Everything You Need To Know On How To Build An Email List From Scratch

BONUS: 29 List-Building Popup Ideas from Major Companies!

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Here’s the scenario: You want to build an email list from scratch but have no idea where to start. No worries! We’re here to help.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through how to build an email list from scratch, start-to-finish, step-by-step.

We’ll cover how to choose the perfect email marketing platform for your needs, ways you can entice website visitors to signup, how to create effective email signup forms on your website, and more.

This guide does take for granted that you are at least getting some traffic to your website so you can start capturing visitors’ emails.

However, if you have little or no traffic, we’ll still cover a few ways at the end of this article that you can build your email list.

Follow along:

Step 1: Choose an Email Marketing Platform

The first step to building your email list is to choose an email marketing platform. You can’t be sending and managing a large list of emails in Gmail. So, you need a platform that you can grow with and has the features you need to create engaging emails.

There are many options to choose from. You can go with Moosend, MailChimp, ActiveCampaign, the list goes on and on.

Compare Moosend’s Email Marketing and Marketing Automation features  and learn why Moosend is one of the best Mailchimp alternatives.

When deciding among different email platforms, consider the following:


There are a few different pricing models that email platforms use but they typically fall into two categories: “Per List Size” and “Per Emails Sent” pricing. Both are charged on a monthly ongoing basis.

In the Per List Size pricing model, the company offers plans based a certain amount of email addresses you can have. For example, $10/month for a list up to 5,000 emails, $25/month for up to 10,000 emails and so on.

In the first example, you can have up to 5,000 email addresses collected and stored in your database before you need to upgrade to the next highest plan.

Companies that use this pricing model include Moosend, Active Campaign, Infusionsoft, and iContact.

In the Per Email Sent pricing model, the company offers plans based on the number of emails you can send per month. You are then typically allowed to have an unlimited number of email addresses or contacts stored in your database. For example, a possible plan might be 10,000 emails/month for $10/month, 20,000 emails/month for $25/month, and so on.

In the first example, you can send up to 10,000 emails in that given month to as many email addresses as you’d like. If you want to send more than that, you would then upgrade your plan.

Companies that use this pricing model include SendinBlue and Mailjet.

Both of these pricing models allow you to manage your costs as you grow. Some companies use a combination of both pricing models.

Some also have free trials and free plans. For example, at Moosend, our free plan is good for 3 months which allows you to have up to 5,000 email addresses and send an unlimited number of emails in that month.

When trying to choose between these models consider what’s more important to you. Would it be helpful to be able to send out as many emails as you’d like in a given month or do you need more flexibility when it comes to the number of contacts you can have?

For reference, here’s a quick glance at a few popular email platforms and the free plans they offer:

email marketing platform comparison table

Ease of Use

Almost all of the major email platforms have drag-and-drop email builders and an interface for managing email campaigns, contacts, and automation cycles.

Moosend email builder

Above is a screenshot of our email builder at Moosend. You can see exactly how it works here.

Above is a screenshot of our email builder at Moosend. You can see exactly how it works here.

However, it’s best to try each email platform out first to see which one you like the best and that you find easiest to use.

Additionally, it helps when an email platform has a large number of pre-built email templates to choose from. This will save you time and can help you create better looking emails if you’re not great at design.

free newsletter templates

Email Automation

While you might not need it right away, email automation can be a powerful tool in your email marketing strategy.

When deciding on an email platform, you should try to find a platform that will allow you to create complex automation cycles based on different actions your website visitors and email subscribers take.

Moosend email automation examples

With automation you can build:

  • An onboarding process (a series of emails that send to a new subscriber and are spread out over a set number of days)
  • Automatically send emails to a visitor when they abandon their shopping cart
  • Send a series of emails when a visitor performs a specific action such as clicking a link in an email or making a purchase
  • Send an email on a specific date such as a subscriber’s birthday or anniversary.

With automation, you have the power to create complex email cycles that can bring subscribers back to your website. You should make sure that your email platform allows for these types of automation types and that setting them up is easy.

Customer Support

Lastly, you will want to consider customer support should you ever a problem or need help setting something up.

Your email platform should have a dedicated support page with resources and a clear way for users to get in touch.

email marketing customer support

There’s nothing more annoying than when a company doesn’t make it easy for customers to contact support and make people have to go through pages upon pages to find contact information.

Additionally, make sure that there are multiple ways to contact support (email, phone, live support, etc.). Not everyone wants to call support when they need assistance. So it’s nice to have all multiple contact options.
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Step 2: Create an Offer & Give People a Reason to Sign up

With an email platform chosen, you need to set up a way to start collecting emails on your website. But before you do that, you need to be able to entice people to signup. You need to give them a reason to want to give you their email address. They won’t give it to you for nothing.

Of course, you can create a simple signup form that says “Sign up to our email list to receive our latest great content”. However, the conversion rate for that type of generic signup will be low.

One of the best ways to capture someone’s email is to create a custom offer that entices them to sign up. Some ideas include:

  • An eBook
  • A checklist summarizing steps from a blog post
  • A PDF version of a blog post
  • A cheat sheet
  • A coupon
  • A webinar registration
  • A template or worksheet
  • A free course or email series

All of these offers give the visitor an incentive to sign up using their email address. You’ll find that using a combination of these different ideas will give you the best results.

For example, when first starting out, you can create an eBook that covers a broad topic in your industry. This way, you can use the eBook as an offer across multiple blog posts and pages on your website

But as you begin to develop your email list building strategy, content upgrades (a bonus piece of content specific to a particular blog post) will give you the best results.

