Starting an Email List

Beginner’s guide to starting an email list

14 min read
Ashley Grant

This article was originally published on March 10, 2016. It was updated on Nov. 29, 2018.

If you’re like most people, you started a website and/or blog to share information and make money while at it. But to make money with your blog or website, you need to get visitors to your site, send them offers to buy stuff, or at least keep in touch with them even when they aren’t visiting your site. But how can you stay top of mind, and drive traffic to your website or blog to show off all that glorious content you’re creating? It’s all about starting an email list.

Yep, you've probably heard about “sales funnels” and “opt-ins” and all those sexy content marketing and email marketing buzzwords. And, when it's time to get serious about making a business out of your blog or getting lots of eyes on your business website, you'll need to get on the email list bandwagon!

Related: Beginner's email marketing guide for small businesses

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Email List BandwagonWhy is starting an email list so important?

Let me guess, you’re on a budget (join the club). If you’re just starting your own venture you probably don’t have the cash to spend on a bunch of pricey promotions. But you need to promote your blog or website content to get new readers and visitors, which will attract potential sponsors and customers and make all kinds of good stuff happen as your traffic numbers grow.

Email is your best friend.

For just a few cents per message, you can send kick-ass email campaigns that drive people back to your blog. Plus, the ROI is remarkable — about $43 for every $1 spent. Wowza.

And, even if they don’t click through to your site, sending amazing emails gives you a captive audience to tell them about products and services you think they should buy. More on that later!

I can tell you need a little more convincing. Let's break these numbers down so you can find out just how affordable this email game really is. For less than $10 a month, professional email marketing programs such as GoDaddy Email Marketing enable you to send emails to 500 people (for the starter plan).

Let's say you're paying $10 a month for 500 email recipients to receive one newsletter a month. That's just two cents per person! You can't even print 500 decent full-color flyers for that amount of dough!

But that’s not even the best part of using a solid email marketing program.

They make it stupid simple to send out your latest news to your VIPs. Most of them have easy-to-use templates that you can copy and paste your words of wisdom into, along with cool tools that make your emails sexy and reader friendly. Baked-in signup forms and unsubscribe handling free you up to focus on creating great email content. And they usually have analytical tools that let you know who is reading your goodies. All of the guesswork is handled for you. I love that.

Once you’ve got your handy new email marketing software all set up (or maybe even before), it’s time to start getting people to sign up.

Related: Show them you know them with personalized email marketing

I can hear you saying, “But aren’t people over email? Didn’t I miss the boat on starting an email list?”

Nope! Millionaire blogger Ruth Soukup of the crazy popular blog Living Well Spending Less, and creator of the courses Elite Blog Academy and Irresistible Email, said email is still the best way to connect directly with your audience.

She says based on her research, "contrary to the fear of many online marketers, most people are not sick of email! Sixty-one percent of consumers say that they actually enjoy receiving promotional emails when those emails are personalized. Thirty-eight percent say they would actually like to receive MORE emails."

Ruth went onto say that email is the best way to connect with a mobile audience:

"Eighty-eight percent of mobile users check their email on their phone, which makes email more popular than any other app. And, email has a higher conversion rate than all social media channels and search engines COMBINED."

Starting an email list is your direct line of communication to your readers. It’s also the fastest path to making your ideal readers your most loyal fans.

Related: Turning happy customers into customer advocates

List building guru and online marketing expert Amy Porterfield says in her free list building masterclass, “Here's the greatest thing about having an email list — you will have a built in audience, that any time you are ready to promote, they are there ready to take it all in, learn what you've got, and ultimately buy your programs, products and services. So having an email list changes your bottom line. ... It’s never too late to re-focus and create a list building plan on autopilot inside your business.”

So, you're convinced that starting an email list is a smart move, right? Now ...

How do you get people to join your email list?

OK, here’s how you do NOT get people on your list: buy them. That’s right — you can buy email lists. But don’t. Just don’t. It’s more than bad manners to solicit people who didn’t ask to receive your emails; it’s unethical. Plus, using anonymous lists could get you flagged as a spammer and barred from using most email marketing services. Ouch.

No one likes to be added to a list without their permission. 

It's the fastest way to tick off potential readers and to get your address sent over to spamville.

No Junk Mail

A note about the GDPR

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect on May 25, 2018. In a nutshell, this law was designed to strengthen data privacy laws across Europe — and it applies to businesses and organizations outside the EU if they "offer goods or services to, or monitor the behaviour of, EU data subjects,” according to FAQs on the GDPR Portal. “It applies to all companies processing and holding the personal data of data subjects residing in the European Union, regardless of the company’s location.”

This means, when starting an email list, you'll need to make sure you're meeting GDPR requirements as far as how you capture and store subscriber information. In addition to the official GDPR website, you can learn more here:

Make email signup simple

You want to create a list of people who actually agree to be on your list. The best way to get them to agree? Make it easy! Include a big, fat sign-up button on your blog. Most good email marketing programs also enable you to add a sign-up form to your Facebook page. Use all your social profiles to let your fans know that you’ve got an email list and they need to be on it.

Make it easy to subscribe to your emails by putting a sign-up button on your home page.

GoDaddy's Websites + Marketing solution includes built-in email marketing to make starting an email list a snap. Plus, if you have a WordPress website or blog, GoDaddy Email Marketing integrates like a dream.

The next best way to get people to sign up? Give ‘em a gift! Everybody likes gifts. In this case, said gift is called an opt-in incentive. For the internet biz-challenged, that’s usually a freebie or discount you offer to convince people to join your email list. They request said freebie and by requesting it, they understand that they are going to receive emails from you.

