Every marketer (probably ever) in the ecommerce industry has read this stat before…
“For every $1 you spend on email marketing, you can expect an average return of $42.”
Here’s why: for ecommerce brands, email marketing is arguably the most important marketing channel to communicate with customers. Yes, a lot of brands use it. Yes, inboxes get flooded during certain holidays, like Black Friday. But hey, it’s because it works.
So if you’re here because you’re ready to double down on your email marketing strategy and are wondering how you can grow your email list (and fast), then I’m happy to deliver a list of 14 tips to help you.
The importance of email list growth in a privacy-concerned world
Right now, merchants are struggling from the impact of the new consumer privacy changes to iOS and third-party cookies. Facebook ad costs have skyrocketed, and driving new acquisition is an extremely frustrating process.
To combat these privacy changes, focus on increasing customer retention and conversions. Essentially, rather than spend most of your budget on paid advertising to acquire new traffic, prioritize your already existing traffic.
I suggest leveraging your owned marketing channels to nurture longer-term relationships and drive up LTV, AOV, and your conversion rates. And email marketing is the strongest channel to do that.
Michael Wadsworth, Partner Marketing Associate at Justuno, agrees: "With the iOS update, it’s absolutely vital that you’re actively looking to build your database out. Owned media channels give brands control over their campaigns rather than relying on outside parties."
But, you need customers on your email list to actually be able to engage with them, which is why I’ve set aside 14 tips for you to check out, next.
14 ways to grow your email list
As a team of email and CRO experts, we have a few tricks up our sleeves for ways to grow your email list quickly and effectively. Here are a few of our favorite examples that we've seen from eyeing brands in the ecosystem (and helped our clients do too):
1. Build quizzes and surveys
Product recommenders, gift finders, style finders, routine builders, size finders, character matching, post-purchase surveys… the list goes on.
Every type of quiz engages first-time website visitors, collects zero-party data from them, and asks them to subscribe to your email marketing campaigns in order to get their quiz results. The data can then help you segment customers and personalize your email content (like your subject lines and headers).
"With a greater emphasis on data privacy today, it’s more important than ever to have a first-party data structure that is both helpful and compliant. Your segmentation and targeting capabilities in the future will entirely rely on the structure that you’ve built, meaning it should be priority number one for brands," said Michael.
To increase the chances of the customer sharing their contact information, offer an incentive like 10% off their first purchase. Also, make sure customers are aware of what they’re signing up for.
Here’s an example from Premama Wellness, which helps customers build a personalized pregnancy plan:
2. Create welcome and exit-intent pop-ups
Pop-ups are pretty standard practice in ecommerce, but most people use them just to collect an email or SMS opt-in. You can and should ask for more.
For example, Premama Wellness helps couples on their journey to parenthood with a four-stage supplements system. To properly engage customers, it's important they know exactly what stage each subscriber is at. Premama included a dropdown on their email form to ask subscribers directly. This type of data informs what kind of email flow the customers get added to.
Using a similar strategy, we see brands ask for birth dates, style preferences, skin concerns, and other detailed information. Not only is this more engaging for customers, meaning they’re more likely to interact with the pop-up, but it also gives you data to leverage when you start sending emails to these new subscribers.
If you’re worried that asking additional questions will lower your capture rate, run a few tests where you ask your questions on a follow-up screen after customers share their email.
Note: These types of pop-ups are usually best for new customers. For returning customers, create a targeted pop-up that captures their email if you haven’t already got it, or instead ask for an SMS opt-in if you already have their email.
Our pals at Justuno shared a few of their own tips for capturing returning customers:
"Lead capture promotions don’t have to just be a new visitor welcome email sign-up; they can be a returning visitor but no purchase SMS opt-in, a subtle in-page newsletter sign-up halfway down a blog post, a back in stock notification for your most popular item, and so much more," Michael suggests.
Tip: Similar to quizzes, offer customers an incentive to help convert them. If you don’t want to offer a coupon code, give them a free gift instead, like in the example below. This pop-up asks customers to choose which pair of leggings they like best, gamifying the experience to make the pop-up more engaging.
While we could talk all day about the different ways you can improve your conversion rate, there’s one that sticks out and is easy to implement: exit intent promotions. These pop-ups give you one last chance to win them over, turning exiting traffic into customers."
- Michael Wadworth, Partner Marketing Associate at Justuno
P.S., Are you looking to create well-designed pop-ups like the examples above? Our team of expert designers and copywriters can help.
3. Host a virtual event
Does your product require a bit of education for customers to use it properly? Host a webinar or live event to train customers. Or, if you’re a niche brand—for example, a store selling dog treats—use events to connect with your audience on a topic they’re interested in, like a dog training seminar.
