The Complete, 4-Step Email List Building Strategy That Will Make You Successful

email list building Over here we have the goal:
I want to make tons of money from my online business.
And over here we have the reality:
I have a website. I’m making some money, but I wouldn’t call it “success” just yet.
The question you have been wrestling with for months now is, “How do I get from my reality to my goal?” Or in other words... How do you turn your website into a real money-maker? If you’ve been been in the blogging game very long, or if you’ve simply read 10 total marketing articles at any point in the last 5 years, you know that the money is in your email list. Email marketing has the highest ROI of any marketing channel, and for content producers, it's your #1 source of traffic, social shares, and revenue.

The Complete, 4-Step #Email List Building Strategy That Will Make You Successful via @jmcmillen89

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There are many places you can go for email list building tips. Here’s a great list of 21 ways to build your email list. But articles like these require you to have a competent system already in place AND to understand what you are ultimately trying to do with that system. Today, we are going to go through the full process from start to finish—everything you need from email list creation to effective monetization. The basic process looks like this: email list building I’m going to show you how YOU can implement this process without any outside help whatsoever. For those of you who like to skip the tinkering or take things to the next level, there’s a special offer for you at the end. Let’s start with Step 1 of your email list building strategy.

Step #1: Create Your Email List

This is the easiest step, but how many of you reading this have yet to start your list, because... research. You don’t want to select the wrong provider or you don’t want to spend money and then not put the work in. Well guess what? I’m solving both of those problems for you right now. If you’ve been waiting for a solid beginner email provider, go ahead and click here to immediately start your FREE account with MailChimp. There’s no costs until you reach a handsomely monetizable 2,000 email subscribers. Problem solved. Now, select “Lists” in the top bar and then click “Create List”. Fill in a few admin details, and BAM, you’re done! Now that you have your list, let’s move on to tricking out your website for email collection.

Step #2: Optimize Your Website For Email Collection

This is where you get to have some fun, at least, if you're anything like me. If you want your website to perform as a business funnel, your highest core value should be simplicity. Think simple and then think simpler.
  • Simple design
  • Single goal
  • Necessary features only
If you want to build a serious email list, that list has to be one of the #1 goals of your website. And on that note, immediately axe EVERY feature that doesn’t facilitate email signups. (If you can sell to your customers immediately via product trials or e-commerce, those are great features to keep around.) There’s a only a handful of features you need to collect email effectively:
  1. Some form of compelling lead magnet
  2. Above-the-fold email opt-in CTA
  3. Email opt-in popup
  4. End-of-content email opt-in
Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

Create a compelling lead magnet.

While some users will like your content so much, they will simply hand over their email address, these users are the exception rather than the rule. You need to have a few cards up your sleeve that will compel visitors to become subscribers. You need to have something valuable that you can freely offer visitors in exchange for their email address. These are called “lead magnets”. A great example can be found right here at CoSchedule, which uses its restricted-access resource library to invite readers like you to become subscribers. There is virtually no limit to what you can use as a lead magnet:
  • Restricted resource library
  • Topical e-book
  • Collection of templates
  • Exclusive content only given to subscribers
  • Audio or video downloads
  • Email course training series
  • Checklist PDFs
  • Software tool access
  • etc.
When evaluating something as a potential lead magnet, it needs to answer “Yes” to two vitally important questions:
  1. Is this something my marketing target audience would LOVE and no one else would really care about?
  2. Is this something that can be automatically distributed upon signup and doesn’t incur marginal cost at my expense?
Virtually everyone wants a free laptop, but giving out laptops in exchange for email addresses breaks both or these rules. People who have zero interest in your website’s topic/product will claim the laptop with zero return on your investment, and the marginal cost of purchasing a laptop per subscriber is an insanely inefficient way to collect email addresses. Pick something that answers “Yes” to both the above questions, and you’ll be good to go.

Place an email opt-in CTA above the fold.

When we are discussing a desktop setup, your above-the-fold real estate is by far the most valuable. It absolutely must include a CTA that leads to email signup or information collection of some nature. A great example of this is Noah Kagan’s blog OkDork. As soon as you show up on the home page, you are immediately propositioned for your email address in exchange for Noah’s lead magnet. The entry box gives visitors a no-friction, one-click way to give you their email. Noah’s company SumoMe recently released an application called Welcome Mat that helps you to implement this exact same technique on any website, landing page or blog. Here’s an example of the free version in action on my men’s blog. This is my homepage hero shot: You’ll notice I already have an opt-in form above the fold at the top of the right sidebar. I’m using this simple MailChimp for WordPress plugin, which can be inserted via the widget area of your WordPress dashboard. When Welcome Mat is installed, the following screen immediately drops down for new users visiting my website: This not only allows me to collect email, but it also gives me a chance to immediately hit users with a targeted value proposition. Visitors who show up to my site and resonate with “taking an honest look at manhood”, are more likely to subscribe or continue reading and subscribe later.

