Written by Bill Widmer –

Your email list is one of your business’s most important marketing assets. Rather than fleeting traffic from temporary social media posts or paid ads, these are people who have engaged with you and you have direct access to.

You can make money at the click of a button whenever you need to with a strong email list. Unlike other marketing channels, you have full control and ownership here.

So how do you grow your email list? We’ll go through the most effective tips and tactics I’ve learned by growing multiple email lists in the tens of thousands.

The email growth mindset you need

Before we dive into the action steps, let’s get your head straight. When it comes to growing an email list, you don’t just want as many raw numbers as possible.

Not only does this get expensive fast, it also hurts your email deliverability when you send content to lots of unengaged (and downright non-existent) email addresses.

Instead, you want to focus on growing a highly engaged email list. Quality AND quantity.

That means you should clean your list often, never buy generic lists, and always offer something of value to your newsletter subscribers. I’ll talk more about that last point later.

Eight key tactics to grow your email list

Now that I’ve got you thinking about quality leads, let’s talk about the tried and tested tactics for growing your email list.

1. Put your opt-ins in all the right places

Start with all your bases covered. Make sure you have email opt-ins in the usual places: 

  • On your homepage
  • In your sidebar
  • At the end of your blog content

These are obvious places, but they can be overlooked—we want to start with a strong baseline before we get into the more advanced tactics.

Something like this works well:

Email opt-in example

What should you say in your opt-in? 

While you can have a general “Join 7,000+ brilliant minds like yourself,” it’s better to have something more targeted to your audience’s desires. 

Unless your content is something special to your readers (which, let’s be honest, it better be if you want to grow an online business), no one is going to sign up for another generic email spam list.

2. Attract high-quality website traffic

The quality of your email list starts with the quality of your website traffic. No matter how well your opt-ins convert, it won’t matter if the right people aren’t visiting your website.

That’s where SEO and content marketing come in. Great content targeting relevant keywords can attract quality traffic on autopilot from search engines like Google.

SEO has a learning curve and takes time to work, but it’s one of the most effective forms of content marketing to grow your email list.

It starts with keyword research—knowing what keywords your ideal customers are searching for and how to rank for those keywords.

You can do this quickly with a competitor content gap analysis. Simply type your website into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and click the Content gap button at the bottom of the left-hand menu here.

Ahrefs' Content Gap tool in left-hand menu

Then, plug in three or more of your competitors. If you don’t know who your competitors are, you can find them with the Competing Domains report right above the Content Gap report.

Ahrefs' Content Gap tool

Once you hit Show keywords, you’ll get a list of all the keywords your competitors rank for, but you don’t. That can sometimes be tens of thousands of keywords, so you’re better off starting with keywords that all the competitors rank for to get the most relevant results: 

Content Gap report results

From here, you’ll have a solid list of ideas for what you need to create content for.

Want to learn more? Start with these SEO guides:

3. Create content upgrades

A content upgrade is exactly what it sounds like—an “upgrade” to the content you’re currently reading.

A few examples of this can be:

  • An “ultimate guide” to burning fat on an article about exercises to lose weight.
  • A budgeting spreadsheet on an article about how to create a budget.
  • A video series about how to play the ukulele on an article about the best ukuleles for beginners.

You can get as creative as you want with this. What’s something you can give your readers that will be really valuable to them and relevant to what they’re currently reading?

For example, I’ve got thousands of emails by creating a spreadsheet comparing over 50 different small campers as a content upgrade on my guide to the best small campers.

Here’s what the opt-in form looks like:

Content upgrade email form

And here’s a look at the spreadsheet they get when they sign up:

Small camper comparison spreadsheet

My readers were more likely to subscribe to my list because they got something relevant that was really useful during their research to figure out which camper to buy.

Ready to do this yourself?

To figure out which pages you should create upgrades for, take a look at your highest-trafficked pages in Google Analytics. Just go to “Pages and screens” in GA4 (or Behavior > All Content > Landing Pages in the old GA), and it automatically sorts by number of views.

Google Analytics traffic report

Then create content upgrades that make sense for your highest-trafficked pages.

Try to think of upgrades you can use across multiple pages to save on time and costs. For example, an ultimate guide to weight loss can be promoted across articles about best foods for weight loss, best exercises for weight loss, etc.

Again, search engine optimization is going to be your best friend with this tactic. If you combine content upgrades with posts that are ranking on Google, you’ll grow your email list on autopilot.

4. Host giveaways

Let me start with a giant disclaimer: Generic giveaways are a great way to grow an email list… full of fake or unengaged emails.

Many people create emails (that they never actually check or use) for the sole purpose of signing up for giveaways. Or they sign up and then immediately unsubscribe after the giveaway is over.

Instead of giving away something generic, such as cash or some fancy electronics, stick with giving away something directly related to your target market.

For example, if you’re in the fitness space, give away fitness equipment. If you’re in the woodworking space, give away woodworking equipment. You get the idea.

Better yet, if you sell products of your own, give away your own products. That way, even if someone leaves your email list, you’re still at least on their mind whenever they use your stuff.

One example of a well-done giveaway is this one by iKamper:

Instagram email contest giveaway

Here’s what makes it good:

  • It’s giving away its own products.
  • It partnered with other big brands in the outdoor camping space.
  • All of the products in the giveaway are relevant to iKamper’s customers (no generic products or cash).

