How to Build (Not Buy) an Email List

AB TastyBlogEmailingHow to Build (Not Buy) an Email List

Today, 99% of consumers check their emails daily. By 2020, the number of active email accounts worldwide will reach 4.3 billion.

Email is a huge opportunity for digital marketers to reach prospects, cultivate loyalty, re-engage visitors and even reduce shopping cart abandonment with email remarketing (among other benefits). 

Consider the return on investment

Remarkable, right? But for email marketing to work you need to build a healthy list, not buy one. Here’s why. 

Why You Should Never Buy an Email List 

  1. It Hurts Your Sender Reputation and Email Deliverability: Sending an unsolicited email to those who’ve never interacted with your brand = increasing spam complaints. And the more people that mark you as spam, the worse your sender reputation becomes, greatly reducing the chances of your emails ever getting read.
  2. It Violates General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR): GDPR is a European data privacy act that came into effect on May 25, 2018. Under this law, you’re supposed to get exclusive consent from contacts on your list to send them emails. Purchased lists are not compliant, and if you think this doesn’t apply to you since you’re not based in an EU country, think again. You break the law as soon as you send any EU resident emails that they never signed up to receive.

How to Build an Email List From Scratch

Need an email list but not sure where to start? Read on for our tips on getting started.

1. Strategically Place a Blog Subscription Sign-up Form

There are a couple of ways to do this:

  • Keep it above the fold:  According to HubSpot, 55% of visitors spend fewer than 15 seconds on your website. So make use of this small window of opportunity to build your email list and place your CTA above the fold.
above the fold signup
Brian Dean covers up the entire first fold with one CTA (source)
  • Try the footer: It’s a prime spot most websites use to increase blog subscribers. A simple way to make it appealing is by demonstrating the value of subscribing.
footer sign-up
  • About pages: About pages usually receive a large amount of traffic, which explains why it’s one of the favored placements for a subscription sign-up.
about us sign-up page
  • Static subscription box: A static subscription box moves as a visitor scrolls the page. But they don’t have to be boring. Drift stays true to their brand by turning this simple sign-up process into a chat.
chatbot sign-up

It’s not all about placement though. Check out these best practices for creating powerful sign-up forms.

2. Leverage Gated Content

Gated content is when a user has to fill out a form with their email address before gaining access to the material—making it a great way to build a list of leads. 

gated articles
Brian Dean reserves articles exclusively for his subscribers (source)

Whatever content you decide to gate, make sure it’s valuable and not overly self-promotional. HubSpot put together a great guide on deciding when to gate content if you’re still unsure.  

3. Add Content Upgrades to Blog Posts

A content upgrade is a bonus download that’s unique to a blog post the visitor is reading. This freebie, also known as a lead magnet, could be a checklist, cheatsheet, workbook, infographic, webinar recording, etc.

Basically, anything that’s valuable to your reader

By using content upgrades, Brian Dean was able to increase his email subscriber count from a mere 0.54% to a significant 4.82%. 

To get started, identify the blogs posts that generate the most traffic in your analytics platform. These are prime places to offer a content grade, as they have the most visibility.


hubspot content upgrade
Carefully placed content upgrades on the HubSpot blog. Source

4. Trigger Pop-ups

Cringing at the mention of pop-ups? Hold on! They aren’t as notorious as they’re made out to be. In fact, Sumo users collected 23,645,948 email addresses with pop-ups in less than two years. 

Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts for trying this method: 

  • Don’t annoy the user with a pop-up that appears within milliseconds of them landing on the page. Instead, check the average amount of time people spend on that page. It should give a rough idea on timing pop-ups at right intervals.
  • Take advantage of exit intent pop-ups. For these to work, your message needs to be irresistible, solve a problem, or essentially be compelling enough to convince users to click. 
  • Make it fit the context. You can have a great offer, but unless it’s relevant to what the user was looking for,  it likely won’t be clicked. 
  • Refine that pop-up copy. Starting from the design, headline, supporting text, and CTA, every pop-up element must be succinct and capture visitor’s attention.

Of you can try slide-ins, which stay put in the corner of the screen and are less of an interruption to visitors. The Databox team is a fan of slide-ins on their blog, as seen below. 


corner pop-in


5. Create a Content Library

If you’ve been creating lead magnets and content upgrade offers, it’s a good idea to archive them under the resources section of your website. 

Copyblogger created a content library with 15 premium quality ebooks and a 20-part email course on smarter online marketing, accessible only to registered users. The results? They increased email signups by 400% and generated a whopping $300,000 in sales.


content library

6. Use Interactive Content

81% of marketers think interactive content, such as quizzes, calculators, and assessments grabs readers’ attention. It cuts through the noise and plays upon the theory of narrative


interactive content
Through an interactive quiz, Warby Parker makes shopping for glasses fun (source)

In addition, interactive content is a big step toward developing a more descriptive and detailed profile of your target audience. With those in place, personalization becomes easier and so does exceeding revenue goals. For instance, after using an interactive quiz, Z Gallerie saw a 1.4x lift in their average order value. 

Excited to go interactive, but not sure what will appeal to your target audience? Don’t worry, Content Marketing Institute has you covered: 

interactive content chart

7. Use Social Media

Leverage your social media channels to help build your email list. Here’s how: 

  • Add a sign-up CTA on your Facebook profile: The high visibility increases the chances of clicks from interested visitors!


cta facebook profile
  • Pin your tweet: A pinned tweet is the first thing a user sees when they visit your Twitter profile, regardless of when you posted it. See how folks at Google do it:
pinned tweet
  • Post Instagram Stories: 1 out of 3 of the most viewed stories is from businesses. Include swipe up links (possible for business accounts with 10K+ followers), or if that’s not possible then write a short note asking them to find the link in your bio.

8. Provide an Opt-in Option During Checkout

A majority of customers either ignore or close opt-in forms. This is why having an opt-in request during a key moment, such as checkout, is important.

In the image below, you can see how Accessorize gives new customers the option to sign up for their email newsletter. sign-up option

(For more on this, check out our article on the differences between more on opt-in vs. opt-out email campaigns.)

9. Give Incentives 

Everybody loves getting freebies, which means this is a great way of getting visitors to sign up for your email list. Gleam made an offer to their website visitors and saw a 200% increase in opt-in rates!

Wondering what to giveaway? Pick any of the following:

  • Gift card
  • Coupon code
  • Free gift or samples
  • Referral points
  • Discount on first or next purchase
  • Free shipping on minimum order value, etc.
supre incentive

10. Approach Event Attendees

People attending conferences or any kind of social gatherings you organize may not necessarily be on your email list. Perhaps they dropped by at the last minute or someone referred them. 

To sign them up: 

  • Ask them to subscribe through your device.
  • Request to fill a paper form.
  • Direct them to a subscription link during your talk. 
  • Send an SMS asking them to opt-in. Recommended tool: LeadPages

Once you have their emails, you can segment your list based on the type of event and invite them to similar events the next time. 


While buying an email list may seem like a quick fix, it will ultimately undermine your marketing efforts. The best approach is to grow your email list organically. Your brand recall value will be higher and your subscribers will be much more receptive to your messages. 


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