Email Acquisition: How to Get Traffic to Build Your Email List

email acquisition

How do you get people to give you their email address?

Where do your best email subscribers, leads, and customers come from?

Email is one of the oldest online channels, but it’s still crushing it. Smart marketers invest in email marketing.

As everyone hops on the email acquisition, some parts of email acquisition are getting harder.

It used to be you could slap up a free ebook and rake in those sweet, sweet email addresses.
In a study, ProfitWell reported that “content effectiveness is decreasing, with a typical ebook creating lead velocity for 55% less time than five years ago.”

Across the board, it’s getting harder and harder to reach audiences online. Platforms like Facebook are sending less and less traffic out to websites like yours. According to one study, traffic from organic (non-paid) Facebook posts has declined by 450% since 2015.

(Don’t worry—if you target the right channels, your email list will still grow just fine. Changes to online platforms just mean you have to be smart about it, and we’ll talk about how).

Similarly Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz and SparkToro, has pointed out that virtually all sources of online traffic are sending you fewer visitors than they used to.

Traffic referrals are decreasing from all sources
Source: SparkToro

This is what makes email acquisition critical.

Because even if no one sends you traffic—you can still send emails.

Let’s talk more about how to increase email subscribers, grow your email list, and build lists that get you more customers.

Not all email lists are created equal

I have a trick question for you.

(Should I have told you that it’s a trick question? Probably not, but let’s see what you think anyway.)

How valuable is an email list with 2,000 people on it?

How much money will that list make you?

Like I said, this is a trick question. There’s no good answer without knowing the details.

Because it all depends who’s on the list.

An email list of 2,000 people could power an entire business. Or it could make no money and just be an expense.

It could outperform an email list of 50,000 people (the biggest email list doesn’t always win). Or it could underform compared to a list of just 100 people.

Here are three, actual, real-life email lists that I’ve come across in my marketing career.

  • A 2,000-person list that makes no money. It’s essentially a hobby blog that sends out weekly inspirational blog posts.
  • A 2,000-person list that brings in ~$500,000 a year. It sells multi-thousand dollar courses to a niche audience, and makes a handful of sales each month.
  • A 2,000-person list that powers a $7 million business. It reaches executives and director-level professionals who are in need of consulting services.

The lists are roughly the same size. Everyone involved knows how to write a good subject line, and they all have good open rates and response rates.

The difference is who’s on the list.

a picture of an SE OWL

Make like an owl and ask “WHO”

As you build your mailing list, it’s critical to keep this in mind.

A marketing executive isn’t going to Google “how do I get more leads,” download an ebook, and wind up on your email list.

Different audiences hang out in different places. And when you do email acquisition, you don’t just need to know how to grow an email list fast.

You need to find potential customers.

I’m about to walk through the best ways to collect email addresses.

Whether you need to know how to build an email list from scratch or are looking to bring in more qualified leads for an established business—this breakdown of traffic sources and tactics will help you understand how to reach the right audience for your business.

So you can find your best customers.

Not all email acquisition is created equal (here are the top 6 ways to collect email addresses)

What’s the best way to collect email addresses?

How should you choose where to focus your marketing campaigns?

What should your top priorities be when it comes to email marketing list building?

When it comes right down to it, email acquisition is just two steps:

  • Find a way to reach people
  • Get them to give you their email address

This section is about that first step—finding ways to reach people. We’ll talk about conversion rate optimization a little later.

For now—remember that not every channel is created equal. Some channels are better for some topics, and some are better for some audiences.

If you’re purely trying to get the biggest email list, you’re going to want some combination of viral social media list building and search engine optimization. You’ll also need to have a value proposition with mass appeal.

That isn’t always the goal.

Here are the top channels to grow your email list, along with their pros and cons.

1. Search engine optimization (SEO)

If you don’t do SEO, search engine optimization can feel like a confusing minefield. It seems like any step you take can blow up your website by accident.

Search engine optimization is the practice of getting your stuff to show up when someone searches for something. Usually that means Google searches, but SEO can also apply to Amazon, YouTube, Bing, and other searchable platforms.

Remember that table from Rand Fishkin? Google sends more traffic than anything else. By a lot.

