20+ tips to build an email list that grows your audience and retention rates
Do you know why email marketing isn’t dead?
Because it’s where your brand gets attention after getting permission.
Ads on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok are an interruption. Sure, brands can reach a wider audience on social media with eye-catching creative and influencer endorsements.
But no amount of tweaking can overcome your audiences’ truth: They’re on social media for personal connection and entertainment.
Plus, Apple’s data privacy changes wiped out much of the audience-targeting parameters that made paid social a viable option for small businesses. Cost per acquisition has since soared, and return on ad spend has plummeted.
It’s not so much that paid social is ineffective—it’s just that it’s no longer affordable for most small DTC businesses.
This is why more businesses are re-investing in the email marketing process. While it may seem sexier to imagine your brand as among the first to pin its success on an emerging social platform, email marketing makes up for its lack of novelty with tangible results.
According to Klaviyo’s recent marketing mix report, 76.86% of all businesses place email marketing in the top 3 ROI-generating marketing channels. And in 2022, Klaviyo users brought in $2.2B in revenue with email and SMS marketing.
Keep reading to learn:
- What’s an email list?
- How email lists help businesses grow
- Before you build your email list: what you need to know
- 5 ways to build your email list
- Real-life examples: how 3 brands built their email lists
- 3 steps for organizing your email list
- Now what? How to use the list you’ve built to connect with your people
- Email list FAQs
What’s an email list?
An email list is the collection of email addresses from people who have opted in to receive marketing messages from your brand.
Brands that have healthy and compliant email lists get these email addresses voluntarily, meaning subscribers give them their information because they’re interested in staying up to date with the business and receiving promotional messages. This helps improve the brand’s sender reputation and email deliverability to the inbox.
Creating an email list opens the door to endless communication possibilities. You can:
- Introduce new subscribers to your brand with a welcome series.
- Nurture potential customers with newsletter content.
- Recoup abandoned shopping sessions on your website with browse abandonment emails and abandoned cart emails.
- Re-engage past customers with a win-back email series.
If you want to unlock all the possibilities a creative email campaign holds for your brand, the key is building—and growing—your email list.
How email lists help businesses grow
An email list is an owned channel—as in, your brand owns the data, and no algorithm switch-up can take it away from you.
Younger folks are gravitating toward “private” apps, like Snapchat and BeReal, and people of all ages are using platforms that support smaller communities, like Discord and Signal. In this environment, it’s becoming more lucrative for brands to mimic the 1:1 method of communication audiences are re-prioritizing for themselves on a fracturing internet.
Which brings us to email—tried and true, and only (legally) accessible when someone gives your brand explicit permission to access their inbox with the correct email deliverability permissions. It’s this respectful permission, so rarely found in our digital lives, that grows businesses.
With email, the customer journey may begin with a website visit, where someone might browse products or subscribe to your email list for a discount. When they do subscribe, that’s your brand’s cue to start engaging with them.
Most important: It works. Just take a look at Klaviyo’s latest email benchmarks by industry, collected from over 100K paying Klaviyo customers:
Here’s a quick overview of how sending these types of communications to your email list helps your business grow.
Welcome series emails
A welcome email series is a controlled introduction to your brand after someone finds it via their own means.
Use your welcome series to give people a first look at your brand story, introduce your best products, and incentivize people to continue engaging with your brand.
Welcome series benchmarks
According to Klaviyo’s latest email benchmarks by industry, welcome emails earn promising engagement rates across the board, including above-average open and click rates:
- Average open rate: 55.61%
- Average click rate: 6.52%
- Average conversion rate: 2.38%
- Revenue per recipient: $2.54
7 ways your welcome series contributes to growth
- Encourages a purchase through a discount code
- Introduces new and featured products to a fresh audience
- Gathers additional Customer-First Data™ for segmented campaigns
- Drives website traffic back to your online store
- Expands owned channel audience via requests to forward
- Extends social media reach via requests to follow
- Builds brand trust that can translate to word of mouth
Abandoned cart emails
An abandoned cart email goes out after someone places an item in their cart on your website but doesn’t complete the purchase.
Use your abandoned cart email to nudge people toward completing their purchase. You can also feature similar or alternative products to encourage a purchase that might work better.
