How To Build An Email List In 2019

How to Build an Email List

In this post you’re going to learn how to build an email list from scratch.

(In 2019)

I used this exact 7-step process to grow my list to 145,574 total email subscribers.

Subscriber count

So if you’re looking for a step-by-step system you can use to get more subscribers, you’ll love this actionable guide.

Step #1: Sketch Out Your List Building Strategy

First things first:

Before we dive into the tactics and strategies, it’s time to outline what you’re going to do with the folks that sign up to your email list.

That way, you can get the most out of every subscriber.

Email funnels

In fact:

This is a lesson I had to learn the hard way when I first started building my list.

I knew that “the money’s in the list”.

But I had no idea what to do when someone actually signed up. So I just sent people random emails and hoped for the best. And this led to thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

Don’t make the same mistake I did.

With that, here are a few things you want to have in place BEFORE you scale up your list building efforts.

A Strong Welcome Email

This is a big one.

Like my mom always told me: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”.

And this is 1000% true when it comes to email subscribers.

Here’s how you want your welcome email to look:

Welcome email template

For example, here’s the welcome email for people that sign up for my newsletter:

Backlinko welcome email – Subscriber, Email

As you can see, I confirm that they made the right choice:

Backlinko welcome email – Subscriber right choice

Then, I brag a little bit about where I’ve been featured:

Backlinko welcome email – Subscriber, Brag about features

Third, I link to some of my best content:

Backlinko welcome email – Subscriber, Best content

Finally, I give them a sneak preview of what’s coming next.

Backlinko welcome email – Subscriber, What's next

Simple yet effective.

Autoresponder or Funnel

Now it’s time to figure out:

What are you going to send people after that welcome message?

Are you going to send folks weekly newsletters? Or put them in a funnel?

In my case, I send bi-weekly emails with SEO tips and strategies. Super duper simple.

Backlinko – Bi-weekly emails

But if you run a SaaS company, you might use a funnel designed to turn free trial users into paying customers.

SaaS company example – "Trial user to paying customer" funnel

The exact setup here depends a lot on your business.

But in general, you should have an idea of what you’re going to send subscribers in the first few weeks after they sign up.

A Reason To Sign Up

I’ll show you lots of tactical things (like lead magnets) that you can do to turn visitors into subscribers in a minute.

But at the end of the day, all of these tactics come down to answering the question:

WHY should someone sign up?

Is it for a 10% discount off their first order?

Is it because you’re going to send them exclusive content?

Or maybe you promise to send them new insights on a regular basis.

For example, MeetGlimpse sends people “Exponential Trends”.

Glimpse trends

In other words: topics that are blowing up right now.

Their offer is so valuable that they actually charge for their newsletter.

Glimpse – Pricing

How about another example.

At Backlinko I emphasize that my newsletters contain exclusive SEO strategies that I don’t share on the blog.

Backlinko Newsletter – Exclusive Tips

That way, I give someone a legit REASON to sign up.

So once you have that all in place, it’s time for our second step.

Step #2: Implement These 5 Tried and True Email List Building Tactics

Now that you have the foundation in place, it’s time to start growing your list using five tried and true techniques.

Yes, you can read other posts out there that outline “187 ways to build your email list”.

But who the heck has the time to implement 187 strategies?

And even if you could, why would you?

Fortunately, there’s no need.

Instead, if you stick to these 5 proven list building strategies, you’ll see your list grow in record time.

1. Add Content Upgrades to High-Traffic Posts

I’ve talked about Content Upgrades before.

Backlinko – Content upgrades

Before using Content Upgrades, my site got around 100 subscribers per day.

After Content Upgrades? I started to get 400-500 subscribers per day.

For example, check out this on-page SEO post from my blog.

Backlinko – On-page SEO post

As you can see, I offer people a checklist of what I cover in that post… along with 2 “bonus strategies”.

Free On-Page SEO checklist

And thanks to that Content Upgrade, this page converts GREAT.

2. Hack Notifications For More Subs

If you’re like me you can’t stop yourself from clicking those little red notification icons.

Notifications hack

As it turns out, you can use notifications to build your list.

For example, check out this page from my site.

Google Keyword Planner post

See how there’s a little notification icon in the top right corner?

Well, when you click on that you get a heads up about one of our lead magnets.

Google Keyword Planner – Alert

This technique isn’t just for blog posts. It can work for ecommerce sites too.

In fact, I recently noticed BeardBrand using the same approach.

Beard Brand

When you click on that notification icon, you get an email sign up form for their newsletter.

Beard Brand – Newsletter form

Very cool.

3. “Locked Content”

Locked Content is content that you tease…

…content that’s exclusive for email subscribers.

For example, ESPN.com publishes content that’s only for ESPN+ subscribers.

