You’ve heard it time and time again.
The money is in the list.
And it’s true! Even after all these years, email marketing continues to be one of the most cost-effective methods for growing your business online and making a profit. More than traditional media. More than social media.
But it seems like it’s becoming more difficult than ever to get people to sign up for your email list, doesn’t it?
Part of the reason is that today’s readers are simply becoming numb. We’ve seen it all. We recognize tricks to get us to sign-up. Those old email list building tactics used to work. And they worked well. But just as ad blindness has become a thing, opt-in blindness is also creeping in.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
In many cases, the key is to simply offer really good content on your blog. When you are engaging your readers and giving them amazing blog posts, that alone will be enough to get them to grab your email marketing lead magnets and join your list.
So first make sure that you’re delivering the goods on your blog and building trust and authority with your readers.
But beyond that, there are still a lot of ways to build your email list. Don’t give in to the temptation to use spammy tactics such as bait-and-switch or buying email lists from shady marketers. Following white hat email marketing best practices is always your best bet in the long run.
So with that in mind, here are 17 proven strategies for improving your opt-in rate and building your email list to the next level.
1. Put an Email Signup Form on Every. Single. Page.
One of the most effective ways to increase your email opt-in rate — arguably the best way ever — is to simply give your readers more opportunities to join your list. Many marketers make the mistake of only putting a signup form in their sidebar or on their homepage, but that’s a huge mistake.
When you do that, your opt-in rate will be pretty dismal. A lot of readers don’t even look at sidebars — particularly those on mobile devices, since most responsive websites push sidebars down below the main content.
And most visitors don’t even come to your homepage. They come from search engines or links on social media to read a particular article. Then, if they liked the article, they’ll probably click on a related article from that one. So they never even make it to your homepage.
Wouldn’t that suck if the main reason visitors aren’t subscribing to your blog is that they aren’t seeing any signup forms?
This is why you need to include an opt-in on every single page of your website. Every blog post should have an opt-in form. Every page — even your contact and about pages — should offer an opportunity to join your email list.
2. Use a Popup Form
Everyone has seen popup forms — you know, those annoying windows that pop up while you’re trying to read an article, begging you to join their email list?
Bonobos does it.
Crate & Barrel does it too.
Groupon puts their signup form in a circle.
Yeah, those popup forms sure are annoying. Why do people keep using them?
People keep using them because they work. They work really, really well! It’s that simple, and that’s why you should at least experiment with popup forms on your blog.
Yes, popup forms are annoying — but they still work.
Popup forms are totally overused on the internet — but they still work.
Some marketers abuse them — but they still work.
Popup forms might actually make some visitors click away — but they still work.
Listen, even if you personally don’t like popup forms and grumble with all your blogging buddies about how you’ll never use them, you owe it to yourself to at least test it out and see for yourself.
And if you’re worried that your current subscribers will stop following your blog because of popups, then you can stop worrying about that.
You can actually customize your popups so that people who are already on your list won’t ever see them. You can also adjust your settings so that return visitors — whether they’ve subscribed or not — won’t get popups.
So just test it out for a month or so and see if it makes a difference in your opt-in rate.
(Hint: it makes a difference.)
3. Use Multiple Signup Forms/Links on Every Single Page
So, you have email signup forms on every page. You’re done, right? Wrong. That might still not be enough. Using multiple opt-in forms in different areas of the page can also increase your signup rate.
One of the best places to put a signup form is above the fold. Above the Fold is a phrase that comes from the newspaper world. Advertisers would pay a premium if their ad appeared above where the newspaper naturally folded. Because above the fold performed in best. In the digital world, Above the Fold is the space before the reader has to scroll. On smartphones, that space is even smaller.
Websites centered around their email lists do this well. The Skimm is a daily email newsletter on news you want to read. On their homepage, you need to scroll down before seeing any content. That space above the fold is fully dedicated to the sign-up form.
Another website that does this well is Hacker Newsletter. Hacker Newsletter is a weekly newsletter that summarizes the best content from Y Combinator’s Hacker News.
Above the fold means putting your signup form at the top of the page where it’s visible without scrolling down. Tons of visitors bounce away from your website within a few seconds, so you want to make sure they see your lead magnet before they bounce. That alone can catch their interest and keep you from losing them forever.
