Every year, marketers are quick to raise scandal asking the question, “Is email marketing dead?” — and every year, we inevitably come to the same answer: Email is one of the most direct and effective ways to communicate with your audience and nurture a lead toward a sale.
It’s no wonder it is such a competitive space and a difficult medium to get right.
The email inbox of today is a sacred place. It receives and houses important documents and a great deal of personal information, so many are not open to casually granting access to every marketer or brand that asks.
Here’s a hypothetical for you to think through: If you had something time-sensitive to tell your best friend and had to choose between speaking to them directly or, say, sky-writing a message above their office, which would you rather choose?
As exciting as the sky-writing sounds, my guess is the majority of you would opt to speak to them directly. That’s why your list of email subscribers is so valuable and why growing this list is important.
Collecting email addresses from your website visitors is what we call lead generation, and it gives you a direct line to prospective paying customers.
When someone fills out a form on your website and gives you their email address they are “opting in.” They are raising their hand to say they know you are going to contact them and they want that to happen.
In inbound marketing, this person has become an active lead and, unless stated otherwise, this action is your green light to start marketing to this person directly and offering more personal and meaningful conversations and content.
The more people you have on your list, the more people you can directly nurture toward becoming a sale.
Furthermore, your email list is what we call a “granted media” audience. It is an audience you created yourself. Unlike social media, search engines, or the oh-so taboo “bought” list, where the audience is owned and dictated by the algorithm or guidelines of those platforms, your email list is generally controlled by you.
Yes, you are a bit at the mercy of email providers and the CAN-SPAM act (which we’ll get into later), but aside from that, your audience’s information is within your database and you control what message is sent to who and when. As a brand, this gives you more control over your customer experience.
13 savvy and effective ways to grow your email list
Now that you know the value of an email list, how do you grow one?
1. Add a compelling incentive
One of the easiest ways to grow your email list is by adding a compelling incentive for people to sign up.
We see this in retail often — “sign up for email updates for 20% off your first order” or “free shipping” — but it can work even for other types of businesses and marketing campaigns.
If you’re a product or service company, consider offering a free gift or exclusive content offer in exchange for subscribing to your blog — perhaps a free add-on or upgrade.
Social Media Examiner, for example, offers its exclusive 40-page report on social media trends in exchange for email signups:
This makes the act of subscribing even more appealing and valuable for your target audience. And if you are in a position to offer something like a coupon or discount, that incentive also helps turn website visitors into paying customers much faster.
2. Gate valuable content
In a similar vein to attaching a valuable offer to your blog subscription, consider gating some of your most valuable content or “premium content” behind your email signup forms.
Webinars, e-books, tools, videos, templates, and other types of premium content go beyond basics, providing some advanced knowledge or engagement with your organization that is more comprehensive than the information you make public on social media or your website.
This offers higher value, showcases greater expertise in your industry, and is, in turn, worth filling out a signup form to get your hands on.
HubSpot does a great job of offering a variety of different downloadable resources on its website.
3. Reduce conversion friction
Sometimes all you need to do to grow your email list is make it less difficult or frustrating for people to sign up. People are lazy, and the easier something is to do, the more likely they are to do it.
Some simple examples of this include making your email signup form shorter by asking for the bare minimum, such as even literally just their email address, or making the journey to the form easier.
Don’t bury your form behind a call-to-action button or the bottom of a landing page. If you can, consider adding a popup or even embedding the form directly below your headline.
Speaking of creating a dedicated landing page for subscribing to your emails, this is also a highly effective way to grow your email list.
Having a dedicated landing page for subscribing gives you ample real estate to highlight the value of subscribing, focus purely on getting website visitors to complete that action, and also optimize for the page to get found in search engines.
Content leader and author Ann Handley keeps it simple but effective with her subscription landing page. On it, she tells you exactly what to expect, shows examples of past issues, and makes signing up easy with just two fields.
5. Sell your subscription value through a video
Another great way to boost conversions for any offer, including email sign-ups, is to sell its value through a video.
In They Ask, You Answer, IMPACT partner Marcus Sheridan talks about landing page videos as one of the seven most effective sales and marketing videos (or The Selling 7), but even if you don’t opt for creating a dedicated landing page for your subscription, a video can help you ease concerns and encourage people to sign up on other areas of your website, or even social media.
Sure you can write up your pitch, but landing page videos, and videos in general, allow you to convey your marketing message in a more dynamic and engaging way than text alone.
When you feature a member of your team in your videos (which you always should aim to), you put a face to a name and build trust with your viewers.
They get to hear exactly why they should be filling out the form, what will happen after they do, and see that there is an actual person behind this interaction. This education helps remove any objections or questions someone might have about giving you their email address and, in turn, makes them feel more comfortable doing so.
Fun fact: I’ve won 11 online giveaways in the past 20 months. And I've entered dozens more.
I don’t share this to brag (or perhaps raise concerns about my social media habits), but to illustrate just how appealing giveaways are for modern consumers.
