Building an Email List in 2020

Building an email list is as easy as it sounds. As a new marketer, and especially as a small business, you should never discount an idea just because it’s “too simple” or doesn’t require “enough work.” If you are working efficiently, you will be working smarter and harder.
An email list is a simple but effective tactic for driving customer engagement. If you have a blog or another online presence, you should definitely create an email marketing campaign to fit in with the rest of your business‘s strategy. So many people use emails regularly (most people check their email address several times a day!) that you are bound to find an audience for your content.
The greatest thing about an email list is that you can rely on people who are already subscribers to your blog, social media, etc. As with any business marketing strategy, start with your current customers, and branch out from there. Find the people who are most invested in your business, and create a campaign designed for them. Remember: you get to decide what, where, when, and how often you send content to the people subscribed to your email list. Not only are they easy to create, fit like a glove into your other content, and easily stand alongside your social media outreach, but they are also infinitely customizable. Email lists can come in the form of ads, newsletters, blog post updates, offers, webinar announcements, or short-time offers and campaigns. When you send your subscribers content, you will find how simple and flexible it is to build an email list.

What is an email list?

Like any subject, mastery of email lists first requires a basic knowledge of what they are, how businesses use them, and how they can maximize the benefits your customers give you. Just like any higher-level education, you will need to understand the fundamentals before you can move on to implementing your knowledge.
So, what is an email list? An email list is defined as any form of marketing that sends general or personalized messages to its subscribers. It is also known as listbuilding, email marketing, and a mailing list, but these all refer to the same thing: an easy way to engage an eager audience.
Email lists can be more straightforward than people think they are. If your address is on Facebook’s email list, then you have probably seen messages in your inbox that say something like, “You have 7 notifications, 1 new friend request, and 2 messages.” These are part of Facebook’s email list.
An email list can provide updates on exclusive offers, show ads, or simply be another way to get the word out about your current campaign. They come in all kinds of packages, but their most significant advantage is that they will engage a customer when they are ready to respond.
Let me explain what that means. When people go through their inbox, they are in a “search and destroy” mode, in which they go through all the messages they have received since their last inbox check and either answer, save or delete their messages. That means any relevant emails you send can make an impact on a consumer who is actively looking for messages and establishing mental connections to them. The pathway is already open for you to form a relationship with that customer. Email lists take your business to where they already are.
Another essential step to any marketing campaign is knowing who the target audience. Who are they? Where do they live? What other products do these people enjoy buying? If you have not asked these informative questions about your customers, I would highly recommend that you do so now. This is the first step when trying to grow a stable base of people who can become your audience. Take to heart Marshal McLuhan’s immortal advice:
“The medium is the message” (emphasis added). And if you don’t know who you are supposed to send your message to, your content will flop before reaching its target audience. People want to feel like the brands they interact with are personally engaging; this thought process drives everything from the first purchase to repeat purchases to becoming a brand advocate. Create a sketch of your customers. Find out which people are likely to become subscribers to your email list.
The next step in understanding email lists is knowing what kinds of emails to send out. Check out what businesses similar to yours are doing. If you are a small business, use a dummy address to subscribe to other small businesses’ email lists.
Narrow down the specifics as far as you possibly can. Look at businesses that share the same characteristics as yours. They should be about the same size as yours, grow from the same audience, be located in the same geographical region, and target the same demographics (age, gender, etc.). These “model businesses” should be cut from the same cloth as the customers you are trying to reach.
Once you find these types of businesses, start investigating what they do and how they do it. The first question you should ask is this: “What does their landing page look like?” This is not directly related to an email list, but it is a crucial first step in communicating with your customers. The landing page is like a welcome mat: a good one will attract attention, tell a brief message, and a bad one will not send a positive, reinforcing message to your customer. Be sure to organize your website in a way that prioritizes and information. It should take no fewer than three clicks for your customers to find anything on your website—including your email list.
Second, check out their social media. This is another similar, but not identical, way to engage customers. How many subscribers does your competition have on YouTube? How often do they update, and what kind of content do they create? And, most important for our purposes today, how does their social media marketing strategy fit in with their email marketing? Any business‘s advertising should be like a puzzle: every piece fits together perfectly to make one coherent image for your target audience.
And finally, what is their email marketing like? Remember to check the types of people these businesses seem to be sending a message to. If you have done your homework, you already know what subscribers to your newsletter will act like, so you will know when you have found a business that compares to yours. What does the page where customers fill in their addresses look like? What kinds of ads are your competitors sending? Check back on that dummy account I mentioned earlier so you can regularly keep posted on what’s happening.

