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Stefan Debois
18 December 2018
Reading time: 8 min

5 Great Ways To Grow Your Email List

Simply asking people to join doesn’t work. And your email list naturally loses 25-30% of their email subscribers every year. New contacts expect to be get something of value in exchange. Here are 5 unconventional tactics to grow your email list.

Growing an engaged mailing list is one of the most important parts of a successful email marketing strategy.

And it’s easy to see why:

  • According to McKinsey, email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter
  • For every $1 you spend on emails marketing, you can expect an average return of 41$ (32£).
  • 49% of consumers said that they would like to receive promotional emails from their favorite brands on a weekly basis.
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But for a lot of businesses and organizations, building that email list is also one of the most challenging parts.

Simply asking people to join your list doesn’t work.

And on top of the hard work required to get new subscribers, at the other end your email list naturally loses 25-30% of  their email subscribers due to churn every year.

New subscribers expect to be get something of value in exchange for their email and they expect you to keep sending them valuable things over time.

An ebook, infographic or checklist in combination with an email autoresponder sequence still works, but chances are you already have that in place. You’ll most likely also have a list building tool. So instead, I’d like to offer 5 unconventional tactics to grow your email list.

Are you ready for some new ideas to grow your email list?

Let’s go!

1. Hold a contest or giveaway

Giveaways are one of the the most effective ways to grow your list. People love to get free stuff. And you can use this tactic in both the online and offline world.

To run a successful giveaway you need three things:

  1. Offer exciting prizes
    Giving away the latest iphone or a car will get you a lot of emails, but they will hold next to no value, as people signed up, just to win the grand prize. Instead focus on something that’s exciting specifically to your target audience.
    For example, CM, a Belgian health insurance company, offered a 9 months supply of baby diapers at an event called “Babydays”, which focuses on future parents and parents of young children. A perfect prize, as it is something particularly valuable to their target audience.
  2. Find a partner
    A penny saved is a penny earned. It’s well worth looking into cooperating with one or more partners for your giveaway. Not only will you save money on the prizes, but your partners will be more than happy to share your giveaway across all their channels as well to maximize the exposure of their products
  3. Promote the giveaway
    Just having exciting prizes won’t cut it. The last, and perhaps most important step is to promote your giveaway to get as many people as possible to participate.
    Try to activate your community.
    One way to do that is by having some social boosters to help your campaign grow organically. Incentivize participants to share with friends. If you’ve created a great giveaway you’ll know, your participants are going to share it all the time with their friends.

To 10x the success of this tactic try to offer something of value to all participants. The number of winners in most giveaways is small, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make all entrants feel like winners.

Make sure you don’t leave anybody empty-handed. To circle back to our “Babydays” example: they gave away a branded bib to every participant.

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Here are some of their results: 80% of the approached visitors took the survey and completed it correctly. Their opt-in rate was an impressive 61%! In total, it generated over 500 valuable emails in just two days.

2. Use a quiz as a lead magnet

There are numerous great articles written about the impact of great copywriting on your lead magnets, but something that is often overlooked it is how you present your lead magnet.

Sure you can put an online form on your site: this is something that can be done quickly, and does not require technical skills.
But what if you would like to know a bit more about your fresh email list additions? Having long forms has been proven to decrease conversion.

Instead, you can use a lead generation quiz or assessment.

“My favorite approach to growing an email list is through creating and promoting interactive, data-driven content. When people begin to use their unique data and industry insights to create something truly engaging, and effectively promote this as a lead magnet, email marketing becomes much more integrated into the marketing mix, value-based and exciting for both sender and recipient.” – Lee Wilson, Head of SEO – Vertical Leap

Using a quiz is just one example of such interactive, data driven content.
It allows you to extract more information and simultaneously segment your new subscribers. All while keeping them engaged.

Segmented email campaigns have an open rate that is 14.32% higher than non-segmented campaigns.

That’s the issue with so many lead-generation tactics – your potential leads don’t see what’s in it for them. They don’t understand how your business relates to them and how it can help their current situation.

This is why lead-generation quizzes are so helpful – they show how your business can solve a problem or improve a specific situation without providing long, forgetful explanations. The quiz literally asks what is important to them.

Eneco Netherlands, an energy producer/supplier, created a lead-generation quiz in the form of a calculator to inform their potential leads how much an EVSE (electric vehicle service equipment) would cost.

As you can see below, the quiz questions were personal and asked the potential leads about their actual experiences. In fact, Eneco collected 1,000 leads in six weeks using their lead-generation quiz.

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If done correctly, these lead quizzes will both collect the email addresses from your potential leads as well as provide them with an idea of how you can help. Which makes the perfect opening line to use in your email campaigns.