Another great place for your opt-in form is at the end of a blog post. Most readers won’t even make it that far down the page, but the ones who do obviously liked the content that you wrote for them. So that means that they are already warm leads who will be more likely to join your list. That’s a great opportunity to get a new subscriber!
The next best place is in a sidebar. Readers may lose interest in your post they are reading, but they may be enticed to subscribe with a good offer.
And there are a lot of other places to put signup forms and offer your lead magnet. Also, you don’t necessarily have to put the actual form on there to get a response. Try dropping links to a landing page within the body of your content too and see if that increases your subscriber count.
4. Make Your Home page a Landing Page
This is one of the best tips on this entire list, so make sure you experiment with this one. Stripping down your homepage and turning it into a landing page is enormously effective for getting new subscribers.
Why does it work? It works because it locks your content away behind the opt-in and basically twists visitors’ arms to get them to sign up. It forces readers to notice your signup form by placing it front and center and requiring action to move forward into your blog content.
But the key is to offer a really juicy lead magnet to entice them to subscribe. Joining your list shouldn’t be a nuisance. It should be an awesome benefit and a total win for the subscriber. If you just expect them to subscribe for blog updates with nothing in return except blog updates, you’ll lose them. So make your lead magnet something special.
5. Split Test the Elements on Your Home/Landing Page
Everyone can have opinions about how to improve opt-in rates, but if you aren’t testing these changes on your site for yourself, then you’re really just guessing. In general, there are tactics that are proven to help in most cases. But there are a lot of variables, and your mileage may vary.
So it’s always a good idea to perform split tests.
Choose one feature on your landing page or opt-in form and test two versions of that. For example, if you have a green “subscribe” button, try a red one and see which color performs better.
Then pick another element on the page and test that.
Continue optimizing your signup forms to get higher and higher conversion rates.
You could do these optimizations manually, or use a landing page tool. A tool like Instapage can build beautiful, converting landing pages, and split testing is built-in. Read our Instapage review.
6. Use Social Proof to Encourage Opt-Ins
Social proof can also reduce readers’ doubts and encourage signups. If you have a subscriber base over a few thousand, show it!
Social marketing tool Buffer shows off their subscribers.
Fitness community Nerd Fitness does it too.
You can try adding some testimonials from clients or other subscribers who’ve tried your product and achieved positive results.
Using social media share buttons that show the number of shares — if it’s a high number — can also demonstrate how popular your content is.
And of course, once you have a decent number of subscribers, simply showing your current subscriber count can give new readers peace of mind, knowing that your content must be good since so many other people are subscribing.
7. Use Heatmaps to Identify User Attention Patterns
Heat mapping software tracks readers’ mouse movements around your page, allowing you to see what people are looking at and what they are ignoring. This can help you eliminate weak elements from your page and put your offer where it will get the most attention.
8. Include an Exit Popup
An exit popup can also get you some additional subscribers.
Whenever a reader’s cursor moves toward the back button at the top left corner of the page, a popup will appear and encourage them to subscribe before leaving the site. If your lead magnet is compelling, you will get some of these readers to subscribe.
And since many of them were first-time visitors who were about to bounce anyway, it’s not like you should worry about them being annoyed. You were about to lose them forever anyway. But some of them will be interested in your lead magnet, so take a chance and try to win them back with a popup.
9. Offer a Killer Lead Magnet
It goes without saying that your offer needs to be really good in order to get people to subscribe. Too many marketers put up boring offers that nobody wants and wonder why nobody is signing up.
What would it take to make people really excited to join your list? Think about what kind of content your readers value, and focus on that for your lead magnets. Don’t hold back. Don’t hide all of your best stuff behind a paywall. Let them get something really good just for joining your list.
There are too many email marketing practitioners out there who get people to sign up, only to make them pay to go deeper in and get anything worthwhile. That’s a great way to lose both subscribers and sales.
But you can differentiate yourself by making killer offers that deliver real value to your subscribers. That’s how you build trust. When your subscribers trust you and receive tons of value — even for free — they’ll be a lot more likely to buy in when you offer even greater value at a price. But you can’t expect to upsell successfully when your free content is shallow and offers little value to readers.