What is email list building?

Before you start building your email list, you should also check out how other businesses build an email list. Feel free to review the previous section of this article for how to narrow down your target audience, find out what your competitors are doing, and research ways to improve your social brand value.
If you have done all that, then you should know what kinds of customers should be on your email list. This is part of determining your target audience by demographics (geography, age, gender, and other essential characteristics). One benefit of email list building is that it engages your target audience on a personal level. You can use their name, send emails at optimal times for them, and tell them about the products they enjoy.
Why is email marketing important?
Pull out your calculator, because we’re looking at some numbers. A recent study showed that 90% of emails get read, compared with 2% of Facebook posts that get seen. For those of you playing at home, you know that this means email marketing is 45 times more likely to reach your customers than Facebook marketing. Almost everyone checks their email frequently, but only a slightly smaller group of people check their social media daily (
Another awesome advantage of email list building is that email has massive reach. Sure, social media sites can connect with lots of people on a casual level. Emails, however, still beat social media numbers by the billions. More people have email accounts than social media accounts. Email is still treated more professionally than social media, so people are more willing to listen to email messages. The ROI of every email spent is 1:38. That means $1 spent on email list building will garner $38 of profit! And that is why your small business needs an email list building strategy.

How can I build an email list for free?

I’ll bet you didn’t even know you could build a list for free, huh? Well, you’re in luck!
Email list building t is not free, per se, because you have to invest time, and time is money. But as you just learned, this is very well-spent time and money! Making a sign-up sheet pop-up on your page is very simple. While this article focuses on the strategy behind building a campaign, there are tons of resources to help create sign-ups. Look for one of these resources and use it to your advantage. Some of them may already exist on your blog. This article will also discuss the best way to build and advertise your email list, as well as other advantages.

How do I create an email subscriber list?

After analyzing your competition, your potential subscribers, and your email marketing strategy, you will be ready to start your email subscriber list! As you decide how to make a list, and how to best market your business remember that customers subscribe because they want value. This makes perfect sense, after all. As consumers, we only want to put in as much effort, money, and time that’s equal to the worth we will get out of a business. So always ask yourself: what is it about my business that people should know about? What will be worth their time to investigate, and will ultimately lead to future purchases and brand loyalty?
The first step is to use your blog or landing page to its full advantage. You can do this by putting a call-to-action (or CTA) at the bottom of your blog articles. You may have heard about CTAs in other venues, such as at the end of an advertisement or presentation. The speaker discloses all of the information necessary to make a purchase, such as the location, web address, and release date. Your CTA to your email list should be similar: it should help your customers become purchasing customers. Put an invitation to join your email subscriber list at the bottom of each page (where it makes sense, that is). That way, people who have read and enjoyed your blog article will know where to find you next. The more that people enjoy the content you create, the more willing they will be to invite you into your inbox.