ESPN plus

You can read the intro for free. But if you can only read the entire article if you sign up.

ESPN plus – Content

We’re actually testing a version of this here at Backlinko.

We added a few “locked” posts in the blog feed that you can only read after signing up for the newsletter.

Backlinko – Locked content

And it’s been working REALLY well so far.

4. Add Multiple Optin Forms to Your Homepage

Here’s a simple rule about building your email list:

The more chances you give someone to sign up, the better.

And this is especially true for pages on your site that people visit a lot.

(Like your homepage)

As you can see, I include two prominent signup forms on my homepage.

Backlinko – Homepage forms

That way, anyone that lands on my homepage has multiple opportunities to sign up.

5. Lead Magnets

I saved the best for last 🙂

You’ve probably read about lead magnets before.

They’re basically a cool little thing you give away in exchange for an email.

Lead magnet collage

In other words: a lead magnet is a 15-minute “quick win” that someone needs to sign up to access.

These are my all-time favorite lead magnet ideas (with real examples for each one).

  • “Take it to go”: This is basically a PDF version of your content. This works REALLY well for ultimate guides and other pieces of long-form content. Here’s an example:
    Lead magnet – Take it to go
  • Calculators and tools: This doesn’t have to be anything super technical. As long as your tool is USEFUL, you’re good to go. For example, this site is offering a “PPC ROI Calculator” for Google Sheets. Super valuable for anyone that’s running Google Ads campaigns.
    Lead magnet calculator
  • Short ebooks and reports: This should be a 20-30 page PDF that’s packed with practical value. Here’s an example from Backlinko:
    Lead magnet – Short eBook
  • Exclusive case study: People LOVE case studies. And they’re usually willing to fork over their email in exchange for a good one, like this:
    Lead magnet case study
  • Webinars: These can be recorded or live. Either way, if your webinar topic is legit, you can get LOTS of subscribers from webinars. For example, I did this live webinar a few years back that netted me hundreds of new subscribers.
    Lead magnet webinars
  • Discounts: A tried-and-true lead magnet for ecommerce sites.
    Lead magnet – "Discounts"

Step #3: Tap Into Advanced List Building Strategies

Now that you’ve got the basics down, it’s time to start using some more advanced stuff.

Specifically, you want to use these 4 advanced list building strategies and techniques.

Dedicated Signup Page

In other words: a Squeeze Page.

This is a page on your site that exists ONLY to collect emails.

Here’s the structure I recommend:

Squeeze Page template

And this is an example of this type of page in action here at Backlinko.

Backlinko – Squeeze page

And as your site grows, you want to make A LOT of these.

For example, HubSpot has hundreds of pages that are 100% designed to offer you something in exchange for your email.

HubSpot – Collage

A/B Tests on Key Landing Pages

If you’re getting your first 1000 subscribers, it makes sense to throw a bunch of stuff against a wall and see what sticks.

But if you want to grow your list to 100k subs and beyond, you need to start A/B testing.

In fact, you can 2x, 3x or even 10x your conversion rate from a single split test.

The thing is, you probably don’t have time to run a test on every single landing page.

That’s why I recommend focusing on KEY landing pages that bring in the most high-quality traffic.

And once you find a page that gets a lot of traffic, test things like:

  • Call-to-action (CTA) copy
  • Titles and headlines
  • Placement of email sign up forms
  • Your offer (for example, different lead magnets)

For example, this single A/B test at Backlinko netted us a 60% conversion rate boost.

A/B conversion rate

Which has directly led to over 20k MORE subscribers. Amazing!

Non-Annoying Popups

You hate popups.

I hate popups.

Everybody hates popups!

But you know what? They work.

And, as it turns out, you can use them without annoying the crap out of people.

The key is to offer something people actually want.

(Like a Lead Magnet)

Here’s an example of what NOT to do.

Newsletter signup popup

Instead, you want to offer people something super valuable.

For example, our popup offers people a “YouTube SEO Toolkit”.

Exit intent popup

This is a resource that anyone looking to grow their YouTube channel would want to get their hands on.

So not only does this popup convert well. But it’s much less annoying too.

Friendly Reminder: Google doesn’t like it when websites show full-screen popups to mobile users.

Google doesn't like popups

So if you do use a big popup, I recommend tweaking your settings so a) it only shows to desktop users and b) has “exit intent” turned on.

Expanded Guest Post

This is like The Content Upgrade that we talked about in step #2.

But this time, instead of pitching an upgrade for content on your own site, you do it for guest posts on OTHER sites.

For example, I wrote this guest post on Pat Flynn’s blog a few years ago.

Pat Flynn guest post

I could have just said: “Visit my site and sign up for my newsletter”.

(In fact, that’s what I used to do. And hardly anyone signed up).

Instead, I offered people a set of bonus content.

