14 List Building Hacks to Grow Your Email Database Fast
By: Alex Cleanthous First published:
November 5, 2015
November 5, 2015
Email marketing is one of the fastest ways to drive sales of any online channel. Think about itā¦ What other channel can you launch something and drive sales immediately?
But the biggest challenge most businesses face is they donāt have an email database (which Iāll interchangeably refer to as aĀ ālistā) big enough to see the benefits of email.
Why the ātraditionalā method of growing an email database doesnāt work
Itās hard to build an email database of 10,000 people or more (which is how big it needs to be to reallyĀ start seeing the powerĀ of email marketing).
The ātraditionalā method of growing an email database is to give away a special report, video or e-course in exchange for an email address.
The challenge with this method is that even if you can get aĀ cost-per-subscriber of $5 (thatās $1 per click and a 20% conversion rate on your landing page) youāll need to spend $50k to generate a 10,000 person database. If your cost-per-conversion is $10, then it will cost you $100k.
How many businesses can afford to take away $50k from their online advertising channels to grow their email database?Ā Especially when you really need to grow your email database fast (you should aim to build an email database of 10,000 people in less than 6 months).
The good news is that there are a lot of different ways you can grow your list fast, at a much lower cost-per-subscriber than $5.
Here areĀ some of the best approaches being usedĀ todayā¦
1. Launch a viral competition
A viral competition is a competition where you enter with an email address, and then get extra entries for every person whoĀ signs up from your referral.
Hereās an example of one we ran for Web Profitsā¦
And hereās the page you see afterĀ you enterā¦
As you can see, you get 3 extra entries for each person who signs up through your referral link. Plus youāre encouraged to share it via email, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or LinkedIn.
For this viral competition we generated 2,987 emails for a total cost of $6,661.11 in just over a month. Thatās a cost per email subscriber of $2.23!
There are 3 keys to running a successful viral competitionā¦
You need a prize that ensures theĀ people who enter the competition fit your target market (so they can buy from you in the future)
The prize needs to be so good that entrants are compelled to share the competition with as many people as possible to increase their chances of winning
You need an email marketing campaign that nurtures them from a competition entrant to a business prospect and (eventually) a client
Viral competitions are one of the fastest ways to build up a qualified email database. The software we use to run the viral competitions is KingSumo Giveaways .
2. Add SumoMe apps to your website
The SumoMe Ā apps are some of the best apps Iāve used for building an email database (and Iāve tested a lot).
The two apps Iāve seen the best results from are List Builder and Scrollbox.
The List Builder app is a popup that can be triggeredĀ when a visitor is about to leave the site, or after a certain amount of time being on the site (SumoMe recommends that you test displaying the popup after a visitor has been on the site for 15 seconds).
Hereās an example of the List Builder appā¦
With the List Builder app we convert 2.24% of visitors into email subscribers, based on visitors who are about to leave the site.
The Scrollbox app appears at the bottom of the page when the visitor scrolls a certain percentage down the page.
Hereās an example of the Scrollbox appā¦
With the Scrollbox app we convert 2.59% of visitors into email subscribers (note: these are mostly different email subscribers than people who subscribe viaĀ the List Builder app). We display the Scrollbox when a visitor scrolls 50% down the page (and weāre testing it against one that displays when a visitor scrolls 20% down the page).
Iāve tested the Welcome Mat and Smart Bar apps as well but they didnāt produce anywhere near the conversion rate of the List Builder and Scrollbox apps (note: that doesnāt mean you shouldnāt test them on your siteā¦ itās just that they didnāt perform that well on our site with the setup we used so we removed them soĀ not to distract the visitor too much while we figure out new ways to test them).
Tip: make sure to add an exclusion for email traffic in all of your SumoMe apps so your database doesnāt see these apps when you you email them (as theyāre already part of your database). This might notĀ apply if youāre promoting something specific in the apps (eg the launch of a new e-course).
Taking SumoMe to the next level
You can certainly get away with using the free version of the SumoMe appsā¦ but if you really want to take your results to the next level you should upgrade to the paid version of the apps.
Customized messaging per page
With the paid version of SumoMe you can customize the apps for specific pages on yourĀ site. So instead of having a generic popup asking you to subscribe, you can actually customize the popup to the content on the page.
Letās take a look at an exampleā¦
Hereās the generic popup we use, which convertsĀ at 2.24%ā¦
But when we created a popup specific to this article ā¦
And used this popupā¦
The conversion rate jumped to 3.58%!
