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List Building 101 – 6 Steps to Start an Email List

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6 steps to start your email list

I may earn a commission for purchases made through links in this post.

Starting an email list for your blog/business is going to be the best decision you'll ever make.

I neglected to start an email list when I first started blogging and lost so many opportunities. 

This post includes the pros of starting an email list, the excuses that are holding you back and 6 steps to start an email  list using the tools I use and recommend.

The Money is In the List

Your money will come from the people who are on your email list - not the ones who visit your blog.

You will hear this time and time again: the money is in the list. You hear it all the time because it's true!

Trying to make money directly from your blog is the equivalent of cold-calling someone during dinnertime trying to sell a yellow  bag. It's not realistic.

You Own Your Own List

You don't own your social media accounts. You don't own traffic sources.

But your email list? It's all yours and nobody can take it away from you!

Your email list grows in value - more subscribers and repeat buyers.

I promote blog ownership but at the end of the day a blog is just another tool to find customers and build your list. Your business can change domains, change your brand, traffic can go down but you will still have a list of people interested in you. 

Blog visitors come and go, like a revolving door.

Use Your Blog to:

Capture their email address.

Convert that email subscriber into a buyer.

Convert them into a repeat customer.

Email delivers the highest ROI (return-on-investment) than any other marketing channel and is 40x more effective at acquiring customers than social media (source).

You can do all of this with the power of email marketing.

No matter what happens in your business, you're going to be fine. That's because you still have the most valuable asset in your business: your email list.

6 Steps to Start An Email List

You Have Control

Giving up control of your business is never a good idea.  When you rely on social media exclusively to build your audience you're gambling with your business.

  • What if you built an audience on YouTube, only to have them limit the reach of your videos.
  • Or building your Twitter following only to wake up one morning to see your account terminated.
  • How about  spending years getting thousands of Facebook page likes only to have them change the rules and stop organically sharing your posts.
  • Or growing a huge following on Instagram only to be shadow banned.

It's not just social media, but search engines too.

What if you had a number one spot on Google search, consistently sending you hundreds of visitors daily, then one day you suffer a Google penalty and your site is removed entirely from Google.

A simple algorithm change and your traffic could disappear overnight (happens with every Google update).

The point here is that you can't control any of these things. But your email list?  That's your own distribution channel.

You may have a big following on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, etc. But what would happen if there's an algorithm change and your followers can't see your content anymore?

This has happened with most social media sites, who now favor showing paid ads. For example, a Facebook page update only has a 5.5% chance of even being seen by your audience (source).

Worse yet, your account could be suspended, rightly or not, with no way to get it back.

But your email list? It's all yours!

Retain Visitors

In a perfect world you get thousands of blog visitors a day, they love it, and come back every day.

Not anymore. Today people don't subscribe to your blog RSS feed for the latest updates.

Today, people aren't loyal to blogs, they're loyal to the solution.

When you have a question, do you typically visit a website/blog to find the answer? Nope, you go to a search engine (Google, Bing, YouTube, Pinterest, etc).

The post that answers your question get the click.

And with so many websites, social media platforms, and in-your-face ads, it's hard to keep someone's attention longer than a few seconds.

Getting email address allows you to communicate with your readers again and again.

An email list is the ideal place where you can continue the conversation and build relationships you're having with your ideal reader.

Your blog and social media is the intro. 

Some days your blog traffic will be good. Other days, not so much. Traffic comes and goes, but your email list is forever.

If you rely solely on traffic to make money directly from your blog, you're at the mercy of an ad network. They set the rates and they are your boss.

When  people sign up - they are asking for more information and showing their interest and trust.

You send quality emails and turn them into buyers.

Become an Authority and Build Trust

Use your email to establish yourself as an authority in your niche. Provide awesome value consistently and become the go-to person in your niche.

The key ingredient to making money online is trust.

When you have it, you will make money. When you don't have it? You won't make a dime.

Many have tried (and failed, me included!) to skip starting an email list and try to sell directly via a blog post.

Big mistake.

If you want to market a product or service (even as an affiliate), that person needs to trust your recommendation.

When you email your readers value after value, you are establishing that trust, one email at a time.

Shut Down the Noise - Eliminate Competition

When you send an email you are not competing with posts other posts on social media or articles in the search engine. You have your subscribers attention

Take Advantage of the Rule of Seven

There is a marketing principle called The Rule of 7. It states that prospects need to see your offer 7 times before making a purchase.

It is why advertisers bombard you with the same ads on Facebook, knowing full well you've already seen them before.

Send your list quality emails sprinkled with your offer.

Build Your Awesome Nation

If you didn't know your list is your raving tribe. They are your ideal client. They are the ones that have requested to receive emails from you and keep the relationship going. They are the ones that open your emails and buy everything you create.

