore, remember, when it comes to call-to-action personalisation is key. Make sure your CTAs will meet the potential subscribers’ needs.

3) Utilise your social media profiles

If you have a follower-base on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn or any other social media platform, why not use those already established connections to build your email list? Those that already like you (hopefully!), might’ve not had the chance to sign up to your mailing list. Simply pitch your newsletter sign up form across all social media platforms and give potential subscribers the opportunity to join your email list.

4) Add sign up/opt-in forms in your email signature

Do you feel a little pushy, seemingly desperate and a bit uncomfortable pitching your sign up form on social media? Are most of your business communications happening through emails? If the answer to both questions is ‘Yes’ then this email list building approach is exactly right for you. Simply add a link to your sign up page in your email signature. People who are already communicating with you on a one-2-one business basis are already engaged with your business so why not offer them the opportunity to receive your industry knowledge once a week, special offers, discount codes and flash sales too?

5) Use a referral program

Referral programs are basically using what you have (existing subscribers) in order to get more of what you want (new subscribers). Simply put, you are ‘bribing’ people so they refer friends, family and colleagues to your website where you ‘seduce’ them to sign up for your mailing list. Don’t worry though, you are not actually bribing them in the real sense of the word. It’s more of an exchange program. People refer others to your website and as a show of gratitude, you give the referrer a discount, a free ebook or an extended trial of your service. However, there is a free approach where you don’t have to ‘bribe’ anybody: a forwarding option in your welcome email or newsletter. A referral program can do wonders for attracting new subscribers and turning them into paying customers later.

6) Use gamification

Building a good-quality email list is not an easy task. You need to attract and engage visitors to your website in order to convert them into subscribers. More often than not standard coupons, discounts and sales might not be enough to get the job done. In such cases, thinking outside the box can be very useful. This is where gamification comes into play. It’s an interactive sign-up approach where visitors can have some fun before signing up to your email list. Since people are generally competitive in nature and one of the core elements of gamification is competition (with the other two being engagement and award), people are more likely to participate. Especially, if there is a prize involved. It’s a win-win.

7) Create powerful lead magnets

A lead magnet can be defined as offering your target audience something of value in exchange for their email address. As you can probably guess, the end goal is to boost subscriptions. A lead magnet could be offering a free ebook/guide/report, a checklist, a whitepaper, a video tutorial or really anything your visitor truly wants and needs. Overall, if your lead magnet offers something of value to the visitor, they will be happy to give you their contact information. This might as well be one of the best email list building techniques.

8) Try out telemarketing

During the day you probably talk to tons of customers and prospects. Why don’t you make good use of that opportunity, before you hang up and ask those people if they’d like to join your mailing list? Give them a short overview of all the benefits that’ll come from enrolling such as exclusive offers, discounts available only to email subscribers, etc. After all, the only thing you risk from asking is them saying ‘No’.

9) Piggybacks and forwarding

Have you ever considered sharing your email list(s) with other businesses? No, not giving it for free. That’d be against anti-spam laws, especially, since your subscribers gave their explicit consent to you. We are talking about a mutually beneficial relationship between businesses where one offers the other a bit of space in their newsletter where a link to their opt-in/sign up form will be and vice-versa. It’s called piggybacking.
On the other hand, we have forwarding. Make sure any emails sent to existing subscribers or anyone for that matter, have a link to your opt-in form. In that way, once your email is forwarded to someone, they’ll have a direct way to sign up to your email list.

11) Use the power of the printed press

In this digital day and age, a lot of marketers underestimate the power of the printed press. From newsletter and magazines through flyers and brochures to billboards, banners, printed ads and direct-mail as well as any other printed marketing materials – you have tons of opportunities to advertise your newsletter and give potential subscribers the option to sign up. So, why waste it? Simply add a QR (quick response) code, which is easily scannable with a smartphone app, to any printed press and voila, people will be directly opted-in into your email list.

12) Offline email list building

Since most email list building techniques take place online (websites, landing pages, social media, etc.), most marketers have probably forgotten the ‘old-school’ offline method of collecting emails. However, we haven’t. Here are two offline email list building options you can take advantage of –

a) collecting business cards – this is probably one of the oldest methods of building an email list. By having your own printed business card you can exchange it whenever you meet other people to talk about business. Make sure at the point of collection that you inform your future recipients what to expect, a weekly/fortnightly email including news, views and offers etc.

b) sign up lists at business events – if you attend any business trade fairs, conferences or business exhibitions, make sure you have a signup list with an email column at hand. Then, anyone interested in opting-in for your email list can simply write down their email address.

Having an iPad on a plinth that only shows your sign up form, thanks the visitor for their details and then refreshes back to your sign up form after a few seconds is an ideal way of capturing data quickly and efficiently.
A very important thing to remember, when implementing offline email list building techniques, is that as you will have to enter the email addresses manually there may be some typos or mistakes (no ‘@’ or .com for instance) and so setting up this ‘Expo List’ as double opt-in is a must.
As email marketers, any email list building techniques you can think of can be appropriate, as long as they’re legal, of course.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of whether you’re starting your email list building from scratch or not, the most imperative thing is to know your target audience. Thus, in order to grow your list, give the recipients a compelling reason to subscribe. Have a specific strategy and be consistent in your communication not only for customer acquisition but also for customer retention. You can’t just build a list and then forget all about it. You must nurture it.
Your knowledge of building an email list from start to finish might not always be needed. Sometimes, you might just need to clean up an inherited email list. Either way, being familiar with all the different email list building techniques can only give you an advantage.
Now that you know all there is to know about email list building, you should start thinking about the perfect way to greet all those new subscribers and we have the perfect ‘email onboarding’ article to help you prepare for it.

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