In other words, only people who may be potential iKamper customers are actually signing up for the giveaway. 

Plus, by partnering with other brands, it’s increasing its reach while also building relationships with powerful partners.

If you’re going to do a giveaway, make sure you do it legally. Notice how it says in the post that Instagram isn’t endorsing its giveaway. This is just one of the things you need to do to legally hold a giveaway. These rules differ from country to country.

5. Use exit-intent pop-ups

Pop-ups are annoying, right?

Of course—if it’s something you don’t care about.

That’s why you should only use exit-intent pop-ups with, well, intention. Don’t just spam your readers with “Hey! Sign up for my list!” without offering them something they care about.

Instead, only use exit-intent pop-ups to give your readers something they really want. A discount code can work, although that doesn’t guarantee customer retention.

The approach I’ve found to work the best is to combine these pop-ups with the content upgrades we went through in tactic #3. It makes your upgrade obvious and lowers your chances of the pop-up being really annoying.

Speaking of being less annoying… here are some other tips to avoid aggravating your readers:

  • Make sure your pop-up is easy and obvious to close out. Make the “X” in the corner easy to see and ensure the pop-up closes if they click outside the box. 
  • Only display the pop-up after a certain amount of time on a page or after a certain scroll depth so it doesn’t display right away and make people immediately leave. You should be able to set these conditions in the pop-up settings of most tools.

That way, you maximize the benefits of the pop-up and minimize the annoyance.

Here’s a great example of an exit-intent pop-up:

Tim Ferriss exit-intent pop-up

It’s good because:

  • It’s easy to close. (There’s a visible “X” and a “No, thanks” option.)
  • It’s offering something of value, not just asking you to subscribe.
  • It’s highly relevant for Tim Ferriss’ audience (he talks a lot about how to improve your life).

There are many tools and plugins you can use to create the pop-up and manage your subscribers. I personally use ConvertKit to manage my list and Thrive Lightboxes to make my pop-ups, but use whatever you prefer.

6. Never spam your list

OK, this is an obvious tip. But it can’t be overstated to not exhaust your list with useless emails. This boils down to:

  1. Not sending something your list won’t care about.
  2. Only sending two to four emails per month unless your emails are about something time-sensitive that people obviously want more frequent updates on (like news or market updates).

Subscriber retention also hugely contributes to sustainable growth. That’s it—on to #7.

7. Utilize a drip feed

The last thing you want to do is let your hard-earned email list go cold. It can be easy to forget to send consistently—besides, not everyone on your list is at the same stage of your marketing funnel.

That’s where a drip feed comes in. This is a series of emails you set up ahead of time to “drip” out to your list over time. It’s basically a way to ensure you’re sending to your list consistently without needing to write a new broadcast email every week.

For example, your drip campaign can look like this:

  1. A reader subscribes to your list to get their ultimate guide to weight loss.
  2. Your email marketing software sends them a welcome email along with their PDF.
  3. The next day, your new subscriber gets “dripped” another email with a video version of their guide that also promotes your products.
  4. A week later, they get a check-in email asking how they’re doing with their goals.
  5. Etc.

These “dripped out” emails can promote your older content, share your new content, give tips and best practices, and occasionally promote relevant products to your list. 

Plus, they give you the added benefit of only needing to schedule the emails once, then let the automation handle things for you from there.

Speaking of automation…

8. Segment your list

Would you want to get an email about weight loss tips if you’re trying to bulk up? Probably not. That’s why if you offer content on different topics within a niche, it’s best to segment your list so your readers only get the emails that are most relevant to what they care about.

There are several ways you can segment your list:

  • Segment based on which content upgrade they signed up for (i.e., weight loss guide gets into the weight loss segment, muscle building guide gets into the muscle building segment).
  • Simply ask your subscribers their preferences in the welcome email. Give them a bulleted list of topics that are hyperlinked with different tags for different segments. For example, you could make a list like this:
    • I’m interested in losing weight.
    • I’m interested in building muscle.
    • I’m interested in having more energy and being generally healthier.
  • Segment based on which product(s) the subscriber purchased.

Each email automation software is different in how it handles these types of automations and tags. But for ConvertKit (the one that I use), here’s how to do this:

Click the Automate dropdown, then Rules.

ConvertKit automation rules

Click + New Rule in the top right, and you’ll be prompted to choose a Trigger and an Action. Depending on which segmentation strategy you want to use from the three I mentioned above, you’ll need to do a different trigger.

For this example, I’ll keep it simple—click Subscribes to a form as a trigger and Subscribe to a sequence as an action. (Note that you’ll need to set up the form and sequence before this for it to work.) This makes it so whenever someone subscribes via the form you chose, they will be added to the sequence (the “drip feed”) you selected.

Additionally, click the + under the Subscribe to a sequence action and add the second action Add tag with the corresponding segment tag for that particular form. This will add a tag to anyone who subscribes to that form, thus allowing you to “segment” them.

ConvertKit triggers and actions

When you’re happy with the settings, click Save Rule. That’s all you have to do.

Final thoughts

Again, your email list is arguably one of your business’s biggest assets. It’s a customer list that you have control of—unlike other marketing channels

The tactics I’ve outlined above have helped me build several lists in the tens of thousands, with people who stay engaged and care when I send out an email.

Treat your list like gold, never take advantage of it, and remember that there are real people at the other end of those emails. That’s the way to grow and keep a high-quality email list.



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