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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

How to Build an Email Marketing Contact List

image for one photo/Shutterstock
one photo/Shutterstock

Having a targeted, email marketing contact list can play an integral part in your business's marketing strategy. There are several tactics you can use to create a successful email list in order to effectively connect with consumers. 

The process of generating a successful email marketing list is twofold: First, you must get consumers to want to receive your emails, and, second, you have to keep them engaged so they want to keep getting them. 

A study conducted by Mailchimp showed that the average email open rate in 2018 was less than 21%, and click-through rates were even lower. With such low rates, it is essential that your business has a good pool of prospects to make your email campaigns worthwhile. 

How you obtain consumer email addresses, and what you do once you have them, is imperative. There are right and wrong ways to set up a marketing email list. First and foremost, you should only send emails to consumers who have volunteered to receive communications from your business. Sending marketing emails without consent can be detrimental to your business, as it will likely result in unhappy consumers and potentially cause your emails to be filtered as spam. 

So how do you get subscribers? And what can you do to make sure they never click that Unsubscribe button? Here are 10 tips for building an email marketing contact list to grow your business.

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One of the best ways to create an email list from scratch is by offering customers multiple calls to action (CTAs) to sign up for your promotions. Placing an opportunity in an immediately visible place is wise, but you should also cover your bases and place additional CTAs in alternative paths a customer might take to arrive at your webpage. These also serve as a reminder to those website visitors who skipped the first CTA. Don't overdo it, though. Keep your CTAs to just two to four spots on your website, such as these locations: 

  • Your homepage
  • The sidebar of a blog post
  • Your About Us or bio page
  • The bottom of otherwise dead pages
  • Your contact page
  • Your site header
  • A popup 

No matter where you put your email capture, use a double opt-in process. A double opt-in sign-up means your email service provider will send a confirmation email to new subscribers to ensure they want to be on your list. This strategy ensures that customers know you are using permission-based email marketing, and it prevents bots from adding random email addresses to your list. [Need help with email marketing? Check out our best picks for email marketing software.]

You'll collect email addresses more quickly if you give customers a reason to sign up. The Radicati Group Email Statistics Report estimates that the number of emails sent per day will exceed 293 billion in 2019, and that number is expected to increase to 347 billion by the end of 2023. Why should a customer read your promotional email when there are dozens of others to sift through in their inbox? Answering that question is key to a successful email marketing campaign with a healthy contact list and open rate. 

If you want customers to invite you into their inboxes, you need to offer an incentive that prompts them to share their email addresses. The most effective incentive will depend on your type of business. Examples include: 

  • A coupon for a free drink or dessert at your restaurant
  • A discount code for their next purchase online or in your store
  • Free shipping on an online order
  • A promo code for a free product included with purchase
  • An e-book, workbook, app or other resource
  • An online workshop or training course
  • An exclusive newsletter 

These incentives don't have to cost you much money, but they do need to offer real value to email subscribers if you want to generate email sign-ups.

Customers are more likely to sign up for your list when they aren't distracted by other possible actions. This makes landing pages a valuable tool for capturing email addresses. A landing page is a webpage with a single goal or CTA. In the case of building your email list, a landing page is designed to persuade website visitors to sign up. 

You can use landing pages anytime someone is directed toward your website from an external source, such as a mention in the media or your bio that appears on another website. You can also create them for ad campaigns or social media click-throughs. 

When customers click a link to learn more about your business, they are taken directly to a landing page that encourages them to sign up for your list, usually by offering an incentive relevant to the original ad or website that directed them there. If you create different landing pages for different sources, you can customize them to generate more interest. Customers who click on an ad for a product, for example, can be taken to a different landing page than those who found you mentioned in a media feature. 

Custom landing pages allow you to take advantage of segmenting, a strategy that divides up your email list based on customers' characteristics and interests. By addressing customers' specific interests and needs, segmented email campaigns can generate higher click-through rates than emails sent to a bulk list. 

Since Campaign Monitor's survey reported that 21% of marketers didn't use segmentation in 2018, implementing segmentation in your email campaign can give you a leg up on the competition.

Social media is extremely important to advertising these days. The PwC Global Consumer Insights Survey found that 37% of consumers find purchase inspiration through their social media channels. Chances are you have already started growing your social media presence for your business. But have you thought about using social media outlets to get more email sign-ups? 

Including email sign-up locations on social media and blog posts increases your chance of capturing promising leads. In social settings, you can ask for email addresses multiple times in multiple places, as not every customer will see each sign-up form. This expands your reach to a larger net of potential customers. 

Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter allow you to communicate with your consumers in a casual, entertaining way. When posting on these outlets, share your free incentives in return for your consumers' email addresses. Since 58% of consumers prefer visual-first content, couple your incentives with photos or video for further engagement.

When someone signs up for your email, they are already interested in your business. They have offered you a way to contact them because they are excited about some aspect of your business, products or services. It's important not to waste that opportunity to make initial contact. 

This is the point when it makes the most sense to persuade them to use the incentive you offered, visit your store, make a purchase or otherwise interact with your business. However, many businesses collect customer emails, then fail to do anything with them for weeks. To capitalize on customers' excitement, use your email service provider to set up a series of messages that will automatically be sent to new email subscribers. This series is usually called an autoresponder sequence, welcome sequence or email sales funnel. It is generally a series consisting of three to seven emails, spaced out over several days or weeks. 

