Email continues to be one of the most effective communication channels for business-to-business and business-to-consumer messaging. Unlike other platforms like social media, television, or print, email provides a scalable solution to reach and communicate with each individual prospect. You can customize emails to each recipient to create a tailored and unique experience.

The effectiveness of email is shown in the data – as email is 40-times more effective than Facebook or Twitter at acquiring new business.  That is inspiration enough to grow your email list! To help you get started with your email list-building efforts, consider implementing the eight ideas below.

Start with Your Customers

If you are starting from ground zero and have no established process for managing and building email lists, then consider starting with your current clients. Collecting emails from your customers is a necessary step to increase brand loyalty, improve customer satisfaction, and remarket your products or services.  

Even if you operate a brick-and-mortar location, you need to collect emails from those who are already giving you business. In fact, it’s estimated that repeat customers generate 40 percent of a store’s annual revenue. Consider starting a loyalty program or running in-store-only promotions to collect emails from your current clients.

Get Subscribers to Share Your Emails

Another way to grow your email lists organically is to get your current subscribers to refer your emails to their contacts. When one of your recipients shares an email with someone they know, it provides a level of trust that you couldn’t receive on your own. This referral helps you break through some of the noise and clutter of the inbox, and it offers an opportunity to generate another email subscriber.  

Try different strategies in your email to motivate your subscribers to forward your content to their contacts. Add language in the email to share with someone they know and love or incentivize sharing by offering referral discounts. In the email itself, make it easy for anyone to subscribe by adding a relevant CTA at the bottom of the email.

Avoid Unsubscribes and Spam Filters

If you can’t avoid unsubscribes and spam filters, you will struggle to grow your email list, and you are unlikely to see value in your email marketing campaigns. Consumers are becoming hyper-aware of email marketing, and it doesn’t take much to send the recipient looking for the unsubscribe link.

So how do you avoid the dreaded unsubscribe or spam filter?

  • Use a professional and legitimate email: Many freelancers and small businesses still use the free email services provided by Google or Yahoo!. While these emails were fine a few years ago, consumers are now more hesitant to open and interact with emails from illegitimate addresses. The best part is, you can easily set up free business email addresses using your domain name. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot before they even open the email – use a professional and legitimate email address.
  • Don’t bombard their inbox: Finding the perfect email frequency is an important step to grow and sustain your email list. While you should test the rate at which you send emails to your lists, remember that there is a risk in sending too many emails. Entrepreneur states that 69 percent of people unsubscribe from email lists because of “too many emails.”  
  • Provide value in your emails: People will not remain on your list or engage with your emails if you’re not offering any value. Find ways to keep your recipients excited about opening your emails – send special offers to your email subscribers that are not available to anyone else. Create informational emails that are non-promotional to help your subscribers without expecting an immediate return.

Breathe Life Back into Old Email Lists

Email subscriber churn is a serious issue for brands – even ones that are actively working to reduce turnover. You can imagine how ineffective a stale list might be if you’re a company that is not actively sending emails and updating information from your contacts.

One report estimates that email lists decay at a rate of roughly 22.5 percent every year. So, that old email list of leads from five years ago might now be filled with inactive or irrelevant contacts. However, there’s always the opportunity to breathe life back into those leads by sending an email with a re-opt-in CTA. Not only will this help you grow your current lists, but you might be able to kick back up a lead or two.

Leverage the Power of Content

Content marketing is arguably the most effective way to grow your email list organically. The art of list-building is in creating a value exchange between you and your target audience. Content is the tool at your disposal to create that value.

There are several ways for you to use content to grow your email list – here are three.

  1. Publish gated content: From an eBook or whitepaper to a webinar, find creative opportunities to produce high-impact content that you can lock behind an email form. Gated content is a valuable asset that is only available to someone once they take an action (i.e., give you their name and email). This quid pro quo tactic provides you with their information and offers value to the subscriber in the form of an educational or entertaining piece of content.
  2. Use content to drive more traffic: The more targeted traffic that you drive to your website, the more chances you have to grow your email list. Creating high-quality content on your website – particularly, your blog – is an excellent tactic for increasing relevant traffic. Now, what happens after those visitors land on your page is a different story.
  3. Find co-branding content partnerships: Finding co-branding content opportunities is a great tactic for growing email lists organically while mitigating the marketing expense. Reach out to companies that sell ancillary products or services that attract the same audience as your business and discuss a way to partner on a gated piece of content. Not only can you save money on the content, but you have another business that is committed to promoting the piece once it launches.

