8 Things to Know About Growing Your Email List When You’re Starting From Zero

You might have heard of it: list building. It’s the mission most bloggers are concerned about because your profitability to directly related to the quality of your relationship with your subscribers.

Traffic numbers might matter to you. But if you have 10,000 page views a day, but no one wants to opt-in and hear from you, you really have no idea how targeted your audience is.

There are a few things you’ll need when it comes to list building:

  • An opt-in freebie (usually a PDF or if you’re doing something of larger scale, a webinar)
  • An opt-in form (This can be a separate landing page or an embedded form on your blog)
  • An email service provider (A piece of software that stores your contacts, sends your newsletters, and automation sequences)

Whether you’re new to this or heard that something called an email list, there are some mistakes that both beginners and intermediates make.

Here are 8 list building tips for bloggers.

1| The freebie can come before the blog.

Many people think that growing an email list has to come after having a blog, but that’s not exactly true. You can start building your email list before having a blog — or without ever having the blog.

Woah! What do you mean?

Having a blog is one way of marketing your expertise and personal brand, but you certainly don’t have to write a blog and still create a freebie to grow an email list.

There are generally two ways to do this. You can set up a landing page with your opt-in offer on it. Generally, there are two ways to send traffic to your landing page: through paid ads (Facebook ads or promoted pins) or through guest posting (free, but you write on other people’s blog)

If you do this, all you need to set up on your own domain are:

  • A landing page (aka one web page with an opt-in form)
  • A compelling free offer (this can be a mini e-book like a blog post or an actionable piece of content like a workbook)
  • An email service provider (like Active Campaign or ConvertKit)

If writing isn’t your jam or guest posting/podcasting is your main traffic strategy, then this is the strategy you want to pursue.

2| Your first freebie might not be perfect, and that’s okay.

Don’t worry, your first freebie won’t be perfect. In fact, it shouldn’t be. If you’re waiting for something to be perfect before you launch it, then you’re growing too slowly. It’s like writing your first blog post: it was only 300 words with chunky texts and no subheadings or blog images.

The more you do something, the better you get at it. I’ve definitely retired my first freebie and created new ones since then. You should switch them up every now and then anyway.

3| You will need a traffic source to drive traffic to it.

Whether you go the paid or free route, you will need lots of traffic to see good results. Find a channel and get to know it inside out.

List building is like blogging. Whether you’re building your list before or after you have a blog, you need a reliable source of traffic. And of that traffic, only a certain percentage will opt-in.

In the beginning, don’t get too caught up in conversion rates. I certainly did and it stunted my growth. Plus I’m skeptical about industry percentages anyway.

I do generally notice from past experience that my landing pages have a 20-30% opt-in rate and my content upgrades within my blog posts only have a 5% opt-in rate. But keep in mind that once someone opts in for one of my content upgrades, they get access to all of them in a resource library.

This means they don’t need to opt-in for other freebies on my site and that will decrease the number of opt-ins.

Also, it’s difficult to segment the returning visitors on my blog from new visitors and then calculate the conversion rate.

Sometimes, readers don’t opt-in the first time they read your blog, but they do eventually sign up. I also re-use the same content upgrade across almost many blog posts of a related topic to increase the visibility of the freebie.

And to my surprise, it works!

You might have heard it before: but the basic marketing principle is that someone needs to be exposed to something 7x before they before to notice and take action.

For example, I re-use the same freebie on all my blog posts related to productivity. I do that across almost 10 blog posts and for sure, that content upgrade has been doing almost 30x better than the other freebies on my blog.

A-freakin’ 30x! And growing…

4| Your freebie needs to be targeted so if you get great content in front of the wrong audience, you probably won’t get any opt-ins.

Going back to my point on solving problems or identifying pain points… You can design a beautiful freebie and pour 10 hours of work into it, but you need to get it in front of the right people who need that problem solved… and one more thing…

*Drumroll, please

You need to get it in front of those people at the RIGHT TIME.

For example, let’s say readers who came to your blog were looking for a freebie on “How to maintain a fit body following a weight loss diet.” But your blog only talked about “recipes for weight loss”, does that make your content bad?

Of course not. It’s just that the TIMING is wrong.

The readers already went through a training that helped them lose weight. Therefore, they weren’t looking for an action plan to lose weight. Instead, they want an action plan on how to maintain the weight that they had lost.