Traffic referrals are decreasing from all sources
Even though referrals are down, Google still sends a lot of traffic

SEO is complicated in some ways—and the Google algorithm is definitely complicated—but there are also simpler versions of SEO that can help

If you need to learn how to do SEO, there are a variety of resources out there that can help.

I’ve looked at the Google Analytics for dozens of websites, and there’s a consistent trend. If a website has been around for a while, most of its traffic comes from Google.

traffic to my personal blog from Google

A week of traffic to the blog I run on the side. Most traffic comes from organic search (SEO), which is typical for websites that have been around for a while.

If you want a lot of traffic, you will eventually need to think about SEO.

But do you need to do SEO now? What are the cons of SEO?

First, here are the benefits of SEO when it comes to email acquisition:

  • Google refers by far the most traffic. This is the biggest source of traffic available.
  • When someone searches, they’re looking to solve a specific problem. That often means they’re more likely to convert into email newsletter subscribers, or other contacts.
  • Once you rank, you get traffic for a long time. It doesn’t take a ton of work to maintain the traffic you bring in from SEO. You just keep getting more traffic.

SEO has the potential to get you a lot of subscribers. And once you start getting them, you don’t need to do a ton to keep the flow of traffic coming.

SEO also delivers high quality traffic, because people come with a specific problem in mind.

But when is SEO not a good fit?

  • When people aren’t sure what to search. Sometimes people don’t know what to search—even though they have a problem you solve.
  • When the people you want to reach don’t Google things. If you’re trying to reach business-to-business executives, they’re not as likely to turn to Google for answers.
  • When people don’t search for you much. Traffic in Google is limited by how many people search for you. If there aren’t many searches for what you do (because you’re in a new industry, or a niche industry), it will be hard to get traffic.
  • When there’s a more efficient channel for your business. Why go through the trouble of learning and doing SEO if you could go to a networking event and pick up three qualified leads—that give you all the business you need for the next year?

SEO is often a good fit, and it’s often the best option for people who want to build a big email list. If your marketing strategies require reaching a lot of people, SEO can work.

But it’s not the only way.

And it might not be the best way.

guy standing in front of lightsaber looking things

It certainly isn’t the Jedi way

Let’s look at some others.

2. Online groups and forums

What if you serve a really specific audience? Or there are no searches for what you do? Or it’s not worth learning SEO, because you don’t really need 1000s of visitors—just a few customers?

Online groups and forums are one of the best ways to get targeted email addresses.

Off the top of my head, I can think of businesses that operate in really specific niches, like:

  • A fitness business—but only for ultimate frisbee players
  • Marketing consultants who only work with bowling alleys
  • Productivity tips, but specifically for poker players

No one is Googling “productivity for poker players.” It’s too specific.

But if you were a member of the poker-playing community and heard about a guy who focused on productivity for poker players—why would you ever turn to anyone else?

Primoz Bozic built a business on poker productivity

Yup, this is a real person. Poker News wrote about him getting featured in Business Insider. 

Online groups and forums are a great way to collect email addresses because you know that everyone in the group is part of your audience.

Here are the major pros of using online groups and forums to build your email list.

  • Everyone in the group is part of your audience. You don’t need to worry that you’re reaching the wrong people.
  • Conversion rates are likely to be high. People who are active in groups are more likely to take action, and you know what you’re offering is relevant.
  • You can build a lot of trust over time. Being active in a group lets people recognize you—so that you’re already trustworthy by the time you ask for an email address.

Of course, there are some potential drawbacks.

  • It takes time to build trust. You can’t just dive into a group and start spamming your website. Making this tactic work takes sustained effort over time.
  • Numbers will be low. This might not always matter, but you will get fewer subscribers per unit of effort.
  • It can be hard to find groups that are relevant and allow self-promotion.

How do you find groups and forums? There are three types that get the best results.

  • Facebook Groups related to your topic
  • Reddit subreddits
  • Old-school online forums

(In some industries and for some audiences, Slack groups might be on the rise. Keep your eyes peeled.)

A common recommendation to find groups is to use Google. If you google things like:

  • Group + “[your key phrase]”
  • Forum + “[your key phrase]”

You might get some hits.

