Written by James Scherer
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How to Create an Email List: Leading Marketers Give Their Top Strategies

Every business wants two main things: traffic and sales.

But how do you turn traffic into a sale?

That's where creating an email list comes into your online marketing mix.

You need to create a list of people who are interested in your tools.

Now, you could buy one. But most lead-selling businesses charge way too much for that to be scalable for early-stage businesses.

Or you could earn one.

And that's my recommendation.

Earned email lists tend to convert better, and you don't run the risk of losing trust by cold-calling/emailing people who have never heard of you.

This article will break down my own recommended strategy for creating an email list as well as the strategy of several of the leading marketers on the web.


Let's get down to business. Here's my four-step actionable process to create an email list:

  • Step 1: Create an incentive for people to give you their email address. This is usually a promotion (discount, coupon, giveaway, etc) or content (like a webinar, ebook, blog upgrade or industry report).
  • Step 2: Create an email-gate. This is usually a landing page or popup which requires people to enter their email address in order to access your incentive.
  • Step 3: Drive traffic to your email-gate through advertising, SEO or social media
  • Step 4: Direct existing website traffic to your email-gate through traffic-driving tools (popups, call-to-action buttons, opt-in bars or a welcome mat).

To learn more about creating a campaign which enables you to create an email list from Facebook, check out How to Build a Complete Facebook Marketing Campaign. To learn more about creating a content incentive, check out our series on it: Part 1: Designing your Ebook, Part 2: Designing your Ebook Landing Page and Part 3: Promoting your Email List Building Content.

But every business and thought-leader has a different strategy. I'm confident that mine can drive serious results, but that doesn't mean it's the only way!

So let's turn to a few other digital marketing experts.

I reached out to several of the leading email list-building marketers out there and asked them for their most recent and innovative strategies for creating an email list. Here are their responses with takeaways for you to take action on right away…


Jordan Simas, from Shopify.com


Give away the kind of knowledge your readers would never expect to receive for free. Your secrets, your playbook, your personal blueprint — something you’ve developed over years of dedication and hard work (which your readers are eager to skip). Not only will your offer be impossible to resist, it’ll also position you as a credible expert in your field.

Alternatively, instead of offering yet another piece of downloadable content, try offering something more personal and engaging like a webinar. If you’re not great on camera, you can use a tool like WebinarJam to pre-record and schedule your lesson as though it were airing live.

Actionable Takeaway

Both of these strategies focus on delivering something different from everyone else - your secrets; your personality through a webinar.

And I think that's the actionable takeaway here: Create something different. Create something your prospective customers aren't getting or seeing from your competitors. Give value only you can give. And if you don't think there's something you can offer which no one else can? Find something. Create something. Dig deeper.


Shayla Price, a freelance author published on Kissmetrics, Shopify and more


More businesses are experimenting with text messaging to grow their email lists. Text-to-join services give teams the flexibility to collect email addresses during offline events, podcasts, and webinars.

How does it work? Your audience sends a specific keyword to the service provider's shortcode. The automated system responds and asks for the customer's email address. After the email address is entered, it is instantly added to your list.

It's not always convenient to give people a web address. This tactic makes it easier for your audience to join your email list with their mobile phones.

Actionable Takeaway

I love whenever the offline and online worlds come together, and this is a fantastic way to do that. Just type "Text-to-Join tool" into Google and you'll get several great companies providing this service.

This strategy is particularly effective if your business has invested heavily in real-world marketing (like conferences, meetups, job fairs, etc).

Another cool idea is to drive people from a Facebook Live video to your email list, as most of them will be on their phones while watching your video and will be better-able to text to join your list.


Jordie van Rijn, email marketing consultant at emailmonday


Start with scoring your list growth ideas touchpoint per touchpoint. You can score them on a mix of:

  • Traffic / reach and possible conversion rate,
  • Expected Opt-in data quality,
  • Costs: time, effort and expense,
  • Rivalry: Missed other incomes / opportunities,
  • Ease of implementation,
  • Time to launch

Some quick wins are places where you are already asking / registering / identifying your potential subscribers, but aren’t asking them for opt-in yet.

Add opt-in checkboxes to every form your know: registration forms, log in environment, during effective webinar promotion, your ecommerce cart checkout, your loyalty program, and (of course) contact forms. It is an “easy up” if your email software and other systems will allow for it. Next, see where you can add some extra segmentation questions after you have secured the opt-in. It becomes a two-step process, but that is no problem, because you have already secured the opt-in.

You want to aim for hyper-personalised email, but that requires data. A subscriber that you know more about is worth a lot more.

Actionable Takeaway

I love Jordie's quick win here: identify those places where you could be asking for opt-in but currently aren't. List-building (and digital marketing in general) aren't just about identifying new strategies or innovating. Often, it's about maximizing the results you get from the strategies you already have in place.

Is there a part of your blog which could be used to build your list, but is currently bare?

Is there a newsletter opt-in checkbox in your free trial form?

Sometimes it's about doing more with what you have.


Anuj Adhiya, from Growthhackers.com


I only call this innovative because we don't see many people doing it - we use an Auto DM that includes a link to our top posts email list.

It's not the biggest source of signups but it's significant enough to keep doing it.

Given the "common wisdom" that Auto DMs are evil and the worst thing you can do on social media, this is a tactic that's ignored by most.

Caveat: Our hypothesis is that many that follow us tend to have discovered value through the Twitter feed/community for a while before choosing to follow. That's why the ask to also subscribe to the email list doesn't come across as premature. I suspect that the hate people feel for AutoDMs is simply because the ask comes too early.

There are other times when people respond with some pretty snarky comments about having been Auto DM'd (sometimes they're just testing to see if they're communicating with a bot). We always respond to those so it's not like it's "Auto DM and done." The human response that follows tends to be pretty well appreciated. It also often leads to conversions that might otherwise not have happened without this tactic to spur that initial response, however negative it might have been initially.

Actionable Takeaway

I agree that auto DMs have a bit of a reputation, but it's tough to argue against results.

Also, so long as you're not being aggressive (and a subscription prompt isn't too aggressive in my book) I can see how people might respond, even a marketing audience who knows they're being auto-DM'd.

What I liked most about Anuj's list-building recommendation was the follow-up element: The note that if you have someone yell at you for an automatic marketing strategy, address it and start a conversation.


Bryan Harris, from VideoFruit


One thing we've had success with is building lead gen apps.

Example: listgoal.com, esppicker.com and smartbribe.com (we recently turned smartbribe premium).

We've found these to do extremely well and out perform our best blog posts we've ever written.

Esppicker.com generated 4k new leads and $10k in sales 30 days after publishing. Our next best blog post produced 1,800 subscribers in first 30 days.

We plan on doing more of this.

Actionable Takeaway

This strategy, of buying domains and utilizing them solely for the purpose of creating an email list, is one which might seem beyond your small business.

It's not. Domains are cheap, compared to the value of the leads you can generate, and "lead gen apps" are extremely simple to create. Many are simply courses or tutorials, in the guise of an app.

If you have any questions about how this strategy would work, let me know in the comment section!


Wrapping it Up


Hopefully this article has given you a better idea of how to create an email list.

But, do you have a strategy to turn that email list into customers?

Click here to read our guide to lead segmentation and also our guide to nurturing a lead into a sale.

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.