Written by James Scherer
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How to Build an Email List from Scratch (A 5 Step Walkthrough)

Is your young business in need of some customers?

Every business is. An email list gives you access to possible customers - qualified business leads prospectively interested in buying what you sell.

This article will give you a step-by-step walkthrough for how to build your email list from nothing.

Good to go? Let's get rolling.

By the Way: I've said we'll take you from nothing to having an email list, but "nothing," (in digital marketing) is a relative term. I'm going to assume you have a website, and I'm going to assume you have the ability to outsource or create content yourself. If not, start with that and come back here. You'll need both.


Step 1: Create an Incentive


In order to build an email list from scratch, you need to have a reason for people to give you their email address.

Note: If you're really just starting out with your business, I recommend you look into creating a pre-launch page. For more on doing that, check out 25 Best Coming Soon Landing Page Examples You’ll Want to Copy, or learn more about Wishpond's pre-launch landing page templates.

My recommendation for E-commerce, though, is pretty straight-forward: a giveaway, offering a prize which only your target market will want. Try a gift card, product, or closely-related item.

However, if you're in SaaS, B2B, or consulting, you have a few options…

  • An educational course
  • An ebook, whitepaper or case study
  • A educational webinar
  • A resource/list (like "101 Free Image Websites")
  • A content upgrade

Focus on creating something or giving something away which is valuable exclusively to your target market. There's no point in building an email list of people who have no possibility of buying from you.

Create content which teaches that your product or tool is a crucial component of reaching the objective.

Create a giveaway which gives a prize which is both desirable, but specific to your business (that's why I recommend you give away a product).


For more on this subject…

Check out our article "9 Lead Magnet Ideas People Actually Want." Alternatively, check out "101 Contest Prize Ideas."


Step 2: Create an Email-Gated Campaign Landing Page


So you have this prize or piece of content. They're desirable. They're awesome.

Let's make them exclusive.

For E-commerce businesses, running a giveaway, your "exclusive" giveaway is the chance to win your prize.

For non-E-commerce businesses, your giveaway is access to your valuable content.

To make these incentives exclusive, you need to create what's called an "email gate." Essentially, this is a form which requires users to provide contact details in exchange for access.


facebook marketing campaign

Here are a few examples from leading businesses:

For more on this subject…

Check out our article "The Data-Driven Guide to Landing Page Design [Infographic]."


Step 3: Create a Popup, Opt-in Bar and Call-to-Action


Okay. We've created our list-building incentive and housed it behind our email gate on a campaign page. Now we need to drive some traffic to it.

The next two steps are all about getting people to view your email-gate and be convinced of the value of what you're offering.

This step is devoted to driving traffic from within your website to your email-gate.

There's three primary components you can add to your site to direct traffic:

  1. An opt-in bar: Showing at the top of any or all of your website pages, notifying people of your new incentive (giveaway or content).
  2. A popup: Overlaying any or all of your website pages based on a triggered action (like people leaving, scrolling, time-on-page, or when they clicked something).
  3. A Call-to-Action: Placed within a page of your website, a call-to-action is an image and button which can be tracked in the same way as a landing page, opt-in bar or popup.

An opt-in bar example:



how to build an email list from scratch

A popup example:



how to build an email list from scratch

A CTA example:



how to build an email list from scratch

Want to create landing pages, popups, opt-in bars and CTAs on your website? Wishpond's marketing campaign tool makes it easy.

Step 4: Drive Traffic to your Campaign Page


Drive traffic to your email list-building page with ads:

When driving people to an email-gated campaign page, Facebook is your only option. Google Adwords simply isn't viable as there's not enough search volume for the email-gated incentive you've created.

Facebook, however, is far more affordable, so the ROI is workable.

Here's a few examples of email-building incentives advertised on Facebook:



how to build an email list from scratch

Drive traffic to your email list-building page with SEO:

Search Engine Optimization is such a massive topic that there's no point in me diving into it here.

What I will do is, briefly, go over how it works for email list building and why it's so powerful.

Essentially, SEO involves the strategies which increase the chance of your website and its pages appearing for any given search on a search engine (usually we're talking Google, of course).

Let's look at what search engine optimization looks like in action. Because Wishpond has been writing on contest marketing for several years, our domain (wishpond.com) has a lot of "heft" around the terms. When someone types in "how to run a contest," our article appears right below the paid ads:



how to build an email list from scratch

If we put one of our CTAs (see above) in this article it will get a lot of views and drive a lot of new emails over the course of a year.


Step 5: Retarget Campaign Page Visitors


A bonus step which I recommend is to retarget those people who view your email list-building campaign page, but don't submit their details.

These are people who you know are interested, but (for whatever reason) simply didn't convert.

Retargeting works for a number of reasons...

  • It keeps your business "top-of-mind," even if the person doesn't actually return to convert on your email list-building campaign.
  • It's cheaper per click than a typical ad campaign.
  • It allows you to be hyper-focused with your ad. Rather than just generally targeting your target market, retargeting allows you to create campaigns specifically related to the content people already viewed.

For us, the highest return of retargeting advertising comes from YouTube Ads. Here's an example which retargets people who visit our contest product page (we're not currently running retargeting ads for building our list, as we're focusing on other marketing objectives):


For more on retargeting, check out...

Our article "What is Ad Retargeting (Remarketing) and How Does it Benefit My Business?."


Final Thoughts


Hopefully this article has made it a bit clearer about how you can build an email list from scratch.

Ultimately, it's about three simple steps...

  • Create a reason for prospective customers to provide you with an email address
  • Email-gate access to that reason
  • Drive traffic to the email-gate

It's as simple as that.

Have any questions? Don't hesitate to reach out in the comment section below!

Written by James Scherer

James Scherer is the content editor at Wishpond. When he's not writing or designing for Wishpond he's risking his life biking around the city. Reach out to him on Twitter @JDScherer.