The Definitive Guide to Building an Email List

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Despite being older than the internet itself, email is still one of the most important pieces in a digital marketer’s arsenal.

It allows brands to reach users on a more personal level, drive recurring traffic to their content, and get much higher returns than other marketing channels, including social media, paid search, and direct mail.

According to a report by the Data & Marketing Association, email continues to outperform other outbound marketing channels with a median ROI of 122%, whereas social media and display advertising have 28% and 18% respectively.

(Image Source: eMarketer

So, how exactly can brands take advantage of email to grow their revenue? It all starts with the right lead generation strategies that can help you build a mailing list from the ground up.  And that, my friend, is what we’re about to cover in this post — every single step of the way. 

Let’s dive right in.

1. Identifying Your Top Keywords and Content

If your website has been live for a while, you’d know that not all pieces of content are made equal.

Some are clearly more effective in garnering an audience, while others are only fitting as fillers that gather virtual dust.

As a marketer, you should recognize your most popular content as golden opportunities to generate leads — not because they get a steady stream of traffic, but because they can tell you exactly what your audience wants and expects from your site. This, in turn, will allow you to concoct keyword-targeted offers that can make your existing visitors tick.  

Sounds easy, right?

It’s definitely not something that requires a full-service marketing team.

With a tool like Google Search Console, you can easily identify the top keywords that bring traffic to your website. But before you can use it, you need to add and verify your web property to your account.

The first step is to log on to the Search Console and click the “Add Property” button.

Next, enter your website’s complete address into the URL field and click “Add.”

You then have to verify your ownership of the web property before you can view important details, such as your most popular keywords and pages. Some of the methods include verifying via HTML upload, signing in to your domain name server, or linking your Google Analytics account.

Upon verifying your ownership, expand the “Search Traffic” menu and click “Search Analytics.” This will present you with the top queries or keywords that lead traffic to your site, which should give you an idea of what users are looking for when they arrive.

You can also switch to the “Pages” tab to view your most popular content, which is where you should present your keyword-targeted offers for more conversions.

At this point, you should now be able to obtain the following:

  • The pages or posts that get the most clicks
  • The top keywords being used to find these pages

Both of which will help you determine the best kind of offer you can present future visitors.

For instance, if you’re getting a ton of traffic to your page on “How to Design a Killer Headline” from queries that include “killer headline examples,” you can offer a downloadable “cheat sheet” that includes exactly that. This leads us to the next crucial step in building a mailing list:

2. Developing an Opt-In Bribe

Here’s an undeniable fact: Online users are only interested in the value they can get from a brand.

Sure, a well-designed website can help grab their attention. But before they convert into subscribers, you need to provide them with a concrete value proposition.

As mentioned in the previous step, this should be something aligned with the keywords they use to find your site. Unfortunately, propositions that focus on the value of subscribing to a mailing list is seldom enough to convince visitors to convert, especially if you’re still in the early stages of building your brand’s authority.

For example, Brian Dean of Backlinko is one of the biggest names in the SEO scene. As a result, he can get away with a simple landing page and a value proposition that talks about the benefits of being a subscriber:

Why does it work? Because users already trust his brand.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t pay attention to your landing page if you need to generate leads for your mailing list. However, newer brands need to be a tad more creative in order to earn the trust of their visitors.

Creating an opt-in offer or lead magnet is one of the best ways to accomplish this.

Put simply, a lead magnet is any form of incentive that users receive immediately upon subscribing.

The most common example of a lead magnet would be a free eBook, which a lot of marketers consider as “dead.” Not only are they overused, the vast majority of them are either poorly-written or downright invaluable — containing nothing but information that users can find elsewhere.

Still, there are ways to make eBooks work as lead magnets for your brand. Just remember the following tips when developing them:

  • Include Unique Content
    If you don’t want to disappoint your would-be subscribers, your eBook mustn’t consist solely of recycled ideas. Add tons of actionable steps, actual data, and visual content to increase its perceived value in the eyes of your audience.
  • Don’t Call It an “eBook”
    Instead of referring to your lead magnet as a “free eBook,” consider calling it in a more punchy and specific way. It can be the “Ultimate Guide,” a “Market Report,” an “Advanced Handbook,” or anything that could pique your target audience’s interest.
  • Set Specific Goals
    When naming your eBook, be sure to address a specific problem or set a goal that your target audience can relate to. For instance, rather than using “The Ultimate Guide to Traffic Building,” go for “The Ultimate Guide to Getting 200% More Traffic in 30 Days.”

Keep in mind that there are no strict rules when it comes to developing lead magnets.

A downloadable eBook is, of course, a time-tested format that’s versatile and accessible to brands of all sizes. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t widen your horizon and explore other lead magnet ideas that can help you score more email subscribers.

3. Offering Free Access to an Online Course

If you think you’re ready to embrace your role as a credible information provider in your niche, you could be ready to kickstart your very own online course product.

This is a lead capture form example from Neil Patel

This makes sense in certain niches, such as online marketing, web design, photography, and so on. For example, marketing thought leaders like Neil Patel offer free online courses to convert visitors into subscribers.