When should you build your awesome nation? Today!

You can sell to your list again and again

A typical email sales funnel starts with capturing the lead, putting them through an email nurture sequence, then converting them into a paying customer.

In a more advanced funnel, this paying customer would then receive a post-purchase email series and that will turn that one-time customer into a repeat buyer.

You can turn your email list into a fully-automated passive revenue stream. This is the power of email marketing!

Myths and Excuses 

  1. 1
    I don't have anything to sell Nobody has anything to sell when they're a new blogger.In fact, you can be blogging for 3 years and still don't have anything to sell. That's okay.You can still send your list product recommendations and earn a commission as an affiliate.Popular affiliate programs to join are Amazon AssociatesShareasale.
  2. 2
    People hate email? Yes, they sure do. Unless, of course, you provide tremendous value. Then, your subscribers will actually look forward to you helping them.
  3. 3
    I don't know what to write Nobody ever knows how to do anything until they do it. Writing to your email list is easier than writing for your blog, because everyone on your list already likes you.An email idea can be as simple as the first paragraph of your latest article with a link to the full blog post.Seriously, your email list will become your blogs best asset and will be your main source of income for years to come. 

Your email list will become your blogs best asset and will be your main source of income for years to come. 

6 Easy Steps to Start Your Email List

Ready to get started? 

Step 1. Sign Up with ConvertKit

The first thing you need to do is to sign up with a company who will store the email addresses for you and send your emails for you.

I use and recommend ConvertKit. Let me tell you why.

ConvertKit is free

ConvertKit now has a free lifetime plan. It's not a trial and you don't need to enter your credit card info. If you use this link to sign up you can:

- Create unlimited forms
- Create unlimited landing pages
- Send emails to up to 1,000 subscribers.

In the paid version, you get access to all features such as sending automated sequences

You can hide your home address

US law says you need to put an address where you are reachable at the bottom of every email.

With ConvertKit, you can use their address, which meets the legal requirement of having a reachable address (source).

It's newbie friendly

ConvertKit was built by a blogger and is perfect for content marketers. There's no coding knowledge or design expertise needed, as they've got pre-made opt-in form and landing page templates ready to go.

Here's a video showing you how to open a free account and set up your first form and landing page.

Now Add an Opt In Form to Your Blog

Once you're signed up, it's time to build your first email signup form and add it to your blog.

Follow these steps to set up your first form.

In ConvertKit, go to Landing Pages & Forms > Create New > Form > Inline

Design your form

Choose a template, make your changes and save the form.

Install the ConvertKit plugin

Back on WordPress, go to Plugins > Add new and search for the ConvertKit for WordPress plugin. Install and activate the plugin.

Connect your account with the plugin

Next, you need to have the plugin be able to communicate with your ConvertKit account. Back in ConvertKit, copy your API key and API secret from your account info.

Then in WordPress, Go to Settings > ConvertKit, enter this info in the settings page, and hit Save.

Select the form you just created

After linking your account with the plugin, you can set the form you just created as the default form. Doing so will make this form appear at the bottom of every blog post.

Step 2. Create a Freebie Right Away

Now that you have email signup forms on your blog, you're all set, right? Wrong.

Some of my clients want to put a "Subscribe Here for Updates" opt-in but then they call months later to say the form isnt' working.  You need a freebie to get people to opt-in. That's why on my list of requirements for website design I ask for an opt-in. I also spend time consulting on the right opt-in for their business.

 Nobody wants to give up their email unless they're getting something valuable in return.

It’s a fair exchange. You give them a freebie and they let you into their personal inbox.

Here are some examples of freebies (also called lead magnets or opt-ins) you can give away:

  • Ebook
  • Digital course
  • PDF report
  • Checklist
  • Template

You can create many of these files using Canva.

Sign up for a free account and create your freebie right on Canva.

One of the simplest to create is a cheatsheet. Say you have an article on the top 10 ways to XYZ. For your freebie, just list the 10 steps, add a title at the top, and save the file as a PDF.

Need some more ideas for lead magnets in your niche? Google some blogs in your space and see what others are doing. If it works for them, it can work for you.

Nobody really wants to receive more email. Just putting up an email sign-up form asking people to join your list isn't going to cut it.

Here are some examples of lead magnets you can give away:

1. Offer an Ebook as  Opt-in

Creating an ebook is not difficult. That's because you can use your own blog posts for the content.

For example, say you have 4-5 articles on the same subject. You can put these articles together (each one as a different chapter) and your book is done.

To do this, open a document in Google Docs, paste the content, and make adjustments. Then, save/export the file as a PDF and your ebook is ready!

You can design an ebook cover using Canva Pro and beautiful ebook mockups.

Half the time, the mockup "sells" the freebie more than your actual text and design do.

