How to grow your email list like a pro

On: Feb 1, 2018
By: Melody

One of the most important things you can do with your blog is use it to grow your email list. Whether you’re new to blogging or a total pro, if you want to make money with your blog, it’s essential to have an email list.

Why you need an email list

When I’m coaching a client and I find out they don’t have an email list, I want to cry. I literally want to say, “Oh, bless your heart… you’ve screwed yourself out of thousands of dollars.”

Think I’m exaggerating? Think again.

There are several reasons you should have an email list.

Reason #1: The money is in the list

You may have heard that phrase thrown around before.

It’s funny because we’re so conditioned to focus our time and energy on social media as a primary way to reach and market to our customers, but email outperforms social media by a landslide.

Email campaigns also offer one of the highest conversion rates (an average of 40X more effective than Facebook and Twitter combined, according to a 2014 study by McKinsey and Company).

Reason #2: Email is more personal

Think of it like this. Email is like having a one-on-one conversation with your reader, whereas social is like having a group conversation. It’s direct communication and it won’t get lost in someone’s newsfeed.

It allows you to give your readers an inside peek, and helps you develop a relationship with your audience. And when readers know, trust, and like you, they will keep reading. They will share your content with their friends. And, most importantly, they will buy from you.

Reason #3: An email list is an asset — YOU own your list

No one can take it away from you. If people stopped using Facebook (Think it can’t happen? See: Myspace), you’d have no audience. Same with Twitter.

Plus, only a small percentage of your audience on Facebook or Twitter (roughly 2%) actually sees anything you post in their newsfeed anyway (unless you’re paying to promote your content).

You’ve already worked hard to earn those followers… why should you have to pay for them to see your posts? No thank you.

But with email lists, it’s a whole different ballgame. Even better, email marketing is a form of advertising that is virtually free. Yet so many people still don’t do it!

Today, we’re going to figure out why you’re not taking full advantage of an email list, and then we’re going to flip it around and show you how you can make the most out of yours, starting today.

6 common reasons you might not have an email list (or aren’t using one effectively)

I’m gonna take a guess and say that most of you fall into one of the following categories:

  • You don’t have an email list because you want to respect your readers’ inboxes. You don’t want to bombard them with emails
  • You’re afraid to put a popup (ohmygodshesaidpopup!) or ask for emails because you don’t want your readers to think you’re being too sales-ey
  • You signed up for MailChimp (or some other email service provider), but you have yet to actually put an opt-in form on your website or thought about how to grow your email list
  • You’ve got opt-in forms on your site and an email list, but you’ve never actually sent an email out to your subscribers
  • You’ve tried to send out a few emails, but the whole process was confusing, took too long, and what the hell are you going to write about anyway?
  • It’s so easy to get discouraged because you hear other bloggers talking about their thousands of subscribers (often like it’s not a big deal), while you’re struggling just to get a couple hundred

Trust me. I get it. I was there once, too.

The consequences of not having an email list (spoiler alert: you’ll lose money)

Many years ago, I started a small organic t-shirt company focused on positive messaging. Deep down, I knew I needed a way to reach out to people to let them know about upcoming sales, new designs, etc.

I had an email list, but I sent out maybe 2-3 emails a year. Seriously — I was so scared to irritate people. I wanted to respect their inbox, and I felt like if I emailed them too much, I’d seem desperate. In fact, when I would collect email addresses at trade shows, I’d even tell people, “Don’t worry — I’ll only email you a couple times a year at most.”

I think about that now, and I cringe — it sounds so insecure. That attitude and insecurity is probably one of the reasons that business ultimately didn’t take off.

But you know what? Every time I did send an email to my small subscriber list, we got sales. Like, lots of them. In fact, our conversion rate was about 10% which is good for retail. So with an email list of 100 people, for each email I sent, we got about 10 orders, most of which were for multiple items. Those single emails would sell more t-shirts in a day than we had sold in a whole month!

What that means is that the people on our list actually wanted to hear from us. That’s why they signed up in the first place. They wanted to buy from us. We just needed to remind them that we were there and that we still had great products for them. Instead, I shied away. I wonder what would have happened had I sent more emails?

Choosing an email service provider (ESP)

First things first. If you don’t yet have an email list set up, stop what you’re doing right now and set up an account with an email service provider. There are several, but there are 2 that I recommend.

  1. MailChimp – They have a free plan that’s great for beginners. However, there are limitations with the free plan. You can upgrade to the business plan which starts at $10/month and increases as your subscriber count increases. It’s fine for a beginner, but once you build your list, you’ll probably want something more robust.
  2. Convertkit (affiliate link) – This is the email service I use and it’s amazing. If you plan on automating your emails, creating landing pages, and creating product launches, (which you should), you might want to make the leap to Convertkit now rather than trying to make the switch later. I am an advocate for investing in the best tools early on to help set you up for success. Their plans start at $29/month, but the ease of use, the design of the emails, and the automation makes it worth every penny.

Ok, now that you’ve got your account set up with an email service provider, it’s time to start collecting emails and growing your email list.

Maybe you have zero subscribers. Maybe you have 100. Hell, maybe you even have 10,000. Doesn’t matter. We want to up that.