A personal example

Recently at the magazine I work for, I made it a goal to put a CTA inviting people to submit at the end of each new article. I am now putting links to our Submission Guidelines page, so that first-time viewers at our magazine’s blog will remember that we are ultimately a submissions-based volunteer magazine. Because I have only started doing this in the past week, I do not have any numbers to deliver yet. But I can share one immediate benefit that happened before we even got one extra page click: improved SEO. If you use WordPress or a similar SEO-scanning website, you will be very familiar with that orange face telling you that you don’t have enough inbound links. Search engines prefer coherent, clear websites, so those kinds of sites will improve their scores on search engine results. Therefore, in the case of our magazine, creating a CTA that will lead a consumer to our other page has increased our SEO instantly.
However, for email marketing lists, I would suggest having the email address fill-out sheet as a pop-up on the same page. These pop-ups do not have to be invasive, “stop everything you’re doing and click on me now” kinds of pop-ups. A sidebar or bottom tag will do. If you find that your consumers often block pop-ups and page ads, then consider making a separate post where they can fill out their personal information. But whichever method you decide to use, make sure your email fill-out sheet is visible, and that its purpose is clear. If you are asking for customers to fill out their personal information, they want to feel that there is a useful purpose for it. Even if that information is just their name and email address, they will want to know that your email content is essential to them.
That leads me to the next step: make promises. Promises, promises, promises. That’s why people subscribe or buy anything, after all! Consumers love knowing that they are getting a fair deal. Trustworthiness is very important to them. You should promise what customers can expect from your emails. Tell them precisely what you want to send, and consider informing them how often you will send messages. Here is an example: Join our email list today for notifications on coupons, events, and sales! There. Easy, isn’t it? I busted that line out in one sitting, and I did not have a company or product in mind for it. If your marketer takes the time to consider those things, they will come up with a great promise.

Welcome your customers

What next? Automated greeting! I know that sounds robotic, but hear me out. Your customers should immediately receive a message as soon as they subscribe to your service. In real life, when you get someone’s phone number, do you text them right then to make sure they have yours? That is the easiest way I have found to exchange personal information. So to make their subscription stick in customers’ minds, send them a brief “Hello!” right then. This should include their name (consider putting it in the subject line) and a brief message about your business. It can also include informing them about an online event, inviting them to follow you on social media, etc.
This is called a welcome email, and I will go over those later in the article. But here is the basic rundown: remember how customers are hesitant to give their personal information? This is one way to ease the transition. When they subscribe, tell them that you just sent an automated greeting message to their address. Make it clear what you are doing and how you are doing it, so your small business can build a relationship of trust with your consumers.
On a side note, have you ever seen business sites with a “Login” tab? You might consider offering exclusive subscriber benefits on your website, to help long-time customers continue contributing to your business. These benefits can include making comments on articles, or asking questions on the site and getting live tech support. They can also include more substantial benefits like unique content, “backstage access” to whatever is happening next, or notifications. Notifications are HUGE. They have started on social media, but now email lists can use them, as well. Depending on your customer’s phone/computer settings, they can get a notification when you release new content. But use notifications sparingly. The average person receives an average of sixty-four notifications a day. Sixty-four! Not only do you want your message to stand out, but you don’t want to annoy your new customer!
Here is another suggestion: create a timed pop-up survey. This has the same purpose as an email sign-up form, but it cleverly introduces a well-known idea. The University of Alberta recently increased its email subscriber list by 500% in one year by adding a pop-up survey asking people to join their list. Here is what it said when people came to their site:
You seem interested in UAlberta news. Would you like to sign up for the Daily News email?
-Yes [enter your email]
-No thanks
The survey gave them an option not to subscribe, which is not only ethical but logical. You would not want an uninterested, unpaying consumer on your email list, would you? It also clearly told them what would happen if they answered “Yes.” The keyword of today is clarity. If your customer knows what a relationship with you will entail, they know whether or not to join you. Again, the goal here is to show what kind of content they will get when they subscribe. Give them a little taste, a free sample, and they will buy the whole product.

