Growing an email list is an extremely important part of running any online business.
It’s a weird situation:
Emails are so valuable that many websites will happily run the risk of scaring you off for eternity just to get you to hand over yours.
Anyone with even the slightest amount of experience in online marketing will know that — unfortunately for users of the internet — pop-ups (and similar things) work extremely well.
…Which means we get bombarded with them.
The biggest example of this in action is from online marketing’s Marmite man Neil Patel.
If you don’t know what Marmite is, it’s a product sold mainly in the UK with the slogan ‘love it or hate it’ due to its extremely unique and distinctive taste. It’s also a well-known fact that you only love Marmite if you’re an absolute weirdo.
Neil has made a lot of money in the online marketing game and is clearly extremely savvy in his techniques — he knows how to get people talking. Like I am right now. Ergh.
But, in my opinion, some of his email-hunting tactics range from slightly questionable to outright ridiculous.
To demonstrate this, I’m going to head to his site now and check out how many times he tries to collect my email address within just a few clicks.
After landing on his home page and closing his request to send me push notifications, we see his offer to help us grow our sites.
Click the orange button and we’re presented with a pop-up to attend a webinar:
The webinar is free — but you will need to give him your email address to attend.
This webinar tactic is mostly fine, in my opinion.
There’s a noticeable lack of option to say “please don’t fucking email me anything that isn’t to do with this exact webinar” but I can’t quite put my finger on why that might be.
When I attempted to minimise the browser window to continue writing these exact words, I was presented with this pop-up:
For the sake of research, I completed the traffic quiz and eagerly anticipated the results.
To receive my results, I’d need to hand over my email address.
WHY DIDN’T I SEE THIS COMING?
At least this time there is almost an option to ask him not to send us further emails.
To proceed with the results, we must check the box that says ‘I agree to receive my quiz results and a series of emails that will teach me how to get more traffic’.
I’m not going to say the wording is intentionally vague and misleading, but also that’s exactly what I’m going to say.
So, the option is ‘receive nothing’ or ‘receive all of the emails I want to send you’ — there’s no option for ‘please just send the thing that was offered’.
Another attempt to get you to opt-in that I saw within just 2 minutes of landing on the site was the fixed bar at the top of the page that followed me wherever I scrolled:
There was no option to close this bar or prevent it from following me.
Instead, there were just the two options in response to the question: Do you want more traffic?
The first option — ‘yes, I want more traffic’ — takes you to his consultancy lead-gen page (with email capture, of course).
What intrigued me more was the second option — ‘no, I have enough traffic’ — and that’s without even getting into the psychologically-focused choice of wording.
Clicking that doesn’t close the options so that you can finally see the full screen, but instead redirects you to his homepage, i.e. his ‘webinar for email’ exchange pitch.
These online marketing guys are all the same. They’re only after one thing.
Data isn’t something you should just give away to any willing participant like you do with your virginity. You should save your email address for the right person(s).
With my final moments on a site that is going to give me nightmares for the forseeable future, I decided to check out a blog post to see if I could pick up some tips without needing to give up my personal information.
I notice two further opt-in opportunities in the sidebar, one for the webinar and one for consultancy.
The webinar then continued to follow me down the page.
I’d seen enough, so I decided to return to my life of being way less successful and only slightly less annoying than Neil Patel.
I didn’t put all of this together just to criticise Neil.
He’s self-aware. He knows what he’s doing and that some people don’t like it.
This is the same guy that recently wrote a post ‘Loud is Weak‘ where he said “my parents taught me that showing off only draws more attention and causes problems”…
…but also wrote a post in the past about spending $57,000 in a month on getting half-naked girls to promote his name on Instagram.
He’s always marketing, even when it looks like he isn’t.
The main reason I showed all of his attempts to get you to opt in was so you can see how many times the most successful online marketers will try to get you to subscribe to them. They won’t miss a single opportunity.
But it does beg the question:
Why are people so desperate to get your email address?
