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6 min read

How to Build an Email List: 6 Ways to Get New Subscribers

By Matt Ellis · August 6, 2019
how-to-build-an-email-list primary img

Google email marketing statistics and you'll be met with confetti-laden numbers about the power of email marketing. But all of these statistics fail to account for one glaring oversight: Email marketing only works if you have people to email. And a lot of companies—small businesses in particular—never reach the tipping point where they have enough email addresses to make the most of that (very real) power.

To get on the winning side of those statistics, you'll need to get qualified email addresses on your mailing list. Here are a few ways to grow your email list.

1. Master the Placement of Your Sign-Up CTAs

Your email sign-up call to action (CTA) is the last thing subscribers will see before they bite the bullet and click Sign Up. (Please spell it right, while you're at it: As a verb, sign up is two words, no hyphen.)

sample email sign-up CTA from Walmart
A standard email sign-up CTA from

If you don't have an email sign-up form on your website, you need one. If you have one, you need more. To get rid of any possible friction for your almost-subscriber, it's best to use a form field where users enter their email and that's it. You can create the form yourself if you know some CSS, but most website builders, like WordPress and Squarespace, will have features or plugins that do the work for you. They'll give you loads of options for how, where, and when to display your sign-up field.

There are plenty of reasons CTAs don't work: the messaging, the coloring, the placement—the list goes on. Cover all your bases by having multiple CTAs on the page. If email sign-ups are your top business priority, put your email CTAs in the most prominent areas of the screen:

  • Front and center on your home page

  • In the top menu bar, in the upper-right corner

If you have a long-scrolling or one-page site, it's also good to break up each section or screen with a CTA. Visitors pause momentarily at these areas, making it a good place for a commercial break. And if your site is organized into pages, you'll need a fresh CTA on each. There are also more outside-the-box options, like a link in the author bio for blog articles. Of course, if growing your email list isn't your top priority, reserve these spots for higher-priority CTAs.

Lifewire home page with two newsletter CTAs
Lifewire has two newsletter CTAs, one in the section break and one in the footer

Some experts also swear by pop-up CTAs, although it's usually the same experts who coincidentally sell pop-up window tools. It's not that CTAs in pop-ups don't work, but they only work with a certain type of visitor—and annoy everyone else at the same time. Pop-ups are a risky strategy in general, let alone ones with CTAs, but if you're struggling to grow your email list, it's worth a try.

2. Test Your Designs and Copy

So you need multiple CTAs and you need them in multiple places on your site. But as important as placement is design: style, color, size, font, button type, microcopy...the list goes on. There's no magic answer for the best CTA design—it depends on the tone of your website and the audience you're trying to reach. That's why, rather than guess, it's better to conduct user tests and find out for sure.

The copy on your sign-up CTA is more important than you might think, so you definitely want to test it out. Does Sign Up do the trick? Or do you need to personalize it more? For example, if you run a hair salon, maybe your button text is Get salon tips at home—something that indicates more what the user will be getting by giving you their email address.

For CTA designs, A/B tests (or "split tests") work best. An A/B test compares the performance of two variables against different sample sets. For example, an A/B test might show one version of your page with a blue CTA to half your visitors and one version with a green CTA to the other half, all other factors being the same. Then you can see which converts better.

Just be sure to test one variable at a time so you don't corrupt the data. For example, conduct one A/B test to optimize the color of the CTA and then another to test the copy. Some website builders or lead capture tools have an A/B test feature built in. Otherwise, you can use tools like Optimizely or AB Tasty to conduct these tests for you.

3. Reassure Would-Be Subscribers That You Won't Spam Them

We'd bet that you don't sign up on every email newsletter CTA you come across. You don't want your inbox full of spam or daily offers on the same product—and neither do your visitors. But there's a solution, and it's so simple that it's not always obvious: Just tell them you won't do that.

You have lots of wiggle room with your microcopy (all those little bits of text outside of the main content of the page, like "Please enter your credit card details" or "Search for new products here"). Your CTA microcopy might tell people what exclusives subscribers will receive, but it can be equally as effective to use that space to calm your visitors' sign-up fears.