Why unsubscribers are a good thing

If you have been in the game long enough, you may have noticed an odd trend: every time you send out a major email message, create a YouTube video or post an article on your blog, you not only gain subscribers, but you may also lose some. Why is this happening? You know when you are making relevant content, so why is that driving a few people away?
As a Social Media Manager at a local magazine, I keep tabs on everything that is happening in the online world—either for work purposes or just for fun. One YouTuber I followed once mentioned in a video that every time he uploads a video, he loses a few subscribers. While his channel is gaining subscribers overall, he believes that when people see his new content in their social media feed, some people say to themselves, “Why am I still subscribed to this guy? I am not very likely to consume any of his content or purchase any of his products, so I will unsubscribe and declutter my feed.”
This is an amazing insight. When people unsubscribe from a business‘s email marketing or social media marketing list, two things happen. First, people send a message to the business about what kind of content they like to see. Gauging public interest is difficult because you have to do it on a yes/no basis. People either buy your product and become an engaged customer, or they simply do not. With all our experience in marketing and social media, there is still a lot we must learn about why some people reply to marketing tactics, and why some do not. So any feedback, even negative feedback, on your content, campaign, social media marketing, or email marketing will help you narrow down what kinds of messages work and which do not. Maybe your customer unsubscribed because your messages were too frequent and too annoying, for example. Then you know to return to the drawing board, do more research, and find things that will better engage your customers.
The other thing that happens when a customer unsubscribes from a subscription list is that you lose someone who is not likely to see your message. While I do not encourage losing anyone, narrowing your target market can be a good thing. Here is a hypothetical situation: you are a business selling Product A to Group A. Because people in Group A are your target market, you know it is unlikely that People B, C, or D will find your campaign. Now pretend that your subscriber list includes an odd blend of people from Groups A, B, and C. If people from Groups B and C are unsubscribing, they must not have been interested. It is clear that they are not interested in your product, and continuing to pay attention to your business would waste their time and your resources. Now you are free to focus on the customers in Group A who are very likely to make purchases, spread your brand, and send recommendations to their friends.
So in short, do not be too concerned about the occasional unsubscriber. Sure, if your target market keeps unsubscribing in large numbers, then you have a problem, but a few lost customers here and there are not going to make or break your campaign. In a way, when they simplify their inbox, they are helping you, too: they are telling you who to focus on and how to generate relevant content for other, more likely customers. If you have seen any graph of a company’s growth, you will notice blips of ups and downs all along the way. The line graph of profit is not in danger of landing on the bottom just because a tiny blip comes in from time to time.

What are the types of email marketing?

Welcome email

This email is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s a way to greet your new customer and let them know in advance that they will be receiving email notifications from you at their address. This initial connection is very important. In any professional relationship, it is vital to establish the rules and expectations of your interactions, as well as introduce yourself in a friendly, open manner. If customers do not wish to receive emails from you, then suddenly start receiving messages, they may block your emails, regardless of how well made your content is.
The welcome email is the first step in your relationship with a new customer. New customers are very important if you wish to grow your business. They can be tricky to find and slippery to hold on to. As reads, “Did you know it costs five times more to attract a new customer, than to keep an existing one?” ( In other words, it is vital to have an amazing self-introduction and welcoming statement for each new customer your email marketing attracts.
But that doesn’t mean the message has to be grandiose or complicated. In fact, it should be simple. Because people check their emails multiple times a day, they do not have the time or energy to look through complicated messages or unclear statements. So stick to the basics. Use pictures and graphics liberally, especially ones that are clear cut and represent your business.
Feel free to reuse any images you may have already used in your other campaigns. It is perfectly acceptable to do this. People will probably recognize your logos, images, offers, and other media from other advertising campaigns you have going on right now. Remember hearing that most customers require 7 or 10 or however many interactions before they consider buying a product? There you have it! The welcome email should be one of these interactions.
The next step is to be warm and friendly. Remember, you just put a lot of work into finding this new person, so help them feel special! Use their name in the email (which is quite easy to do. When people sign up for your subscriber list, when they enter their first and last name, then program the email to insert their name into the first line—or even the subject line! You can use both their names or just their first name, so play around with using both and see which one will grow your audience more.
You may want to tell your customer what kinds of things they should expect in future emails. Are you going to inform them about a future offer? Will you grow your business by asking for their input and reviews on a shopping website? Again, there are as many possibilities for what you can send to your customers as there are businesses themselves.
If it feels like I’m spending an excessive amount of time on the welcome email, I am. But it is so important that your connection and dedication to the customer comes out in the first few seconds of interaction. Your newsletter should not just send content to your subscribers. It should send positive reinforcement to the customer for giving up their precious personal email information. In a world where subscribers want businesses to have less information about them, reward them for giving you the bits and pieces of information they do send.
And above all, remember the age-old adage: first impressions are the most important.