Now it wonāt make sense to do this on every page on your site but you should definitely check your ātop pagesā report in Google Analytics and customize the List Builder and Scrollbox apps to the content of your top 10-20 web pages.
A/B testing of messaging
With the paid version of SumoMe you can AB test the messaging in the apps to maximize the conversion rate.Ā So instead of just coming up with your best guess for what will convert, you can create 2 versions of each popup to figure out the one that converts best, and then try to improve on that.
Letās take a look at an exampleā¦
Hereās the original popup weāre using, which converts atĀ 2.21%ā¦
And hereās a variation weāre currently testingā¦
Pretty similar, right?
Well, by just changing the text in the popup, the new variation is converting at 2.58%ā¦ an improvement of 16.77%!
And if it continues like this weāll stop the original and then try to beat the new control.
One of the best parts of the SumoMe AB testing functionality is you can choose to test your new variation on a smaller portion of your traffic first so you donāt risk too much of your traffic on an unproven version.
If you have a website with any traffic at all, go and installĀ SumoMe Ā right now ;)
3. Write epic posts
An epic post is a post so good that readers are compelled to link to it, share it, print it out, forward it to their colleaguesā¦ you name it.
An epic post is usually longer than 3000 words and delivers real value to its readers. Itās often backed by data, provides useful insight, and includes actionable advice that readers can implement.
Writing an epic post not only helps drive traffic to your website through search engines and social mediaā¦ it also builds your credibility faster than most other online marketing initiatives because of the level of insight that visitorsĀ gain from reading it.
And when you combine epic posts with some of the other tactics I mention in this article (like SumoMe, Content Upgrades and Leadboxes) youāll see a big increase in your email subscribers.
Epic posts will usually take around 15-30 hours to write and require a huge effort from the author (this article took me about 15 hours to write).
Epic posts are often hard to outsource because they require a level of expertise only gained through experience. Itās easy to see when a post has been outsourced because the entire tone of the article lacks experience ā it might be long, but it wonāt be epic (there are ways around this but itās definitely hard to do).
Here are some examples of epic posts:
A Review of The Iconicās online marketing strategy Ā ā this is an epic post I wrote at Web Profits. I wrote this review 12 monthsĀ ago and weāve received more than 800 shares, hundreds of email subscribers, and a dozen or so new clients as a result of the content we shared in this post.
20 Tips for Dramatically Better Emails ā this post by GetVero is an indepth guide on email marketing. This article ranks in the top 3 spots for āemail marketing best practicesā, has received over 10,000 shares and more than 1,000 links.
How to launch an online course and make $220,750 in 10 days ā this article is a complete breakdown of how Bryan Harris made $220,750 launching his email marketing course. It includes the entire process he went through from building the list, to launching the product. As you can see from this postā¦ itās epic. Plus he usesĀ a Content Upgrade that includesĀ templates he used to launch his course. Very compelling.
14 Examples of Truly āEpicā Content: How Does Your Stack Up ā this article provides 14 more examples of epic content.
4. Add a Content Upgrade onĀ your top posts
AĀ Content Upgrade Ā is where you offer an āupsellā piece of content within an article in exchange for an email address.
Hereās an example of the Content Upgrade we use on The Iconic website review ā¦
This Content Upgrade is an 81-point Ecommerce CRO checklist that includes a list of everything we look at when reviewing an ecommerce siteĀ (we use the same design style for the Content Upgrade as Brian Dean does at Backlinko ).
The key to getting the best results from a Content Upgrade is to createĀ a piece of content that perfectly aligns with what the original article is about, and offers additional value that is so good that readers are compelled to enter their email address to receive it.
Content Upgrades work best with an epic post, however the real requirement is that you have content on your website that receives traffic each and every month.
To get started,Ā find the top 5 -10 content pages on your website and create a custom Content Upgrade for each post. Once thatās done you can continue on down the list until you have a Content Upgrade for every page on your site that receives a good amount of traffic each month (note: āgoodā is in context of your website, your traffic and your business ā for some businesses itās 100 visits per month on a content page, for others itās 1,000).
If you get it right (and depending on the traffic source) you can expect to convertĀ anywhere between 1% and 10% of the readers that land on the page.
Itās a bit of work to setup but if youāre getting āfreeā traffic to your content each month from search engines, social media or directly then all you need to do is set it up once and let it run forever.
The key is to make sure the Content Upgrade is evergreen (ie not time-based).
5. Add a subscribe link in your email signature(s)
Noah Kagan shared this tip at the Digital Elite Camp conference I attended in Estonia this year.
