How to Build an Email List from Scratch: Ultimate Guide in 2022

By focusing on your content, sending in timely offers, indulging in partnerships, and collecting segmented data, you can build an email list from scratch.

Robbie Fitzwater
Updated on

So, with all these queries coming in, I finally decided to put everything in one place and write a blog about it, and here we are!

Lately, we have been getting a lot of questions around this topic “what is an email list, how does it work, how to build an email list from scratch, how important building a list is,” etc. 

Without any further ado, let’s dive into it.

What is an email list?

Starting from the basics, an email list is a group of people that have consented to receive information from you or your business about promotions and other updates. So, it’s like they have intentionally allowed you to stay in touch with them and keep them posted. This could be about anything they have opted in for. 

Not to mention that building that kind of addressable audience is really powerful for a business as it gives you a bit more control in that customer-seller relationship – let me explain in detail why building a list is so much important.

Why is building a list important?

First of all, because, as I said, it’s like you own an audience. Or you can take it as building your house on your own land and not renting one. 

Back then, I was more invested in social media marketing; but soon, I realized that, hey, I’m doing the same things in email as in my social media campaigns, except for battling the algorithm while trying to reach my audience and communicate with them directly.

So, with the email list, now I have that strong ownership over my audience, and it has become more of a community where I can communicate with them and turn it into something meaningful and valuable for my business. 

It’s me and my audience, one on one, without any hurdle between us. So that’s simply a very powerful tool and something that can take your business next level. And once a business finds a way to achieve that milestone and convert that audience into a community, unimaginably amazing things can be done!

I take it as one of those three pillars of the email marketing ecosystem that we talk about all the time, where we have our audience playing the main part. And unfortunately, we overlook it the most.

A quick recap; these three pillars were:

  • Audience
  • Automations
  • Campaigns

So, basically, our main goal with that list is to keep collecting a little more data over time, improving, understanding, and trying to get to know more and more about it. Ideally, you should be walking them through that system of audience hierarchy that we discussed earlier. 

It is all about taking people that opted in, increasing the prospects of them turning into your customer, then repeating buyers, and finally a valuable asset to your business by becoming the one who refers and, in turn, brings in more buyers and so on. 

That way, they increase their value at each stage, and we understand what behaviors we need to induce, so we walk them through the process accordingly, holding their hands. 

All in all, there’s so much value you have in that list and so much control you’ve got that now you need no one to manage it for you, and that makes it so much important.

The 6 Best Ways to Build an Email List from Scratch for eCommerce

So, you’re starting a business just now, and you want to build an email list from scratch? There are numerous ways you can do that, and thinking about doing it, I have a few different approaches that I’m very excited to tell you about. 

Content First 

Starting with the one that I’m most passionate about – content first. 

With this strategy, we’re basically adding value to our audience by informing and educating them through our content. And if they find it valuable, obviously they’re going to come back and join your list, your community. 

So it’s basically that people are coming in because they find your content valuable. 

And over the past 10,15 years, seeing a lot of businesses doing that really excites me because it was not always possible. 

This content-first/audience-first technique allows you to understand your audience ahead of time. So when you actually move onto the part where you expand your business and your services, whatever you’re selling, you already have a steady and seamless stream of communication, an intimate relationship with your audience.

For example, big names like Glossier and Kylie cosmetics have been kind of first built on the content and then on the product or service offered. 

So, again, this is the area where content informs and entertains people and is so valuable on its own that they want to opt-in and have more of it because it fulfills their needs.

Also, content opens doors for professional services because it shows expertise, shows insights, and lays out why a person is an expert in what he’s doing and why is he the right person to solve your problem because you know, they are doing it at a higher level, in a public space, and that also helps build the relationship. 

Although it is technically free, it takes a lot of effort and time to create engrossing content. But if you invest in it, you’re definitely going to get favorable outcomes in the long run. 

Offers 

Another way of building your list is giving your audience some kind of offer to lure them in. It can make a good reason for somebody to join your community. We see these a lot on eCommerce sites like Shopify. 