Offer email

Again, just like it sounds (this is common for all these email types). An offer email is a message that tells your subscribers about an exclusive offer or deal. This can include coupons, limited time offers, etc., that are exclusive to those who sign up. Why just for those who sign up? It’s part of the package! Your consumer will feel like they are valued if their messages are exclusive and personal. Offer emails can deliver both those things.

Request email

The request email is a great way to remind people that they are subscribed to your email marketing. Request emails ask for feedback from your consumers. It is similar to when an app asks you to rate it. Ask for testimonials from your consumers and find the ones that will be best for your business. The request email can help you in other marketing venues, too. If you get a stellar testimonial, put it on your webpage or even a billboard. Request emails not only generate amazing content by themselves, but that content can be used elsewhere.


Great for magazines, editorials, and anything that publishes regular updates, the newsletter is a useful way to send content regularly. But make sure what you are sending is relevant and clear. Start with a monthly newsletter if it helps, then move up to one every two weeks, or even every week. Look at The New York Times as an example. In their case, daily emails with summaries of the featured content are a successful way of marketing their brand.
Which ones are most common for businesses like yours? Which ones are less common? Most importantly, how are people reacting to these types of email marketing?
Remember, your subscribers may want more of the same that other businesses are giving them, or they may want new content. Form effective email marketing campaigns that will engage your customers—especially your long-time subscribers.
Your long-term fans are your best source of information when it comes to knowing which email marketing campaigns work and which do not. This is an amazing opportunity because your long-term customers are also your target audience, as well as your gateway to thrive leads, grow traffic, and spread through word-of-mouth marketing (online or in real life).
For more information, feel free to check out this article.

Anatomy of a good email

Like any doctor would study the human body, you should study what makes a good email work. Like anything relating to your email list, this will vary depending on your business, product, social media marketing strategy, geographic location, and other factors. While you are free to adapt these principles as you like, here are some quick tips for how to create a great email:
First, use images as frequently as you would if your email were a social media post. You probably already know that social media posts with images get much more attention than those without, so use this knowledge to your advantage. You can even send out an image you just used in a social media post, or a link to the blog post itself! If you are running a live event, such as a poll, a contest, a livestream, etc., you should try using email as a means to tell people what’s going on right then! This will help your customers feel like your emails are creating relevant content, and will grow your social media image as a friendly, trustworthy business.
Also, use outbound links. Good for your page, good for your email. Include your main page, a link to anywhere you sell your products, social media blogs, and anywhere else you are trying to direct your customer. Again, your email list is just another way for your content to get out there.
Finally, include an email address for questions, comments, etc. How should they contact you if they want to do so right then? Your business‘s info can also include things like your physical address and office hours, if applicable.

How does email marketing fit into my overall marketing strategy?

The first thing to know is that email marketing, like overall marketing strategies, is a little different with each business. If you’re small, you get to experiment because your brand isn’t widely established yet. If you’re big, you have a cushion to use so you can experiment. Either way, you have the power to define your business campaign.
This may be a time to step back and consider your overall marketing strategy, as well. The most important question is this: What has seen the most growth? Growth is much more important than size because it shows where your next purchase is coming from. All size tells you is what your business has done in the past—a good precedent, but not guaranteed success. At the magazine I work at, I noticed recently that our Twitter page had seen much more growth than Facebook. On top of that, our Instagram account gets tons of attention, with 1 in 8 followers liking our posts. As Social Media Director, I am now creating content specifically for these accounts, not just our larger Facebook page.
Email marketing is a great way to get the word out about your small business. However, building your email list should also get the word out about your campaign. Treat the messages sent to your website visitors as personalized ads, complete with their names and products they like. Feel free to be a little more open over emails—the customers signed up for them, after all! Send bulk emails that describe your current marketing campaigns. Have a New Year’s sale coming up? Offer a discount code for 10% off! Have a new commercial that you are proud to share? Include it in your email content marketing! Business owners should offer messages that create value for those who are most likely to purchase your product. Offer a giveaway, a free ebook, or whatever else you offer!

What are other ways to build my email list?