Whatever the topic is, create a landing page for your event and promote it. Your landing page should include full event registration to collect the customer’s name and email address so you can send them the event details. Also, make sure you let customers know that signing up for the event opts them into your newsletter.
If you already have an engaged audience on social media, events can bridge those social followers over to your email list.
4. Partner up with a relevant brand
Working with relevant brands and hosting a contest or event together can help build brand awareness with a new audience, but the target audience must be similar to yours (you don't want people to unsubscribe when they get the first email). A hair extensions brand might not be the best fit to partner with if you sell dog treats.
Here’s a good example from Satchel & Page, which recently hosted a contest with four other brands on Instagram. What were the rules for customers to enter the contest? To sign up with their email using the link in Satchel & Page’s bio.
Notice how each of the brands a part of this campaign are a good fit for Satchel & Page’s audience? When the partnered brands go and share the campaign on their own social media feeds, it’ll give Satchel & Page a much stronger list of new subscribers.
Note: The quality of subscribers for partnered giveaways will sit at the very top of your funnel, meaning they won’t always be ready to convert right away via email. But, you can welcome them and build a relationship over time.
5. Host a giveaway and create a landing page
With embedded sign-up forms directly on your site, you can collect more than just an email; ask customers about their needs or preferences in order to help personalize their shopping experience.
To get customers to fill out a form, create a contest landing page with the form as one of the ways to enter, and use your social media accounts to drive traffic to it. Many customers who follow you on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, etc aren’t subscribed to your emails, and this is the perfect way to bring them over.
If you don’t want to create a full landing page, announce your giveaway via a pop-up, like Satchel & Page did in the example below. This will help convert any new potential customers that are browsing your site for the first time.
6. Run a bonus loyalty points campaign
Imagine you’re visiting a website from a cool brand you just discovered, and boom—they’re hosting a bonus loyalty points event! If you’re interested in the products, you’re likely going to sign up for their loyalty program just to reap the benefits of the event.
These campaigns are beneficial for a variety of reasons, and the Senior Community and Marketing Manager at Smile Rewards shared a few with us:
“Running a bonus points campaign for your loyalty program is one way to incentivize those signups with the added urgency of extra value, which you don't get with the usual ‘email for discount’ offer. Then, with that larger-than-usual points balance, shoppers are motivated to come back and spend even more money and continue the retention give-and-take,” said Tim Peckover.
Tim shared an example from one of Smile’s customers: ECS Coffee. By promoting it directly on the homepage, ECS is attracting customers to participate in the “Brew Bucks Redemption Event” right away.
Even for customers who aren’t loyalty members yet, the truth is you can usually rack up enough points in minutes just by joining and following the brand on social media, so it’s a great way to encourage new sign-ups—and collect more email subscribers.
"Shoppers don't want to give away their email for free—who wants just another email showing up in their inbox? If you give them value right out of the gate though with the promise of continued value, they'll actually be excited to hand over their contact info.”
- Tim Peckover, Senior Community and Marketing Manager at Smile.io
7. Encourage in-email referrals
Whenever you’re promoting an event, a contest, a new product launch, there’s an opportunity to invite your current email subscribers to forward your email and encourage their friends and family to subscribe too.
But, the key is to add a link at the end of the email so the people receiving the forwarded email can easily click a link to subscribe.
If you want to gamify this tip, give every customer a custom referral code where they can get an incentive if one of their referrals subscribe.
8. Start a referral program—and promote it
Referral programs are a good tool for growing your subscriber list… if customers are actually aware that you have one.
Rather than hoping customers will find it on their own, make sure you actually promote your referral program to your customers. Highlight it in your emails, on social media, and make it clear on your website that you have one.
With the incentive for both the referrer and referee, these drive account sign-ups with your current customers and introduce you to new audiences as well.
MeUndies' referral program allows customers to simply send the “get $20, give 20%” via email or Messenger from a landing page on their site.
Once customers login to their account, they can go to this page to add their friend’s email address and write a custom message to refer them.
9. Add QR codes to your packages with special thanks
Have you ever received a package in the mail with a thank you letter from a small business or the founder? It always gives customers that warm and fuzzy feeling, knowing the brand appreciates their order. Not to mention, a personalized message like that creates a memorable shopping experience.
But you can take these messages one step further and add a QR code to them where customers can scan it and immediately be signed up to your email list.
If you don’t want to put the code on a note, other ways brands are doing it are by adding the QR code directly on the package or on the product, like in the example below. Some brands use these codes to grow their social media following, but you can add an email or SMS opt-in as well.
