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How to build an email list: the complete guide

how to build an email list image of promotional subscribe form

Four out of five marketers said they’d rather give up social media than email marketing, according to a report by Litmus. That’s because email marketing is a business’ best tool.

Whether it’s a blog, eCommerce website, or portfolio, there are many kinds of entry points that will let you effectively begin collecting emails for your business. This article will walk you through the different ways you can build an email list, thereby strengthening all of your emailing marketing campaigns down the line.

What is an email list?

An email list is a compilation of email addresses that a business or individual has gathered from individuals who have opted to receive communications, updates or marketing messages. Building an email list is a fundamental aspect of email marketing, a strategy used to engage with an audience, promote products or services and build relationships. Subscribers on an email list have typically given their consent to receive emails by signing up, subscribing or opting in through a website.

Email lists can serve various purposes, including sending newsletters, promotional offers, product updates, event invitations or educational content. Marketers often use email lists to nurture leads, retain customers and drive conversions. The effectiveness of an email list is often measured by factors such as open rates, click-through rates and overall engagement.

How to build an email list

01. Use incentives

By offering something valuable that’s downloadable or easily accessible to site users, you can quickly earn their trust and help set aside any doubts about handing over an email address. In the form of ebooks, coupons and templates—just to name a few—these extrinsic incentives are anything that motivate a person to take certain actions.

Within the world of content creation, it is essential that you find the right incentive to inspire your target market to convert. Then, you can move onto the next step by generating a list of ideas based on your specific intent to gain leads and build an email list. Some of the best incentives for lead generation include:

  • Informational documents: These include ebooks, whitepapers and other types of documents that provide valuable information on a topic related to your business or brand. More specifically, ebook creation is one of the best ways to generate leads online, reinforce your brand and increase awareness among potential customers.

That’s because, whether offering industry insights, tips, case studies or product details, ebooks enable small business owners to connect with their target audience at a pivotal point in the marketing funnel. This means you want to write an ebook that is aligned with your marketing goals. Think about what exactly you want your audience to take away from your content. Finally, you can create a landing page for your ebook, or whichever downloadable content you create, adding a single focused call-to-action, such as “Download your ebook” or “Download now.”

  • Coupons: These are a quick way to generate leads for your business, especially for anyone with an online store. Coupons let you capture leads who are already interested in your product or service and drive sign-ups in conjunction with your website. You can create a simple form for site visitors to fill out with their details. Once they complete it, they will receive a discount code—and you can add them to your email list.

  • Free product trials: Knowing who your site visitors are can help you design a free trial campaign that will make them sign up, thereby requiring an email address from them. Afterward, you’ll want to send a personalized welcome email that can effectively boost free trial conversions.

02. Add lightboxes

Combining pop-up forms and compelling content, you can build an email list using the lightbox method that converts leads into loyal customers. Lightboxes let you highlight crucial information while enhancing the user experience as they browse a website. Essentially, they are a great way to grab the user’s attention, whether it’s on a landing page, home page or blog.

That said, there are those who prefer to browse a site first before entering their information. With the addition of a lightbox to other relevant web pages, you won’t miss these wandering visitors, too. Simply add a lightbox pop-up form on every page that matters to your marketing efforts.

In terms of content for a lightbox, new users are more likely to be persuaded by educational or conceptual details about your business, while existing users are more likely to be drawn directly to your products. Here a couple of lightbox examples that are both effective and visually appealing in their design:

  • Promotion lightbox: Treat site visitors to a coupon, ebook, free trial or any other type of incentive when they sign up. Coupon lightboxes are one of the most common types of pop-up forms for eCommerce retailers. It allows customers to instantly apply a discount or coupon to their purchase in exchange for an email address, capturing their information at the most crucial moment for them and you.

  • Newsletter signup lightbox: Email newsletters give businesses a big advantage in helping them frequently communicate with customers and leads who have already shown interest in their offerings. Newsletters also let you distribute information quickly and strengthen bonds with recipients, thereby moving them down your sales funnel.

But first, you’ve got to get them to sign up. Adding a mailing list subscription lightbox to your website with a simple and effective design will capture their attention and then automatically incorporate those who sign up as “Subscribers” in your contacts. Finally, check out these newsletter examples, categorized accordingly so you can find the best model for your business type.

how to build an email list image of lightbox example

03. Create engaging content

Creating great content that has the possibility to go viral or be shared will bring more visitors to your site. Through compelling content (as well as distribution strategies like drip campaigns and email blasts), site visitors can see for themselves how you will add value to their lives.

Furthermore, the content on your lightbox, or wherever you’re collecting emails, needs to resonate with them profoundly. So, think about writing a copy that they will care about, provides solutions to their pain points and even inspires them.