So by creating an offer enticing and valuable enough, we can get our people to come in and volunteer to be a part of our list. And, about this, I always think like, hey, what are those pillars that we can build these offers around? What levers we can pull behaviourally and emotionally to get people to do what we want them to do.

So, for that, I focus on what are fundamental human needs. I take it from Maslow’s hierarchy here. For example, how can you create exclusivity, status, savings, and safety – in a nutshell, everything that most people look around for. 

  • Exclusivity – So, first of all, talking about exclusivity, it’s like making them a part of that in-crowd that has access to everything first. 
  • Status – And then the status is also somewhat similar as it’s all about making people proud of what they are doing and feel unique one way or the other. 
  • Savings – This one is pretty straightforward. Like, as saving money in terms of discounts that they find valuable. 
  • Safety – And lastly comes safety. It is concerned with making people feel safe and confident about the decisions they make. Many B2B businesses do that by offering white papers and eBooks and providing valuable information through them, and because with that, you’re helping them, they feel confident. So offering this kind of safety is a really good incentive for someone to opt in. 

But again, for those offers, the more personalized they are for a person, the more likely that person is going to convert there. And it would only make sense if your offer aligns with that person’s interests and needs or anything that they are currently looking for. 

That way, it would feel really natural and an extension of what they are already experiencing.  

Similarly, the relevance of that offers holds equal importance. I think about it as the nuts and bolts to bring those offers to life. And in that regard, pop-overs are one easy way to start with. 

From the experience standpoint, I know that many people don’t like these pop-overs, but honestly, they can also play a really vital role in bringing people to communicate with you directly. 

Also, your offers should be valuable enough to persuade people to trade their data with you in exchange for that offer. And one great source for creating a pop-over is Klaviyo.

Other email service providers use different built-in tools for the pop-overs report to build the list, like Privy. You can also download some apps on your own to build those pop-overs newsletter sign-ups.

Some businesses are doing this really cool thing with quizzes like, “Hey, did you find your desired product? How can we help you?” and more stuff like that. So, that way, they take you down a guided journey, helping you find the right product while also collecting some valuable data to understand how they can serve you best in the future. And honestly, this is one of the most impressive things I have seen where businesses use the quizzes to educate and inform you along that journey. 

Groups like Andie Swimmers and Hydration Precision are also doing an amazing job using the same quizzes. For example, the latter helps people find their perfect hydration plan by asking them questions like what sport they’re doing, how humidity is in the location there, and how long they’re exercising. And then there are sources like Octane AI that make the process a whole lot easier. 

Another way to do this is using embedded forms. And if you opt for that, make sure you keep the relevance factor in check here too. 

For example, we have a blog post about email templates on Marketing Rhythm where we offer our audience to download those email templates by filling in that form. 

So that way, it looks super relevant, like you get excited while reading about those email templates and feel tempted to get them for yourself and rush into filling the form and getting them for yourself. 

That’s how you make them super contextual and increase the odds of having your reader land on your email list. 

Back in Stock Forms

For example, in the eCommerce space, you’re selling a product that went out of stock and now is back in stock, so you can use the back-in-stock forms to build a list by giving them the incentive of “you’ll be the first to know when it is restocked” and stuff like that. 

Although some of these can be automated, you’ll still need to communicate to know what list that person needs to be put on. 

Opt-in at checkout

Then comes the option of making them opt-in at checkout, where you have the box checked, and you ask if they want to receive the marketing emails/messages in a yes or no.

And if we talk about it in terms of pop-over forms, they should be two or three-step forms where you ask for their first name, email, and then SMS number (because it works great with SMS too).

So, it’s all just about creating a stronger base of communication so that you can keep them posted every now and then. 

It can be different for different industries, though. For eCommerce, it is going to be giveaways, a certain percentage off, buy one get one, early access, and so on. And these happen to be the easiest ways to get people onto the list and turn them into loyal customers later on.