So far, I have talked about how to build your email list online. But people can sign up for email marketing services in person, too. If you have a physical location where you regularly interact with customers, ask them to fill out a sign-up sheet. If they are interested, have them include their email as part of their contact information. Or if someone from your business gives a presentation, ask them to write a review online. Then, ask them to write their email on a card and leave it with one of your employees. Your email distribution list should include contacts from all places, so it diversifies and reaches more people.
Consider the other ways you can attract potential customers. For some businesses, word-of-mouth marketing works wonders. In the early 2000s, a hilarious webtoon series called Strongbad got amazing attention and legendary fan loyalty. Strongbad only had a regular schedule for two years; its creators had other full-time jobs and never ran page ads. But because its fans were so eager to share its quick, quirky cartoons, the creators had a strong target market. This included a newsletter for building an email list, and they also dipped into product branding. Bottom line: find what works for your business‘s digital marketing and maximize that. Be aware of all possible avenues you can use to get the word out.

What is email list segmentation?

Email list segmentation (AKA email list splitting) is where you divide the addresses in your address book by different features. Like your products, your emails should be marketed specifically towards people who are already interested in your products. You wouldn’t market a product to someone who has already decided not to buy it, would you? List segmentation works in much the same way.
Business owners should first find software that helps them analyze who is opening their emails (and when). (For more information, check out this helpful article). Then put this data to use by gathering your marketing team and crunching the numbers. Are there other sources you can use, such as Google Analytics? How can you better plan to send each customer a semi-personalized message? I can’t say this enough: your email list building should be just another step in your overall marketing strategy.

What is an email sequence?

Great question! An email sequence sends an automated email at certain pre-programmed times. They are also known as time-based email sequences or autoresponders. An email sequence implements what this whole article has suggested: it creates a schedule for your content. It allows you to send messages when you are not at your computer, scheduling them in advance like social media posts.
While email sequences can (and should) include emails related to your overall campaign, customize them a little. Send messages that mark a customer’s progress in your business! Announce their first login, the first comment on a post, first purchase directly from the site, and other significant milestones. Don’t hold your customer’s hand too tightly, but you should be there with them from the first impression to purchase.

How often should I send marketing emails?

Like everything I have talked about, this will vary with your consumer base. If you just copy and paste what this article suggests, it will be a good start. But it’s only a start. Figure out when your customers are online, and what times they are checking their emails.
The New York Times sends two or three emails a day, but…they’re huge. You may want to start with something smaller. I would suggest you send weekly emails to those who have subscribed. This is a safe bet if you are just starting your email list—often enough to keep them interested, but not annoying. You may want to switch to two emails a week when things get off the ground. For now, experiment with different types of emails every week.

What time should I send marketing emails?

Again, this will vary considerably, but do some research on when most people open their emails. You may want a different electronic mailing list for different customers/products, so determine which times work for those. There are still lots of emails that go unread, but optimal sending times will reduce that risk.
Business owners can further customize your message outreach by analyzing where people are opening your messages in the world. People wake up, work, and go to sleep in different time zones, so keep that in mind when you stretch into international marketing. For example, a YouTuber I follow has found a way to market to his audience, which is largely American. The Australian YouTuber Shadiversity makes history-related content and plugs his self-published book. He sold 12,000 copies during its first week because of his YouTube following. There is a 17 hour time difference between the American West Coast and Canberra, Australia. To combat this challenge, Shadiversity uploads his videos at a time that works for either continent. Depending on which side of the world you live on, his videos will go live at a time that works for you.

Final comments on building an email list

In conclusion, making an email list is an easy, wide-reaching way to tie potential customers into your advertising strategy. Business owners can greatly benefit as they experiment with their emails and try to craft the best ones. Customize and personalize your messages and be friendly and sincere. Take care of your customers, and your customers will take care of you.
Thanks so much for checking out our article and sticking around to the end. If you are interested in learning more about how to grow your business, check out these other articles on Innovation Exchange’s website:
And please sign up for our email list! If you see what works for our email list, it could send some ideas for content and campaigns your way!
  • by Calvin
  • |
  • December 30, 2019