Source: QR Code Generator
10. Leverage your other marketing channels
The key to growing your email list from other channels is to make it as easy as possible to do so. Customers shouldn’t have to click through a bunch of links and pages to sign up, so take note from Three Ships and their Instagram stories example below:
With one click, customers go to a landing page where they can opt-in to Three Ships’ SMS campaigns. (You can do this for email instead if that’s the list you’re trying to grow.)
It’s super easy, and Three Ships promotes it on their Instagram profile’s highlights for any new visitor to easily access it. The other pics in the highlight share the benefits of signing up, too.
Key lesson: If you produce content regularly on any channel—YouTube, Instagram, TikTok—remember to remind customers how they can sign up for your emails and why they should do so.
11. Write a call-to-action at the end of blog posts
If you’re blogging regularly, you’re putting a ton of time and effort into making them—like hours worth (or the agency you hired is 😉).
That being said, you should maximize the effort you’re putting into these.
If you’re blogging for SEO reasons, then each article should be driving tons of organic traffic to your website. The people reading your blogs are likely top-of-funnel customers, though, especially if they’re visiting your website for the first time from a keyword they searched in Google.
Rather than creating a CTA to promote products for them to buy (because they may not be at the stage yet), invite them to subscribe to your newsletter where they can learn more about the tips they just read in your blog.
One way Philocaly does it is by adding a bar on the top of their footer about signing up for their newsletter. Since this sits on top of their footer, it acts as a call-to-action at the end of each blog post (and the end of every page, for that matter).
12. Place smaller lead magnets across your website
Take it from the website design experts here at Fuel Made, there is tons of real estate across your website where you can promote email opt-ins. Contact checkboxes, check-out checkboxes, and footer sign-ups are just a few examples of how you can add smaller lead magnets across your website.
While you might not see a ton of conversions across these different methods, combining them and making sure you have a few of them set up across your website will drive better results.
Here’s an example from Premama, which even adds a 15% off incentive to their footer sign-up to make it more enticing.
Note: Shopify recently made it possible for non-Plus Shopify accounts to be able to add a consent box to collect SMS from the checkout page. Without this, even if customers give you a phone number while placing an order, you can't text without that consent time-stamp.
Double-check that all your opt-in forms include the right consent language, so you can freely communicate with your customers and share all the goods you have to offer.
13. Run a teaser product launch campaign
If you’re about to launch a new product, create a hype campaign to get people excited and collect email addresses. And there are a few ways to do this. For example, you could:
- Promote first access to the product for people who join your email list during a period of time.
- Host a live event to announce your new product and ask people for their email to sign up.
- Tease the event drop across all your social channels and promote a special offer for anyone on your mailing list.
- Create a giveaway event for the new product with a landing page where customers have to sign up via email to participate.
Here’s an example from Three Ships: they used a giveaway and a live event at the same time, announcing it on their social channels with a fun word search game.
From this point, customers were directed to the “link in bio,” which led to a landing page where customers could sign up for the live event.
14. Encourage customers to make an account
Whether it's through a subscription, membership, or loyalty program, when customers create an account with your store, they’re sharing their email with you as their login.
When signing up, ask them for some personal information including their birthday, their style preference, their skin type—whatever you need to be able to segment them into specific flows.
Offering perks, like how Tomlinson’s Feed does with their Pet Club membership, helps customers see the value in signing up.
Additionally, if you don’t want to offer subscriptions, loyalty programs, or membership programs, you can ask customers to leave a review on products they purchased in the past. But, in order to leave a review, they’ll need to make an account, leading to them giving you an email sign-up.
Best practices for email list building and ongoing optimization
Now that you’ve got all the tips for growing your email list fast and organically, let’s look at some best practices to keep in mind to ensure your success with email marketing.
Here are some tips from our team to yours:
Optimize for mobile: 54% of all global traffic is done via a mobile device, so you can bet your shoppers are browsing your store from their phones. Make sure all your opt-ins work well for mobile, too.
Collect customer-first data: This was mentioned at the beginning of this article, but right now it’s key to collect zero-party data and first-party data from your customers so you can personalize your campaigns, recommendations, and even content marketing better. Use your pop-ups and other opt-ins to do this.
To learn more about how to collect and use customer-first data, check out our article here.
Offer an incentive—and add urgency: If customers would share their email address any time we asked without having to give something in return, opt-in discounts wouldn’t exist. But they do, and it’s because they work. However, you can try other incentives like free shipping, extra loyalty points, or a free product instead. Put a deadline on these incentives to help drive the customer to take action.
