Email is sometimes seen as a lonely outcast in the online marketing world, sometimes even a joke. It just keeps plodding on behind the scenes whiles its flashier cousins get all the attention. Yet savvy marketers know that email is just as powerful now as it has always been, and deploy it as an integral part of their online strategy.

Email is the perfect way to promote your products and services, distribute interesting content, and stay in touch with prospects and customers. Carefully targeted, automated “drip” campaigns that provide information without becoming spam can take your business from an interesting idea to a possible partner in the recipient’s mind.

Here are some eye-popping email statistics to give you a better perspective:

  • The number of email users continues to grow: Statista reports that there were over 4 billion email users worldwide in 2020. This number is expected to grow to almost 4.6 billion by 2025.
  • Emails get opened: In 2020 email benchmarks for all industries included an average open rate of 18.0%, an average click-through rate of 2.6%, and an average click-to-open rate of 14.1%.
  • They influence purchase decisions: According to consumer research, 59% of respondents say marketing emails influence their purchase decisions.
  • Emails get results: Even in 2019, the ROI on email marketing campaigns was over $40! How does that compare to direct mail or your other online efforts?
Email List Building Tactics

Why do people unsubscribe?

Why am I starting this blog with “how to keep your list” instead of “how to build your list”? Because keeping your list is probably the most effective way to “build your list”.

It’s similar to the age old money principle; “It’s much easier to make money, that it is to keep it.”

So how do we keep our email list subscribers from opting out?

To answer that question, let’s examine sending frequency.

Research firm Marketing Sherpa surveyed the opinions of 2,000 Americans about what frequency they think is optimal for newsletters. The diagram above shows how the survey participants answered the question:

“How often would you like to receive newsletters (coupons, promotions) from the companies you’re subscribed with?”

Too frequent mailings are a sure way to lose subscribers. Your subscribers may unsubscribe simply because the emails they receive overload their inboxes. Just look at the huge selection of email customization tools that demonstrate the need for users to manage and reduce the number of emails they receive.

What is a normal unsubscribe rate?

There is no official percentage benchmark for the unsubscribing norm. It depends on each mailing campaign and the industry. That said, below is a table of industry averages which you might find interesting:

Email List Open Rates and Industry Averages

According to the Campaign Monitor research, the average unsubscribe rate in 2019 was about 0.17%. From 1000 letters sent – 1-2 people unsubscribe.

As long as the number of unsubscribes does not exceed 0.5%, everything is pretty normal. If your base is 200 subscribers, then with each submission at least one of them will unsubscribe. It’s sad, but true.

Segment your email list to lower unsubscribes.

The best way to lower the number of unsubscribes from your mailings is to segment your database. There are many different ways to do this:

  • which links are clicked when they receive your email;
  • which online resources are used (e-books, webinars, etc.);
  • whether they participate in online events or not (webinars, for example);
  • how often your emails are opened (frequency of interaction);
  • where subscribers live;
  • income level, psychographic data, etc.

The statistics prove the reliability of email marketing, but their effectiveness relies on the quality of your email list. Careful attention needs to be paid to adding addresses to your list, updating them as needed, sending quality content and promptly responding to unsubscribe requests.

Let’s talk about building your email list.

Probably the best way to build your email list is with a “give to get” opt in strategy.

Offer potential customers a white paper, or an infographic, in exchange for subscribing to your newsletter list. Their email goes into your database automatically, and generates a series of welcome, thank you, or content updates.

Most people jealously guard their email address because they don’t want to get on some type of “spam” list. But they do want to get worthwhile information and offers from companies that match their interests. So what can you offer that makes your company look good, and still adds value to your prospective customer?

Email List Building Tactics

Below are several creative ways you might consider building your list:

  1. Add an email opt-in form to your website: This one is simple – just ask your website visitors to subscribe to your monthly online newsletters. Once they sign-up, be sure to only send relevant, interesting content that meets their needs, though, or they might unsubscribe quickly. Make sure this offer is repeated on every page your visitors might access from their online search results.
  2. Use pop-ups: These are quick hits that grab a user’s attention as they begin to surf your site. Have a headline that promises something, offer a discount, or have a limited time offer. Make it very simple to fill in the email and leave it at that.
  3. Ask on social media: There are many creative ways to get emails from people on social media. “Give to get” email opt-in strategies are a common way to build an email list using social media. You can offer a PDF or white paper in exchange for an email address. You can use Facebook, or do a call-to-action Tweet or post on Instagram.
  4. Check-out process: If you offer ecommerce services, you can always ask for an email address during the checkout process. Most people don’t think twice about providing an email to a company they trusted enough to make a purchase.
  5. Insider Tips: Put together a one page sheet of special tips that apply to your product or service, and offer it in exchange for an email address.
  6. White Paper: A white paper is a deep dive into a topic of particular interest. If you own a computer store for example, a good white paper might look at various computer setups to achieve maximum office efficiency. The white paper seeks to take a complex matter and break it down with expert advice and research. It provides useful information that can help solve a particular problem, and maybe even motivate the reader to work further with your company.
  7. E-book: This is a more in-depth study of a particular topic. It might come in handy for analyzing many sides of a particular issue or product offering.
  8. Special Access: Offer to let prospects on your email list have sneak previews of new products or upcoming sales and promotions. Have a limited sale period that is available only to this list before you open it to everyone.
  9. Helpful Audio or Video: Is there one topic that you are always explaining to customers? You can reproduce your answer in the form of an audio or video file, and offer that as the email address incentive.
  10. Surveys: Ask someone to provide answers to a few questions about your product or service. Offer to provide results if they give you their email address.
Email List Building Tactics

Case Studies on Building Email Lists

  • Buffer, the marketing software firm, shared its strategies to double email signups in 30 days. They added eight more ways to their existing tactic, to make it ridiculously easy to sign-up for the list. Options now include slideup form, blog homepage email capture, HelloBar, sidebar ad, postscript CTA, Twitter lead generation cards, Facebook newsletter signup, SlideShare, and Qzzr.
  • University of Alberta realized a 500% increase in subscribers simply by adding a chat window signup with Qualaroo. Even though their website page offered a newsletter preview, few visitors took the opportunity to actually sign-up. A pop-up chat window, however, noted their interest and provided a quick way to enter an email address.
  • Sol de Janeiro, a body care company, generated 25,000 new subscribers in under five months using a layered lead capture approach that began with an offer that triggered when a prospect appeared to be ending a website session.

Automate Your Email Automation

Create specific emails to respond to certain situations, and set up your system to send them out automatically. You might have emails already created to:

  • Accompany the white paper or other information you are sending.
  • Follow-up on information that was sent
  • Welcome a new customer
  • Connect with someone you haven’t heard from lately
  • Send out to those with an abandoned cart
  • Celebrate milestone occasions

Use productivity tools like Constant Contact, Mailchimp or Cloud HQ to automatically schedule emails, update your database, respond to unsubscribe requests, and handle your automatic reply needs.

Start Building Your Email List Today

When you are building your email list, think about the emotions you want readers to feel. Try to put yourself in their position to see what would make you give someone your email address, and build from there.

Do you have a coveted email opt in strategy that’s worked for you in the past? Well don’t keep it a secret, that’s no fun! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

23 Responses

  • Yes! I’ve always said that email marketing is probably the most efficient way to build customers and people have always thought I was crazy. Well I guess I was not so crazy huh? Although I do feel like newsletters and Insider Tips aren’t always necessary. To each his own. Other than newsletters, tips, and that other work that I just can’t seem to put myself in the mood to do, I think that building your email list is the NUMBER 1 smartest thing to do when you have a company/business and you’re ready to start building those customers up. The power of email is insane just like you pointed out, it’s today’s equivalent of “word of mouth”. I’m going to try the abandoned cart method you mentioned too, I’ve always heard this could save sales!

    • Glad I could help Afton. Yes, email marketing delivers the highest ROI of any digital marketing tactic (approximately $44 for every $1 spent on average) SEO is #2, and Banner Ads have the lowest ROI. 70% of customers prefer getting to know a company via articles rather than advertisements. (-Vendasta)

  • This is an excellent read, I own my own social media marketing business. I have been on the fence about email marketing and if I should or shouldn’t aquire a company to help. Honestly you just made it alot easier to go ahead and sign for a program. I’ll have to go about it the right way but you definitely gave me a push in the right direction. The pop up on my webpage and the pop up before they are about to leave the site are amazing ideas that I will definitely be using.

