How to Build an Email List from Scratch Fast (Top Tips From an Expert)

by Neil Patel

Last updated on July 18th, 2018

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I always prefer to get information directly from experts. If I can eliminate some of the guesswork before I start a new marketing campaign, I’m already ahead of the curve. That includes information on topics like how to build an email list.

Geoff Roberts, marketing expert and the founder of Outseta, agreed to answer some of the questions I know you’re asking about your own businesses.

I’m excited to share with you the answers he gave to my queries about email marketing, list building mistakes, advanced email marketing tactics, and more.

First, though, I want to cover some of the basics so we’re all on the same page.

If you want to skip around, here’s a handy list of the topics I’m covering today:

What are the Benefits of Building an Email List?

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An email list is a database of email subscribers who have opted in to receive promotional messages from your company.

Some people use deceptive practices to build an email list — such as buying email subscribers — but it’s best to collect emails from people who really want to hear from you.

Geoff Roberts says, “The best email list building strategies really boil down to two common denominators: Creating a relevant user experience with conversion in mind, and providing as much value as possible to your website visitors.”

What are the positive results companies have seen from investing in this marketing strategy?

He goes on to say: “If you use these concepts as your compass when you begin building your email list, you’ll realize better results than you will by focusing on any one particular hack or deceptive form of email capture trickery.”

How do you put those ideas into motion? First, don’t buy email subscribers or spam people who haven’t specifically requested to hear from you. Second, use the best strategies to build an email list from scratch.

Let’s look at some of Geoff Roberts’s most effective tips for achieving those goals.

How to Build an Email List from Scratch (Top Tips From an Expert)

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Geoff Roberts has a long history in digital marketing. He advises companies about how to improve their digital marketing game, co-founded Outseta, and served as the VP of marketing for Bizness Apps and Roambi. His consultancy, SaaS Growth Strategy, specifically targets companies in the SaaS space.

What would you tell marketers who are just learning how to build an email list?

When you’re first learning how to build an email list, the process can seem intimidating. You might not know exactly where to start.

Geoff offers three main suggestions for new marketers who need to build an email list from scratch. You can use these strategies to create strong relationships with your audience and to accelerate your list-building campaign.

“Set email list-building expectations up front”

Consumers are careful with their contact information. They won’t opt in to receive marketing messages unless they perceive clear value.

Geoff advises entrepreneurs to “make it crystal clear to visitors why they should subscribe to your email list and what they’ll get if they do.” He says, “A simple ‘Sign-up for our email list’ call-to-action is destined to fall flat on its face.”

I couldn’t agree more. People don’t just want to sign up for your email list. They want to get special offers, get insider information, and learn from your expertise.

Geoff uses his own lead-capture form from his website as an example of how to set clear expectations for your visitors.

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This lead-capture form tells subscribers exactly what they get. They know how frequently they’ll hear from Outseta and what each email will contain.

You can do the same thing with your own lead-capture form. You might have a different email marketing strategy — sending just one email per month, for instance — and different incentives, but you have to be clear about your value proposition.

“Deliver as much value as you possibly can.”

According to Geoff, value is the machine that drives any email marketing campaign.

“Churn kills SaaS businesses, and the same is true when building your email list  — the fastest way to grow is to make sure that, when you do get a new subscriber, they stick around and don’t unsubscribe.”

Geoff makes an excellent point that learning how to build an email list isn’t just about acquiring new subscribers. That’s just the beginning of the battle.

Once you have a subscriber, you must keep him or her happy. Follow through on the expectations you set forth when convincing subscribers to sign up.

Geoff goes on to say, “The good news is [that] the fastest way to get new email subscribers and to keep them around is to provide enormous value. Whether you are offering free tools, e-books, or blog posts — it really doesn’t matter. What matters is the quality of your offering.”

We’ve talked about lead magnets and value-driven email marketing before here on the Crazy Egg blog. When you generously give value to your subscribers, they’ll look forward to your emails, open them, and interact with them.

Geoff stresses the importance of solving specific problems and helping your subscribers achieve their goals. Figure out what your audience wants, then deliver.

“Don’t interrupt the visitor’s experience with irrelevant offers.”

Perfecting user experience is an important part of conversion rate optimization (CRO). You don’t want to interrupt or distract visitors when they land on your site. Instead, you want to serve up a fantastic experience that guides them to the action you want them to take.

For instance, Geoff points out popups as potentially distracting elements on a website. He recommends their use on e-commerce sites, but less so on SaaS sites. He says, “You won’t see any pop-ups on our website. While we may miss out on some emails as a result, my argument is [that] this benefits our brand [and] our credibility, and keeps the bounce rate of our site visitors down.”

When you interrupt the user experience, you risk bounces. Consumers don’t have much patience these days, so they’ll exit a site if they get annoyed.

This doesn’t mean you can’t use tools to help capture more emails. Geoff says, “I’d encourage you to use persistent bars at the top or bottom of your page for these offers, as they are less disruptive than pop-ups. Hello Bar is an easy-to-use tool that can help with this.”

What are the top one or two mistakes marketers make that turn off readers from subscribing?

Building on that last point, I asked Geoff about common mistakes marketers make when figuring out how to build an email list from scratch. He responded concisely with two major errors that can result in fewer subscribers:

“The top one that comes to mind is scraping emails off the web and entering them into an email list they didn’t sign up for. The second would simply be over-communicating with your list. Both hurt your credibility and result in your subscribers tuning you out or unsubscribing altogether.”

I feel the exact same way. My own email list is one of my most important marketing assets, so I don’t abuse it. People sign up for my list, and those are the only people who receive my emails. Additionally, I don’t send out an email unless I have something important to say.

More importantly, every email contains value. I genuinely want to help my subscribers, so I’m cognizant of their needs and expectations.