Email is the highest-converting marketing method — a much larger percentage of your active subscribers will purchase a product or service from you compared to advertising to strangers.
Not only this, email lists also help you to amplify your reach.
Share on your Facebook page and you’ll probably get one re-share from your mom, and she has literally no other friends. She’s a loser.
Share with a list that loves what you send them and they’re likely to help you share it further and wider than you ever could on your own.
The benefits don’t stop there.
Lists will also help to reduce your risk. They’re an insurance policy as well as a money maker.
It gives you the chance to reach a percentage of your audience directly, without relying on them to come to you to find out information.
Imagine you got hacked, or your site broke, or you got banned from Google.
You’d still be able to reach all those that signed up by email to alert them of news or new products.
And if all of that wasn’t enough…
Having a big ol’ list will give your website a higher valuation if you ever wanted to sell up, and will likely earn you more if you strike a deal with a brand to promote them, too.
You won’t find many online marketers telling you this:
Getting the biggest email list, regardless of tactics, is not a priority of mine.
Would I like a huge email list?
But I want to do things correctly, and I only want people to subscribe if they actually want to receive my emails.
It’s about having a quality subscriber relationship for me, not just as many faces in the crowd as possible.
Some sites out there will trade or sell email lists, or subscribe you to emails automatically just because you’ve done something like contact their customer support — these all break GDPR legislation, but are also dick moves regardless.
Below, we’re going to look at a range of ways that you can build a rapidly growing email list without resorting to, y’know…being a bit of a dick.
Pro tip: using Gmail, sign up for email lists using the format ’firstname.lastname@example.org’.
Only letters to the left of the + sign counts for Gmail, so you’ll still receive your emails correctly — and if you randomly receive any communication from a company you’ve never heard of, you’ll see the website name after the plus sign for how they came to acquire your details.
First and foremost, to grow your email list, you need to grow your traffic.
You’re not going to get 100 new email subscribers a day if you only get 10 visitors in the same time period. I’ve triple checked these numbers.
But even if you have low volumes of visitors checking out your site, you still want to be trying to convert as many into subscribers as you can.
From here on in, we’re going to look at the best ways to attract email sign-ups in huge volumes.
A squeeze page is a whole page on your website that exists with the sole purpose of trying to get you to hand over your email address.
The page offers an effective ultimatum; subscribe or leave the page.
That sounds a lot more aggressive than they come across in reality.
Squeeze pages are extremely simple; they offer a promise and a call-to-action (CTA) and usually not much else.
We already saw that Neil Patel uses his home page as a squeeze page.
He’ll teach you how to grow your online business to millions of views a month through SEO, with a bonus sheet included too.
The CTA is the button to get us to sign up for his webinar.
Squeeze pages can be used in any industry:
I’ve included this example from artist and writer Austin Kleon, who promises nothing more than his weekly newsletter from his squeeze page.
I really like this as it’s hard to under-deliver, unlike the previous example’s promise to teach you how to generate millions of visitors. However, big promises tend to convert at a higher rate, so yeah.
I personally think there are some optimisations that could be done to Austin’s page to convert a higher percentage of people into subscribing fans.
Based on what normally makes for a good squeeze page, some things I’d recommend testing would be:
With all that said, I have no idea if Austin has already tested that stuff — I’m going off theories and my own opinions, not data. Testing is always important to draw accurate conclusions as every site is different.
My advice to you all when creating a squeeze page:
Give people a reason to subscribe.
Tell them what they will receive, how it will help them, and how it’s helped other people. Make it as easy and appealing to subscribe as possible.
Content upgrades refer to bonus content you can receive in addition to regular content.
Examples include additional tips, checklists, or even just the blog post itself in PDF/e-book form to easily read again at another time.
Whilst reading this, you may also want to see my 10 bonus list building secrets.
A large number of sites would do something like that and they work extremely effectively. You’ve hopefully enjoyed my content so far if you’re still reading, so if you wanted more of the same then you have the choice to access it via email.