Let’s say you’re a business owner who wants to expand into new markets. First you need to reach your customers in an engaging way through content marketing so that you can teach them about your new products or services. Only then will they understand its value. This is also part of customer retention, which helps users to grow with you.

example of email list subscription form

Email list management

Over time, you might have gathered a list of emails from your users. It might be someone who bought your product or service in the past, but if you send emails to people who are inactive, you could suffer from a bad email reputation. Basically, you are spamming your users, which is a bigger issue in itself. Another issue is that by sending emails to inactive users, you will waste your time and marketing efforts.

With this in mind, you need to establish an activity baseline to avoid spamming. While some users who signed up to your email list might stay with you for years, the reality is that many will not. This can happen due to many reasons, such as your product is irrelevant to them or that they lost interest over time. The bottom line is that it's important to recognize those users and avoid spamming them.

How not to spam

  • First, you need to analyze your email list, i.e. what is the distribution of your last email engagement. This means looking at the results from the last time recipients opened or clicked an email before sending out the next marketing email. That way, you can establish a baseline for the point at which users are unlikely to keep engaging with your email. Once you know that turning point, you can separate out the ones who do not fit the criteria.

  • Second, you need to identify which of the users are responsible for the majority of your business activity. As a business owner, you might look at this from the point of sales, product installations, etc. This will prevent you from negatively engaging with the remaining users who are unlikely to purchase your product.

This is important because it keeps you from spamming customers. It also allows you to maintain a high IP reputation, thus keeping you from being blocked. Rather you’ll be seen as a legit sender and avoid being categorized as a spammer.

email list management example

How to optimize your email list

At this point, you’ve been actively building an email list. There are three main points to consider when heading to the next stage: optimizing your email list through A/B testing, email segmentation and personalization.

A/B testing

Changes are inevitable due to your brand evolving or your business growing. You’ve got to optimize your business potential and email marketing without hurting existing assets.

  • A/B testing from the user perspective: Here, we want to understand what information is more relevant to which user. It’s important to provide better experiences for our users, such as sending them the most relevant information without our confines.

With A/B testing, you can test two things that might look relevant for you, but you get the unique chance to pass the decision over to your users, thereby giving them a voice. Going forward, you'll want to follow your user behavior more closely.

  • A/B testing from the business perspective: This allows you to optimize your marketing funnel which can lead to better engagement between users and products.

For example, you might want to test an existing product that isn’t currently gaining traction. Doing so will bring attention to it. That way, you can restart the conversation with a trigger email based on the action from your users’ end—then send out your email marketing campaign.

This will help you see how to improve your key performance indicators and also pinpoint where to invest your resources.

Email segmentation

Email segmentation can be based on many things but it depends on the type of business. You can do segmentation based on any relevant information that you’ve gathered, such as age, gender, geolocation and product interest. Users are more likely to engage with emails that are personalized (more information below), segmented and more suitable to them than general messaging.

The benefits to segmentation include:

  • Makes your marketing emails more relevant.

  • Improves your email performance, such as open rates, click rates and decrease email churn.

email list segmentation example


Email personalization means embedding personal information inside your emails. It can be personal as private name, gender and location, but it can also mean using relevant personal details that will help your users (billing cycle reminders, products recently bought, site visitors, analytics, time spent on your website, most solid item, GPV, monthly sale).

By personalizing your emails, you give users the feeling that the emails are tailored to them. This can be mutually beneficial because:

  • Users will receive a less generic email from you. Tailor-made messaging means you care about them, so the user will be more likely to engage with your email.

  • The outcome would also increase activity on the user’s end. For example, recommended items might encourage them to buy more.

Thus, the practice of personalization results in more profits for business owners. It can show huge potential for increasing not only your ROI but also engagement and customer loyalty.

For example, Wix looked at the effectiveness of adding the first name of a recipient in the subject line and in the sub-header of an email. Our target audience had been split into two groups, Version A, without personalization, and Version B, with personalization. The results were conclusive. The open rate of Version B was significantly higher, almost 10% more than Version A.

When we analyzed whether we achieved our main purpose—to see if recipients were more likely to add new features to their website as suggested in a personalized email—Version B led to a higher rate of downloading the offer than Version A.

Why you should build an email list

Building an email list is a crucial component of a successful digital marketing strategy, offering several advantages for businesses and individuals. Here are key reasons why you should consider building an email list:

  1. Direct communication: Email provides a direct and personalized communication channel with your audience. It allows you to tailor messages to specific segments of your audience, increasing engagement and relevance.

  2. Audience engagement: Building an email list enables consistent engagement with your audience. Regular communication fosters relationships, builds trust and enhances brand loyalty.

  3. Targeted marketing: Segmenting your email list allows for targeted marketing campaigns. Subscribers who have opted in are more likely to convert, making email marketing an effective tool for driving sales and achieving higher conversion rates.

  4. Ownership: Unlike social media or other third-party platforms, you own and control your email list. This ownership ensures consistent communication and provides a level of independence from external platform changes.

  5. Cost-effective and data-driven: Email marketing is a cost-effective channel that allows you to communicate with a large audience without significant expenses. Additionally, email platforms provide valuable data and analytics, helping you understand subscriber behavior and refine your marketing strategies.

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