  • Thank you for this post. While I agree that email marketing can be beneficial there is a difference between beneficial and annoying. When I sign up for email marketing typically I end up with so many promotional emails that I unsubscribe. I can not stand pop-ups, once that starts I just leave the site. There has to be a way to offer emails where there are not too many while still being interesting. I do like eye-catching emails that will get my attention and keep it. Personally, I want information on sales, how to save money and why one product is better than another. I rarely give out my email address because too many emails annoy me. When I used email tools I used Mailchimp. I liked their process and I also liked I could schedule emails.

  • I think something relevant to keep in mind here is to try to keep the amount of emails you send out to a minimum. If there’s anything that people hate, it’s spam. My peers and the people around me always hesitate to sign up for anything via email because oftentimes, the corporations or people tend to send message after message with very little helpful content. However, there’s a balance between sending a few emails a week and one every couple of months; it’s really important to remind the people on your list that you still exist and that your products do too. At the end of the day, like most things, it’s all about balance.

  • I’m glad that you addressed this topic, as email marketing has been around for a lot of years now, but I think the importance of it can be forgotten as social media and other trendy digital channels get moved to the top of marketing plans.
    But what many marketing directors forget is that email is still a very impactful medium, and the true key to whether your email campaigns are successful or not is how good your email list is. I particularly liked you tip of using the pop-up when users visit your site, especially when offering a limited-time promotion or discount.

  • I actually think email isn’t that overlooked and is often known as a powerful tool. I think perhaps it’s relied on too heavily and people get irritated with how many emails they receive because so many people find informing through their email list so important. A great way to combat this is as you suggested, let people opt-in to your email list so that when they do get emails they feel like you badgered them to join in the first place. And a rule that I wish was included would be not to spam people. I do think giving people real content with each email and a reward (like you suggest, an ebook) for signing up to your email list really works. Though it’s important to note that if what is promised does not live up to expectations that could lead to some disappointed people and more unsubscribers.

  • Hi Taylor,

    Email advertising is quick and free for most small companies, as their email list is still small. The low open rate of emails sounds about right. It is so easy to subscribe to mailing lists now that promotional emails are rarely being seen, let along opened and clicked on! There are only two reasons I open a promotional email: there is a coupon or a discount of some sort for the customer or I already have something in mind I need from that business and I want to see if there is a discount or a coupon being offered.

    Regardless of the open and click rate of email advertising, it is still an easy and efficient way to reach a lot of customers, since many people now have smart phones where email is at their fingertips.

  • Listen Taylor, This is truly a dreaded subject for me. I truly overthink this aspect of building my business. My first thought is with the popularity of social media and things like Instagram where you can scroll and get info in a simple picture why would email be important? You mention email is as powerful as ever but This idea is iffy which is why I was so surprised about the Statista study results you posted. I’ve been looking at starting emails to turn website traffic into clients. I see I’m getting clicks but no consultations. I think a pop up asking for an email with the promise of a free consult for services would further entice people to deliver their email quick. From there using a newsletter strategy since many of my services are based in the health field and the real differences they make would be beneficial to keeping people interested and possibly gaining some clientele. I’ve been eyeing Mailchimp and one of the other commenters did a campaign via this service. I’ll be downloading today and getting started! Why do you think people like me underestimate email so often?

  • I have been one of those that guard my email as I do not want to spend hours unsubscribing from places that my email are sold to. I have an email set up just for those times when I need to provide one but don’t really want all the junk, that comes with it. 1-2 clicks deletes it all So I have to really trust a site before I leave my real personal email address. I do, however, leave my true email for sites that I have purchased from and think I might get some value from an upcoming sale. If you can’t come up with an email list that is getting you results, try having someone come up with a good list for you. There are several freelance sites that you can get these from and they will not cost you a fortune.

  • As a millennial I have to disagree with you on this one, Taylor. I have found that the majority of the younger generations do not use, trust, or enjoy email marketing campaigns. It seems that the best marketing strategies for the younger audience are through social media ads. Quick and easily digestible blurbs that I scroll past are much more likely to catch my attention than an email from a company that I don’t have time to read. I guess the success of this type of marketing depends on what your target audience’s age is. If you are trying to reach an older age range then perhaps email marketing is a great tactic. However, if you want to entice the younger generations to check out your product/service then I would steer clear of email.

