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Updated Oct 24, 2023

How to Build an Email Marketing Contact List

Learn expert tips on how to efficiently build your email marketing contact list.

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Skye Schooley, Business Operations Insider and Senior Lead Analyst
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Editor Reviewed
This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

Table of Contents

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A targeted email marketing contact list is integral to your business’s marketing strategy. You can use several tactics 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 convince consumers that they want to receive your emails, and second, you must keep them engaged so they want to keep receiving your emails.

A study by Mailchimp showed that the average email open rate is only 21.33%, and click-through rates are even lower. With such low rates, your business must have a good pool of prospects to make your email campaigns worthwhile. [Related: How to Create an Email Drip Campaign]

The way you obtain consumer email addresses, and what you do once you have them, is important. There are right and wrong ways to set up a marketing email list. First and foremost, only send emails to consumers who have volunteered to receive communications from your business. Sending marketing emails without consent can hurt your business, as it will likely result in unhappy consumers and may cause your emails to be filtered as spam. Learn more about how to reduce email campaign mistakes.

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 that will grow your business.

Editor’s note: Need to revamp your digital marketing strategy? Fill out the below questionnaire to be connected with vendors that can help.

1. Have multiple locations for consumers to sign up for your emails.

One of the best ways to create an email list from scratch is to offer 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 website visitors who skipped the first CTA. Don’t overdo it, though. Limit your CTAs to 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 pop-up 
Did You Know?Did you know
Receiving consent before sending emails is not only an email list maintenance best practice, but also sometimes legally necessary. For example, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) only allows processing if the data subject has given you consent or you have another legal basis for using the information.

No matter where you place your email capture, use a double opt-in process. This process means your email service provider will send a confirmation email to new subscribers to ensure they want to be on your list.

There are multiple benefits of a double opt-in process:

  1. It builds trust. This strategy ensures that customers know you are using permission-based email marketing. This creates trust among your subscribers and strengthens your reputation. When a subscriber trusts your brand, they are more likely to interact with it. This can increase email deliverability and improve your email open rates.
  1. It builds brand recognition. When your subscribers use a double opt-in process, you force them to acknowledge your brand and clearly identify what your content looks like in their inbox. This raises brand recognition for your marketing emails and limits the potential for your emails landing in the junk folder.
  1. It reduces spam. The double opt-in process prevents bots from adding random email addresses to your list. This is important for building clean, effective email lists.

Although the idea of scaling your email list without an opt-in strategy can be enticing, a double opt-in process will be more beneficial to you and your customers in the long run. [Need help with email marketing? Check out our best picks for email marketing software.]

2. Offer an incentive to email subscribers.

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 333 billion in 2022, 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. These are some examples: 

  • 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 to generate more email sign-ups.

3. Use landing pages for email sign-up.

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. 

Use landing pages anytime someone is directed to 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, it should take them 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, could go to a different landing page than those who found you through a mention in a media feature. 

Custom landing pages allow you to take advantage of segmentation, 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. 

4. Leverage your social media outlets.

Social media is extremely important to advertising these days. The PwC Global Consumer Insights Survey found that posting engaging brand content on social media can influence 14% of consumers to remain loyal. 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 media settings, 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 68% of consumers prefer visual-first content, couple your incentives with photos or video for further engagement. This will help you effectively use social media to build your email list.

5. Create an autoresponder sequence.

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. Don’t waste that opportunity to make initial contact. 

This is the point when you should 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 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. 

Did You Know?Did you know
Autoresponder and triggered emails have much higher click-through rates than general marketing emails, according to Smart Insights.

You can also use welcome emails to guide customers to 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.

6. Create group emails.

Just as you can make 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. 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.

7. Limit sign-up detail requirements.

Pop-ups and subscription landing pages should offer a quick sign-up process for the consumer. When requesting a consumer’s contact information in a sign-up form, keep your subscription questions to a minimum. If 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 will receive more leads when you only ask for a name than when you ask for a name, email and phone number. Reduce the time it takes to subscribe by only asking for a name and email address, or even 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. If you have already created an extensive contact list and are looking to grow it by serious leads only, consider adding more fields.

8. Email subscribers regularly, but not too frequently.

Building your email list doesn’t end with getting customers to sign up. You must also keep them on the list, which means reducing the likelihood that they will unsubscribe. 

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

The frequency of your 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. 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. 

FYIDid you know
Running test campaigns may be extra work, but it's worth it. Email is one of the most valuable forms of content marketing you can use. In 2020, according to the Litmus State of Email Survey, email marketing earned an ROI of $36 for every $1 spent. Building and maintaining your list will pay off with the opportunity to market directly to your customers.

9. Avoid buying email lists and sending spam.

When building an email list, you should avoid certain approaches. First and foremost, don’t send spam messages. With anti-spam laws like the CAN-SPAM Act and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) in place, it is crucial that you provide your audience only with useful content. 

Be clear about 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. Sending bulk marketing emails via your own email service, like Gmail or Outlook, can also cause your emails to be filtered as spam, even if they’re not. To avoid this, use a third-party email marketing service. Consider the examples in our review of Constant Contact and our Email Marketing Service best picks.

Another strategy that typically doesn’t work is buying contacts. While your CPM (cost per thousand impressions) could be as low as $100 to start, buying contacts can cost you much more in the long run – such as your reputation. Even if you buy a database of email addresses, 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.

10. Closely manage your email contact list.

Building a list is an ongoing practice. Don’t ignore your list once you collect email addresses. Closely manage your address list and prune it for bounced emails to ensure your conversion rate remains high and your unsubscribe rate remains low. 

People’s interests and needs are always changing, and your email list should 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 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. 

Adam Uzialko and Chad Brooks contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.

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Skye Schooley, Business Operations Insider and Senior Lead Analyst
Skye Schooley is a business expert with a passion for all things human resources and digital marketing. She's spent 10 years working with clients on employee recruitment and customer acquisition, ensuring companies and small business owners are equipped with the information they need to find the right talent and market their services. In recent years, Schooley has largely focused on analyzing HR software products and other human resources solutions to lead businesses to the right tools for managing personnel responsibilities and maintaining strong company cultures. Schooley, who holds a degree in business communications, excels at breaking down complex topics into reader-friendly guides and enjoys interviewing business consultants for new insights. Her work has appeared in a variety of formats, including long-form videos, YouTube Shorts and newsletter segments.
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