The goal of an autoresponder sequence is to guide new subscribers back to your site, encourage them to connect with you on social media or share more about why they should trust your business. An email sequence that is automatically triggered by email sign-ups can increase your click-through rates and nurture an ongoing relationship with new subscribers. 

You can also use welcome emails to guide customers into an introductory purchase. These offers, known as tripwires, are very low in price, often less than $10 or only the cost of shipping. Their value is in creating a relationship. Many consumers prefer to buy new products from a brand they already know or have purchased from. If customers make a tripwire purchase at the end of a welcome sequence, they are more likely to make a larger purchase in the future.

Similar to an autoresponder sequence, you can create group emails to target specific sectors of your audience. This is a simple way to send out your content at a large scale and communicate with multiple groups of people at once. Each group email should have a specific purpose, and the individuals in that group should be segmented audiences who enjoy receiving the type of content you are sending them. Sending targeted emails based on interest and funnel positioning can increase your click-through rate, as opposed to sending the same content to your entire list of email subscribers.

Many email marketing platforms provide an option for users to easily create group emails within their systems. Although the process varies by program, there is often a list of directions to guide users through the process. It typically involves selecting the members for each group and adding a tag for each email type.

Popups and subscription landing pages should result in a quick sign-up process for the consumer. When requesting a consumer's contact information in a sign-up form, it is essential to keep your subscription questions to a minimum. When you ask for too many details, you risk scaring away potential subscribers. Since prospects are already taking the time to subscribe, streamline the process for them. 

You can reduce the time it takes to subscribe by only asking for a name and email address, or just an email address. The more questions you ask, the higher your bounce rate will likely be. However, it's worth noting that users who take the time to complete longer forms are typically more serious about your product. 

You will receive more leads when you only ask for a name than when you ask for a name, email and phone number. However, if you have already created an extensive contact list and are looking to grow it by serious leads only, consider adding more fields.

Building your email list doesn't just mean getting customers to sign up. You also have to keep them on the list, which means reducing the likelihood that customers will unsubscribe. 

Your autoresponder sequence is your first opportunity to create positive expectations around your email marketing. If you want to reduce the number of customers who unsubscribe to your mailing list, create an autoresponder sequence that offers real value and leaves customers looking forward to seeing your email in their inbox. 

The frequency of email marketing is also key to building your email list. Many customers unsubscribe from a business's emails because they are too frequent. However, if customers don't see an email from you for months at a time, they may forget who you are and unsubscribe. 

To maintain your list, email subscribers regularly enough to keep them interested, but not so frequently that they feel spammed. This will depend on your business and your customers, and you may have to run several test campaigns to determine whether customers respond best to an email every week, every other week, every month or only when you're having a sale. 

Running test campaigns may be extra work, but it is worth it. Email is one of the most valuable forms of content marketing you can use. In 2018, email marketing earned $38 for every $1 spent. Taking the time to build and maintain your list will pay off when you have the opportunity to market directly to your customers, with no middleman.

When building an email list, there are a few approaches you should avoid. First and foremost, don't send spam messages. With anti-spam laws in place, provide your audience only with useful content. 

Be very clear in what you are offering, and avoid the temptation to sell something in every email. By sending entertaining and educational emails, you provide value to your audience, resulting in an easier "ask" when you send sales emails. Additionally, sending bulk marketing emails via your own email service, like Google, Outlook or Yahoo, can also cause your emails to be filtered as spam, even if they're not. To avoid this, use a third-party email client like Mailchimp, Constant Contact, SendGrid or Litmus. 

Another strategy that typically doesn't work is buying contacts. While you can spend $100 CPM (cost per thousand) to start, buying contacts can cost you much more in the long run, like your reputation. Avoid buying a database of email addresses, as these addresses are typically not targeted traffic leads. Sending emails to a bulk contact list of the wrong target audience will land you in the trash folder, and you may be reported as spam.

List building is an ongoing practice. Don't ignore your list once you collect email addresses. By closely managing your address list and pruning it for bounced emails, you can ensure your conversion rate remains high and your unsubscribe rate remains low. 

People's interests and needs are everchanging, and your email list should accurately reflect that. If your unsubscribe rate increases, analyze who is leaving and why. Have their needs or interests changed? Assess whether you can regain their business by accurately retargeting them, and analyze similar contacts to ensure you are still giving them a reason to stay. 

As your marketing techniques evolve, so, too, will your email marketing contact list. Make an effort to consistently analyze your list. Use what you learn to enhance your email marketing campaign and build a positive online reputation. 

Additional reporting by Adam C. Uzialko and Chad Brooks.

Skye Schooley

Skye Schooley is an Arizona native, based in New York City. After receiving a business communication degree from Arizona State University, she spent nearly three years living in four states and backpacking through 16 countries. During her travels, Skye began her blog, which you can find at www.skyeschooley.com. She finally settled down in the northeast, writing for Business.com and Business News Daily. She primarily contributes articles about business technology and the workplace, and reviews remote PC access software and collection agencies.