Email Marketing: How to Build an Email List from Scratch


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Four billion people use email daily. And that number is expected to hit 4.6 billion by 2025.

With the global email market projected to increase to $17.9 billion by 2027, there’s no doubt email marketing still works.

To not do email marketing is like leaving money on the table because every $1 you spend on email marketing generates $36 – that’s a 3,600% return on investment (ROI).

This is likely why 87% of B2B marketers still rely on email, despite it being one of the oldest digital messaging channels.

It’s reliable and effective for securing, nurturing, and converting leads. But you need a subscriber list to get the best results.

The idea of starting an email list from scratch may be daunting. So we put together tips to make it an easier process.

Why Are Email Lists Important to Your Business?

It happens to even the best sites — people come, then people go (rather quickly). What’s the issue? Is it your site’s design? Or maybe the content sucks?

The odds are, if you’re focused on delivering high-quality, high-value content, then it’s neither. There’s just a ton of competition on the web, which makes it tough to keep your audience’s attention. So, the best way around this is to publish and promote content consistently.

And the most reliable, budget-friendly way to do that is to grow your email list.

Email lists offer several benefits:

  • Offers a higher ROI than other forms of digital marketing
  • Humanize your brand by sharing intimate stories and insights
  • Get to know your audience at a deeper, more personal level (especially if you encourage replies)
  • Develop segments to create personalized products, content, and messaging tailored to their needs
  • Target a narrower group who already showed interest in your brand and have a higher chance of converting
  • Build a lifelong, valuable business asset you control – it’s your property

But how do you start an email list? Do you need a website, or can you use social media to create the list? And once you get the list, what can you do with it?

We tackle each of these questions below.

Do You Need a Website to Create an Email List?

You can grow your email list with or without a ton of traffic or website.

However, you should get a website eventually to create content and add constant value. But it’s not a prerequisite to starting your email subscriber list.

To do this, you can use tools like landing pages, email service providers, or opt-in offers to grow a huge email list.

These tools not only turbocharge your email list and dominate email marketing, but they also (eventually) lead to more traffic.

What Can You Do With Email Lists?

You can think of your email list as a resource you can tap into at any time. For example, you can use your email list to:

  • Send welcome messages to new subscribers
  • Grow relationships with your customers
  • Promote and sell your products
  • Drive traffic to your website and social pages
  • Remind subscribers of upcoming events like webinars, virtual summits, or social livestreams
  • Send shipping updates to customers to track package delivery progress
  • Send out customer surveys to get feedback on your products or services

The people on your list are already interested in what you have to say or offer, so it’s easier to sell to them than to someone who doesn’t know you or your business.

Think about the brand you like best. You’re not a loyal brand advocate only because of its products. There are plenty of other places with cheaper options. You stick with them because you believe what they promote and feel invested in their brand messaging.

You probably even subscribe to their email list to get value – special promotions or unique offers in your area.

That’s not to say everyone on your list will accept your offer. However, you can convert email list members as you improve your offers, segmentation, and email formatting.

Can I Use Social Media to Create an Email List?


You already have too many emails competing for your target audience’s inboxes – 121 emails received every day, to be precise.

Social media can help you get email subscribers who are truly interested in your brand. It goes beyond collecting email addresses to gathering quality leads for your marketing campaigns and allows you to:

  • Drive referral traffic to your email marketing landing or opt-in page
  • Run a drip marketing campaign
  • Generate email leads through social media ads
  • Promote premium content through your social media posts
  • Hold contests or giveaways
  • Invite your followers to your webinars

For instance, you can promote an ebook or a new study you recently published through posts on your social media pages. With each post, add a call-to-action (CTA) like “Read our new study and find out how it affects your content strategy” to entice people to sign up.

You can also add a Sign-Up button on your Facebook brand page. Or create YouTube tutorials with CTA cards. It’s also a good idea to use social media ads with an email list signup CTA.

Alternatively, create lead magnets like Amy Porterfield, and use a compelling CTA to get people to sign up to your email list.

Three email optin options from Amy Porterfield's website. Options are "All in one place list building library, a free course creation starter kit, and how to create a tiger time ritual to protect your valuable time"

Source: Amy Porterfield

Combining email marketing with social media actions is a powerhouse for lead generation, nurturing, conversion, and growing your email lists.

What Tools Do I Need to Create an Email List

For any business, building and maintaining an active and engaged customer email list is a worthwhile investment.

The only question is, how exactly do you build one? Here’s a short list of list building tools we recommend:

  • Campaign Monitor: Manages your email campaign and customer journey.
  • SumoMe: Offers simple subscription opportunities like header bars, pop-ups, and slide-ins. The tool integrates with Campaign Monitor to send emails you capture directly to your chosen mailing list.
  • OptinMonster: Adds a variety of subscription opportunities to your website or specific visitors like those coming from social media platforms.
  • CRM tool: Integrating your customer relationship management (CRM) tool with your email marketing tool ensures you automatically pull new prospects, leads, and customers into your email lists.
  • Accounting package: You can integrate your accounting package with your email marketing software to gather customer data like names and email addresses into your mailing list.
  • Ecommerce platform: If you use an ecommerce platform, like Shopify or Magento, you can integrate them with your email marketing software to pull customer information to your email list.

You can also check out our full guide on email marketing platforms to see all of your options.

You can also add new subscribers to your email list using third-party integration tools like Zapier. This way, you can automatically add new subscribers from more than 500 other third-party apps, including WooCommerce, QuickBooks, and Google Sheets.