Collect emails above the fold with immediate value propositions. Here's how. #listbuilding

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As a final example, I want to address the freelancers and direct-service providers among you who are wanting to build your email, but honestly, your biggest priority is direct contact for currently interested clients. I feel you. I’m in a similar boat. I help business owners do a lot of what I’m talking to you about in this article, but at level 1,000. Here’s how I handle those dual goals. This is my services landing page: jm-home.jpg The red button takes visitors through my sales pitch, which will end in a request for their email. The green button takes visitors directly to the form where they give me their email. Since I am focusing on lead generation here, this strategy won’t be as effective for scaling out a massive email list as what I’ve discussed above. However, I am still acquiring a list of SUPER targeted emails of people interested in my services who I can retarget at a later date or invite to view my blog content.

Have segmented #emaillists based on your goals to really drive conversions.

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Create an email opt-in popup

Let’s be honest. No one really thinks about popups with fond thoughts and fuzzy memories. Except website owners interested in collecting emails. Those gals and guys LOVE popups, because they work. They really, really, really work. In fact, I doubt you can find a single, high-traffic marketing blog that doesn’t currently use popups. I’m using—you guessed it—SumoMe’s free popup application: Since installing this simple popup, my subscription rate has doubled. I’ve had 2x the subscribers over this last year as I did before, and I have probably posted half as much content this year as I did the year before. Popups work. Since I’m using the free version, I am unable to offer a lead magnet within my popup, but if I were to upgrade, I could display something like this, which would probably improve my signup rate even further: If you want to install SumoMe’s Listbuilder popup application, simply follow the directions here.

Create email signup opportunities at the end of your content.

You probably already know this, but most visitors to your blog posts won’t read the full post. Maybe they will skim and maybe they will just read a few points and leave. If they make it all the way to the end, they are “picking up what you’re putting down”. This is a golden opportunity for you to capture these casual visitors into your email list “fold”. Don’t waste it! Include a signup opportunity at the end of every post. There is an easy way to do this with a moderate return, and then there is a more difficult—AKA time consuming—way to do this that will net you a much higher return. The easy way involves nothing more than including a signup form at the end of each post, like this: ... OR offering your standard lead magnet, like this example from CoachTube: Simply create a graphic like the one from CoachTube and display it at the end of your post with a link to your email signup page. That’s the easy way. The more difficult way is to make a different lead magnet for every single one of your posts. This is called a “content upgrade”, and it gets better results because it is directly related to what your visitors were just reading about.
Note: By the way, there's a content upgrade in this post right in the introduction to help convert visitors into subscribers right away. CoSchedule has seen this as an excellent way to turn organic traffic into long-term, engaged subscribers.
Here’s an example from Brian Dean’s blog Backlinko: Content upgrades have been the primary fuel in the emergence of several new leading blogs in the marketing blogosphere. I’ve seen case study after case study of unbelievable results. While it requires a bigger investment on your part, It’s worth giving this strategy a try. To learn more about posting content upgrades, check out Bryan Harris’ guide.

Step #3. Implement Email Marketing Within Your Content Strategy

While email is your best single tool for building an audience, it’s still just one piece of your content strategy. Your overall content strategy should be targeting your desired audience via recurring, well-promoted content that gets people to you website and into position for email capture. If you aren’t getting people to your site, you won’t be getting any email signups. Fortunately, your email list can play the star role in getting traffic to your website. Sometimes, people overcomplicate the email marketing process. They get scared of sending too many emails and wait too long to contact their audience, or they aren’t really sure what to write, so they just throw a bunch of stuff in.
Before I describe a ridiculously simple (yet effective) way to run your email marketing, let’s review our goals. The goal of any content marketing campaign is twofold:
  1. Build an audience of people interested in your chosen topic.
  2. Build trust within that audience and an expectation of quality from your brand.
We want everyone who comes into contact with your brand to think, “Wow, they don’t mess around. That was good stuff.” We DON’T want people subconsciously  thinking, “I’ve seen this 100 times before. You think I’m going to buy your paid product when this free stuff is so weak?”
Now that we’ve established our goal, let’s look at how email can play a part. Here’s a ridiculously simple, beginner strategy for email marketing that will get your content some great results. Anytime you publish a new blog post, send out the following email:
  1. Subject line: “Compelling headline meant to grab maximum email opens” (check out CoSchedule's Headline Analyzer Studio for some help.)
  2. Header image taken from published post.
  3. Short introduction setting up a hook to get people to your post.
  4. Link to your post.
  5. Button(s) to click for instant shares.
It’s that simple. Check out this example: How easy is that? And guess how well this hopelessly simple email performed? I will take 50% opens and 30% clicks every day of the week. Don’t overcomplicate this. Your emails don’t need to be complicated to be effective. In fact, they should be decidedly uncomplicated. Now that we’ve identified a simple template for each individual email, how should we incorporate these emails into a fuller content strategy? I’m glad you asked. Again, this is a baseline strategy anyone can do and everyone should be doing (at minimum). I’ve found from working with countless clients over the years that many bloggers have trouble finding a repeatable process off which to base their content strategy, so I’m condensing it into a few simple tips.