2. Courses are a proven lead magnet

Offering a digital course is another great option, depending on your niche. One of the challenges of offering a course is that many readers don't want to give you more of their time. Often times, they just want a "tangible" item like a PDF.

To create a course you can use the Thrive Apprentice plugin (what I use for my courses). Another option is to use the Teachable platform instead.

3. Everyone loves Cheatsheets, Checklists, and Reports to Download

Sometimes, the simpler the offer, the better the conversions. You can offer a quick win to your readers by giving away checklist.

4. Everyone also loves to join a Challenge

Rather than receiving a tangible file, some people want to be a part of something and join your community.

Create a short 5 day challenge where you teach something different each day. Challenges work really well, especially for the personal growth niche (like finance and health).

5. People like to take Quizzes (another great lead magnet)

Using a quiz or a survey is a highly effective lead magnet.

The reason it works is because it doesn't even look like a signup form - because it isn't! It is just a quiz to test their knowledge or learn something about themselves.

At the end of the quiz they will need to enter their email address to get the results.

You can set this up using Thrive Quiz Builder.

Creating a lead magnet is incredibly simple. You can create most of them with Canva for free.

Start by searching for a template in Canva (look for report, calendar, checklist, etc. When you're done, save as a PDF.

If you create a checklist and want your checkboxes to check use pdfescape.com.

opt-in checklist

GET YOUR COPY OF THE OPT-IN IDEAS SHEET & CHECKLIST

20+ Opt-In Ideas for Any Niche and Checklist to  Help You Grow Your List

Don't Forget Content Upgrades

Lead magnets are nice, but nothing converts better than a content upgrade.

A content upgrade is a lead magnet that directly relates to the content. Here are some examples of a content upgrade.

  • Blog post as PDF
  • Worksheets
  • Infographic
  • Checklist
  • Printables
  • Cheatsheet

Don't create content upgrades for each of your blog posts. To make it worth your while, only create them for the blog posts that are bringing in the most traffic. For a more comprehensive list with examples read # Content Uprgrades That Convert.

Step 3. Deliver Your Lead Magnet

Now that you have your lead magnet, you need to deliver it to subscribers.

Here's how to set this up.

  • Back in ConvertKit, open up the form you created earlier.
  • Click on the Mail icon. Make sure "Send incentive email" is checked.
  • Click on Download and upload your freebie.
  • Click Edit Email Contents to make changes to the incentive email.

Now, when readers enter their email address, they'll be sent your freebie and be confirmed as subscribers to your email list.

Step 4. Use a List Building Plugin to Grow Your List

If you want to grow your email list you're going to need something more than a boring optin form in your sidebar.

What we need is full customization of the opt-in form and their locations.

To start growing your list you need to use a lead generation program like Thrive Leads.

Here's why I use them to create websites for clients and myself.

Thrive Leads
Templates

You can set up beautifully designed optin forms on your blog without needing to be a web designer. Just choose a template, change the text and colors and you're done.

Opt-in Form Types

In addition to sidebar, footer and in-content forms, you can also add exit intent or timed pop ups, welcome mats, top bar (ribbon) and slide-ins. 

2-Step Opt-in Form

If you don't want to clutter your blog with forms, you can use the two-step optin. This way, you can turn a regular link into a lightbox pop-up form.

This two-step process is proven to increase conversion rates, since the person has already taken the first step.

Content Lock

Thrive Leads also has "content locking". With this feature, all content below the optin form is obscured.

In order for the reader to continue reading your article, they need to enter their email address. What an ingenuous way of getting more email subscribers!

A/B Testing

If you don't test your forms, designs and offers - you won't know what works and what doesn't. Thrive Leads has built-in A/B testing to run tests on your forms and determine which form converts best.

Reporting

List building plugins like Thrive Leads give you a look at what's working and what isn't. In addition to showing you how each form converts, they show you what pages on your blog are getting the most subscribers.

You don't want to show the same exact form to all of your traffic. If you have a blog that focuses on several main subjects, create a different opt-in for each subject.

Let's say you have a finance blog, it wouldn't make sense to offer a debt ebook in your investing articles.

You could just create a generic finance lead magnet. But all that would do is ensure nobody would want it.

No, the solution here is to create multiple optin forms for each of your blog categories.

Offering a relevant lead magnet is key if you want to grow your email list fast.

In Thrive Leads, as with other list-building plugins, you can set up targeting rules based on blog category to pair the reader with the correct form.

But that's just the first part. The second part is you could also use your list building plugin to add a tag to each subscriber. Tags help identify which form the user signed up from and thus what type of content that reader is interested in.

Next Level Your Opt-In Forms

Designing a high-converting opt-in form can be challenging. You need the right design and the right offer shown to the right person at the right time.