Abandoned cart benchmarks
According to Klaviyo’s latest email benchmarks by industry, abandoned cart emails earn the highest engagement rates on every metric except open rate:
- Average open rate: 49.89%
- Average click rate: 6.98%
- Average conversion rate: 3.55%
- Revenue per recipient: $3.58
5 ways your abandoned cart email contributes to growth
- Transforms abandoned purchases into completed purchases
- Gathers Customer-First Data on product preferences
- Introduces similar or alternative products to an engaged audience
- Creates a new email segment of people who are close to buying
- Drives traffic back to your website for possible purchasing
Browse abandonment emails
A browse abandonment email goes out when someone views a product page on your website but leaves before adding an item to their cart.
Use your browse abandonment email to nudge people toward starting and completing a purchase. Here’s where you can drive people back to your website so they can dive deeper down their education rabbit hole, which is likely what they need most at this stage of the buying journey.
Browse abandonment email benchmarks
According to Klaviyo’s latest email benchmarks by industry, browse abandonment emails earn impressive engagement rates across the board, including above-average open and click rates:
- Average open rate: 55.33%
- Average click rate: 5.84%
- Average conversion rate: 0.96%
- Revenue per recipient: $1.01
5 ways your browse abandonment email contributes to growth
- Drives traffic back to your website for more education, leading to a purchase
- Gathers Customer-First Data on product preferences
- Introduces similar or alternative products to an engaged audience
- Creates a new email segment of people who need more information before buying
- Keeps your brand top of mind as people compare your product to other brands
A post-purchase email goes out after your customer buys something. A post-purchase email series is a collection of emails that might include shipping and delivery confirmations, review requests, assembly and maintenance instructions, and up-sell emails that encourage more buying.
Use your post-purchase emails to build trust and brand loyalty by communicating basic information like shipping dates and return policies. You can also use these emails to up- and cross-sell.
Post-purchase email benchmarks
According to Klaviyo’s latest email benchmarks by industry, post-purchase emails earn the highest average open rates of any email we measure:
- Average open rate: 61.05%
- Average click rate: 3.99%
- Average conversion rate: 0.46%
- Revenue per recipient: $0.14
7 ways your post-purchase email contributes to growth
- Reinforces a good relationship with your customers
- Gathers Customer-First Data on buying habits
- Lays the groundwork for retention marketing strategies
- Creates a new email segment of people who may purchase again
- Expands your list of positive reviews
- Stimulates word of mouth and email list growth through forwarding
- Grows your loyalty program, if you have one
Before you build your email list: what you need to know
Some fundamental aspects of email list building are regulated by governments, so it’s important to know what you’re allowed to do before you begin.
Compliance: the backbone of consent-based marketing
In the US, the CAN-SPAM Act governs commercial email and gives people the right to opt out and unsubscribe from your email communications at any time. In Canada, CASL sets out similar rules and consumer protections.
But since it’s the most aggressive privacy and security law in the world, most brands adhere to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
GDPR compliance is an article in and of itself (one we’ve written), but the basics are:
- People have the right to know how their data is collected and why.
- When someone asks, you must delete all the data you have about that person.
- You’re only allowed to collect personal data from people who have given you explicit consent.
- You need to add consent checkboxes to any sign-up forms that don’t clearly state what people are signing up for and why you need their information.
- When someone subscribes to your email list, use double opt-in by asking them to confirm their subscription via email before adding them to your list.
- All emails need an obvious unsubscribe link, and it needs to be easy to unsubscribe.
Data collection best practices
To grow your email list, you’ll use a form to collect email addresses. But what other information should you be collecting? And when should you collect it?
While many sign-up forms only have 1-2 fields, typically for contact information, you can experiment with more form fields to collect more Customer-First Data about your subscribers.
A/B testing is important, here. Most marketers think of form fields less as a “magic number” and more as a trade-off: Fewer form fields make it easier to subscribe, but more form fields often translate to higher-quality sign-ups.
Customer-First Data is a combination of zero-party data and first-party data:
1. Zero-party data refers to information people voluntarily offer your brand, like their email address or phone number.
2. First-party data refers to information you observe about someone on your owned properties, such as your website, after collecting consent.