But on the B2B side, it’s going to be a little bit different because the B2B decision-makers look for more safety. So, in that case, you can offer a white paper or an eBook that gives them a better insight and information on how to make that decision correctly. You can even offer them to schedule a consultation. 

And lastly, giving them an option to download some other type of resources like templates or a checklist for XYZ would be great too. 

So, all of these valuable pieces of information are magnets that will pull people in for you to take them down the path where you’ll nurture their whole customer journey. 

Collecting Segmentation Data

I’m a big believer in collecting segmentation data early because the earlier you do that, the more personalized and valuable your content can be made. This allows you to provide your audience with the right information at the right time. 

And most importantly, testing and experimenting with those data collection forms is a crucial part. For example, you can do that by testing forms with specific offers for different specific segments, etc. 

So, with all of these ways, you’ll learn over time and understand how the forms work with behaviors you want to see. 

Time on the page might be an easy way to fire forms. For instance, try firing one at 5 seconds and the other one at 20 seconds to understand which one performs the best. 

And all of such techniques will help you understand how much intent your visitor has. Like, suppose they have something in their cart, it is obvious that they have higher intent, and it would be more relevant for them to click through a form.

We’d recommend you offer different types of forms for different customers that are relevant to their journey. For example, if someone is a repeating buyer, send them a form to get into a VIP list and not a form made for new customers. Also, there should be different forms for different pages, like your homepage form should be different from your product page form, etc. 

Leveraging Partnerships

This is the unique hack that I love to employ because collaborations and partnerships allow you to build a list by piggybacking off someone else’s audience and reputation that they have earned over time. It lets you grow over each other’s backs and offers a win-win situation for both partners. 

But unfortunately, I’ve seen that this cool opportunity is not much utilized by most businesses.

What other data should I collect?

You can’t and shouldn’t ask for intimate data early in your relationship with them. So, gradually earn that trust to ask for it later in their journey because hey, who asks to get married on their first date?

So about collecting more data, focus on earning more respect and trust so that you ask for it confidently when you do.

Talking about the kind of data you should be focused on collecting, I’d recommend you pay attention to the use cases of products. For example, if you own a children’s clothing brand, you need to understand who visits your store the most? Are they grandparents or gift-givers? Or, if you have a coffee brand, are they a decaf or standard coffee person?

This way, aligning with your customer’s journey helps keep them embedded deeper with your brand.

How to build an email list using social media?

Another question that I get asked all the time is, how to build a list using social media? So, being a person who spent almost a decade working exclusively on social media content, I can say that it plays a major role in building that list.

And, to reap that benefit, you have to produce informative and engaging content and move them through those pyramids of audience hierarchy to finally get them to the point where they convert and transact. 

You can also use paid lead forms to build your list, so there’s that option too!

FAQs Regarding Building an Email List

How big should my list be?

I’m going to evoke Jay Z here to answer this, “it’s not about the bright audience; it’s about the right audience.” Similarly, it’s not necessarily building the biggest list ever, but having an actively engaged list is going to be way much more valuable than a huge list.

Do I need to kick people off my list?

Yes, you should constantly be cleaning your list and kicking people off of it. If they are not engaging with your content, not buying anything from you, they’re hurting you. Because Gmail sees it like, hey, they are not bothering to open it, so let’s send it to spam.

What are other ways to refine your list?

There are a lot of ways you can segment your data (we have a detailed blog post on that as well). But mainly, you can do it based on the purchase data you’ve collected over time and the number of purchases your customer has made. 

Conclusion

At last, I would like to mention that email list building is a time taking process. It is not something that can be done overnight, just like Rome wasn’t built in one day. And you should be more focused on gaining and retaining quality subscribers and not just increasing their number because, in the end, if you have 10,000 people on your list that engage with your content on a regular basis and buy from you, they are more valuable than having a million people on that list that do not interact with your content. 

So, invest your time and effort, indulge in partnerships and collaborations, and you will see it paying off in the long run.

If you guys have any questions or suggestions, feel free to let us know because we always love having feedback. And because, again, we all are growing, we all are at some stage of that learning process.

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