Here are some steps to take to building a form that converts:

Customize Your Forms with Your Brand Colors

Your opt-in form should not look like an ad, but rather a part of your website.

If you're designed-challenged, just use a pre-made template and change the colors to match your brand.

To make your form stand out, consider using your main brand color as the background of the opt-in form.

Read more about brand colors in my design your own blog guide here.

Optimize Your Submit Button on Your Forms

Make your submit button stand out by choosing a color that contrasts with the background. I'd avoid red since that signifies stop or danger.

While you're at it, change the text from "Submit" or "Subscribe" to something more exciting. Mine says "Let's Do This!" but yours can say "Send Me The Checklist!".

Eliminate Unnecessary Form Fields

The more fields you add to a form, the less likely someone is to sign up. The most you should be asking for is First name and Email. But if you want the best results, only ask for an email.

Use A/B Split Testing with Your Forms

I didn't become good at creating a high-converting opt-in form by taking a course. It happened with testing and then looking at the data.

This one tip has had the single biggest effect on growing an email list fast.

With Thrive Leads you can create multiple versions of the same form and see which design converts best. Without being able to test what works and what doesn't, you're just going to be spinning in your wheels.

If you truly want to grow your email list fast, you need to continue to make changes until you have perfectly optimized opt-in forms and lead magnets.

To make your opt-in form more appealing, you need to show a preview of your freebie right next to the form itself. 

To do this, you can print and take a picture of your lead magnet. 

I believe in learning from successful bloggers in your niche. To get an idea of what freebies to create, see what other bloggers in your space are doing. If successful bloggers are offering a certain type of freebie, maybe you should too. Take it a step further and actually sign up to receive their lead magnet and automated email sequence. If it works for them, it can work for you too. My strategy is: see what others are doing... and do it better!

Step 5. The Best Location for Opt-Ins

If you have an opt-in form on your sidebar and nowhere else - you're doing it wrong. If you want to capture more email leads, you need to capture their attention first.

Here are some opt-in form types you can add to your blog:

Widgets (low conversion rate)

You can add an opt-in form in the sidebar and in the footer.

These are generally going to be the worst-converting locations to add a form. This is because on mobile, the sidebar is shown below the content, followed by the footer below that.

But if you do have a sidebar, it's still a good place to add a form. Just be sure to place it above the fold, so desktop users can see it front and center.

While the footer will get you an even worse conversion rate, it's still a good place to add a form since it won't negatively affect the user experience.

In-content (average conversion rate)

These are embedded inside of the blog post and are very effective at getting email subscribers.

You're going to want to put the form within the content - not at the end of the blog post.

I usually place mine at the point when the reader is most engaged, which is about halfway down the post.

Lightbox popup (highest conversion rate)

When a visitor goes to leave your blog, a lightbox pop-up gives you one last chance to get a subscriber. You can also choose to have the form pop up after X seconds or a scroll-depth percentage has been reached.

I recommend only using any two of the optin form types above. The goal is to get as many email subscribers as possible without negatively affecting user experience.

There are other opt-in form locations you may want to explore. These are: 

Welcome mat

A welcome mat takes over the entire screen when the visit arrives at your webpage. While this converts at an amazing rate (20%!), it is also bad user experience.

And Google has said that page experience is a ranking factor starting in 2021. So, I'd avoid using this type of form.

Slide-ins

When you get to a specific scroll-depth, this form slides in on the lower right hand portion of the screen. It's a real attention-getter.

Ribbon

This is a thin bar that stays at the top of the screen as the user scrolls. Can also be activated after reaching a scroll-depth percentage.

In Addition to Opt-Forms, Create a Landing Page for Each Offer

A landing page gives you an entire page to convince the reader to join your email list. A landing page has no menus or sidebars to distract from our offer. You want there to be only one goalsign up to my email list.

Creating a landing page is not a complicated process and Thrive Architect Makes it easy.

Here are a few ways to get traffic to your landing page:

  • Add a link to your landing page in your main navigation menu
  • Create pins on Pinterest linking directly to your landing page.
  • Post about your landing page to your Facebook and Twitter pages and pin the post to the top.

Step 6. Use Social Media to Grow Your List

If you have a following on social media - but not too many email subscribers - you need to change that immediately. Remember you don't own anything on social media and  it could be gone at any time. At this point social media followers are (almost) worthless. The number of followers that see your post at any given time keeps dwindling as social media companies want you to advertise. 

You need to find a way to convert your social media followers into email subscribers so you can actually engage with them. You can:

  • Slide into their DM's
  • Use the bio and add link to your bio
  • Pin your landing page
  • Use video

This is the ultimate email marketing list for beginners. It covered the wonderful benefits of starting a list, how to set-up your list and how to get subscribers. 

Thanks for reading. If this post has helped you start an email list, please leave a comment below and save this post on Pinterest!

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