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5 Ways to Build Your Email Contact List

5 Ways to Build Your Email Contact List
Credit: Lisa S./Shutterstock

You know email should be part of your marketing strategy. It allows you to communicate directly with your customers without relying on a changing social media algorithm or paying for an ad that you hope the right people will see.

If you are using legitimate email marketing, everything you send should be permission-based email. This means that customers have voluntarily signed up for your email list. Sending unsolicited email is likely to result in your emails being marked spam, which could eventually get you banned from your email service provider.

But permission-based email requires having customers sign up for your list. How do you persuade them to do that? These five strategies will help you build your email list, including where you ask, what you offer and what you should do when customers sign up.

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Your email sign-up form should be somewhere immediately visible. Sticking it in the footer of your website will attract no sign-ups at all – most website visitors will never scroll down that far.

But just putting your form at the top of your home page isn't enough. Customers follow different paths through your website, so you will capture more email addresses if you put sign-up locations along several of those paths. But you don't want to overdo it. Choose two to four spots on your site where you as for email sign ups. Those could be:

  • on your home page
  • in the sidebar of a blog
  • in the content of your about or bio page
  • at the bottom of otherwise dead pages
  • in your contact page
  • in your site header
  • as a pop-up

You can also include email sign-up locations in blog posts or on social media. In these places, you can ask for email multiple times in multiple places, as not every customer will see each sign-up form.

No matter where you put your email capture, use a double opt in strategy. A double opt in sign-up means your email service provider will send a confirmation email to new subscribers to ensure that they want to be on your list. This extra step ensures that your customers know you are using permission based email marketing and 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 will build your email list more quickly if you give customers a reason to sign up. In 2017, there were 269 emails sent every day, and that number is expected to increase to 319.6 billion by 2021. Your customers already have full inboxes with more email than they will ever read. If they already receive promotional and marketing emails from dozens of companies, they will hesitate to sign up for more.

If you want customers to invite you into their inbox, you need to offer an incentive that will prompt them to hand over their email address. The most effective incentive will depend on your type of business. A few options are:

  • a coupon for a free drink or dessert at your restaurant
  • a discount code for their next purchase online or in 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 your 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 web page with a single goal or call to action. In the case of building your email list, a landing page is designed to persuade 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 a bio of you 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 that 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.

Customized landing pages allow you to take advantage of segmenting, a strategy that divides your email list up based on customers' characteristics and interests. By addressing customers' specific interests and needs, segmented email campaigns generate click-through rates more than 100 percent higher than emails sent to a bulk list.

When customers, or potential customers, sign up with their 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.

This is the point when it makes 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 three to seven emails long, 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. Creating 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 in an introductory purchase. These offers, known as tripwires, are very low priced, often less than $10 or only the cost of shipping. Their value is in creating a relationship: 60 percent of 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.

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. A 2016 survey found that 78 percent of customers unsubscribe from a business' 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 maintaining 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 seem like extra work, but it is worth it: Email is one of the most valuable forms of marketing you can use, with an average 122 percent return on investment. Spending time to build and maintain your list will pay off when you have the opportunity to market directly to your customers, with no middle man in between.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.