How to Create an Email List from Scratch

When you make a new acquaintance, you want to find shared interests and make a good impression.

The same goes for email marketing. When someone comes across your brand, find a common connection and give them something to kick off the relationship.

An effective email list:

  • Knows your audience’s pain points and needs
  • Creates compelling offers
  • Makes it easy for them to opt-in right away
  • Always shares regular, relevant content

Building an email list from scratch is hard work, but it’s possible to do it even when you’re already busy trying to grow your business.

We break down the key steps you need to start building a strong email list that’ll grow your customer base and deliver an amazing ROI.

Step 1: Get a Content Strategy

Define and establish a clear content strategy that provides strong, compelling content to subscribers.

A content strategy is a plan of action that’s unique to your business because it’s based on your business goals and aligns with your brand identity and company.

With a well-thought-out, carefully executed content strategy, you can:

  • Gain a clear idea of what your content should do.
  • Generate leads and grow organic traffic.
  • Build trust and a good relationship with your target audience.
  • Boost your credibility and establish your expertise.
  • Drive growth.
  • Maintain a consistent brand voice across channels.
  • Educate your customers about your unique value proposition.
  • Devise content that strategically suits your larger business goals.

There’s a lot that goes into content strategy development for email marketing, but a typical strategy consists of:

  • Setting smart goals
  • Defining your audience
  • Content analysis
  • Competitor analysis
  • Choose your tools:
  • Decide on ROI metrics

Once you do the above steps, publish your content to your email list and distribute it across other channels that offer the best results for your content.

Step 2: Create and Add a Signup Form

You don’t need a website to create an email list, but if you do have one, you can use each page as an opportunity to build the list. Add more opt-in forms to each page, so it’s easy for people to find the forms and subscribe.

To avoid interrupting the user experience, place the signup forms in places known to convert well, like:

  • Top of the sidebar
  • End of each blog with a CTA
  • Permanently in your footer
  • In the middle of your About page

Step 3: Personalize CTAs for Each Page

Whether you want people to Sign up, Register, Submit, or Download, your CTA should persuade them to click through. However, you can also personalize the CTA to match your audience’s needs, desires, and demographics while demonstrating the value you’re providing.

For example, Freshworks uses the “Start free trial” CTA across its product pages to entice visitors to try out their offerings.

Freshworks' call to action on their home page. It says "Delight your customers with effortless omnichannel service. Start Free Trial."

You can also use CTAs like Give me 50% off or adopt a more lighthearted tone like “Let’s goooo!” or “Be awesome!” to make them more inclined to click.

Step 4: Use Pop-ups that Minimize Interruption

Pop-ups have a bad rap for being irritating to users as they browse websites. Using pop-ups that minimize interruption and appear at the right time can generate higher conversions for your business.

One example is MailerLite’s pop-up feature, which lets you choose when the pop-up should arrive. You can set it to appear after your visitors have interacted with the content or right when they’re about to leave your site before triggering the pop-up.

CoSchedule uses exit-intent pop-ups to reach out to their website visitors just before they leave.

A popup on CoSchedule's website that says "Ditch the spreadsheets for good. Start a free trial"

Monitor your analytics to ensure pop-ups aren’t affecting your page views, time-on-site, or bounce rates negatively.

Step 5: Optimize Landing Pages to Capture Email Addresses

All your outbound marketing, advertising, and social media initiatives should link back to your custom landing page. Make sure to offer something of value and just enough information to make it a no-brainer for visitors to leave their email addresses.

Specifically, your landing page should have:

  • A strong headline that describes the benefit of your offer
  • Support points that back up your claims
  • Appealing, relevant visuals to boost conversions
  • Simple and quick form
  • Contrasting color for your CTA or Subscribe button

Test your landing page so you can find the perfect formula for your audience.

Step 6: Embed Signup Forms on Your Social Media Pages or Posts

If your brand’s social media followers aren’t part of your subscriber list, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to engage with a genuinely interested audience.

You can embed signup forms on your social media pages and capture emails straight from your LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter profiles.

How to Collect Email Addresses

Email addresses are the lifeblood of your mailing list, which is why you need to know how you’ll collect the right ones that will be leads – not just contacts.

You need to make sure that you have a way to reach people, collect their emails, and ensure they’re the right people. You can’t rely on worn-out tactics like buying mailing lists or social media giveaways and contests.

Use these tried and tested ways to capture and collect email addresses so you can build a list that’ll grow your business.

  • Offer a captivating lead magnet: This can be a downloadable guide, exclusive access to a podcast, or a free ebook.
  • Create scarcity/exclusivity: Backlinko uses exclusivity with their signup form, which makes it so appealing you can’t help but enter your email address to get Brian Dean’s exclusive SEO tips.
Call to action on Backlinko's website. It says "Get exclusive SEO tips that I only share with email subscribers"
  • Use Sign Up buttons on your social media business pages
  • Create incredible email content
  • Use Facebook Ads to collect email addresses
  • Ask people to share your emails
  • Host live events like webinars and bring your opt-in forms
  • Collaborate with other people in your industry
  • Add a link to your opt-in form in your email signature

Start Building a Healthy Email List

People who are interested in your brand or business will permit you to start a relationship with them.

When you build a quality email list organically, it’s not only full of engaged subscribers who want to hear from you, but they’re a treasure trove of potential revenue waiting for you to tap into.

It all starts with the right tactics, and you’re ready to start growing your list.

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