How to Grow Your Email Marketing List

As new methods and channels for advertising rise and fall, email marketing stays the course.

With an ROI of $42 for every dollar spent, this lean and powerful tactic for digital advertising is likely worth your time and energy when best practices are followed.

But to land those numbers, you need an audience.

Investing effort into growing your email marketing list will pay dividends for the future. Whether you choose to expand your email marketing overall or just wish to scale up the impact of the work you’re already doing, there are simple and effective ways for every business to multiply the number of people receiving your campaigns.

Can your email marketing list get too big?

While we’d never say a list can be too big, you will need to find the right balance between quality and quantity for your particular business.

Just as you consider your sales leads to be cool, warm, or hot, email subscribers are the same. If you choose to grow your email list with “cool” leads then be prepared for a much lower conversion rate. And because many email marketing providers charge you based on the number of subscribers you have, you will need to determine whether it’s worth paying more to email people who may be uninterested in your business—at best—and may even develop a negative impression of your brand if they haven’t specifically requested your emails.

Consider methods on the list that foster more “warm” leads, or consider using opt-in confirmation if you want to make sure that your list targets the most enthusiastic audience for your message.

16 ways to grow your email marketing list

On your website:

  1. Create a dedicated space on your website to sign up for your email list. This could be on its own page, or in your footer.
  2. Create a pop-up on your website. These features invite visitors to join your email list when they arrive on your site, and should include an easy “X” or “close” option for visitors who do not want to sign up so they can quickly continue to your site.
  3. Offer something in return. Popular offers include one-time discounts or coupons, a contest entry, or the opportunity to get advance notice or access to promotions.
  4. Create gated content. Gated content consists of a product (a white paper, eBook, video, etc) that you offer in exchange for signing up for your email list.
  5. Include an email signup option on submission forms. When a visitor makes a purchase or inquiry on your website, include a checkbox to be added to your mailing list. Always check current regulations regarding whether you are allowed to “pre-check” the box (requiring the user to uncheck it if they do not wish to subscribe) as these may change.

Social media:

  1. Social media updates. Use social media posting to describe the benefits of being on your email list.
  2. Social media and online ads. Consider extending your social media efforts via paid ads. The ads can be targeted to driving users to your website, where you feature a pop-up or dedicated sign-up form as noted above.
  3. Add a call-to-action to your Facebook business page. A CTA creates a direct, simple path with language that encourages readers to take action. Adding a “Sign Up” button to your Facebook business page gives a simple route for social media visitors to join your list.

Additional ideas to grow your email list:

  1. Email signature. Include a link in your email signature to sign up for your email marketing list. This is a casual way to reach all of your contacts as you build relationships.
  2. Follow-up emails for purchases. If you regularly automate communication around the order cycle (such as confirmation emails, shipping and tracking notifications, and a request for feedback or reviews after the product has arrived), you can easily add a single-click invitation to join your mailing list in each email.
  3. Invite customers to sign up at your place of business. This could take the form of a dedicated computer or even a good old pencil and paper at checkout.
  4. Networking. When connecting with other professionals, ask them if they’d like to stay in touch and offer to add them to your email list. It helps to offer to join theirs as well.
  5. Ask your customers to join. It takes far more energy to hook a new customer than to nurture an existing one. Whether you send an email to existing customers, hand out business-sized cards with an invitation, or include it in a follow-up feedback form that you send to clients, there are many ways to invite your current customers to join your list and keep you top of mind. 
  6. Design a loyalty program. A loyalty program that involves being part of your email list builds your audience while creating a seamless path toward return business.
  7. Leverage speaking events. Seek out speaking engagements at conferences and industry events, or host a webinar and collect attendees’ email addresses for your list.
  8. Include an invitation to forward. Be bold and ask current recipients of your email campaigns to forward your emails to a friend or colleague who may be interested.

Should I purchase an email marketing list?

It may be tempting to purchase an email list from another entity. Ultimately we don’t recommend this practice because it’s an uphill battle in which

  • You can’t be sure recipients are who they say they are
  • These cold emails have a very low success rate
  • It may be illegal, in some places, if the folks who receive the emails from you never opted in to your list or perhaps even to the original list you purchased

The CAN-SPAM act of 2003 requires senders to include an easy-to-find unsubscribe option in every campaign sent, and many other countries have similar legislation. Even in the absence of legal pressure, you don’t want your brand to generate ill will by making this process complicated.

[Related: Read more from the FTC about the CAN-SPAM act for email marketing.]

We recommend devoting your resources toward building your email list with quality, consenting, warm leads and viewing your email marketing strategy as a way to build and maintain relationships with those who have the potential to become your biggest fans.

For more information on email marketing and other marketing topics, see our event calendar of upcoming online trainings or view recorded versions of the RISBDC’s webinars: