How to build an email list: 5 beginner strategies for when you’re starting from scratch

Profile photo of author Tiffany Regaudie
Email marketing
April 29, 2024
In large stacked capital letters on a salmon background, white text on the left side of the image reads, "how to build an email list." In smaller black copy beneath that, text reads, "5 beginner strategies for when you're starting from scratch." On the right side of the image is an illustration of the form builder in the back end of Klaviyo, next to the final version of the sign-up form showing up on someone's phone.

Do you know why email marketing isn’t dead?

Because it’s where your brand gets attention after getting permission.

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 marketing mix report, 76.86% of all businesses place email marketing in the top 3 ROI-generating marketing channels.

If you don’t have an email list, it means you’re leaving a lot of money on the table. But we get it if you’re not sure where to start. When you finish reading this article, you’ll know exactly what to do.

What makes a good email list?

An email list is a collection of email addresses from people who have opted in to receive email marketing messages from your brand.

That means it’s a direct line of communication with an interested audience. And because email as a channel is not subject to algorithm changes or platform policies that could otherwise limit your reach, your email list empowers you to bypass intermediaries like social media platforms or advertising networks.

But not all email lists are alike. Let’s look at what makes a good email list.

Criteria of a good email list


Maintain compliance with email marketing laws and regulations like CAN-SPAM, GDPR, or CASL to maintain trust and avoid penalties.


Use a double opt-in process to make sure subscribers genuinely want to receive your emails.


To improve deliverability and engagement metrics and reduce bounce rates, regularly clean your list by removing inactive subscribers.


Do not blast your whole list with generic messages—that’s one way to decrease engagement and increase unsubscribes. Good email lists are segmented based on audience behavior, demographics, lifestyle preferences, and more. Use segments in Klaviyo––which are dynamic lists that add subscribers in or drop them out based on specific criteria.

Now that you know what to shoot for, here’s where you can start with building your list.

1. Launch an enticing sign-up form

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 can 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 disruptive.
  • Full-screen forms display over your entire browser window so the visitor can’t see your merchandise. They tend to be high-converting but also have the potential to feel intrusive.

Here’s an example of a pop-up form from herbal water brand Aura Bora.

Image shows colorful website pop-up with a funky, 70s-style font. The header says, “For you, 15% off,” and then contains options for shoppers to choose their preferred animal—chameleon, hedgehog, or owl—and then 3 additional options to choose what to drink—flowers, herbs, and bubbles, referring to possible flavors. The form finishes by asking for an email address, with a sign-up button underneath the field.
Image source: Aura Bora

Notice how it makes the most of a small space, with:

  • A clear and generous discount
  • An 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
Data-backed growth tactics from 40K brands
See what the fastest-growing brands on Klaviyo are doing to hit their stride.

2. A/B test your sign-up forms to find what works best

Your work isn’t over once you’ve launched a sign-up form. It’s also important to continually test various sign-up form combinations to see which ones work for your brand.

Footwear brand Bearpaw, for example, launched two types of sign-up forms on their website: a welcome pop-up and an exit pop-up. The brand’s hypothesis was that it would take more for someone to convert on an exit pop-up, so they offered a bigger incentive to subscribe from there than the welcome pop-up.

They were right. The submit rate on the exit pop-up was 2.7x the median for Bearpaw’s 100 closest peers, according to Klaviyo benchmarks—and it helped them grow their subscriber list.

Similarly, 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 shows a sign-up form featuring a picture of a couple wearing blue and green jogging suits, cuddling close to each other and smiling at the camera. The header indicates that shoppers can sign up to be entered into a contest for a gift card, then asks whether they are shopping for a man or a woman. The call-to-action button says, “Try my luck!”
Image source: Klaviyo x Brava case study

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.

How to replicate these tests with your own sign-up forms

If you want to start running high-volume sign-up form tests, here are a few sign-up form elements to consider experimenting with:


Write several options for adding one personalization field to test.

Timing and frequency

Consider using AI to auto-test multiple versions of your form and find the highest-converting display time.

Dynamic coupon codes

Experiment with including a code that’s personal to every unique user, so no two people receive the same code.

Visitor type

Target only those who fit a certain criteria, such as targeting email subscribers with SMS-only sign-up forms.

Cart contents

Trigger a sign-up form based on total cart value, total number of items in cart, or specific product criteria.

3. Leverage in-store check-out to grow your email list

If you have physical retail locations, leverage integrations with Klaviyo like Lightspeed, Square, or Shopify POS to capture email addresses for receipts—and segment those customers based on their geography.

You can also place QR codes at check-out, or train frontline staff to ask for email addresses when they’re processing a purchase.

This is a great way to not only grow a large list, but also build a more omnichannel strategy as you segment customers based on geography and introduce them to your larger digital brand.

For example, luxury apparel brand Jenni Kayne uses geographical data to encourage in-person shopping. If a customer near a store abandons a $5K+ cart, their local store manager gets a Klaviyo notification to send 1:1 outreach.

4. Run a social media contest

Whether you’re using organic or paid social on Instagram, TikTok, etc., a contest campaign is a great way to grow your list—and turn followers into email subscribers whose data you own.

To run your contest, make an eye-catching post—showcasing your prize—that encourages people to subscribe to your email list as a requirement for entry. To make your campaign go even further, tell people they’ll be entered twice for tagging a friend and encouraging them to enter, too.

Here are a few ways to use social media to expand your reach even further:

Paid social campaigns

Invest some budget in boosting your post beyond your immediate audience.

Influencer marketing

Hire a creator in your niche to promote the contest alongside your brand.

More than one platform

Your brand may perform best on Instagram, for example, but it’s worth it to adapt and test your contest campaign on other platforms, too. If you’re using this strategy, make sure to turn on double opt-in as a way to ensure good list hygiene.

5. Establish a presence in 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. It’s important to begin this strategy early, when your brand’s still small—it takes a long time to gain trust, and you’ll be more likely to gain that trust before your brand has grown to a larger size.

3 reasons to build your list via community

  • Your brand 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 with the goal of learning more rather than promoting 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.

What’s next? Invest in the tools to build your list

To build your list, you’ll need a marketing platform that can:

  • Collect, unify, and store customer data
  • Build and test sign-up forms on your website
  • Segment your email list based on behavioral criteria you set
  • Build high-converting emails from templates so you’re not starting from scratch
  • Automate emails based on subscriber behavior

Great news—you won’t need multiple tools to do it. Try Klaviyo and build your list with customer data that converts.

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Tiffany Regaudie
Tiffany Regaudie
Tiffany is a writer and content consultant who specializes in marketing, health, and the attention economy. Before devoting herself to freelance writing full-time, she led content teams at various startups and nonprofits in Toronto, Canada.