To help you visualize how you can collect Customer-First Data in steps, here’s a basic data collection scenario for the purpose of email list segmentation:
Step 1: Collect basic information upon sign-up
Ask for email address and name, and experiment with an additional field that tells you which product set subscribers are most interested in. Draft one welcome series per product set.
Step 2: Analyze data by purchase intent and product interest
When a subscriber views a product page or places an item in their cart, that’s information you can use to segment your list into “highly engaged” subscribers, then segment again by product type.
Step 3: Zero in on your VIP customers
When a customer buys, that’s the best information of all. But when they buy multiple times, they graduate to become VIPs. And if they refer your brand via a loyalty or referral program, you may want to consider granting them special access to super VIP offers.
How to direct your paid audience to an email sign-up form
Your competitors are still using paid social, so you don’t want to disappear from the channel entirely. You need to invest in brand awareness, but in a strategic way that will pay off in the long run.
When you’re able to direct paid traffic to owned channels, you can increase your ROI while decreasing email retargeting costs. Here are a few ways to make that happen by using paid social to build your email list:
Promote a contest with sign-up as an entry requirement
If you want to grow your email list through paid social, consider running a contest campaign.
To enter your contest, people who see the ad need to subscribe to your email list. Bonus if you can also incentivize them further to share the post with a friend.
Pay an influencer to encourage sign-up
Consider investing in a white-label influencer campaign. This tactic gives you a bit more control over the content of an ad while leveraging an influencer’s audience to ask for email sign-ups.
Offer a sign-up discount via a paid social campaign
If your budget permits, skip the contest and run an ad that incentivizes an email list sign-up with a discount code. This is a great option if you’re launching a new product and want to include paid social as part of your go-to-market strategy. You’ll still generate some revenue from the paid ad campaign, but you’ll also see the long-term benefits of expanding your owned channels.
Use LinkTree on Instagram with a discount link to sign up
We couldn’t mention social media without reminding you about LinkTree, a tool for Instagram that enables brands to include a collection of relevant links in their bio.
When someone lands on your Instagram profile, they’ll be able to click on one link that takes them to a centralized place for all your brand’s goodies: product launches, news, relevant content, and, most important, an obvious email sign-up with a discount incentive.
Before we move on: never, ever buy an email list
Whether you own your brand or run email marketing campaigns for one, at some point you may receive an offer to purchase an email list.
First, emailing people from a list you purchase is illegal because those contacts didn’t give you explicit consent to email them.
Second, a purchased list is a low-quality one. You’ll be emailing people who have never heard of your brand because they didn’t discover it on their own.
- Your email deliverability will suffer.
- Your engagement rates will plummet.
- Your unsubscribe rates will jump through the roof.
Email marketing, and consent-based marketing in general, is about patience and respect. Preserve brand integrity. Never buy an email list.
5 ways to build your email list
Think of this list as a progression from conventional (as in, we know this tactic works for most brands) to niche (as in, this tactic will work for some brands better than others).
Every brand is different, and building your email list works best when you know where your ideal audience hangs out.
Some brands have seen great success with physical sign-up sheets at live events, while others have discovered how to leverage niche online communities.
You’ll only be able to recognize effective listing building opportunities if you know your audience inside out, so never skimp on good customer research.
That said, here’s a list of tactics to run through, whether you’re just starting to build your email list or you’ve been at it for a while:
1. Sign-up forms
The most common way to gather email addresses is through a sign-up form on your website.
Here are the main types of forms you’ll use to build your email list:
- Embedded forms live on your website as a static form with an email address field and a sign-up button, often with only one field for a potential subscriber to fill out.
- Fly-out forms appear from the bottom, top, margin, or corner of the page after a specified amount of time, or when a site visitor scrolls to a specific point on the page.
- Pop-up forms appear in the middle of the browser window, which makes them both eye-catching and potentially distracting.
- Full-screen forms display over your entire browser window. They make it so the visitor can’t see your merchandise. They tend to be high-converting but also have the potential to feel intrusive.
Sign-up form copy: best practices
To create an email list, you have to entice your website visitors to sign up for it. One way to do that is by elevating your form copy to capture audience interest.
