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10 Ways to Grow Your Email List Like a Boss

By Jess Ostroff

Email marketing has long stood in the shadow of its younger, glitzier cousin, social media marketing, as a tool for turning customers into a devoted community of fans. However, as more and more marketers reconsider their approach to social, email remains a powerful and personal channel for building and engaging an audience.

Sure, you’ve got that widget on your website enticing visitors to join your email list, but what else are you doing to show potential subscribers what they’re missing? What do your emails provide they can’t find anywhere else, and how easy is it for interested visitors to get in on it? Here are ten places to start.

1. Use a Non-Annoying Pop-Up

Everyone hates pop-ups. We’re all scarred from the days when our Internet Explorer browser would say, “Want to win a free iPhone?” or a video would appear upon opening a new website and start playing in the middle of a conference call.

It’s the truth: Most pop-ups suck. But do you know what that means? The bar is incredibly low! All you have to do is make a pop-up that doesn’t suck, or better yet, make a pop-up that’s really awesome, and you’ll see great results. Because here’s the second truth: Pop-ups WORK, whether we like it or not.

Tools like Exit Intel, PopUp Domination, and OptinMonster are great solutions for creating website pop-ups that tie into your email marketing service provider. In your non-annoying pop-up, make sure you include:

  • An attractive graphic
  • An obvious call-to-action button (“SUBSCRIBE NOW!”)
  • A clear incentive (more on that next)
  • An easy way to close out the pop-up

Here’s an example from our friend Jay Baer’s Convince & Convert site, inviting visitors to join his ON email newsletter:

It only appears if you’re intending to exit the site or if you’re on a blog post for a while—it won’t appear as soon as you land on a page (annoying) or as you’re trying to scroll down (super annoying). Take a tip from Jay and implement something that’s visually appealing and not intrusive to your normal reading experience.

2. Create a Truly Awesome Incentive

Plenty of folks offer a free ebook, training tool, or PDF worksheet in exchange for an email address, but these resources aren’t always worth reading. Your sign-up incentive should never leave a subscriber saying, “That’s it?”

Any downloadable freebie you offer in exchange for an email address should wow a new subscriber with its usefulness. If it feels like you’re giving your best stuff away for free, you’re likely on the right track to a truly awesome incentive. For inspiration, take a look at Leadpages’s library of useful resources, which houses everything from strategy guides to online courses—all for free.

Your readers are (understandably) protective of their inboxes. Give them a resource that will leave them saying, “I got all this for just an email address?”

3. Prove Your Worth

Your subscribers get a lot of email. What makes your emails so special? To get prospective subscribers on your list, you first must erase any doubts that your messages will be worth it. The most effective way of proving your worth isn’t a harder pitch to subscribe—it’s demonstrating your value elsewhere, via your blog, your online community, or wherever your produce content. Consider the last time you asked your audience what they wanted and made good on their feedback—it’s the only way to earn access to their inboxes.

4. Give a Free Sample

We’ve talked about the power of downloadable resources to incentivize email signups. Bear in mind that those incentives don’t have to be standalone ebooks or guides. You can also offer a snippet of something larger, providing a subscriber with something of immediate value while piquing their interest in the full work.

Nathan Barry does this with his books and writes about the effectiveness of this kind of incentive. He once added over 1,000 new subscribers to his email list in a matter of months in exchange for a sample chapter.

Your free sample doesn’t have to be a book chapter—it could be a single unit of an online course, a 30-day subscription, or some other morsel that usually lives behind a paywall. Your new subscriber will get a valuable sample of your best work and you’ll get a new contact and a warm lead. Unlike one-shot resources, free samples direct new subscribers to specific products once they’ve gobbled up that first chapter, lesson, or access period.

5. Promote Far and Wide

Remember that enticing pop-up you created? Promoting your email list shouldn’t stop there. Look for other places where you have your audience’s full attention, and use those opportunities to entice new subscribers.

If you produce a podcast or video series, plug your email list at the end of each episode. Direct viewers or listeners to a specific address, and make that link easy to remember by using a link shortener like Bitly or Pretty Links.