Well-known SEO figure Brian Dean used this same technique of offering content upgrades to increase his email signup rate from 0.54% to 4.82%. That’s an increase of 785%.

Others have found similar success. Here are a few good case studies and further resources on content upgrades we recommend checking out:

Step 3: Create an Email Signup Form

Finally, it’s time to create a signup form. There are quite a few different types of signup forms and placements you can use, including the following:

  • A timed popup form (a popup that shows after a set amount of time)
  • A scroll popup (a popup that shows after the visitor scrolls a certain percentage of the page)
  • A welcome mat (a type of popup that covers the entire page)
  • An inline form (this form is placed inline with the page text)
  • A click-trigger popup (a popup that shows when someone clicks a specific link)
  • A form in your site’s blog sidebar
  • Or a form that runs across the very top of your site
  • A form at the end of every blog post

With so many options, which one should you choose?

In reality, you’ll likely use a combination of most or all of these placements. However, the welcome mat or popup form will have the highest conversion rates.

In a survey of 520,000 websites that use their popup builder, Sumo reported that their List Builder tool and welcome mat were the two highest performing opt-in methods with an average conversion rate of 2.9% and 2.6%, respectively.

In addition to the average across all 520,000 websites, the top 10% of those websites saw an average conversion rate of 6.5% from using Sumo’s List Builder.

Again, the welcome mat is a type of opt-in form that covers an entire page. It’s typically used to display an offer to the visitor within the first few seconds of them visiting your website.

With Sumo’s List Builder, you can create a timed popup, exit-intent popups (the popup displays when the visitor goes to exit the page), and/or click-trigger popups.

Click-trigger popups display when a visitor clicks on a specific link. For example, you might include a link that says “Click here to get your free eBook download”. Once someone clicks that link, a pop-up form will appear.

Sumo is one option for displaying these types of opt-in forms on your website. But, there are other options such as OptinMonster and WisePops.

If you have a WordPress-built website and you’d prefer to use a tool with a one-time fee, you can use a plugin such as ConvertPlus.

As we mentioned, though, you’ll still want to use a combination of different forms across your website. To get started, we’d recommend starting with the basics and adding a sign-up form to the end of your blog posts and possibly your sidebar.

The simplest way to do this is by embedding a form embed code from your email platform. Many email platforms will provide an embed code for sign-up forms that you can just copy and paste.

For example, with Moosend, you would follow the steps below:

1. In your Control Panel, click on the Mailing lists:

moosend campaign editor

2. Click on the name of the mailing list for which you want to create a subscription form:

Moosend subscription form

3. Click on the Generate subscribe form button:

how to create subscription forms on Moosend

4. Select which fields you want your subscription form to have:

adding fields to subscription forms

5. Preview the form in the What your users see section:

subscription form appearance

6. Copy the code in the Code behind textbox and paste it on your site:

how to embed code of subscription forms

For a more detailed version of this walk-through, consult this step-by-step tutorial. Alternatively, you can use the Moosend plugin to set this up on your WordPress website:

Moosend plugin for subscription forms

This plugin will also allow you to create popup forms:

how to create a popup form
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Tips to Build Your Email List From Scratch (with Zero Subscribers and Little to No Traffic)

As we mentioned at the beginning of this guide, this tutorial assumes that you already have people visiting your website. That way, you can use offers like content upgrades and CTAs such as pop-up forms in order to begin building your email list.

But what if you have zero email subscribers and little to no traffic? How can you build an email list from scratch then?

Fret not. It’s still possible and to help you out we’ve listed a few ideas below to get you started:

run a viral contest

Run a Viral Contest

A viral contest is a contest that encourages people to share it in exchange for bonus entries. For example, you may provide 25 bonus entries for each referral that then signs up to the contest. In order to sign up, the person has to enter their email which makes this a good list building technique.

Tools such as Vyper, Rafflecopter, and Gleam will allow you to set up this type of contest.

This option is a great one to start out with because it encourages participants to do your marketing for you and entices people to sign up.

Manually Reach Out to Your Personal Contacts

Another idea when first starting out is to reach out to your personal contacts. There’s likely at least a few people in your contact list that would be interested in signing up. Send an email to let them know that you are creating an email list and explain why it will be beneficial for them to sign up.

You can also encourage them to share the news with their own contact list.

You can do the same thing if you have a user base for your product but don’t have an email list for promoting content. Reach out to your users asking if they would also like to receive your emails regarding your latest and greatest content.

Incorporate Opt-Ins Into Your Existing Forms

If you’re a SaaS company, you probably have a signup form for new users. This is a great place to include an opt-in (in the form of checkbox) to ask to users if they would also like to be added to your email list.

Create a Referral Program for New Signups

Lastly, you could create a referral program to encourage people on your email list to share your content with their friends. For every person that signs up to your list via their referral link, they will receive points or whatever prize you set.

And if you are still looking for a wider range of list building tips read our super extensive list here: Best List Building Strategies

Start Building Your Email List Today

To sum up, to build your email list from scratch, make sure to first find the right email platform that suits your particular needs. Then, develop an offer that your audience wants and create signup forms in different areas of your website to maximize your efforts.

If you’re just starting out, we recommend trying out our free 3-month plan that allows you to store up to 5,000 contacts at one time and allows you to send as many emails as you want.

It’s the perfect way to start building your list without investing a lot of money first.

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