How to Build an Email List

This article discusses why and how to build an email list, including the purpose of an email list. I will also describe some of the common ways to build lists.

The primary purpose of creating an email list is to communicate via email with current and potential customers and prospects on a periodic basis.

Why you would want to build an email list includes:

  • communicating useful information and news to customers and asking for feedback and comments,
  • building trust and loyalty, and
  • building a relationship with customers.

Email List Building Process

The following image captures the email list building process.

Email list building process

Understanding the email list building process helps save time and effort in building subscriber lists.

How the process works

Opt-in box example

Rather boring example of my opt-in box

Building an email list starts with a method to capture email addresses.  Some marketers also prefer to collect names as well. Others even go further and ask for the first and last name and other personal information such as telephone numbers.

Two common methods of capturing email addresses are:

  • Opt-in form ( such as the example to the right)
  • Email subscription link – sending an email to an email list address will start the subscription process.

Note: Marketers will ask for additional information as a means to “sort out” prospects. Information could include a telephone number, address and other information to determine the extent of the person’s interest in the offer.

Step 1: When the customer clicks the opt-in form submit button (link), the email address (and other information) is sent to the email marketing system (EMS) linked to the webpage.

Step 2: The email marketing system adds the email address to the email list (database), sends an email to the customer’s email account requesting confirmation. At the same time, the EMS shows a new webpage to the customer acknowledging receipt of the subscription/information request and informing the customer to check their email for the confirmation message.

Step 3: The customer opens the email message and clicks the confirmation link within the email.

Step 4: The email list database is updated with the confirmation and then sends a welcoming email (1st email) to the new subscriber. The EMS also shows a new webpage thanking the customer for confirming their email address and providing either information requested and any associated bonuses, gifts or coupons. (Note: I give away free digital products (ebooks) by including a link to the ebook (pdf file) I have uploaded to my website via an FTP program. The file is stored in one of the sub-directories. The link is either included in the confirmation email, the confirmation webpage, or both.)

Step 5: The customer then starts receiving periodic emails until they unsubscribe or the email series ends.

The above 5 steps apply to a double opt-in email list. This means the subscriber has to confirm the addition of his email to the email list. In a single opt-in process, step 3 is omitted as the email marketing system does not send a confirmation request email to the subscriber.

Building the Email List

Now that you have seen the email list process, it is time to start building the list. You have several options. First, you could manually prepare and maintain the list yourself. Of you could obtain the services of an email marketing vendor.

  • Doing It Yourself – Back in the day, this is what I did. Totally prehistoric! I used an email program and maintained my list of contacts. I had to manually manage my list and send emails. This was very labor and time intensive. 
    • Microsoft Outlook is an option.  Create a Contact Group and as you contact people, add them to your group. When ready to send email, send it to them using the Outlook Team mail function.
    • Google Mail (Gmail) – Use an online email account and maintain a contact list of prospects. Gmail does have a send limit of 500 contacts at a time. I still receive emails in my Gmail accounts from marketers who are maintaining their own lists! Unfortunately, Gmail sends most of this email straight to the Spam folder.
  • Email Marketing Service – My article on Email Marketing Systems provides more information about EMS. There are free and subscription-based email marketing services provided.
    • Free services include MailChimp, ListWire and a bunch of others. Just google free autoresponders or free email marketing service providers and do your due diligence. I do not recommend using free services because of poor delivery results and many include advertising of which you have no control.
    • Subscription-based services include AWeber and a number of others discussed in my Email Marketing Systems article. A number of these vendors offer 30 or 60-day free trial periods.

Useful Email List Building Tips

  • Wait until you have decent website traffic before starting to build an email list – Have at least 200 website visitors a day or some sales. Or if you have a high page ranking in the search engines. Most email marketing services (autoresponders) require a paid subscription. So, unless you have a large budget, use the time to create an autoresponder series of emails (training, free offers, etc) and learn about your audience and visitors.
  • Create a clear value proposition – Your email opt-in form should communicate clearly what you are offering and how it will benefit your reader. So be sure it addresses your desired audience’s problems in a way and language that they understand what you can do to help them.
  • Marlon Brando as the Godfather

    Incentives help build email lists.

    Make your visitor an offer they can’t refuse – People are reluctant to give up their email address and personal information. And rightfully so. Your opt-in incentive must be so tempting, so useful that your offer solves your visitor’s problem for them immediately. This approach eliminates the need to persuade, convince or sell the solution to the problem.

  • Do not sell; tell a story and educate – People came to your website or business to find information to help solve a problem they are having.  Your story should relate to the reader’s experience. It should be believable. It is not a college lecture, do not tell them theory. People do not sign up on lists to be continuously pitched or sold stuff. (Unless you have a commerce site, then readers may be looking for deals and discounts.) This is not to say you cannot make offers. But offers should be described in terms of benefits that help customers fix problems or make things better.



An email list is the primary means to communicate with current and potential customers and prospects on a regular basis. You often hear marketers say that “the money is in the list.” They mean the money is for the list owner.

I think that is backward. A top quality newsletter that provides useful, timely information to me is more valuable to me than I am to the publisher!

Have you tried building an email list? Share your experiences below. Just fill in and submit the form below. I love feedback!



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