You and your team send hundreds of emails each day to people who might not be subscribed to your email newsletter.
The idea is to add a newsletter signup link directly in your email signature (and the email signature of everyone in your company) to grow your emails absolutely free.
Hereās how Noah Kagan does itā¦
Which links toā¦
At Web Profits we useĀ links in our email signaturesĀ to promote different things ā currently weāre promoting our Fluid Online Marketing approach, as followsā¦
Which links to this landing page ā¦
For us (right now) itās more important to promote this new initiative than to build up our email database (as we have many other list building initiatives under way).
For your business, you can use it to build emails, promote offers or share news.
6. Run a joint email campaign with a complementary business
We recently ran a fewĀ events with General Assembly.
The aim of these events was to deliver value to both of our audiences and to expand our reachā¦ General Assembly emailed their database and we emailed ours.
Hereās oneĀ of the campaigns we sent to our databaseā¦
And hereās the landing page for thatĀ eventā¦
A side benefit of this campaign was that we both received the details of the people who registered and attended the event so we could add them to our respective email databases ā anyone who attended the events as a result of our email marketing would have received emails from both General Assembly and Web Profits soon after theyĀ registered.
The key with a strategy like this is to have an automated email marketing sequence that introduces your company to new subscribers and builds your credibility (eg by sharing high-value content).
You can implement this type of strategy for an event (like we did), you can create a joint content piece (like a special report), or you can create any other value-added promotion you can think of that will deliver value to both of your audiences.
7. Use the Content Cliffhanger technique
AĀ Content Cliffhanger Ā is similar to aĀ Content Upgradeā¦ the main difference is that with a Content Cliffhanger you create a ālistā article with say ā25 ways to XXXā but only deliver 10 of them in the articleā¦ the readers can then enter their email address to get the remaining 15 items.
Personally, Iām not as much of a fan of aĀ Content Cliffhanger as I am of aĀ Content Upgrade.
Because with aĀ Content Cliffhanger, the content youāre delivering is incomplete which means it wonāt be shared as much, you wonāt get as many links and you might alienate some of your readers.
If you are going to use aĀ Content Cliffhanger then make sure that the information you include pre-opt-in is amazing.
8. Use Optimonk
Optimonk is a behavior-based popup software where you can show a popup based on the actions a visitor takes on your site, similar to SumoMe.
For example, you can create a popup that only displays if someone visits 2 pages on your site and is about to leaveā¦
Or if theyāre in your shopping cart and are about to exit.
The main difference between Optimonk and SumoMe is that with Optimonk you can create much better designed popups with more customized messaging (itās also more difficult to setup than SumoMe).
Hereās an example of an Optimonk popupā¦
You can also use Optimonk for more than just email capture. For example, you can use Optimonk to reduce cart abandonment rates Ā (see #18 in the list).
9. Add a viral loop toĀ your opt-in pages
This is one of my favorite strategies and will be something that weāll be using at Web Profits a lot more over the next year.
The strategy here is to offer an upsell on the page after a person has opted in, in exchange for them referring other people who sign up.
Hereās an example fromĀ the Traffic 1m course launched by Noah Kagan (yes, Noah is featured a few times in this article because heās really good at this stuff) and Nate Desmondā¦
When someoneĀ opts in to receive the free course, theyāre redirected toĀ this pageā¦
People who have just signed up to receive the free course now have the option of receiving +$2,500 worth of free bonuses if they share a Tweet and send an email about the course.
Hereās the Tweet they usedā¦
Hereās the emailā¦
And hereās the page where you getĀ the bonuses (once youāve shared the Tweet and sent the email)ā¦
Traffic 1m would have received a tonĀ of email subscribers through the 10,200Ā shares they received on Twitter (I donāt have the data on how many emails were sent).
The best part about a viral loop is that you can potentially achieve negative churn ā¦ which is where your database grows for every person who subscribes (rather than decreasing slowly over time as people unsubscribe ā referred to as āchurnā).
You can use a viral loop for any type of email opt-in campaign you have running (eg free report, discount coupon, free content etc) ā the key is that the upsell is as closely aligned as possible to the original opt-in offer.
10. Create a viral pre-launch campaign
A viral pre-launch campaign follows the same approach as a viral loop for opt-ins, except with a viral pre-launch campaign youāre using it to launch a product and youāre giving away free product or advanced access in exchange for referrals.
A lot of startups use this strategy to launch their businesses to a crowd, rather than launching first and then figuring out how to get users.