So a targeted freebie meets these criteria:

  • It solves a real problem (pain point a person is having)
  • The traffic that lands on that page are your target audience
  • It’s the right timing for people to want to opt-in for your action plan

5| A good design for your freebie does help increase opt-ins.

I’m not a designer and if you know me, I’m all about writing good and in-depth content. I care minimally about how something looks as long as the purpose is clear and the design is clean.

As more people have email lists, your freebie needs to be on-par with what your competitors are offering too. A well-designed freebie can entice someone to opt-in if they’re on the fence. You can tell when an opt-in form is well-designed and one that’s a template ripoff.

I use to use Mailerlite’s suite of web forms but have switched to using Popup Ally ever since I started using Active Campaign as my email service provider.

popup ally pro

(How a Popup Ally Pro opt-in box looks like)

I can’t give you the exact number increase since I also switched freebies and A/B tested other things along the way. On average, I saw my opt-in rate increase 2-6x. I know that’s a wide range, but it really depends on the day.

6| Pick an email service provider, either free or paid.

I’m not going to go deep into this one. I’ve written an entire article on how to choose your first email service provider: the battle was Mailchimp vs. Mailerlite for me.

Many people spend too much time on this stage, but it’s something you can upgrade later on. If you’re a blogger and just starting out, you’ll only need a place to store your contacts and maybe for you to send a couple newsletter emails each month. Once you start getting into fancy automations, that’s when you upgrade.

Still, it only took me less than 2 hours to switch from Mailerlite to Active Campaign and I had about 2-3 sequences at the time.

There are many available options for this:

  • Mailchimp (not recommended even though many big bloggers swear by it. Their paid plans are almost as confusing as their user interface.)
  • Mailerlite (good for nontech-savvy bloggers on a budget)
  • ConvertKit (the email provider made for bloggers by a former blogger)
  • ActiveCampaign (what I use and I don’t know why most bloggers don’t use this?? It has everything CK has and more for a much cheaper price! Best bang for your buck.)

7| Increasing the points of entry to your freebie will increase your subscribers.

(via different blog posts, landing pages, paid advertising, sidebar, banner ad)

When I first started my blog, I thought I needed a ton of freebies in order to be successful. That’s not always the case. If you have time to create 10 different freebies, that’s certainly cool.

But what’s even more important is maximizing the points of entry and access to those freebies.

What does that mean?

It means creating one freebie and re-using it in many places and channels:

  • The sidebar of your blog
  • The banner of your blog
  • Inside your blog post
  • A separate landing page and drive paid traffic to it
  • A landing page where you drive guest blogging traffic to it
  • Repurposing a pillar blog post into a webinar and inviting people to sign up for it
  • Create a YouTube video and mention and include a freebie at the end
  • The options are endless

You remembered our marketing rule of exposing people to something 7x, right?

8| Targeting the right audience and solving a problem is much more important than deciding on what form of freebie to create.

I see so many people asking unproductive questions on Facebook groups that they need ideas for an opt-in freebie. There are tons of free (and paid) content on ideas of what type of freebie to create.

IMO, the part where most noobs make a mistake isn’t on “coming up with an idea.” After all, checklists, cheat sheets, workbooks, webinars, etc., they’re all great ideas. And as rehashed as they are, they still continue to work.

The biggest problem you face when it comes creating your first few freebies is not identifying a problem — and solving that problem in your freebie.

I try to understand my target audience’s pain points through Facebook groups and Pinterest keywords. What people search for tells me a lot about what their questions and problems are. Then intuitively try to get a feel for what they need.

Related: 7 Types of Lead Magnets to Grow Your Email List Like Wildfire

What list building tip will you implement? Are you making any of these email list mistakes?




Hi, I'm Judy! I've owned at least four blogs over the last 10 years, from general lifestyle to skincare to blogging. Combined with my experience in digital marketing tech startup, I give away all my blogging and productivity tips and secrets that will make bloggers and creative entrepreneurs successful online.

  1. Kendra Wilson

    October 23, 2017

    Great tips! My email list is definitely something I want to focus on next so I will be bookmarking these tips to help me.

    • Judy from Talence

      October 23, 2017

      Awesome Kendra! And thanks for reading! Let me know how it goes.

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