The end of a blog post is another prime opportunity to promote your email list. Social Media Examiner does this at the end of every post, with help from an eye-catching illustration, the promise of a free resource, and a bit of social proof:

As with pop-ups, your email list plugs should be non-intrusive, appealing, and direct about the massive value on offer.

6. Get By with a Little Help from Your Friends

Guest posts and guest appearances on friends’ publications and shows are a powerful way to grow your audience, boost brand awareness, and build your authority as a thought leader. They can also be an excellent opportunity to promote your email list. Just as you might direct readers, listeners, and viewers to check out your website or follow you on social, you can also direct them to stay in touch by subscribing to your list (with help from that easy-to-remember link you created in number five).

These promotion opportunities don’t have to go one way, either. Consider cross-promoting with a trusted friend in your industry. Plug each other’s events, launches, and resources. Leverage the trust you’ve built with your email audience to introduce them to someone else you know they’ll love. A personal recommendation from a trusted resource is one of the most powerful tools in your conversion toolbox.

7. Take It Offline

Once a subscriber has joined your list, keep them hooked with a standing offer to contact you personally with comments, ideas, and requests. Better yet, ask them directly for feedback on something specific. You’ve already provided the channel—all they have to do is hit “reply.”

Your email list is also a great channel for taking conversations beyond email. Take an email interaction deeper by scheduling a phone or Skype call, or choose a subscriber for some one-on-one video consulting. Access to you and your time is one of the most valuable things you can offer your audience. Keep that unsubscribe rate low by offering up access as one perk of staying on your list.

8. Segmenting Is for Lovers

Personalization is the future of effective marketing. Give subscribers the email content they want, when they want it, or they’ll unsubscribe. Don’t rely on your own guesswork, either: Ask new subscribers for their background and preferences as soon as they sign up, via a welcome email series or a customized signup form. Specifying their preferences saves them from receiving everything, rather than just the most relevant content.

Most email marketing applications—including MailChimp, ConvertKit, AWeber, and others—also allow you to tag subscribers according to the actions they take on your emails. You can use these tags to target, for instance, only subscribers who’ve made a recent purchase, or those who haven’t opened an email from you in a while. Segmentation strategies like these help you connect readers with the right topics at the right frequency.

9. Contests, Sweepstakes, Giveaways, Oh My!

Nothing creates urgency like a product giveaway, sweepstakes, or contest. The possibility of winning a prize means there’s a potential monetary benefit to signing up, and the time limit forces readers on the fence to act fast. These kinds of events are also a great opportunity to implement tip number six—team up with industry colleagues and friends to pull together an irresistible prize package well worth an email signup.

Once the dust settles, beware the wave of post-sweepstakes unsubscribes. Be prepared to show new subscribers just how much value they’ll get from sticking around.

10. Offer Exclusivity

Consider what other exclusive experiences you can offer your list. We’ve touched on free resources, samples, and more direct lines of communication. Could you select one subscriber for some long-term consulting? Recruit subscribers to beta test new projects? Grant them priority ticketing to events? Offer list-exclusive course memberships, pre-orders, and promotions?

Whatever you choose, remember that “exclusive access” should never simply mean “first in line for sales pitches.” Your readers can smell a phony promise of exclusivity. Reward their trust in you with truly valuable, subscribers-only experiences.

11. Bonus: Make It Easy

The process of subscribing to your email list should be a piece of cake, with as little friction as possible between a reader’s impulse to sign up and receiving your emails in their inbox. And as much as you might hate to see someone go, unsubscribing should be just as simple, too.

Today’s readers don’t have the patience for a lengthy, emotionally manipulative survey on why they’re saying goodbye. If a subscriber wants off your list, don’t compound the problem with a deceptive unsubscribe button. If you do ask questions as part of the unsubscribing process, keep them brief or optional, rather than a mandatory psychological obstacle course.

Your busy audience has every right to expect the best from you, as well as a seamless process if and when they choose to subscribe or unsubscribe. Deliver on your promise to provide them with the most relevant, personalized, and useful emails—content that makes them excited to click beyond the subject line.

Now that you know how to grow you email list like a boss, make sure your messages make it to your subscriber’s inbox. Download this Email Deliverability Guide for Modern Marketers to learn how to orchestrate and deliver marketing messages that are relevant to individual preferences and behavior.

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