Copy is equally, if not more, important than the design of the form itself. In this sign-up form, herbal water brand Aura Bora makes the most of a small space with:
- A clear and generous discount
- A obvious place to type in an email address
- A quick survey that only takes a second to fill out, but could help the brand send more personalized messaging later on
- A silly, quirky question that sets the brand apart
Image source: Aura Bora
Interactive quizzes are a great way to accomplish 3 things:
- Collect Customer-First Data on product preferences.
- Build your email list.
- Develop a custom welcome series that can lead to more sales.
Quizzes are especially powerful in the health and beauty category. Doe Lashes, for example, built a quiz to find out more about their audience’s lash preferences. To receive their quiz results, users submit their email address and get a 10% discount.
Doe’s quiz has earned them 3x more email sign-ups than a traditional email pop-up form. The brand also turns 1/5 of quiz takers into customers, meaning their welcome flow has a conversion rate 9x higher than the industry standard.
Image source: Doe Lashes
3. Brand partnerships
One of the most effective ways to see fast email list growth (after a good amount of relationship building) is by leveraging someone else’s.
When you’re performing competitive analysis for your brand, add a step to find complementary brands—brands that don’t compete for revenue with yours, but whose products could make a great bundle with yours if people bought them as a set.
Look for brands that are more well-known than yours but haven’t formed partnerships in your category yet—this cross-section will make for a great partnership, wherein both brands have something to gain.
Your brand partnership will likely be about much more than building an email list. But as you’re finalizing the details, here are some options you can include to make sure email list building is part of it:
- Giveaways: Use your partner’s email list to run a contest that requires an email subscription to enter.
- Social media content: Create posts for your partner to run on their accounts to encourage people to subscribe to your email list (with an incentive).
- Website promotion: Develop a co-branded email subscription form for your partner’s website.
- Co-branded products: Develop limited-edition co-branded products with your partner, and encourage an email sign-up for VIP access.
A great example of a co-branded product is sparkling water brand Sanzo’s partnership with Disney-owned Marvel. To celebrate Asian culture in film, Sanzo created a co-branded, limited-edition lychee drink collection featuring characters from the film on the can.
Image source: Sanzo
Since 2018, sales had been growing for Sanzo by at least 400% each year. But the month of the Shang-Chi sparkling water launch, Sanzo saw 6x growth in ecommerce revenue.
A few words of caution about brand partnerships: subscribers you gather from brand partnerships may have ended up subscribing just because they want to win something—not because they’re actually interested in your brand.
Make sure you:
- Properly vet brands your looking to partner with
- Don’t overdo this tactic—once a year is plenty
- Clean your lists frequently
If you’re doing lots of giveaways and contests and realize that they’re bringing in subscribers who don’t engage, try shifting to partnerships that feature bundles and co-branded products.
4. Referral marketing
Some of the best people to help grow your email list are your most loyal customers.
If you have a loyalty program, you have an opportunity to grow your email list with customers who already love what you do. A loyalty program uses rewards like discounts, early access to new products, or exclusive access to products or brand features to encourage people to keep buying.
When you use a points system, you’re attaching certain customer actions to benefits. One of those actions could be to sign up or ask a friend to sign up for your email list.
For example, Never Fully Dressed values their email list so much that they offer 100 points for an email sign-up—double the amount for following their Instagram account.
Image source: Never Fully Dressed
5. Niche communities
If you’re a brand that caters to a niche audience, you may be able to leverage small or emerging online communities to build your email list.
As more people hang out in messenger apps like Discord, Slack, and Signal, small brands may be missing opportunities to tap into those communities to build their lists.
Tread lightly—this won’t be appropriate for every brand. People tend to hang out in these spaces to connect with people, not to be sold to.
But your brand may be right for this kind of list building if:
- It appeals to a clearly defined, niche audience.
- Your audience is united by an emotionally driven mission.
- You’re willing to engage in conversation with this audience as an individual with the goal to learn more rather than promote your product.
This list-building tactic requires patience, emotional intelligence, and a collaborative mindset. Your first priority isn’t to ask people to subscribe to your list—it’s to help your community, over a months-long period of time, and suggest a closer relationship through email after you prove your value.
