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Building an email list: 13 tips for a healthy email list

Want to build an email list? Always prioritize quality over quantity. Read these tips for building a healthy email list to learn why.

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    By James

    James has seven years' experience as a Content Marketer, bylines on Left Foot Forward, Submittable, and INOMICS, and a Master's in History. In his free time he likes to read, play guitar, and write for his personal blog.

    Think of a healthy email list as the lifeblood of your email marketing efforts.

    Among many other benefits, having an engaged email list can boost revenue, improve brand awareness, and drive customer action.

    However, many companies fail to capitalize on their email list. Some firms may even resort to unscrupulous practices like buying scraped lists to quickly inflate their numbers.

    This is a surefire way to damage your sender’s reputation, end up in spam folders, and get blacklisted by ESPs.

    Want to learn how to create sustainable and healthy email lists? Read on to learn what makes a list healthy (and unhealthy) and eleven strategies on how to grow them.

    Short summary

    • Optimize the opt-in process: Make it straightforward for users to subscribe.
    • Segment your list based on data: Tailor communications to specific groups.
    • Use an opt-in campaign to clean your list: Regularly update your subscriber list.
    • Promote on social media platforms: Leverage networks like Facebook to grow your list.
    • Offer gated content: Provide valuable resources in exchange for email addresses.
    • Create compelling landing pages: Encourage sign-ups with effective design and copy.
    • Do content marketing: Use blogs and articles to attract subscribers.
    • Use website pop-ups: Strategically place sign-up prompts on your site.
    • Write quality copy: Engage users with well-written content.
    • Guest posting: Collaborate with others to expand your reach.
    • Inject personality into communications: Make your emails uniquely engaging.
    • Provide incentives for signing up: Offer discounts or exclusive content.
    • Gamify the signup process: Make subscribing fun and interactive.

    What are the elements of a healthy email list?

    An email list is composed of individual email addresses from people who have consented to receive emails. These emails can contain valuable content, from educational resources to product discounts.

    Recommended reading: Gmail and Yahoo's new sender requirements

    A healthy email list is a valuable marketing asset because it's made up of people who have already shown an interest in your blog or business. They are the types of people who are more likely to engage with your content and purchase your product or service.

    One way to tell apart a healthy email list from an unhealthy one is by determining whether they meet the following criteria:

    • Users opted in of their own accord
    • Users open and click emails regularly
    • A low number of spam complaints
    • No fake or inactive email addresses
    • Targets the right audience
    • Must ideally have more than 2,000 members
    • Complies with anti-spam laws (CAN-SPAM Act, GDPR, and TCPA)

    What are the elements of a bad email list?

    When attempting to generate leads, many marketers opt for shortcuts and end up acquiring lists through dishonest means. Some may get complacent and fail to vet their email list regularly.

    Unfortunately, this isn’t sustainable. Not only do these email lists fail to convert or lead to meaningful customer action, but they can also be devastating in the long run.

    Here are some of the qualities of an unhealthy email list:

    • Bought from a third-party vendor
    • Contains inactive or fake email addresses
    • Covers a wide net instead of being laser-focused
    • Has a high number of spam complaints
    • Does not comply with anti-spam laws

    If your current email list is not as healthy as it should be, don't despair. Many marketers launch an opt-in campaign to their list to weed out emails of the disengaged and disinterested. 

    You can also use email verification tools to eliminate any invalid email addresses in your list.

    Your Inbox, Smarter

    Designed for business owners and freelancers using Outlook, Gmail and Apple Mail.

    13 tips for building a healthy email list

    When it comes to email marketing, the quality of your email list matters more than the quantity.

    According to the latest data 1.2 to 2.3 spam emails are delivered to inboxes worldwide. It would help if you stood out.  

    Ask any marketer: a small, engaged group is preferable to thousands of uninterested prospects.

    To attract and engage qualified email subscribers, try following these 13 tips:

    1) Make opting-in pleasant for visitors

    The sign-up process should be seamless and easy for first-time subscribers. The fewer steps and hoops they have to go through, the better.