Bizarro Devs email sign-up screenshot
The email sign-up CTA from Bizarro Devs

The trick to good microcopy is to keep it micro: Make it succinct and to the point. Here are some examples:

  • "We won't share your email."

  • "We only send newsletters once a week."

  • "Unsubscribe anytime."

Those few words can make people feel better about signing up. And if you think it's too obvious to mention, it's not. The reason it works is that most of us have messed up by giving our email addresses to the wrong people before.

Feel free to add a personal touch to your microcopy with your brand's voice, but be sure the copy isn't distracting or off-putting. The goal isn't to entertain your readers—it's to assure them you won't be spamming them starting six seconds from now.

4. Create a Sign-Up Landing Page

The email sign-up CTAs on your main website pages are isolated to in-between sections without much space for copy or explanation. They get eyeballs, but people might also scroll right past them. If you have an entire landing page dedicated to your email sign-up, you have the breathing room to add all the content you want without congesting the screen. It's a great way to shine a light on why your emails are so valuable.

Moz Top 10 email sign-up landing page
Moz has a separate landing page just for its Top 10 newsletter.

A sign-up landing page also gives you a separate URL to link to. You can launch social media posts and blog articles that include that link and optimize campaigns specifically for email growth. (Note: Your email sign-up page should still be part of your main site, usually as a subdirectory, and not an entirely separate site.)

The anatomy of a good landing page for emails is fairly basic because you want to keep it simple. Best practices include:

  • Placing the form field CTA front and center

  • Including all the reasons to sign up, such as exclusives or giveaways

  • Extra encouragement, like testimonials or examples of what they'll get in a newsletter, that you don't have room for on your main pages

Don't use a landing page as an excuse not to incorporate CTAs into your main pages. They serve totally different purposes.

5. Offer Exclusives and Giveaways

You already know how to create the perfect email newsletter, but what are you supposed to use it for? Leverage is a good start.

You'll see an increase in email subscribers if you include exclusive features in your newsletters or other emails. More often than not, this means discounts and special deals, like coupon codes or a "members-only" link. In fact, a study by GetApp showed that 22.6% of email subscribers said discounts and special deals were one of the top reasons to sign up; for female respondents, it was the number one reason.

Screenshot of ModCloth
ModCloth puts its email exclusives in bold to capture the attention of people scanning.

So if you want more email subscribers, offer them something in return for their email address. Give them incentive with exclusive deals or content—things they can't get from visiting your website. And be sure to publicize these email exclusives wherever they're most visible. Let the world know that not only does this "exclusive" club exist, but also that anyone can join.

You can take this one step further and give new subscribers a free gift. This strategy has many names ("lead magnet" is a common one), but really it's just an old-fashioned giveaway. Sign up for our email list, and we'll give you something for free.

Usually this means you'll need to create new content for this purpose: things like eBooks, white papers, or videos. Something people can't get from visiting your site—or anyone else's. HubSpot is the master of this.

HubSpot email sign-up form in order to download a selection of blog post templates
HubSpot wants your email address in exchange for all of the goodies it offers.

The more valuable your content, the more email addresses you'll get. If you're deeply entrenched in your niche, you can use that to your advantage by discussing topics your target customers are interested in and can't find info on elsewhere, or answering their most common questions with how-to guides.

6. Break Out the Pen and Paper

If you have a local presence, take advantage of that. Go to frequently trafficked locations or events—community events, conventions, trade booths—and let people know who you are and why they should sign up for your newsletter. As long as you have the right incentive—a free sample, a future discount—it's not too much to ask for an email in exchange. And if you have a brick-and-mortar store, have an email sign-up list front-and-center for people who come in.

If you get people to sign up, you have the added bonus of them connecting your newsletter to you, the business owner, which gives it a more personal touch. As long as you're not a jerk.

Even if your business is completely virtual, you can still partner with local businesses. Find businesses that are relevant to your audience—they'll be more likely to want to partner—and leave a sign-up sheet there. In return, you can offer to shout them out in the footer of your websites.

Once you've tackled these strategies, dig deeper into more granular ways to build your email list. You never know what out-of-the-box strategy will get you the momentum you need to take advantage of the power of email.

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