Build trust right away: Customers won’t share their personal information with you if they don’t trust you. Slow websites, poor designs, and lack of communication are all big trust killers. So make sure you have high-quality branding, improve your page speed, add a GDPR statement, and communicate with people what they get for opting in (and follow up with them after they do to welcome them).
Follow up with value once you collect the email: After a customer subscribes to your email list, immediately follow up with a valuable welcome email so the customer feels good about their decision. Send them a welcome flow that introduces them to your brand and shares product education, customer testimonials, UGC, and more.
Leverage gamification techniques: Make it fun for people to opt-in! Using spin-to-wins and VIP tiers in your loyalty program are two ways to gamify the opt-in experience for customers. You could also create a true or false test with a quiz, too.
Run A/B tests: Michael says, "Merchants can ensure they’re converting at the best rate through two key ways: A/B testing their promotions and trying out different messaging strategies. Experiment with different copy, creative styles, placement, and timing for your core pop-ups to see how they perform." We agree. For example, we saw Satechi’s pop-up convert 3X more visitors when we switched it from a 10% off discount to a free product offer.
Create a preference center for customers to be able to update their content: Customers don’t want to be emailed about promotions or product launches that aren’t relevant to their interests. Create an email preference center where customers can tell you exactly what type of content they want to receive from you (and what product lines they’re interested in most).
Leverage hidden fields: Hidden fields collect customer data points like geo-location, page opted in on, or referring source without a customer having to fill them out. Tools like Justuno can help with this.
Sync your off-site and on-site marketing channels: Mirroring copy, creative, offers, and more for visitors based on their channel source creates a better brand experience by reinforcing what interested them in the first place. It’s often easy for brands to offer one thing on a channel, like Instagram, but when a visitor clicks through it’s nowhere to be found on-site or even worse, they see a conflicting offer or message.
Consider two-step opt-in forms: "Two-step opt-in forms that ask for the email address on the first screen and SMS opt-in on the second screen are a great way to simultaneously grow email lists while also adding to your SMS database. Email and SMS shouldn’t be seen as one vs. the other to use for messaging but rather used in tandem for different content and touchpoints," Michael explained.
Segment your lists and clean your lists: Keeping your email list organized will serve you better long term because you’ll improve your deliverability rates, open rates, and click-through rates.
Cleaning and managing your email list
Since we’re talking about growing your email list, we should also talk about how to manage it.
I spoke with our director of email marketing, Lisa Oberst, on the best tips to clean and manage your email list, so keep these in mind as you start seeing all those new subscribers come through!
What’s step number one for cleaning your email list after lead generation?
First, only send your campaigns to engaged profiles—people who have opened an email or clicked inside one in the last 180 days. (Note: be careful with iOS15 open rates. These can't be trusted for Apple Mail readers.) With this method, your goal is to bring your open rate up to a safe range (>20%)
Then, send sunset campaigns to unengaged profiles. Your goal here is to try and get them to open. If they don't, you can suppress them. These campaigns will get very low opens, so be careful to time this right—like NOT right before Black Friday.
What’s involved in cleaning an email list? What should you look for?
Cleaning an email list means removing anybody who isn't engaging with your emails (even if they buy, if they don't open anything they shouldn't be in your list.)
You need to do some segmentation work to understand who is unengaged (see the above answer to do this).
Either remove contacts if you know there’s no chance of winning them back over or try one last attempt with a plain-text, very engaging sunset campaign (e.g. high discount code, great subject, personalized content). If this doesn’t work, it’s time to remove them.
How do you decide which contacts stay and which contacts go?
Choosing which contacts to keep depends on your list history and your customer lifecycle. But generally, you can assume that if someone hasn't opened or clicked inside an email in the last 180 days, they're not likely to start now.
What’s the difference between “cleaning” your email list and “managing” your email list?
Cleaning your list means removing unengaged contacts that are bringing your deliverability and open rates down.
Managing means creating different segments to communicate properly with different types of customers (e.g., depending on their persona or their journey).
How often should you be doing a list clean-up?
You should run a list clean-up once a year, at least. Depending on the tool you use (like Klaviyo), you can automate some of it to automatically "Sunset" profiles who haven't engaged in a set amount of time.
In general, your campaign list should send to engaged segments. Except for big announcements.
Collecting more email subscribers starts with using the right campaigns
The truth is, you can only go up from here (and your email list will too!). So now that you’ve got all the tips, it’s time to go put them into practice.
If you haven’t prioritized email growth before now, try out a few different ways to see what converts best and switch them up or add new ones as you see fit.
Good luck with growing your email list! Now don’t forget to join ours 😉.