    Complicated and lengthy sign-up processes are one of the quickest ways to lose visitors.

    While it may be tempting, avoid asking subscribers for too much information on lead-capture pages. Instead, ask them to fill up one or two fields at most.

    By keeping it short and sweet, you'll be more likely to encourage sign-ups since there is less opportunity for visitors to drop off. Besides, if these subscribers are worth maintaining, you'll have the chance to get feedback and data from them later on.

    Website Tip: Make sure that the sign-up form is prominently displayed on your website or blog. The call to action (CTA) should be clear and visible, and it should be placed in strategic locations where visitors are most likely to see it.

    Some of the best places to put your sign-up form include:

    • The footer or sidebar of your website
    • The top of blog pages
    • Underneath blog posts or articles
    • In the middle of a blog post
    • On a dedicated popup screen

    call to action strategy

    Source: MarketSplash

    2) Use data to segment your list

    If your website specializes in two or more niches, consider segmenting your list.

    You can send more targeted content to subscribers who will be more likely to engage with it.

    Segmentation is the process of dividing your subscribers into groups based on shared characteristics.

    Segmented lists could include one, two, or more of the following combinations:

    • Age
    • Gender
    • Location
    • Purchase history
    • Website activity
    • Email engagement (opens, clicks, etc.)

    According to MailChimp, open rates for segmented and personalized emails are 19% higher than for non-segmented lists, while click-through rates are 22% higher.

     open rates for segmented and personalized emails

    Source: MarketSplash

    To flesh out an example, say you own an e-commerce store that sells both male and female clothing. You could create two separate email lists - one for men and another for women.

    You can then send gender-specific content (or any form of segmented content, for that matter) with an email-sending tool.

    This makes the campaign feel more targeted, which consequently leads users to open the email and read your offer.

    Irrelevant content is one of the biggest factors as to why people unsubscribe from lists. So don't take list segmentation for granted!

    3) Declutter your list with an opt-in campaign

    Is your list filled with disengaged contacts? If so, then it may be time to run an opt-in campaign to clear them out.

    While it may seem counterintuitive, smaller, more engaged email lists tend to increase your deliverability.

    It also helps you better gain control over your sender's reputation, which is essential for maintaining a good open rate.

    Remember, you're not demolishing the fruit of your labor from the past - you're simply removing the rotten emails from the bunch to make room for higher-quality leads in the future.

    4) Promote your newsletter on Facebook

    Social media platforms are excellent places to promote your email list and drive traffic to your sign-up form - and Facebook reigns supreme in this department.

    With nearly 3 billion active Facebook users, there's a huge potential for finding the right audience for your business. And thanks to Facebook's business-friendly tools, there are multiple ways you can generate leads for your business.

    One option is to add an action button to your page to help promote your lead magnet offer.

    If you've ever scrolled down your news feed and seen a "Sign Up" or "Learn More" button on a Facebook Page, that's an example of this.

    Promote your newsletter on Facebook

    You can do the same thing for your business by adding an action button that leads to your business's landing page.

    Another option is to make your cover photo a visual CTA that has a link to your sign-up form in its description. This grabs the scrollers' attention and prompts clicks as soon as they enter your page.

    5) Produce and give away gated content

    Gated content comes in many forms. As long as it's valuable, it can be a big help in expanding your email list.

    Valuable gated content generally includes:

    Let’s put this in perspective. Say you own a recipe website with a decent reader base.

    If you want to increase your email list, you could consider creating an eBook with all your best recipes and gate it behind an email sign-up form.

    It's a win-win for everyone, with the subscriber getting content they're interested in and you getting a potential warm lead.

    To gain the customer's email, the tradeoff will have to be acceptable in the first place. So take some time to create high-quality content that's relevant, targeted, and valuable to your target audience.

    Ideally, the customer giving out their email shouldn't be a problem given the value they'd receive.

    People who exchange their emails for content are likely the types you’d want to do business with in the first place.