However, the decision I’ve made with this site is that I want to share everything I can publicly. Therefore, no content upgrades here as I include all of my tips within the posts.
But for those that do want to prioritise building a list, content upgrades work extremely effectively.
For maximum results, I’d advise not being such a pussy about things in the way that I am.
ValueWalk, a news site in the investment space, increased their email conversion rate by 216% simply by adding content upgrades, also known as ‘content bribes’, to their posts.
Producing a unique content upgrade for every post is the ideal thing to do for maximum success with this technique, but that’s not always possible.
If you already have a large number of posts on your site, or you are a team that produces a large number of content pieces every week, it would be a huge undertaking to create a high quality upgrade for everything you’ve ever created and will create going forward.
When this is the case, you can create an upgrade for each similar topic you cover.
Having a different upgrade for each subject you cover is a huge improvement over just one single free offering.
In April 2018 I decided to create content upgrades for 1-2 topics I cover on my niche affiliate site. In August 2018, I then added two other forms that were tailored to certain topics, although there was no ‘bribe’.
In both instances I published the changes near the end of the month — which is why the uplift in conversion rates occur the month after.
In the 6-month period after I started adding topically-relevant content upgrades and forms, my email conversion rate increased by 143.72%.
There are a wide variety of plugins and pieces of software you can use to add upgrades and custom forms.
I started out with the free WordPress plugin Optin Cat, which more than does the job for those looking for something quick and extremely simple to set up.
If you’ve managed to make a website then you can definitely set up opt-in forms.
Hidden content is similar to a content upgrade, as you can use it for revealing bonus content in exchange for an email.
However, most people will simply use hidden content to hide some interesting or valuable content away from a free blog post, almost like holding the juiciest part of the content to ransom.
I’m personally not a fan of this style.
I feel like a private members section of your site with bonus content is a very similar alternative offering, but with that approach there’s less pressure on a user to hand their data to you.
Whilst I dislike the hidden content/content locking approach to list building, I have no doubt that it probably works very well.
Just remember that Google won’t be able to see your hidden content, so you could be sacrificing traffic for a higher conversion rate — whether that results in more conversions overall and whether it’s more profitable overall is something for you to work out.
Having a fixed bar the top of your website that scrolls with a user can be an effective way of getting more opt-ins.
I don’t think they’re too intrusive, but I do believe they should come with an option to close them if a user is not interest in seeing them.
With top bars, you have two different ways you can set them up.
Firstly, you could allow a user to opt-in directly through the bar by including an email field within it.
Alternatively, you can choose to offer a link to be clicked that takes users to a squeeze page. I prefer this option as it usually converts at a higher rate, as long as your squeeze page is effective.
Almost the same as the top bar is the sidebar, and I’m not going to explain the difference between the two because if you can’t already tell then you just need to give up now and never come back.
Exit intent pop-ups only show when a user appears to want to leave a page.
When a user’s cursor leaves the main window of your page and goes into the top bar of the browser, i.e. to type in a new website address or to hit the ‘X’ to close, your exit-intent pop-up will show.
This is a last ditch attempt to recapture someone’s attention and offer something amazing to turn them into a subscriber.
Whilst this seems a little desperate, they can be very effective.
The reason for this, in my opinion, is due to the way we tend to use the internet today.
We search for the information we need, we find it, and then move on.
Just because we want to leave a website, it does not mean the website was not useful. It could (and usually does) mean that they supplied us with all of the information we needed at that time.
An exit-intent pop-up can be used to say “we have more stuff you might like to see in the future”.
I always liked this funny exit intent pop-up on Jacob King’s site:
Whilst it’s made as a bit of a joke — the small text says ‘No, I want to continue dwelling in my mom’s basement’ if you can’t read it — I can tell that it would work really well due to the demographic of his audience.
I’ve used the free version of Sumo to generate the smart pop-ups on my niche site for a few years now.
Something I’ve also used Sumo for is scroll boxes.
Like with the exit-intent pop-ups, scroll boxes are smart in their design — they don’t just show all of the time.