Turn Your Employees into List Ambassadors

You have an army of email list promoters right under your nose in your employees. Add a sign-up link to everyone’s email signature to organically promote your lists. When you release gated resources, have your employees share that content on their relevant social profiles to drive more attention and traffic to the sign-up form. Your employees are like a mini-influencer marketing team, ready to amplify your reach ten-fold.

Use Your Real Estate Effectively

An excellent way to conceptualize digital marketing is like land or real estate. Every business has online real estate at their disposal – and it’s up to the business how they intend to use that space. For example, two of the largest pieces of digital real estate for businesses are their website and their social channels.

  • Website – Your owned land: Your website is the most valuable real estate you have because you own it completely. You have the ability to dictate the layout, colors, copy, speed, responsiveness, and any other attribute that affects the user experience. When it comes to list-building, you can dictate the email conversion strategy completely. To help you increase email sign-ups consider adding the following to your website.
    • Pop-up forms
    • Landing pages
    • Sidebar sign-up forms
    • Header/Footer sign-up forms
    • In-line email CTAs
  • Social Media – Your borrowed land: Unlike your website, which you completely control, your social channels are like borrowed land. For example, you can customize your Facebook page by adding images in specific locations or updating the available fields – but you don’t have a lot of flexibility to create an experience unique from other Facebook pages. Additionally, businesses are seeing fewer organic engagement on social platforms, turning it into a pay-to-play channel. With that in mind, you can still optimize your social real estate to increase your email list sign-ups.
    • Add email CTAs in your imagery
    • Share your gated-content
    • Recruit brand ambassadors/influencers
    • Optimize your page with sign-up links

Invest in Promotions and Ads

Most of the strategies above require very little monetary investment – they simply take time and commitment. However, if you are serious about growing your own email marketing lists, then you should consider throwing some money behind your initiatives. For instance, you might decide to run a giveaway or contest that offers your products or services for free to help acquire new leads. If you have limited reach and are unable to get eyes to your promotion, it might never reach its full potential.

To increase the visibility of your list-building efforts, consider investing in promotional and advertising strategies. Here are three ways to invest in your email subscriber strategies.

  • Run Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ads: One of the most effective ways to reach a targeted audience is through optimized pay-per-click campaigns on platforms like Facebook or Google Ads. Set some budget aside to promote your gated content on Facebook by running ads to audiences similar to your current customers. PPC ads require trial and error – so don’t get discouraged if you don’t see immediate results. Track your data and make small iterations until you find what works.
  • Sponsor an email marketing newsletter: It’s estimated that 91 percent of online US consumers access their email every day – the effectiveness of email marketing is why you want to grow your own list in the first place. Therefore, look for email sponsorship opportunities in your market to help you immediately tap into another business or publisher’s email list.
  • Pay for ad placements on relevant publishers: Just as the real estate on your website has value, so too does the real estate on other publishers – especially ones driving a lot of daily visitors. Look for non-commercial publishers in your space who are creating and publishing high-quality content regularly. If you can find publishers who are attracting your target audience, you can sponsor an article or pay for ad placements on the website to drive attention back to your content and email landing pages.

Organic List-Building is Always the Way to Go

Over the years, businesses large and small have come to realize the power of email marketing. It produces a staggering 4400% return-on-investment according to a study from Campaign Monitor – making it the best bang for your buck.

Because it’s such a valuable marketing channel, many businesses are resorting to buying or borrowing email lists instead of growing their own organically. Cutting corners with your email lists is not the way to approach email marketing. Instead, try implementing the eight list-building strategies above to acquire emails organically.  

Susan Guillory is the President of Egg Marketing, a content marketing firm based in San Diego. She’s written several business books, and frequently blogs about small business and marketing on sites including Forbes, AllBusiness, and Cision. Follow her on Twitter @eggmarketing.