Advanced Email Subscriber Building Tactics to Grow Your List Fast

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While it’s important to understand the basics of building an email list, there’s no reason to put off learning more advanced techniques. The faster you learn, the more effective you become as an email marketer.

Unsurprisingly, Geoff takes a data-focused approach to determining what tweaks to make to offers and email content.

He says, “Look at your most trafficked blog posts or other content offers. You can then use Google Search Console to see the actual search queries that have resulted in people landing on those pages. Is there a common theme or objective behind the search queries that have brought visitors to that page? If so, build a content offer that directly addresses the theme or question behind the search queries.”

In other words, Geoff recommends considering search and user intent to figure out what your audience wants. You might discover that there’s a pain point you can address through your offer or a particular goal your audience wants to achieve.

By addressing those issues directly in your offer, you increase your chances of getting more subscribers.

Geoff also says:

“Another interesting advanced tip is adding email capture forms in the middle of video content. Tools like Wistia make it easy. While this can be disruptive, there are times where it can be effective and help you capture emails from really high value potential customers.

“For example, if you have a very detailed, 10-minute product demo video available on your website and throw in one of these forms 6 minutes into the video, there’s a pretty good chance you can collect some emails this way. Any prospect [who’s] already watched 6 minutes of your video is likely pretty engaged/interested in your product.

“You can either make it a requirement that they share their email in order to continue with the video (not my favorite approach), or make the email capture form optional but promise a follow-up of additional valuable materials that will help the prospect better understand your product offering via email.”

I’m particularly intrigued by this strategy because I’ve dived into video marketing on YouTube and on my own site, and I think that using video for lead capture can open up new opportunities, especially for SaaS companies.

Is it Possible to Build a Good Email List Without a Website?

If you’re familiar with my work, you know that I’m a huge proponent of content marketing. I have websites for all my companies as well as a personal blog, so I advocate getting your own website if you want to succeed in business — and if you want to build a good email list.

Geoff concurs. He told me, “In the context of a SaaS business, build a website. I don’t know why you wouldn’t. This is how SaaS products are evaluated and bought.

“Other businesses, like brick-and-mortar retailers, can absolutely build a quality email list by capturing emails from customers in their physical locations, for example. But having a website is a good idea for most businesses these days.”

Common Email List Building Mistakes that SaaS Companies Make

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As an expert in SaaS, I wanted Geoff to provide some insight specifically into SaaS email marketing. If you’re in this space, you can benefit from his strategies and avoid some of the most common email marketing mistakes in this industry.

For one thing, Geoff cautions against using “email list building trickery/tactics.” In other words, you don’t want to collect email addresses through subterfuge. Be real with your audience.

He says, You need to earn the right to enter someone’s inbox, and with everyone’s inboxes inundated with unwanted messages these days, it takes more than ever before for someone to invite you in.

“There’s often an “if we build it, they will come” mindset in SaaS companies, where the expectation is if you launch a product and share some content, your list will automatically begin to grow. If your list isn’t growing, you’re simply not providing enough value.”

Again, data is your friend. Track your subscribe rates meticulously. If you’re only getting a couple signups a week, or if your growth rate stagnates, you need to up the value quotient.

That starts with your offer. Provide an incentive to sign up that your target audience — people who are most likely and qualified to buy your product — can’t refuse.

Geoff also says, “The second [mistake] would be littering your website with email sign-up forms and offers that benefit you, rather than those that benefit your site visitor.”

In the SaaS world, you have to focus on the consumer 100 percent. Yes, you want to collect subscribers, convert leads, and generate sales, but you can’t do that if you’re always marketing from a me-me-me perspective.

One strategy I’ve found is that writing in the second person always shifts the perspective. Instead of using the word “I” in your offer, use “you.” That way, you know you’re focused on the consumer instead of yourself.

A Real List Building Example that Worked [Case Study]

When asked about a real-world example that has benefited Geoff, he cited poll-taking as a reliable way to increase value and better understand your audience.

“Poll your audience about the type of content that would be most useful to them. What are their burning questions, fears, desires? How do they get promoted? Then cover those topics. At Outseta, we’ve really dug into to understand these things for other SaaS founders, then have covered the resulting topics.”

This can work for both email marketing and content marketing — and ideally both. For instance, a common email marketing strategy is to link to your best blog content in your emails. Deliver a fantastic piece that provides insane value for readers.

Geoff learned through polling that his audience really wanted to know how to build links and improve their SEO. And since Outseta’s customers are primarily in the SaaS industry, he knew to focus on them specifically.

Based on this new insight, Geoff produced an in-depth article on link building and keyword research. He generously included me among the three experts whose brains he picked for the article, so his audience got to hear from more than one perspective.

This same strategy allowed him to produce articles on topics like startup life cycles, cold email marketing, and business financing.

Using this strategy can not only help you boost value for your email subscribers, but it can also help with SEO.

Conclusion

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It’s clear that there are many ways to build an email list from scratch. Geoff Roberts graciously provided expert insight that can help you grow your list faster, more effectively, and without resorting to trickery.

Bookmark this article so you can return to it often as your email list grows. When you get more activity, you can employ Geoff’s advanced tactics to make your email list even stronger.

Remember, though, that value is key. If you’re not providing value, you can’t expect people to hand over their contact information.

To get more data from your audience, use Crazy Egg’s numerous tools. You can see how website visitors interact with your site, including signup forms, using our visual reports.

You can find Geoff Roberts at Outseta.com, at his SaaS growth consultancy, and on Twitter at @GeoffTRoberts.

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Neil Patel

Neil Patel is the co-founder of Crazy Egg and Hello Bar. He helps companies like Amazon, NBC, GM, HP and Viacom grow their revenue.

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