Publish your blog between 12 p.m. and 5 a.m. ET.

The easiest way to do this is to schedule it to automatically publish via WordPress, or if you’ve made the incredibly wise decision to get a CoSchedule subscription, you can schedule posts easily through their dashboard. email list building tips CoSchedule calendar

Schedule an email to go out the day your post goes live.

The specific time will vary based on your topic and audience. For weekday posts, I’d recommend sending out emails around 7 a.m. ET, as that will put your content at the top of most readers’ inboxes when they either get to work or check their emails before work.

Promote your content across social channels.

You can do this manually, or, if you have a CoSchedule account, you can automatically schedule postings across your networks AND repostings at later dates. These three tips are a great beginning baseline if you aren’t already doing it for each new post.

Step #4. Monetize Your Email List

I want to quickly take you through all four email monetization strategies, because they’re worth knowing and you can achieve big wins with each one.
  1. Sell affiliate offers to your list.
  2. Sell advertising placement in your “newsletter”.
  3. Make your email newsletter a paid subscription.
  4. Sell your own product.
Let’s start with the first email list building monetization strategy.

Sell affiliate offers to your email list.

Affiliate marketing is as old as the Web itself. It made millionaires in the late-90’s/early-2000’s, back when lots of people who stumbled online were becoming millionaires. Today, you are far more likely to be sold an expensive course on becoming a millionaire affiliate marketer than you are to actually become one yourself. It’s not that affiliate marketing can’t work, it’s just a much less efficient way to make money than creating and selling your own product. Furthermore, you typically have no control over the quality or customer service attached to an affiliate product, so you risk losing trust every time a subscriber makes a purchase. The BIG exception and the RIGHT way to implement affiliate marketing is to select a few products/services you trust that generate RESIDUAL income. Here’s the only example you really need to know. Pat Flynn is considered a veritable influencer in the marketing blogosphere. You’ve almost definitely heard of him, and you most likely read his blog. Pat made $116,891.83 last August. That number may boggle your mind at first glance, but let’s take a look at the numbers: Pat earned revenue from 13 total affiliate offers. His affiliate earnings made up 72% of his total income for the month of August. But most significantly, Pat made 55% of his entire August revenue from just two offers. Both these offers, Bluehost and LeadPages, are subscription-based services, meaning every time Pat signs up a new customer, he begins getting paid on a monthly basis for as long as that customer remains a customer. Pat has been selling Bluehost website hosting since at least March 2010. When he first began referring Bluehost, it accounted for less than 8% of his monthly revenue, but after 5 years of accumulating referred users, he is collecting monthly checks worth 40% of his total revenue from just this one referral. Now, it’s your turn. Pick a subscription-based service that meets the following criteria:
  • You already love it.
  • It’s a no-brainer for your customers.
  • It's intended to be used indefinitely.
Slap that referral link into your next email and talk it up big to your email subscribers. You should also create a targeted landing page (like this) on your website, pitching your visitors. Boom. Done.

Sell ad placements on your “newsletter”.

I place “newsletter” in quotes because your emails really shouldn’t look like a traditional newsletter, and I’m a stickler for semantics. Quirks aside, I’m not really talking about banner-style ads here. Banner ads are tacky in a newsletter, and it’s not really what your customers subscribed for. Paid ad placement in your newsletter should look a lot like affiliate marketing, with the primary difference being you are getting paid to place rather than paid based on subscriber engagement.

Have you considered including native advertising in your email newsletters?

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This works particularly well with niche newsletters, because the smaller the market, the more valuable it is for a new brand to get its name in front of relevant viewers. How do you get such placements? Sorry, the answer is direct sales. Pick 10 brands in your niche, and email them something like, “I have 1,000 email subscribers centered around your niche, and I think they would be very interested in learning more about [brand]. I’d love to discuss running a [brand] promotion in an upcoming newsletter.” email list building It’s really that simple. What brand doesn’t want to be promoted? From there, it’s just a matter of negotiating payment.

Make your email newsletter a paid subscription.