Real-life examples: how 3 brands built their email lists
To inspire you once you’ve settled on which list-building tactics make the most sense for your brand, here are 3 examples of how real-life brands built their email lists.
1. Mystery Tackle Box uses double opt-in to collect valuable data
Mystery Tackle Box’s website uses fun illustrations and a sample image of their in-box magazine to draw attention to their sign-up form. When a visitor signs up, they only need to input their email address—making the experience as frictionless as possible.
Image source: Mystery Tackle Box
That doesn’t mean Mystery Tackle Box misses out on capturing high-quality information about subscribers. In the double opt-in email that arrives after someone subscribes, they ask for list and frequency preference—which translate to product and brand interest.
Image source: Mystery Tackle Box
2. Brava Fabrics grows their email list and saves money through A/B testing
While it’s standard to encourage email sign-ups by offering a discount code, it’s not the only way to succeed.
Brava Fabrics was curious to see if they needed a discount code to build their email list, so they came up with an alternative.
They tested a 10% discount against a contest that entered people to win €300 in free products for signing up. The incentives performed identically, so they went with the more budget-friendly option.
Image source: Klaviyo
Brava also tested €300 against €1K and found that increasing the prize didn’t increase conversion rate—proof that growing an email list doesn’t have to break your budget.
3. Chubbies uses order confirmation emails to attract more subscribers
Your transactional emails are also opportunities to build your email marketing list. While a sign-up request should never overshadow crucial information like shipping and delivery, don’t miss the opportunity to drum up engagement within emails that see sky-high email open rates.
Remember: Not all customers who buy (and receive a transactional email) have received your welcome series. The customer journey is famously non-linear, so you’ll want to capture people’s email on a VIP list after they’ve purchased via other channels, too.
Here, Chubbies uses an eye-catching rewards sign-up within a confirmation email as a logical next step after a purchase.
Image source: Klaviyo
3 steps for organizing your email list
Hopefully, your email list is growing quickly—but that means you’ve got to keep it clean. If you don’t, your deliverability rates can drop, sending your carefully strategized emails into the dreaded spam folder.
Here are 3 tips for keeping it neat and tidy—and achieving the best results possible.
1. Periodically clean your email list
Some inbox providers, like Gmail, learn to filter emails into the spam folder based on whether or not an individual typically opens emails from this sender. That means frequently emailing subscribers who aren’t opening your emails increases your risk of being marked as spam.
About twice a year, you should create a segment of subscribers who haven’t opened your emails within 6 months or made a purchase. Remove these inactive subscribers from your active mailing list—and then give them special attention. Try using a win-back email flow to re-engage these subscribers.
2. Remove suppressed subscribers from your segments
Suppressed subscribers are subscribers who have unsubscribed or hard bounced, usually because their email address is invalid. In every segment you send to, you should have a condition that removes suppressed contacts.
While intelligent marketing automation platforms like Klaviyo protect you from the risk of spam complaints by not sending to suppressed contacts, not all ESPs do this. Removing suppressed subscribers from your segments will give you a more accurate headcount of who’s getting your emails, which can help you strategize both your messaging and growing your list.
3. Use folders to keep your lists and segments organized
Organize segments and sub-segments into folders based on their purpose. For example, you may have:
- A master newsletter list
- A main newsletter segment that excludes your suppressed subscribers
- A daily newsletter segment based on your subscribers’ preferences
As you become more sophisticated in your email marketing strategy, you’ll start to accumulate a large number of lists and segments. Some may be one-time segments that you only sent one campaign to, but odds are you re-use the same few segments frequently.
Now what? How to use the list you’ve built to connect with your people
After you’ve built your email list, start segmenting it. The best email content is content that’s most relevant for the needs of each person, and email list segmentation is what unlocks it.
Email list FAQs
How to build an email list fast?
Set up sign-up forms on your site to collect subscribers who want to hear from you. You can also build your list quickly through referral marketing, quizzes, and niche community-building.
What is the best method to build an email list?
Build your email list through sign-up forms on your website, or at check-out. Both methods require that people explicitly consent to subscribing—which ensures that they want to hear from you.
What are best practices for email list management?
Clean your email list every few months, remove suppressed subscribers from your segments, and use folders to keep your lists and segments organized.