Pat Flynn – Bonus content

Which converted (literally) 8x better than my author bio link.

The only tricky part here is that you have to create a landing page for each guest post that you publish. Which is kind of a pain.

Backlinko – Guest post landing pages

But in my experience, it’s WELL worth it.

Step #4: Funnel People To Top-Converting Pages

At this point you’ve turned your site into a list building machine.

And if you look at the conversion data in your Google Analytics, you’ll probably notice that certain pages convert GREAT.

And others… not so much.

For example, you can see that this article on Backlinko gets a ton of traffic… but hardly anyone converts.

Traffic .vs. Conversions

On the other hand, our Squeeze Page doesn’t get much traffic… but it has a solid conversion rate:

Squeeze page – Traffic .vs. Conversions

And with this strategy you’re taking people FROM low-converting pages TO high-converting pages.

High converting .vs. Low converting pages

You can shuffle people to your high-converting pages with a link in your site’s navigation:

Backlinko – Newsletter menu item

A link or button in your sidebar:

Backlinko sidebar

Or from inside of your blog posts:

Recommended reading book

Step #5: Use Targeted Offers and Giveaways

In other words:

Don’t offer the same exact thing to everyone on your website.

Instead, match your offer and pitch to the content they’re reading.

For example, HubSpot offers a “How to Use Twitter for Business” resource bundle when you’re reading a post about Twitter.

HubSpot – Twitter for business offer

But if you’re on a page about email marketing, they pitch a list of their favorite newsletters.

HubSpot – Email marketing offer

To be clear: you don’t need to get that targeted.

For example, here are Backlinko, we put our content into two main buckets:

  • SEO
  • YouTube marketing

And we pitch stuff that people reading about that topic would be interested in.

Obviously, I could split these up into 100 different subtopics (like YouTube SEO, link building tools etc.).

But I like to keep things simple 🙂

I already showed you the YouTube toolkit:

Exit intent popup

And for people reading our SEO-focused content, we pitch an up-to-date SEO guide.

Free guide to SEO 2019

And both convert REALLY well.

Step #6: Turn Social Media Followers Into Subscribers

This is a simple strategy that works really well.

After all, people that follow you on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter already like you.

In fact, all you need to do is let them know that you HAVE a newsletter… and you’re set.

For example, Anne Handley links to her newsletter from a pinned Tweet:

Ann Handley – Pinned tweet

In my case, I let people know about my email newsletter at the end of every YouTube video.

Backlinko – Video newsletter plug

You can even apply this strategy to personal emails that you send out. Just add a newsletter signup link to your email signature.

Here’s an example:

Brian Dean – Email CTA

Step #7: Reduce Churn (Unsubscribes)

Here’s the truth:

Getting new email subscribers is nice and all.

But if you’re serious about growing your email list to 100k+ subscribers, you need to reduce churn.

Here’s why this is so important:

Let’s say you get 1000 subscribers per month. Which is really good.

And let’s say your unsubscribe rate is 100 subscribers per month (10%).

At the end of the year you’d have 10,800 subscribers.

Well, let’s say you got that unsubscribe rate down to 2%. At the end of a year you’d have 11,760 subscribers.

Reduce churn

That’s the power of reducing churn.

With that, here’s how to make it happen:

Use Double Opt-In

I’m a BIG fan of double-opt in.

(Double opt-in= new subscribers have to confirm that they actually want to subscribe).

Single opt-in .vs. Double opt-in

In my experience, double opt-in results in a MUCH higher-quality email list.

For example, when you sign up for my list you have to confirm your email.

Backlinko – Confirm subscription

This keeps my list clean of robots and low-effort subscribers.

(I personally use Aweber to set this up. But pretty much every single email marketing software product, like MailChimp, has double opt-in).

Send on a Set Schedule

In other words:

Don’t send 2 emails one week. Then not send anything for a month. Then send 3 more emails again.

This kind of random schedule will KILL your unsubscribe rate.

Instead, send people stuff on a semi-regular schedule.

Consistent email schedule

To be clear:

This doesn’t have to be on the same exact day or time.

But make sure to use a consistent frequency.

For example, here at Backlinko we tend to send a newsletter out once every two weeks. And this is one of the main reasons that our open and click-through-rates are so high.

Email opens and clicks

In fact, our open rates are 5x higher than the industry average for a list of our size (approximately 140k subscribers).

This set schedule also keeps our unsubscribe rates relatively low.

Now It’s Your Turn

There you have it: how to grow your email list from scratch.

Now I’d like to hear what you have to say:

What’s the #1 thing you’ve used to grow your list?

Popups? Content Upgrades? Or something I didn’t even mention in this post.

Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below right now.

2 Comments

  1. Hi, very informative post. I am looking for a post on how to monetize a blog. Do you have a post on this?
    Thanks.
    Peter

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