I’m including this one because it’s a relevant option, but I wouldn’t recommend you try it as your core email list building monetization strategy. People are very used to being asked for their email in exchange for content, and they are becoming increasingly hesitant to give that email address away. If you have the audacity to ask for money in exchange for your emails, your email content better include the following:
  • Highly valuable, world-class type content.
  • Exclusive content that can ONLY be found via your email list.
Unless your newsletter is offering in-demand content that can’t be found anywhere else, this strategy could be a bit difficult to implement super successfully.

Create and sell your own product.

This is, in my opinion, the best strategy for monetizing your email list. Create a product and sell it to your list. That’s it. That’s the goal. You should be aspiring to do this, and then you should stop aspiring and just do it... now. email list building As Jeff Walker says, “The best way to launch a product is to build an email list, and the best way to build an email list is to launch a product.” But why is this the best monetization strategy?
  • Higher margins: There’s no middle man when it’s your product.
  • Better targeting: Your audience can tell you exactly what they want.
  • Life-time value: You retain all customer behavior data, allowing for much more effective retargeting and upsells over the customer’s lifetime.
Follow these tips in order to do it right:
  1. Collaborate with subscribers on identifying a product they want
  2. Create the product.
  3. Pre-sell the product.
  4. Launch the product.
  5. Improve the product.
Let’s walk our way through a basic version of this process.


The easiest way to create a product people want is to ask them what they want. Brainstorm a few possible product ideas and ask your subscribers to give you feedback on what they like/dislike about them. Ask them specifically if they would consider buying each option. Once you’ve found an idea people are really into—preferably one that doesn’t require significant investment for your first attempt—it’s time to create. A great example for beginners would be an info-product like an e-book.


Product creation is a massively complex topic outside the scope of this post. For the purpose of this article, let’s just say you're creating an e-book. Here a few keys to compeleting an e-book that doesn’t suck:
  • Create an outline first.
  • Set unchangeable deadlines for each section in your outline.
  • Write the dang thing.
  • Supplement each point with facts/case-studies/examples/data of some kind.
  • Don’t check “done” until it’s something you would pay to read.


Never “cold sell” to your email list. You should always pre-sell before you sell. This process is intended to prime your audience for your product by getting them thinking very heavily about the problem your product solves. Send emails and write posts discussing this problem. Discuss beginner-level strategies for solving that problem. Talk about how you’ve solved it using your product or the information contained in the product. And then close...


Now it’s time to actually launch the product. The key to a successful product launch is getting all hands on deck. Get everyone you know with a relevant audience to help you promote your launch. Call in every favor. Get your product in front of every possible channel. It’s dangerous to go alone. Your product launch is the time to promote. A lot. Put the work in to create something you’re proud of and then share it with the world.


Your launch is just the beginning of your product. Get feedback, improve your product, and keep marketing it.

How Will You Improve Your Email List Building Strategy?

We’ve covered quite a bit of ground in today’s post. If you’re still reading, you are most likely serious about implementing an effective email list building strategy via your website. Having helped numerous clients through this process (my last client went from 500–10,000 subscribers in two months), I can tell you that these are super important steps for successful implementation:
  1. Create your list: Anyone can do this with zero help. Just follow the instructions in this post.
  2. Optimize your site: If you're willing to take the time to tinker, test, and tweak, anyone can set up their website for email optimization using the method I described in this article. You will need to familiarize yourself with copywriting and conversion rate optimization in order to properly utilize the tools I showed you, but you can absolutely do it yourself. If you’d prefer to just have a pro do it for you, I’m offering a special setup rate for CoSchedule readers here.
  3. Run your content strategy: Unless you have some big bucks to shell out, you will need to do the bulk of this on your own. CoSchedule is a great resource for actually running a successful content strategy.
  4. Launch your product: Product launches are extremely technical and entail a lot of moving parts. I wouldn’t recommend doing your first launch by yourself.
One client I worked with had 150,000 social followers but virtually zero website engagement. I gave his team a content strategy, and within two weeks, they had a blog generating 4k shares per article and nearly 100 comments per post. I’m offering a one-time, discounted rate for readers who would like me to map out a step-by-step strategy for them. If you want to try it solo anyway, go get ‘em cowboy! You’ll want to follow Bryan Harris’ outline for his first product launch. Thanks for taking the time to read, learn, and grow as a blogger or online business owner. Like you, the world of online business never ceases to amaze and fascinate me. Feel free to ask a question or leave a comment, and if you enjoyed this article, don’t hesitate to give it a share!

The Complete Email List Building Guide That Will Boost Your Results

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About the Author

Jacob McMillen is a website copywriter and email marketing consultant. He enjoys reading fantasy fiction and pretending to think in his spare time. Follow him on Twitter @jmcmillen89 if you dare.