Naturally, building an online course is more challenging than writing or outsourcing an eBook. But with an e-learning platform like Kajabi, the task becomes much more manageable even to a one-man team.

Kajabi allows for much faster online course creation with the help of product blueprints, which are basically premade structures that can guide your content development efforts. These can be accessed by navigating to the “Products” section and clicking the “New Product” button.

There are four different product blueprints that you can use for your online course:

  • Mini-Course
    A Mini-Course is the perfect product blueprint if you intend to create a lead magnet, to say the least. It allows you to focus on one specific subject while providing substantial information through multiple pieces of content.
  • Online Course
    As the name suggests, the Online Course blueprint is designed for more elaborate courses. Imagine several related mini-courses that are organized into categories — weaved together to make up a thorough learning experience for the audience.
  • Evergreen Training
    Lastly, the Evergreen Training product blueprint can be used for online courses that require time to generate results. It allows you to drip-feed your content after a specific number of days, giving your audience an opportunity to master the current lesson before they move on to the next.

Sounds like a lot of work?

Well, if you look at the big picture, then yes; creating an online course from scratch isn’t a weekend project. What you need to do is to plan an outline, chunk down your online course into categories, and then work on one post at a time.

After all, online course modules are fundamentally the same as any other long-form article with visual assets thrown in here and there — bringing us to the next type of lead magnet you can use in a lead generation campaign:

4. Gating Premium Content

You don’t need a comprehensive online course platform to generate leads with education.

If you already have a stable readership on your website, you may be ready to pull in email subscribers by offering gated content. This pertains to the practice of hiding content from visitors until they agree to supply their email address.

The key here is to make sure the audience trusts you enough to hand over their email address in exchange for content.

Remember, even with the most alluring value proposition in the world, not a lot of users are willing to gamble their personal information for content. They need solid evidence that you can deliver in terms of quality, relevance, and usefulness.

Popular publications like The Wall Street Journal can afford this strategy with their credibility alone:

Small brands, on the other hand, need to prove their expertise and ability to produce top-notch content through effective content marketing — starting, of course, with their existing blog.

Take note that, if you can’t even provide quality content to your non-paying visitors, then you have no business trying to lure subscribers with “premium” content.

If, however, you’re confident in you or your content team’s skills, the next thing you need would be a tool like the Opt-In Panda for WordPress.

After installing and activating Opt-In Panda, select “New Locker” under the “Opt-In Panda” plugin section from the main dashboard. Click “Create Item” under “Email Locker” to start constructing your content gate.

You will then be able to edit your content gate’s header, description, and various elements of the opt-in experience.

When done, click “Publish” to save your content gate.

The next step is to apply it to the specific posts or pages that you want to hide from non-paying visitors. Your first option is to set up a “batch lock,” which involves specifying the types of content to hide as well as the categories and posts to exclude.

You can also manually lock posts and pages with a shortcode, which must be wrapped around the content you want to hide.

Here’s what your content gate would look like once implemented:

5. Creating Opt-In Popups

Sometimes, getting visitors to convert isn’t just about the offer — it’s also about the timing and presentation of your opt-in form.

This is where opt-in popups can step in and make a huge difference.

It doesn’t matter if you offer a free eBook, an online course, or a free trial version of your product. An opt-in popup guarantees that your proposition can be seen by the audience while they’re on your page.

At the surface, it might seem like a self-serving, disruptive tactic that can put off visitors. But with the right offer and approach, presenting popups could be the best thing you can do for your website conversions.

Here is an example of a well-executed popup from Social Media Examiner:

There are several tools you can use to start creating opt-in popups on your website:

Popups by OptinMonster

A household name in the email marketing space, OptinMonster is a comprehensive lead generation software that also helps you create beautiful opt-in popups. In addition to ease of use, it also features advanced campaign triggers, which enable you to present popups without disrupting the user experience.

Other than opt-in popups, you can also use OptinMonster to create full-screen welcome mats, slide-in scroll boxes, and floating bars that can deliver different conversion experiences to your audience.

Ninja Popup

Ninja Popup is another WordPress plugin that is equipped with more premium features and a wealth of professional-looking popup themes. All you need to do is select a preset that matches your website’s design, tweak it a bit, and you’re ready to roll out your opt-in popups.

Some of the other features of Ninja Popup include analytics, real-time statistics, and A/B testing — all of which are useful for fine-tuning your opt-in popup strategy over time.

WP Popup Maker

As the most popular popup plugin for WordPress, there are many reasons why you should go for WP Popup Maker.

Being easy to deploy is perhaps its biggest advantage. It utilizes the native WordPress post editor, which essentially eliminates the learning curve.

WP Popup Maker also allows you to easily set triggers and targeting options, which are indispensable to the success of opt-in popups.

Remember, different users will have different reactions to popups. WP Popup Maker helps make sure the right audience is presented with the right offers — not ruin their experience with a popup they don’t care about.

6. Managing Your List

Now that you know the best lead generation strategies, it’s time to learn how to manage and grow your email list properly.

Keep in mind that the list management features vary from platform to platform. But for the sake of this guide, we’ll use ConvertKit as an example — a straightforward email marketing software that looks simple on the outside but actually has incredible flexibility.