What makes a great opt-in freebie when you’re starting an email list?

I went to the experts to find out what is working now for this.

Amy Porterfield has an awesome cheat sheet with ideas for getting people to opt-in. You can snag that for free here. But, my favorite things she mentioned in this cheat sheet are:

  • Use a quiz as a freebie, and the user has to give their email for the quiz results.
  • Host an on-demand masterclass or webinar. This is a great way to give loads of value to a new visitor, and build up that know, like and trust factor.
  • Give a checklist or a cheat sheet that solves a problem. This one is HUGE — your audience is often on your blog looking for a solution to something, and your freebie could be their saving grace.

Note: Some freebie gluttons are going to opt-in, get the freebie, and then unsubscribe. That's OK, because if they don't want your words of wisdom, they’re not the high-quality email subscribers you want. Let 'em go. At least they gave you some pageviews long enough to get the goods, right? Right!

Using video on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube is wildly popular right now for starting an email list.

Video is all the rage right now, and using live video is what the online marketing experts are recommending for 2019 to promote your opt-ins, and get people to sign up for your email list. In fact, you don’t even have to be live, but getting your face on video is key.

You might be wondering, “Why is video so great for starting an email list?”

Because people can see you.

They can get to know you. They feel more like you’re a friend they can chat with. Video makes you more relatable, and your true fans will want access to everything you want to give them.

Perhaps the best expert I’ve found using video to draw people into her email list is Marie Forleo. She wraps every video she does by telling people to head to her website, and sign up to be an MF insider to get weekly inspiration and tips that she only shares in email.

You instantly want to sign up because the fact that she only shares these things in email makes you a little afraid you’re going to miss something hugely important. You also feel compelled to opt-in because she tells you that she’ll keep you informed of the latest episodes of her show in these emails. And, you just can’t miss anything she has to say!

Another way to use video for promoting your opt-in is to explain what your opt-in is, or teach something related to the freebie you’re giving away. Then, in the description of the video (if using Facebook or YouTube) you can drop the link to the freebie. If you have more than 10,000 followers on Instagram, your viewers can “swipe up” to sign up for the opt-in. If you have less than 10,000 followers, put the link to it in your bio and direct your viewer there.

Related: 9 types of video content to help you move customers through the sales funnel

Other experts suggest borrowing other people’s audiences for starting an email list of your own.

What do I mean by that?

When you are first starting an email list, it can be hard to build it quickly. However, using other people’s established and often bigger audiences to promote yourself, can get you sign-ups that much faster. The trick is to end any visit on someone else’s platform with a call-to-action that brings people over to your website to sign-up for your list.

You can also use paid ads on social media to get people on your list.

Now, if you’re just starting out and are limited on funds, this idea for starting an email list might be a little out your budget right now. However, it is something you should consider for the future because with ads on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube you can target the exact audience you are looking for.

Advertising on these three platforms allows you to cater your ads directly to your ideal customer.

You can get incredibly specific. For example, one ad could be for a mother in Spokane, Washington, who has a love for knitting. Another could be an ad to a bachelor in Kansas City, Kansas, who has an interest in acrylic painting.

You might be thinking, “Isn’t it enough that they are a follower on social media?” NO! It’s not!  You must convert them from follower to member of your email list. Why? Ruth Soukup said it best:

“First, your email list is yours. No one else can take it away from you. You have complete control. You don’t get that anywhere else! Your blog is dependent on page views, and if something happens — say Google or Facebook or Pinterest changes their algorithms and suddenly your traffic drops — you will be, as they say, S.O.L. The same thing goes for an audience built on someone else’s platform. Oh sure, it might look really impressive to have 100,000 followers on Facebook or Instagram or YouTube or Snapchat, but what happens when one of those platforms decides to change their policies or hold your followers hostage? With email, you have complete control. It’s yours.”

Related: What’s the difference between Amazon advertising and paid ads on Google and Facebook?

Once they join, how do you keep them?

Aside from the people who get the freebie and bounce, some of the things you need to keep people on your list include (but are not limited to):

Eye-catching subject lines

Most people’s inboxes are more crowded than Walmart on Black Friday. With all that competition for attention, your emails need to have subject lines that jump out and entice the viewer to click and view. In fact, boring subject lines could land your emails in the junk folder. Some email providers filter consistently unopened emails from the same sender to the spam box.

Related: Why email subject lines are the ultimate micro-content

Content that matters to your fans

If your subscribers stop caring about what you're writing, you've lost them. Like if they signed up to receive content about desserts, and you start sending them emails about chicken. That might feel like bait-and-switch territory.

Subscriber exclusives

Let your subscribers know you think they’re special by giving them exclusive freebies like eBooks, webinars, audio seminars or reports. What better way to keep loyal fans happy than to give them things that the common website visitor can't get? People like to feel as though they are VIP, so treat them as such!

Don't email them every day!

Nothing is more annoying than getting too many emails from one person. Personally, if I receive a daily email from anyone, I've been known to unsubscribe within less than a week. Emailing your subscribers more than once a week is probably too much. Instead, why not create one newsletter that gives a weekly recap of everything they might have missed? If you fear you are sending too many or too few emails, conduct a survey with your subscribers to get their input.

Related: Conduct a survey to find out what your customers are really thinking 

What’s next?

Starting an email list might take a little time and effort, but it’s totally worth it if you’re serious about your business. When you start to gain loyal fans who really want to receive your emails because your content adds value to their lives, well, that’s an exciting thing indeed. Later, you can use all those emails to send truth bombs, knowledge nuggets and, once in awhile, special offers that may make you some bank. Get schooled on affiliate marketing here.

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