6 places to put an opt-in form that will grow your email list

To collect email addresses, you’ll need to put opt-in forms on your blog so people have a place to sign up. You can create opt-in forms via your email service provider, or via 3rd party apps or plugins. My favorite 3rd party plugin is SumoMe.

Once you create your opt-in forms, you’ll need to put them in various places on your site. Here are the 6 places I recommend putting an opt-in form.

Note: You don’t have to put opt-ins in ALL of these places. Think about your readers and put them where it makes the most sense for them.

#1: A landing page

One way to collect email subscribers is with a landing page. A landing page is simply a single page whose entire purpose in life is to collect an email address. That’s it.

You’ve seen hundreds of them. You’ve probably put your email address on dozens of them. They are usually big and bold and simple. Many have larger than life images that grab your attention, while others get your attention with their stark simplicity — maybe just a few words set up in gorgeous typography, and an eye-catching subscribe button.

Landing pages are designed to be unignorable. That’s why they are so effective.

Let’s say your blog is brand new, and you haven’t quite finished building your website. You can throw up a landing page without too much effort so when visitors land on your page (hence the name landing page), they at least have an opportunity to interact with you or your brand. Visitors get a feel for what you’re about, or what your business does, and if it resonates with them, they give you their email address.


And if you’re trying to validate an idea to see if people are interested, you’ll know you have a winner on your hands if if people subscribe from your landing page. Congrats.

If you’re using your home page as your landing page, one strategy is to offer the reader 2 choices: subscribe, or go to the rest of the site. For instance, one button might ask you to subscribe, and the other button might say, “No thanks. Take me to the blog.”

If it fits your niche or your freebie, you can get really clever with these two buttons, and use psychological tactics to ensure readers click the subscribe button by making the other button utterly unappealing.

For instance, a dog trainer might have a landing page that looks like this:

Clever landing pages can be one of the best ways to grow your email list

Even though we know it’s just a marketing ploy, we still don’t want to click the undesirable button.

If you want to take it even further, once they click the button and subscribe to your list, you can set up a “Thank You” page that encourages them to share your landing page with their friends. You can see a great example Tim Ferriss wrote on how Harry’s razors collected 100,000 emails in one week via a great landing page.

#2: Use a lightbox popup form to grow your email list

“OMG she said popup! No — I hate popups! I’d never have one on my site!”

I know, I know. We’ve been trained to think that popups are terrible, evil things, but I’m not talking about the scammy popups that come with flashing text and warning messages that you can’t X out of.

I’m talking about the kind of popup that looks really classy or cool. It fits the theme of your site, and comes with a great offering, such as a discount offer, or a killer freebie (more on that later). In other words, it offers something of value to the reader.

Something like this:

Pop-up opt-in forms can be a great way to grow your email list

Or this:

I love this idea of a popup form for growing your list. People can't resist gamification.

This is a great idea for a popup… people just can’t resist the gamification.

You can set these popups to appear right when someone lands on your page, once someone has scrolled a certain percentage of the way down, or after a certain amount of time has passed. You can even set up an “exit intent” popup, which only pops up when someone goes to exit your page.

The thing is, like ’em or not, popup opt-ins work. They outperform other opt-in forms which is why so many websites use them. And if you do it right, people won’t hate them. In fact, they’ll GLADLY give you their email because you’ll be giving them something valuable in return for their email address.

PRO TIP: If you use a popup, don’t set it to appear immediately. Use common sense (and courtesy) and put yourself in the mind of your reader.

Let’s say they landed on your blog from a Pinterest pinned post. When they land on your post, if the first thing they see is a popup, (when what they wanted to see was your post), then you disrupted that experience — that chance of a good first impression.

You want to GIVE your reader something before you ASK something of them. It’s that simple. [Tweet “You want to GIVE your reader something before you ASK something of them.”]

On the flip side, let’s say a reader lands on your page, they’re reading along, and at this point, they are really interested in what you’re saying (because duh!). Then around the 50% mark of your article, a well-designed lightbox appears with a great opt-in offer that’s related to your topic and could help them.

At this point, you’ve already engaged them. So when a well-designed popup appears with a great freebie, they are much more likely to give you their email address.

#3: Add an opt-in form to the bottom of each blog post

I love this one because if someone makes it to the bottom of your post, you already have their attention. They read all the way through, which is exactly what you want.

So why not reward them with something valuable while they are still basking in the glow of excitement that was your blog post? Ok, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but you get my drift. Strike while the iron is hot, so to speak.

Offer them a valuable lead magnet that goes along with the blog post they just read. (More on that later.)

Grow your email list with a content upgrade. An example of an opt-in form at the bottom of a blog post to help grow your email list.

An example of an opt-in form at the bottom of a blog post.

#4: Install an opt-in bar at the top of your page

I’m not sure what the technical term is, but I just call it an opt-in bar. You’ve probably seen these before. Usually these are set to stay at the top, even when the user scrolls. (They can also be at the bottom of the page).

These are simple and unintrusive, but they work well because even if your reader doesn’t subscribe right away, when they are ready, they don’t have to hunt down a subscribe button. Easy peasy.