For example, just like premium email marketing platforms, ConvertKit also makes email design a breeze with its visual editor and templates that speed up the process.

To make sure subscribers get relevant messages, ConvertKit lets you build email sequences for specific subscriber segments or tags. These can be made in a snap in the tool’s subscriber management section.

What’s really important, however, is the email automation feature that let you schedule timely messages based on events and conditions. Simply click “Automations” from the main dashboard and then choose “New Automation” to access the drag-and-drop workflow editor.

To create automation workflows with ConvertKit, simply click “Create Automation” and select the initial trigger you want to use. You can then weave together a chain of steps by clicking the “plus” button and choosing an event, action, or condition.

ConvertKit also supports integrations from third-party services, like e-commerce platforms, landing page builders, and automation tools like Zapier. This will allow you to design automation workflows based on external user actions, such as purchases made, registrations, and webinar attendance.

Here is a short list of the most useful automated emails you can create with ConvertKit:

  • Welcome Emails
    A welcome email is a great way to set your subscriber’s expectations straight upon signing up to your list. Be sure to highlight the benefits of staying subscribed as well as get the ball rolling with links to your featured content.
  • Cart Abandonment Emails
    If you run an e-commerce business, cart abandonment emails will allow you to recover lost sales from customers who leave during the checkout process. Statistics from Moosend reveal that 45% of cart abandonment emails are opened, 21% get click-throughs, and 50% of those users ultimately complete their purchase.
  • Send Special Offers
    Another way to squeeze conversions from your email subscribers is to send them discounts and special promotions — preferably during shopping holidays like Black Fridays, Cyber Mondays, Father’s Days, and so on. You can also schedule offers during you subscribers’ birthdays, which are when they’re most likely in a shopping mode.
  • Promote Your Content
    Email lists are perfect for getting traffic to your latest content. A typical strategy is to schedule weekly newsletters that help maintain brand awareness, build your authority, and establish your credibility as an information source.

7. Step Up Your Landing Page Game

Finally, you can’t afford to ignore the state of your landing pages if you want to maximize the results of your lead generation strategies.

Everything you’ve learned up to this point — from developing keyword-targeted content to managing your mailing lists — won’t be any good unless you know how to optimize your landing pages.

The good news is, there are now truckloads of landing page builders you can use effectively without any prior design experience. In fact, even email marketing platforms like ConvertKit have a built-in page builder with themes to help you save time.

While building a landing page shouldn’t be much of an obstacle, the real challenge is making sure you incorporate the right conversion elements.

This can be done by understanding the goals of your target audience and shaping your strategy around their needs. Leave no room for distractions and focus on the visibility of elements that matter, such as your headline, call to action, and the opt-in form itself.

Below are tips on how you can optimize these elements for a higher conversion rate:

  • Keep the Headline Short and Sweet
    In a landing page, the headline is often the first thing a visitor sees. That’s why it must be relatable, impactful, and is emphasized in your page’s layout.
  • Drive Home the Point with a Subheadline
    Rather than packing your headline with more words, use a subheadline to empower your value proposition. Just be sure to be descriptive of what the audience should expect or do to in the following steps of the conversion process.
  • Present Organized Information
    When highlighting the benefits of your offer, don’t forget to use a bulleted or numbered list to improve readability. You can also add visual content such as infographics and videos to convey more information in less time.
  • Split Test Your CTAs
    As a rule of thumb when creating CTAs, see to it that they create a sense of urgency and are succinct. But since figuring out the best CTA for your campaign takes time, consider split testing multiple versions of your landing page with tools like VWO and Google Optimize.
  • Reduce Friction
    If your only goal is to generate subscribers for your email list, there’s no need for you to acquire their physical address, phone number, gender, and so on. Only ask for the information you absolutely need to reduce friction and encourage finicky visitors to convert.

As a final tip for your landing pages, remember that it’s all about providing a good user experience that your audience will be thankful for.

Your page’s loading speed, for example, is one factor that many website owners tend to overlook.

Statistics show that 40% of users won’t hesitate to abandon your page if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. That’s nearly half of your potential subscribers gone before you even get the chance to present your value propositions.

To address the issue of loading speed, running a performance analysis on Google PageSpeed Insights is a step in the right direction. With a quick scan, it can provide you with the complete list of issues that affect your page’s performance and the necessary actions that can solve them.


Keep in mind that the vast majority of your audience, be it on a niche blog or online store, are highly unlikely to make a purchase on their first visit. Offering a subscription to a mailing list gives them an alternative that involves less friction and more value.

With the steps above, it’s only a matter of time before you gain a healthy amount of subscribers. Just remember that none of these strategies are designed to provide overnight results, so be patient, focus on one thing at a time, and learn to use results — positive or negative — as stepping stones to growth. Cheers!

Rand Owens Administrator
Chief Growth Hacker at Influencer Media. Former VP of Marketing of Happy Inspector. Blogger of all things Growth hacking.
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Rand Owens Administrator
Chief Growth Hacker at Influencer Media. Former VP of Marketing of Happy Inspector. Blogger of all things Growth hacking.
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