Like premium content or an exclusive offer as mentioned earlier, hosting a giveaway for a valuable prize is an extremely attractive and effective way to collect email addresses and grow your email list.
While you’ll have to dive deeper into the legalities of hosting a giveaway online, the promise of a valuable prize can easily outweigh concerns about being spammed with email.
The key here, however, is to offer a relevant prize that will help grow your business (i.e., a bundle of your products along with something related).
For example, if you are a SaaS company, perhaps you could host a giveaway for a year’s subscription and a tablet or laptop for accessing it on.
This past holiday season, Vidyard used a giveaway to not only reward current users, but also to attract new ones:
7. Improve your deliverability
Whereas most of the other tips on this list are about increasing conversions and attracting new subscribers, this one is about growing your email list by improving the quality of the contacts on it.
It’s no secret that many email lists are full of old and phony addresses and hard bounces. Though many may think this is a harmless part of the game, it actually can hurt your email marketing campaigns overall.
As mentioned earlier, while your email list is granted media, anyone who sends email is, unfortunately, at the mercy of email providers when it comes to actual deliverability.
“When you send to a poor list of emails, consistently email people who’ve bounced, or email people who’ve unsubscribed, it negatively affects your sender score and your reputation as an email sender, and it affects your ability to land in the inboxes of people who do want to receive your content.”
That being said, an important part of growing your eligible email list is keeping it clean. That means removing old or unsubscribed contacts among other things.
If you have a large and engaged audience on social media, harness it. Promote your email list on your social media platforms to capture these active followers and get them officially into your marketing pipeline.
Where should you start? Use the call-to-action button on your Facebook page to link to a landing page. Include a link in your Instagram bio or regularly share one in your Instagram Stories. You can even consider using comprehensive targeting on Facebook or LinkedIn to set up ads.
During the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, the QR code saw a massive resurgence appearing on restaurant menus and other places. However, even outside of that, these scannable little icons have proven valuable for connecting real-life experiences and digital ones.
To help grow your email list, consider adding a QR code linking to one of your signup forms or landing pages on any of your print materials.
Depending on the nature of your business, this may include but not be limited to:
Posters and fliers
10. Use a pop up or lightbox
Many find them frustrating, but the fact is popup windows or “lightboxes” work. Much like a landing page, a lightbox isolates your audience with your form, keeping their focus on a single task.
This way, the message can’t be missed. By including the opt-in form directly in your popup, you also make converting easier by reducing the number steps needed to do so.
This approach captures the reader’s attention immediately, and with the help of platforms like Optimonk, you can explore a variety of timing and trigger options like “on-exit” (which makes the lightbox appear when the user’s cursor moves toward the close button) to see which variation will deliver the best conversions from your audience.
To grow your email list, try including one on your website like this one:
11. Add social proof
Arguably, nothing speaks more highly of your brand than social proof. When people see others doing something new without harm, they feel more comfortable doing it themselves. In fact, 78% of people trust online reviews as much as a recommendation from a friend or family member.
That’s why including subscriber numbers, testimonials, or third-party reviews/ratings can help you grow your email list.
In this example from our website, you can see we capitalized on subscriber numbers and messages we’ve received from real readers to speak for the value of THE LATEST.
12. Harness word-of-mouth
Speaking of social proof, when someone recommends a product or brand to their loved ones they are, in many ways, putting their reputation and people’s trust in them on the line.
Capitalize on the power of this trust by encouraging your readers to spread the word by forwarding your emails to others.
Unbounce did a perfect job in this email by encouraging readers to share both in the copy and in their footer with a dedicated “Forward to a Friend” link.
By including both pieces, Unbounce not only plants the idea of sharing in the reader’s head, but also gives them a convenient way to take action immediately, making them more inclined to do so.
Once shared, your message’s reach will not only be expanded to a new audience, but be more likely to be trusted as well.
13. Create quality content
In the end, the best thing you can do to grow your email list as a business or brand is to create quality content that people want to subscribe to. When you create content people want and need to read, you won’t have to twist their arms to sign up. They’ll want to have it sent directly to them.
So what’s quality content? Quality content in a nutshell is content that offers value. In most cases, that means it either educates or entertains.
As a brand, you should always strive to answer your potential customers’ most urgent questions (what we call The Big 5) and address their interests and concerns honestly and comprehensively.
When you do this, you not only show that you understand your buyer, but you also show that you want to help them make the most informed buying decision. You become seen as a thought leader and trusted advisor, not just a brand out to earn a buck.
Grow your email list to grow your business
Rest assured, email marketing is alive and kicking, and with some keen strategy and the 13 tips shared here, you can grow your subscriber list and nurture them into becoming new customers.
In it, Kevin Phillips dives deeper into how to grow your email list, as well as what email marketing is, how to keep it inboundy, the benefits of email marketing, and the different types of emails you can send to recipients (that they actually want to open).