You set them up to appear after a certain percentage of your post or page has been scrolled.
This means, assuming you set the percentage to be fairly high (40%+), they only show to people who appear to be interested in reading your content. Therefore, it wouldn’t seem too out of place to ask if they’d like to stick around for more.
They usually show in the bottom right of a page and don’t take up too much space, so they’re not as ‘in your face’ as a regular pop-up — they’re more of a subtle nudge than a straight punch to your stress levels.
As a marketer, you have to appreciate when things work.
I don’t like pop-ups of any kind, but when they get results…you gotta do what you gotta do.
I prefer a discreet and non-intrusive approach, but when profit is your priority you should experiment with all different kinds of opt-in forms, boxes and pop-ups.
Once you have enough data, look not only how your email conversion rate is performing, but also things like your bounce rate in Analytics.
Are you signing up more people without any major impact on your bounce rate? That implies people aren’t too annoyed with what you’re doing.
Bounce rate rocketing? Perhaps you should tone it down a little.
Like with content upgrades and end-of-post forms, scroll boxes work best when they’re tailored to the topic of the content a user is viewing.
I appreciate that e-commerce stores will find it hard to implement a lot of the opt-in ideas from this post (except for on their blogs) but an easy place to capture emails is on the checkout page.
When a user wants to place an order, ensure you have a checkbox that says something like ‘I’d like to receive special offers & news’ or, y’know, something much more creative.
Another easy place to add an email opt-in is via a comment box.
Users usually have to leave their email address in order to comment on a site anyway, so why not give them the option to easily subscribe to your emails at the same time?
Like with a comment, if someone is getting in touch with you then there’s a chance they’ll want to hear more of what you have to say going forward.
Drop a checkbox on your contact form to request permission to send a contacter stuff they might like.
If you have a large list that doesn’t care what you have to say, all you’re left with is a fairly hefty monthly invoice from the email marketing service you use and a bigger weapon to use in the world of the online dickswinging contest.
A bigger list does not guarantee bigger profits.
I’m more than happy for someone to unsubscribe if they no longer like what I have to say.
But I’d prefer to keep people engaged and enjoying what I send to them.
You shouldn’t be upset when people unsubscribe.
It’s not like I make a list of every single person who’s ever unsubscribed from my emails and one day I’m going to hunt them all down when they’re least expecting it haha no I swear I’m totally not going to do that.
Keeping your subscribers engaged and interested in what you have to say is really important.
I wanted to share some of the tips I’ve picked up from unsubscribing from hundreds of email lists over the years.
The number one reason I unsubscribe is because I didn’t fucking subscribe so why are you sending me newsletters, but I didn’t include that one below.
I find it really interesting when people add a personal touch to their emails, but there is a fine line where things go from a unique insight to absolute weirdness.
I remember being signed up to one email list in the marketing space and the author was updating everyone on her mother’s illness, death and funeral arrangements. Sad…but weird.
That’s potentially the harshest of my unsubscribes, but what are you gonna do?
Talking about your personal life can be used to great effect:
By adding a bit of ‘behind the scenes’ type information, your subscribers get a unique insight into your business, your life, your thought procesess and more.
This means there is genuine value in being a loyal subscriber rather than just a site reader.
Offer genuine value to the people putting their faith in you.
I appreciate being sent special offers from companies and brands that I like…
…But special offers aren’t that special when they’re sent every single day.
Likewise, I love being sent content directly to my inbox, but I don’t want to be sent old posts (unless they’ve been massively updated) or posts that are basically sales pitches with no value added at all.
Don’t just treat your list like a revenue stream.
I try to follow some general principles when emailing my subscribers:
The rules are pretty simple, but they really help to not annoy people or weird them out.
Another helpful tip:
You’re always going to piss some people off.
No matter how well you do things, it’s inevitable that you’ll lose subscribers who change their interests or actually hated everything about you all along.
Focus on delivering the best stuff you can to your existing subscribers, whilst using the methods we spoke about earlier in this post to continue growing your list further.