An example of an opt-in bar to put at the top of your site to help you grow your email list.

You can get a free opt-in bar from Hello Bar. They have a pro version which lets you remove their logo and add other features, but I’ve seen the free version on even some of the most sophisticated sites.

#5: Put a subscribe form on your sidebar

This is probably one of the most popular places to put an email subscription form. It’s unobtrusive, it’s inoffensive, and it’s probably the least effective place to put a subscribe button besides the footer.

I’m not saying not to put one on the sidebar, but you need to think strategically about it. First, if you have one, put it at the top of your sidebar so your reader sees it first.

Next, you need to spice up the copy, and add an incentive. Don’t just say, “Sign up for my newsletter!”

Which brings me to the next place to put an opt-in form.

#6: Put an opt-in in your footer

An opt-in form in the footer of your page is very similar to the sidebar, except it’s probably going to be the least effective option, simply because most people won’t make it to the bottom of your page before signing up. Again, it’s not a bad thing to put one there, but I would also have an opt-in in at least 1 or 2 other places on your page.

Use effective lead magnets (aka freebies) in your list-building strategy

It’s not enough just to put opt-in forms on your site. You need to give your readers something worth opting in for.

You see, most people just throw up a generic opt-in form that says something like, “Sign up for my newsletter to get news and updates.” This is a terrible approach. It makes it all about you, and not about your reader.

Blogger: “Hey, over here! Don’t you want updates on me?”

Me: “No. I don’t even want news and updates on Bradley fucking Cooper unless it has to do with me.”

Hell, even the word “news” is depressing these days, and why should I want updates on you just because I landed on your webpage? What’s in it for me?

The key is to give your readers something they want. We want to dangle a shiny beautiful carrot in their faces. Something they can’t help but grab.

Let’s say you have a fashion blog, and you just wrote a post on upcoming fall fashion. You might offer a video or a guide that shows 10 simple (yet gorgeous) ways to wear a scarf. Boom. Quick, easy to implement and understand, and instantly adds value to them by expanding their fashion horizons. (Because who doesn’t want to be that woman who rocks a scarf like Snoop Dogg rocks a mic?)

If you have a mommy blog, your readers might appreciate a list of your top 10 productivity hacks (because y’all moms always seem to be juggling a gazillion things at once).

Checklists are great. If you write a travel blog, a checklist of 10 things to always have on hand in your carry-on bag in case the airline loses your luggage is handy. Especially if you’re me and you fly to Vegas for a girls’ trip to celebrate your best friend’s 40th birthday and you don’t even bring a carry-on bag and the airline loses your luggage and you have to buy all new stuff and the airline only agrees to give you $25 for “new underwear.” THANKS, US AIR.

Don’t get intimidated by this step. It doesn’t have to be super fancy. It just has to be valuable. In fact, the best carrots (lead magnets) are often ones that are short and tactical. Things that the reader can implement right away.

If you don’t have a freebie that pertains to your blog post, you can always convert your blog post to a PDF in Google Drive, and make that your lead magnet. Just say something like, “Want a copy of this post to print and read on the go? Sign up and I’ll send you a PDF right away!”

It’s that simple!

Beyond the opt-in form: other ways to get more subscribers

There are other ways you grow your email list outside of just your opt-in forms.

  • Encourage sharing — Ask your readers to share your content, both in your posts and in your emails. If they signed up, chances are they’ll know someone who would also be interested in your blog
  • Online contest/giveaway — Host a contest or giveaway that requires someone to opt-in to enter (I recommend KingSumo)
  • Create a free online tool or product and require an email before they can get it — I saw this recently done by a graphic designer. She created a really cool font and gave it away for free, but you had to give your email address to get it.
  • Integrate social media and email
    • Promote your carrot on social (link to a special landing page for your freebie instead of linking to your homepage)
    • Add a call to action button on your Facebook page to get your Facebook fans to sign up
    • Use share links in your emails so others can share your actual email
  • Do you use video? Add a call to action to your videos to encourage subscribers
  • Put a CTA to subscribe on every page of your site
  • Guest blogging — This is one of the best methods for list building. Write a kick ass guest post on a site that has a bigger audience than you. Instead of just linking to your homepage in your byline, create a specific landing page or page on your site with a lead magnet that goes perfectly with your guest post. At the bottom of the post, give them a teaser for your lead magnet and link to the page where they can get it.
  • Co-promotions / JVs — Team up with another blogger in your space and combine your resources! You create one lead magnet, she creates another, and you both promote them both as a package deal (and get new subscribers to each of your lists!)
  • Webinar — Host a webinar and get emails during registration

List building challenge

Ok, now you know why you need an email list. You have some recommendations on email service providers. You know 6 places you can put opt-in forms on your site. I gave you some examples of lead magnets to use to help maximize your list-building efforts. And lastly, I gave you 10+ other ways you can build your email list.

My challenge to you: post a comment below with:

  1. How many subscribers you currently have right now, at this moment (if it’s zero, that’s fine!)
  2. What method(s) you learned here that you haven’t tried (but you’re going to implement)

Bonus points if you check in later and let us all know how much your list has grown.

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