Building a high-performing email list involves more than randomly adding people who’ve not given you permission. Here are 13 tips to get your list going.

List building is the first step in establishing an important and profitable marketing channel for your business.

As I’ve mentioned before, not only can email be a key part of an acquisition sales funnel, it’s simply brilliant at upselling, cross-selling and renewing existing customers.

While a list of email addresses is a basic concept, creating and fostering the value within your list is a little more complicated. Here are 13 tips that will help get you started:

1. Be legal

There’s clear legislation covering who we can email and who we can’t. Australia’s anti-spam legislation isn’t that long, nor confusing so if you’re sending email you should allocate some time to have a read. This will ensure those on your list are the ones that are supposed to be there.

2. Say what will happen

When building your list, be clear about what will happen, eg: “Receive a new tip on how to boost your email marketing ROI every week.” These days we are all bombarded with spam we didn’t sign up for. Which means we are hesitant to hand over our address when people won’t clearly state what we are signing up for.

3. Do as you say you will

While it’s good to say what happens next, it’s equally important to make sure you live up to that promise. For example don’t say you’ll deliver tips every week and then spam with a promo every second day.

“Without someone other than your mum to send your emails too, there’s little point.”

4. Ask enough but not too much

When asking for an email address it is very tempting to ask for a heap more information. This enables you to segment and target based on this information later on but it can come at a cost. Unless you have a really motivated audience, the more you ask, the fewer will sign up. Perhaps limit yourself to just one bit of information other than their email address. The challenge is then figuring out what is the most important to you, ie: Type of industry or name.


5. It’s not about misdirection, it’s about value

For a long time, collecting emails was about running initiatives like ‘competitions’ as a way to incentivise the subscribe. These days actually adding value through the inbox is not only effective in getting people to sign up, but keeping them interested in what you have to say forever.

6. Show you are secure

As more and more stories of compromised customer lists surface with common brands, showing your potential subscriber that you are secure will become more vital. Even the smallest visual or subtle text addition to your sign up form can have an positive impact.

7. Actually be secure

There’s using words and images to say your secure, then there is actually being secure. Making sure you are using a professional email marketing platform over spreadsheets on your computer is a great step forward.

8. Show off, at the right moment

Particularly on your website, there are subtle ways and TOTALLY IN YOUR FACE ways to encourage someone to subscribe to your list. Your own approach to this is going to be determined by the type of subscriber you want on your list.

9. Brand it

If you’re using some sort of generic widget or plugin on your website to show your sign-up box, then you run the risk of it looking nothing like your brand. Different colours/fonts/style etc. This can suggest to the visitor that they are about to sign up to someone else’s list and not yours. Never good for sign-ups.

10. Get it done early

Getting an email during a checkout process (if you have that on your site) regardless of whether they finished the sale or not is a technique used often. However this email collection is often completed half way through the processes. It’s much better for that to be the first thing you ask for during a checkout or sign-up process.

11. Handle errors gracefully

Not everyone is a wonderful typist and from time to time we’ll fill out something wrong on a sign up form. I know for me, what happens next can either send me packing or show me exactly what I did wrong, allow me to fix it and then continue on. Be graceful and helpful with your error messages.

12. Don’t try to subscribe the already subscribed

It’s slightly insulting, particularly if you’re doing so in an aggressive way to continually ask someone who is already subscribed to subscribe again. You will never get this perfect, but you can certainly reduce the frequency of this by flagging a visitor when they sign up and not them showing the your sign up form when they return.

13. Remarket the almost subscribed

If you’re using a ‘double opt in’ and need someone to confirm their subscription after they complete your signup form, you will never have a 100% strike rate. For those who don’t confirm, you can create custom audiences on Facebook and market directly to them, or you can use remarketing on Google and your own site to get them to complete the subscription.

BONUS TIP: Earned is so much more valuable that bought.

While going out tomorrow and buying a list will give you someone to email right now, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t net you one sale.

A list earned over time is worth so much more than a list purchased from someone else. You will have people on your list who know they are and actually asked to be included.

Start building your list one subscriber at a time and before you know it you will have a powerful marketing tool by your side.

For more from Shayne Tilley, go to, Australia’s solo and micro business community.