3. Piggyback off authoritative sites

Using a lead magnet can be great, but it starts with the assumption you have a decent amount of traffic going to your website.

However, this might not always be the case.

If you’re struggling to reach targeted visitors, you can leverage the traffic of bigger, more authoritative sites such as Quora, Medium, and Reddit.

On these sites you can share stories or answer questions related to almost any topic.
Your focus should be on those topics where you’ll find your target audience.

Simply creating some standard content about the topic is not enough. You’ll have to go the extra mile to create a more thorough, higher quality post than the competition, It does require some effort to create enough value to convince people to check out your link to the lead magnet. But if you get this tactic to work for you, you’ll have a nice constant stream of new email subscribers coming in.

We’ve tried this tactic ourselves, after the initial investment to create quality content, we’ve seen that Quora keeps generating a steady stream of monthly visitors that convert at 9% every month.

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To 10x the success of this tactic: Have all your friends and employees upvote your posts to get yourself a bit of a head start and get more eyeballs on your content.

4. Craft your popups carefully

Pop-ups might not be your reader’s best friend, but they certainly hold value to marketers. Still, using this tactic too aggressively, is by all means a bad idea.

Not all popups are created equal though. Your design, your targeting or the offer you select can dramatically impact your results.

For example, this graph comes from an online shoe retailer. It shows their popups’ overall conversion rate.

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Until January 29, they were displaying a popup with the basic call-to-action (CTA) “Subscribe to get the latest news”. Average conversion rate: 0.63%.

From February 5, they activated a giveaway popup offering visitors a chance to win a free pair of shoes. Average conversion rate: almost 6%

As you can see, the impact was immediate and dramatic (and when you know the price of a pair of shoes…)

But you expect some results when you go from basically no added value to potentially a free pair of shoes.

What if you experiment with more incremental changes?

This second example shows the results of test with different coupon offerings. They tested a $5 coupon, a $6, etc…

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The numbers show that bigger is better, but what’s more is that by adding a $7 coupon, this company was able to capture four times more emails than without a discount.

You can use this tactic not only to persuade people to sign up, but help you spread the message once they are on your list as well.

“Try giving your readers something special in exchange for successful referrals of your newsletter, like premium content, free trials, partner deals, Amazon vouchers – make sure it’s something your readers will value. It’s a good combo that increases reader engagement, adds value, and generate more sign-ups for you. And don’t let the quality of your newsletter dwindle – keep experimenting with new topics, or even new types of content, to keep attracting people to sign-up.” – Will Cannon, Founder UpLead

5. Let your subscribers know what to expect

The first step to successful list building is setting expectations. There are a few ways to do this. The first is with your content. If you create consistently high-quality content, your readers and subscribers will know to expect it straight in their inbox.

Another way of setting the “expectation of value” is to sell the newsletter itself. It can be something as simple as: “Once a week or so we send an email with our best content. We never bug you; we just send you our latest piece of content.”

Here’s an example. A lot of us in the digital media industry use Trello as a task management tool.

In essence, Trello helps boost productivity and makes time management simpler. Recently, their newsletter covered the topic “Productive morning routine” which falls right into their niche, and a problem most users are probably struggling with. The newsletter provides links to articles that provide more in-depth information about the topic.

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You should focus on the needs of your users too. Make your goal clear in the headline itself. Don’t get into too many details right away. Just provide one or two types of information and a well-defined CTA. That information doesn’t necessarily have to be yours.

“Include Third Party Content: Incorporating third-party content from your partners, industry experts, and influencers can be a great way to align your newsletter with your target audience. You can also cross-promote your newsletter with vendors, friendly local brands, or other businesses that cater to the same target audience.” – Jaydip Parikh, Founder of Tej SolPro

Applying this tactic will make sure you keep the yearly churn of email subscribers to a minimum.


There you have it, 5 original ways to grow your email list that you probably didn’t hear of before. When asking for someone’s email, keep in mind to add a checkbox or opt-in that permits you to contact them, as per the latest GDPR requirements.

When I was working on this article I spoke with a number of email marketers. Here’s what they had to say on their favorite email list growth tactics:

Another interesting find is that you shouldn’t just blindly pursue list growth. The graph below shows that marketers with smaller email lists are better at engaging their audience and their messages tend to get higher open and click-through rates.

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But it’s impossible to argue that quality beats quantity without knowing the conversion rates. Still it might not be a bad idea to keep your list small and targeted rather than large and general.

And if you know any other tactics that I haven’t described here, let me know in the comments below!

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Stefan Debois

Stefan Debois is the founder and CEO of Survey Anyplace, an online software tool to create engaging surveys, quizzes and assessments. Besides kitesurfing, Stefan is passionate about the use of technology to build professional relationships with people, at scale.

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