Hereās the campaign that generated 138,790 users for SpringSled Ā in less than a monthā¦
SpringSled designed a landing page that pre-sold their project management toolā¦
Screenshot courtesy of Roy Povarchik
When people subscribed they were taken to this page, where they could get the software for free if they invited 5 people who signed upā¦
Screenshot courtesy of Roy Povarchik
Itās a really simple approach that can be super powerful if done correctly.
The key with this strategy is to have a product that people really want, and make it as compelling as possible for subscribers to share it with their friends and colleagues ā the better the upsell offer (eg 12 months free) the more likely the campaign will go viral.
Hereās another exampleā¦
This campaign generated 100,000 emails for Harryās (a menās grooming brand) in less than a weekā¦
Harryās designed a landing page pre-selling their grooming productsā¦
Screenshot courtesy of Tim Ferriss
When people subscribed they were taken to this page, where they could receive free product for each person they referred ā the more people you referred, the more free product you received.
Screenshot courtesy of Tim Ferriss
Again, itās a pretty simple strategy (a 2-page microsite) that can achieve extraordinary results.
If youād like help creating a pre-launch viral campaign like this one, click here to get in touch .
11. Make your home page an opt-in page
This tacticĀ really depends on what type of business you have and it likely wonāt applyĀ to most ecommerce or serviced-based businesses (even though Iām seriously considering it for Web Profits).
The stategy here is that your home page is often the most visited page on your website, and often time by people who already know you (ie return visitors). So why not use this page as an opt-in page that sells visitors on joining your email database?
Here are a couple of examples of home pages that are opt-in pagesā¦
This is the home page of Brian Deanās Backlinko Ā websiteā¦
And this is the home page of Bryan Harrisā Videofruit websiteā¦
This type of strategy works best for businesses where content marketing is a key part of their online conversion strategy, such as bloggers, information marketers, and well-known personalities.
Use this tactic with caution as you donāt want to hurt the conversion rate of your main offering just to build your email database.
12. Use Leadboxes in the author byline
The tactic here is to maximise every part of a blog post to capture emails. In this instance itās to add an opt-in to the author byline below the headline of the article.
Hereās an exampleā¦
When you click on the link it opens up an opt-in box, like thisā¦
We use LeadboxesĀ from LeadPages to manage the opt-in process because itās fast and easy to use. The other benefit is that you can AB test the messaging in the popup to incrementally increase the conversion rate over time.
13. The Poster BoyĀ Formula
This is a strategyĀ for driving traffic without spending money on advertising.
The Poster Boy FormulaĀ is where you become the āposter boyā for another company by writing an epic case study on the positive results you achieved from using their product.
You email the company about your case study and (if youāre lucky) they use it in all of their marketing.
The Poster Boy Formula Ā was developed by Bryan Harris who generated 400 opt-ins after writing a case study on how AppSumoās āHow to make a $1000 per month businessā helped his business grow.
AppSumo emailed their database of over 600,000 people, featured him on their home page, included him in a Lifehacker article, and worked with him on aĀ product launch.
Hereās the website whereĀ Bryan was the āposter boyā for the āHow to make a $1000 per month businessāā¦
There are a few keys to success with this strategy:
Find a product where their audience is similar to yours
Use the product and generate awesome results
Write a case study they will want to use in their marketing
Reach out to them and let them know about the case study
Use SumoMe List Builder, SumoMe Scrollbox, and Content Upgrades on the article to capture the emails of people who visit the page
The best part about this strategy is that (if done correctly) you can start with zero traffic, not spend a cent on anything (except the product) and drive a ton of new email subscribers.
14. Write guest posts for industry leading sites
This is another strategyĀ for driving traffic without spending a cent on advertising.
Youāve probably already heard about guest posts. If not, a guest post is where you write an article on somebody elseās blog ā thatās it.
The key with using guest posts to build up an email database is to find websites that have a big audience, and where that audience is similar to the type of people who fit your target market demographic.
You then write them an epic post and include Content Upgrade style calls-to-action within the content and within the About The Author section.
Neil Patel shared this strategy Ā aboutĀ how he guest posts for sites like MashableĀ and Entrepreneur toĀ drive traffic (and opt-ins)Ā for his business.
If you implement just one of these hacks youāll start to see some results. But if you want to get the best results my advice is to implementĀ as muchĀ as possible from this list.
Just do it and see the results for yourself ā and then come back here and share them :)
Do you have any other list building hacks? If so, feel free to share them in the comments section below.