    6) Create a powerful landing page

    If you're promoting gated content as part of an email list-building strategy, then having a dedicated landing page is essential.

    Your landing page is the make-or-break factor in whether a lead converts or not, so it's important to get it right. Here are some things to consider when creating a landing page:

    • A clear and concise headline
    • Compelling copy that informs, engages, and converts (of which more later)
    • An image or video for a visual break from the text
    • A simple opt-in form
    • Links to your social media pages
    • A bold and big CTA button that encourages visitors to sign up
    • A thank-you page or confirmation message after form submission

    Don't have to bombard your visitor with a colorful background or eccentric fonts as they can distract from your offer. Instead, focus on making the headlines and copy as clear and effective as possible. Even a minimalist pure white theme can work well for a landing page as long as all the other elements are there.

    7) Integrate content marketing into your list-building strategy

    One missed opportunity when it comes to email list-building is not integrating content marketing into the mix. Content marketing can be an extremely effective tool to attract leads and get people interested in your business.

    Content marketing is developing and delivering valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and maintain a defined audience.

    When people enjoy your content and find it valuable, they'll be more likely to sign up for your email list to get more of it.

    This is the perfect time to incorporate opt-in forms and CTAs within your blog post (or at the conclusion of it) to make it easy for them to do so.

    But try not to sound too sales-y either. As long as you meet user intent, you can sell without making them feel like they're getting tricked for a quick buck.

    8) Use pop-ups on your website

    Use pop-ups on your website

    Source: Big Red Awesome Dodo

    One retargeting method to grow your email list that can be very potent when used correctly is pop-ups.

    Pop-ups are effective because they're positioned and timed as soon as a user is about to exit a website.

    This draws them back in and gives you one last chance to make an offer.

    Recommended post: How to set up a distribution list in Outlook

    While some people find pop-ups annoying, if they're relevant and not too intrusive, they can be an effective way to increase your email list. They can also be customized to target specific pages, devices, and user behavior.

    9) Create and A/B test quality copy

    Your email list-building strategy is only as good as the copy you use. No matter how great your offer or landing page is, if your copy is weak, you're not going to convert many leads.

    Copywriting is an art and a science. You need to be able to write persuasively to get people to take action, but you also need to know how to structure your copy for maximum effect.

    Given that you're probably sending to a large number of leads at once, it's also important to A/B test your copies to see what works best. This way, you can fine-tune your strategy and ensure you’re making the most out of every email.

    10) Guest post on other blogs

    If you know where your target market congregates online, you can use that to your advantage and lead them to your website.

    One way to do this is by guest posting on other blogs in your industry. By doing this, you can include a CTA or link to your newsletter or landing page to expand your email list.

    When guest posting, be sure to write quality content that will actually interest and engage your target audience.

    Don't just guest post for the sake of it or you'll risk turning potential leads off or even damaging your reputation.

    11) Boosting subscriber engagement

    After establishing the foundation of a healthy email list, the next step is to deepen engagement with your subscribers. One strategy you can try is to inject personality into your email campaigns.

    Consider using humor or creative language in your calls-to-action (CTAs) and email content. For example, a CTA with a playful or sarcastic remark can capture attention more effectively than a straightforward sales pitch. This approach humanizes your brand and makes your communications memorable.

    HubSpot recommends exploring different tones in your CTAs, including humor or sarcasm, especially in options like "No, thanks" links. This can create a more engaging experience for your readers, making them pause and think, often leading to higher engagement rates.

    funny no thanks pop up

    Remember, the goal is to create emails that subscribers look forward to receiving. By blending valuable content with an engaging personality, you can transform your email list into a community of engaged and loyal followers.

    12) Offering incentives

    By providing tangible rewards, such as a discount for new subscribers, you create a compelling reason for visitors to join your list. Imagine, with a potential conversion rate of 10%, every tenth visitor could become a new subscriber, motivated by the prospect of a discount on their first purchase.

    Additionally, exclusive sales accessible only to email subscribers can foster a sense of exclusivity and urgency, driving more sign-ups.