10. Make Opting In Easy to Do
Some marketers miss out on a lot of subscribers because they simply make them jump through too many hoops to subscribe. Their opt-in form will have 5-10 fields to fill in! That’s pretty crazy and will simply push people away.
To satisfy GDPR requirements, you’ll likely want to have a double opt-in process, just to make sure subscribers understand what they’re opting into, but your form should still be as simple as possible.
Don’t ask for too much contact information at this point. Just ask for their first name and email address and get them onto your list. Once you get them as subscribers and convert them into warm leads, then you can require additional info later on in the sales funnel.
11. Show Subscribers Exactly What They’ll Get
One of the main reasons people unsubscribe from email lists is that they receive content that they aren’t interested in, especially if they receive content that they didn’t want in the first place.
Getting spammed like this by email marketers using bait-and-switch tactics has caused many readers to hesitate to give out their email address, and for good reason.
But you can reassure your readers that this won’t happen by being very transparent right from the start.
Entrepreneurial blog Smart Passive Income shows readers exactly what they’ll get by signing up.
When you have an email signup form on a page on your site, you can improve your opt-in rate by listing the emails that the subscriber will receive going forward. If you have a sequence of ten articles to share, list out all the article titles right there next to the opt-in form. If your headlines are good, people will be happy to join your list to get that info.
12. Customize Your Lead Magnets To Fit the User
You can’t expect all of your readers to respond well to the same lead magnet offer. So it’s a good idea to customize your offers for different readers.
For instance, at the bottom of the page on a case study, you might offer a free report featuring similar case studies.
Or at the end of a tutorial blog post, your lead magnet could offer a free five-part video tutorial course that dives deeper into the topic.
13. Offer Content Upgrades as Lead Magnets
Content upgrades are another effective way to get new subscribers onto your email list. These should be offered at the end of a blog post. A simple but effective content upgrade would be a printable PDF version of your blog post. Or you could offer the blog post as a podcast that readers can download and listen to on their smartphone at their convenience.
14. Feed Your Comment Section with a CTA
You can also try feeding your comment section at the bottom of your blog posts with a call-to-action (CTA) which recommends that readers subscribe to your blog to get more great content from you.
Why does this tactic work well for list building?
It works because the readers who will see it are already warm leads. They already read your blog post down to the bottom of the page. They were so interested in the post that they decided to write a comment about it.
Very few of your visitors will read your blog posts from start to finish, and even fewer will actually leave a comment. Those who do are the most engaged, so they are also the most likely to sign up to your list. Having a pinned comment at the top of the thread is a great way to get them signed up.
15. Link to Opt-In Page on Social Media Profiles
Promoting your lead magnets on social media is a very effective way to build your list. You can certainly make regular posts that link back to your offer. But linking in your profile can be even more effective over time because that link is always out there, as opposed to regular posts that get lost in the feed.
A lot of your followers will visit your profile at some point and click through whatever link you have there. So you can send them to a squeeze page to capture their email and offer them your lead magnet.
Using this tactic across several social media profiles can result in a ton of new signups.
16. Use Paid Ads to Drive Traffic to Your Lead Magnet
But don’t limit yourself to free social media traffic. Boosting posts on social media and buying ads from search engines can result in a lot of targeted traffic to your landing pages too.
Many marketers use this tactic alone to build their list, and some of them don’t even have a website! They just use landing pages through a lead-capture service and then market to their list!
17. Segment Your Email List
One more way to grow your email list is to simply keep it from shrinking. Use segmentation to push your subscribers to different email lists based on interest. This allows you to customize the content they receive and lower your number of unsubscribes.
This might sound a bit complicated if you’re maintaining your email lists manually. But it’s really easy if you’re using an email marketing service. You can create different lists to go with different lead magnets to further narrow down your audience.
After all, there’s no sense going through all the trouble of acquiring new subscribers just to lose them one or two emails into the funnel. By targeting your email content, you’ll have a higher retention rate and grow your lists much faster.
Building your email list is one of the keys to the success of your business. If you can keep adding new subscribers, you’ll get your content and your products out there to more and more people, leading to more sales and revenue. List building is truly one of the most effective ways to scale your business, so use these 17 tactics to grow your list and keep the income streaming in.