  • Email marketing is definitely an effective tool to reach customers, but sometimes the line between effective and annoying is easily crossed. I think as long as businesses understand their demographics and who they are marketing to then this can be a sound strategy to keep customers updated with a company’s goings-on. Personally, I don’t like receiving multiple emails from companies and will unsubscribe if there’s not some sort of benefit to being on their email list such as coupons. Email marketing may be a behind-the-scenes way to advertise, but it is a cheaper option than paying for advertisements to reach customers.

  • I’m mesmerized by how Buffer, University of Alberta, and Sol De Janeiro were able to higher their email list just by some simple strategies. Who would have thought that simple techniques and strategies would bring unexpected high results. This is truly something to look into for aspiring freelancers like me who want to venture into email marketing and automation. I’ve always wanted to learn about email automation and building an email list. Thank you for this article, for the tips and techniques to effectively generate clients. This would absolutely help me to upgrade my skills and start building my professional career.

  • Wow this is a really fascinating entry! It’s interesting to see what email marketing techniques are successful, especially when a lot of them are things I tend to find annoying. For example I hate when your on a website and a pop-up appears while your trying to read something. No offer is ever that good that I need to be interrupted. I think the emails that work best on me are emails I get from places I’ve purchased things. When I feel like I’m more likely to want the products that might be offered, I’m much more likely to check out the email.

  • I’ve always been a strong advocate for email marketing, even when my business partners argue it has run its course. Sure, you can find lots of info on social media, but it’s never personalized like an email. We strive to make our content really hit home with our targeted audience, so I was happy to see that you also stand behind this concept.

    If you want to really reach people on a personal level, you’re going to need some great tools for writing compelling content in your email campaigns, and then you’ll see some excellent conversion rates!

  • Building an email list has been one of the best way to converting leads. If you really want to scale up your sales, you have to be more intentional and serious about how viable your list is.

  • As a consumer, I hate getting emails that are irrelevant, random, and too frequent. For some of my favorite brands, I enjoy getting emails about receiving discounts on certain purchases and I enjoy when I am notified of new products being featured or even when products that I buy regularly are restocked. I recently became a small business owner and took those same principles over to my business. I like to keep my customers engaged, but I don’t like to overwhelm them with too many emails. I also found that it was hard for me to keep up with everyone at first since I am the sole owner of my company. Using email automation is honestly a HUGE help and I appreciate your tips on how to gain more people and how to keep them engaged!

  • This is great advice. I just started my first email campaign today through Mailchimp for my blog. I think you really touched on a great point regarding thinking about the emotions of the reader and the feel of the email being sent. I have been searching the web for more tips on getting more email followers and found tips such as these helpful. I have created several drafts of different emails to be automated as was mentioned above. I believe it really is a necessary part of maintaining a good marketing business.

  • Hello Taylor,

    Email marketing is vital to most businesses, in my opinion, it’s the best way to get your business more visible. It’s important to take emails seriously. There was some good advice in this post, creating email lists can be a great way to generate new business or leads. I have used OptinMonster in the past and it helped a company I was working with get new leads and sales. If used right, emails can turn a dull business into a profitable one. And also, as you mentioned, email is the digital version of “word to mouth.”

  • I see you have your own spot to put an email address on here! Out of the many websites I have started, I never bothered to select the option that was always available of creating a pop-up to leave the customer the option of giving me their email. I have thought about making a newsletter of sorts to the followers that I have on Medium. I am just hopeful the effort that I put into it would be equivalent to the subscribers that join. I would say marketing is not my strong suit so the advice you give I always take whole heartedly. Appreciate the information.

  • I’m thrilled you decided to write this article! Now I can easily construct my email marketing list and begin sending newsletters with ease. My blog, however, is still new. Will I be able to gather emails using standard pop-ups?

    • Maria, pop ups are effective if you are giving away an interesting whitepaper or something which is perceived as high value in exchange for joining your newsletter list. If you own a restaurant or a public place of business, one of the easiest ways is to put out a fish bowl by the register, and tell people to drop their business card in for a chance to win a prize in a monthly drawing.

  • Creating an email list is an essential part of my business I like to offer a gift by allowing them to join my email list. People love a free gift. You have some very good ideas that would definitely get customers to join your email list. Getting your customers to take a survey is a good idea because it can help you to understand what your customers want and what they like.

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