    These tactics effectively leverage the psychology of reciprocity and exclusivity, making your email list more appealing to potential subscribers.

    13) Gamify your signup forms

    Gamifying signup forms makes them more engaging and fun. Imagine adding a simple game, like a spinning wheel, to your website. Users can play to win discounts or gifts, but they need to provide their email to play.

    This approach is effective because it turns a routine task into an exciting activity, encouraging more people to sign up. It's about mixing fun with rewards, making users more likely to engage and subscribe. Remember, the key is to keep the game simple and enjoyable, matching your audience's interests and your brand's style.

    Email list FAQs

    How do you keep a healthy email list? 

    There are a few key steps you can take to keep a healthy email list.

    Regularly clean your list: Remove inactive subscribers, invalid email addresses, and those who have marked your emails as spam. This helps ensure that you are sending emails to engaged and interested subscribers, which can improve your email metrics and deliverability.

    Obtain explicit consent: Make sure that your subscribers have given you explicit permission to email them. You can do this through double opt-in processes or explicit consent forms.

    Send relevant and personalized content: Tailor your email content to your subscribers' interests and needs. Use segmentation to target specific groups of subscribers with content that is relevant to them.

    Encourage engagement: Encourage your subscribers to open, read, and interact with your emails. You can do this by providing valuable content, using personalization, and asking for feedback.

    Provide an easy opt-out option: Include an option to unsubscribe in every email you send. This helps ensure that your subscribers have control over their email preferences and reduces the likelihood that they will mark your emails as spam.

    What is a clean email list? 

    A clean email list is a list of subscribers who have given explicit consent to receive your emails and have valid email addresses. It's free from inactive subscribers, spam traps, and invalid email addresses. A clean email list also has engaged subscribers who regularly open, read, and interact with your emails.

    How do I create an email list? 

    Here are the best steps to take to create an engaged and healthy email list that is likely to improve your email deliverability and metrics, as well as comply with email marketing laws and regulations.

    • Identify your target audience and determine what they are interested in.
    • Create a sign-up form on your website or social media platforms, asking for the subscriber's email address and permission to email them.
    • Offer an incentive, such as a discount or a free resource, to encourage people to sign up for your email list.
    • Use social media to promote your email list and reach a wider audience.
    • Segment your list based on subscriber interests or behaviors, allowing you to send targeted content that is more likely to be relevant to your subscribers.
    • Provide valuable content that is relevant to your subscribers' interests and needs.
    • Include an option to unsubscribe in every email you send to ensure that your subscribers have control over their email preferences and to reduce the likelihood that they will mark your emails as spam.

    Do email lists still work?  

    Email lists still work as an effective marketing tool for businesses and organizations. Email marketing is a powerful way to communicate with customers and potential customers, as it enables you to send personalized and targeted messages directly to their inboxes.

    While email marketing has changed over time due to advancements in technology and changes in consumer behavior, it remains a critical component of many businesses' marketing strategies. As long as you create a clean and engaged email list, offer valuable content, and follow best practices for email marketing, email lists can continue to be an effective way to drive business growth and engagement.

    Is it a good idea to buy an email list? 

    No, it is not a good idea to buy an email list. Buying an email list can result in negative consequences for your email deliverability, sender reputation, and overall marketing efforts. 

    Instead, it's better to build your own email list through organic methods such as creating a sign-up form on your website, offering an incentive to encourage sign-ups, and promoting your email list on social media. This way, you will have a clean and engaged email list that is more likely to yield positive results for your business.


    Building an email list is essential for any business that wants to succeed online - but it’s an ongoing process.

    It may be tempting to take shortcuts, but if you want a healthy and effective email list, you need to put in the work. To make your job easier, Mailbutler offers the Contacts feature, which can help you manage your email contacts effectively.

    Be patient and consistent, and plan and work with purpose. Once you’ve honed in on the basics of healthy email list-building, you'll find it easier to reap the benefits of a quality email list.

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