In my experience, this is more likely to get you to the low-quality groups. The highest quality groups out there are harder to find—because when a group becomes easy to find, people do things like this and start spamming it.

To find high quality groups, you’ll want to get intimately familiar with your industry. Constantly ask people what groups they’re a part of, and keep exploring content on your own.

Once you find groups that you think are a good fit, follow these steps.

  1. Listen. Start by following the conversation in the group, so you can get a feel for the tone before posting.
  2. Reply. Add value on posts by answering questions. Do this is a positive tone of voice.
  3. Keep replying. Keep adding value. Keep getting to know people. Get to the point where people in the group recognize you. They may even discover your business on their own.
  4. Post. Only once you’ve been adding value for a while can you post your own stuff. If you’ve done this right, you might not have to—someone else in the group who know your business might share it for you.

Online groups and forums are a huge opportunity (especially on sites like Reddit, there may even be some viral opportunities). You can reach people who want exactly what you offer.

It just takes a good, up-front investment of time.

3. Guest posts and partnerships

“Developing the right relationships with the right people is the long game. This is how legacies are made and preserved. The new album that is suddenly everywhere and being talked about by everyone? This doesn’t just happen—it’s the result of assiduously courting the right influencers, and maybe having brought on a producer who already had those relationships.”

That’s Ryan Holiday, writing in his book Perennial Seller about the power of platforms.

When you’re trying to build your list, one of the best ways to do it is to build on top of an existing platform.

(Note: if you’re one of the people asking “how to build an email list from scratch” pay attention! This is the best tactic for that.)

In the tech world, there are a few famous examples of using the power of an existing platform.

  • PayPal rose to prominence by making it easier to make eBay payments
  • Zynga built its social gaming company by connecting to Facebook
  • Spotify used a Facebook connection to spark viral growth
  • Airbnb build their own connection to Craigslist, to make it easier to market listings

All of those examples happen at a massive scale. But they illustrate the idea—when you’re trying to build your own platform, tap into someone else’s audience.

Why do you think author Robert Greene decided to write a book with rapper 50 cent?

the book Robert Greene wrote with rapper 50 cent

A follow-up to “the 48 laws,” this time with a celeb guest (Amazon)

Ryan Holiday himself was able to piggyback on the massive reach of Tim Ferriss to promote his books (including Perennial Seller). He wrote about the “Tim Ferriss Effect” in The Observer.

Not everyone can build a connection to Craigslist, work with 50 cent, or get promoted by Tim Ferriss.

But you might be able to write guest posts.

A “guest post” is a blog post you write on someone else’s site. But for the purposes of this channel, “guest posting” also includes:

  • Going on podcasts
  • Being in a YouTube video with someone
  • Getting your stuff in someone else’s newsletter
  • Any partnership that results in someone else promoting your stuff through their channels

Especially if you’re just starting, you don’t have great ways to promote your email list. Other people have established audiences—and if those audiences also care about what you offer, they could become members of your audience.

Here are the pros of guest posting:

  • Reach an established audience. You can reach an existing group of people relatively easily, without needing to build a platform on your own.
  • Reach a targeted audience. If you’re trying to reach bowling alley owners, podcasts about bowling alleys are going to make it easier to find the people you need.
  • Build long-term relationships. It’s good to have relationships with people who have audiences. The long-term benefits might not be clearly defined, but they’re hard to overstate.

Here are potential drawbacks of guest posting:

  • It can be a lot of work. Especially if you need to write new content yourself, guest posting can take a ton of work. Ramit Sethi has said that it took 20+ hours to write this guest post for Tim Ferriss’ blog.
  • It can be hard to find good opportunities. Because guest posting got popular, influencers are more hesitant to accept posts that come from cold pitches. And if you’re in a niche space, there might not be that many people to post with.
  • It can take a long time. You don’t want to spam out guest post requests—website owners are wise to that tactic now. Building relationships is the way to go, but that also takes significantly longer.

It used to be that you could take a generic guest post pitch, send a cold email to some bloggers, and score a bunch of guest posts.

Yay, list building!

Unfortunately, too many people started doing that.

Also, a lot of the guest posts people pitch are low quality (trust me, I get dozens of pitches through both my role at ActiveCampaign and my personal website).

a bad guest post pitch

One of the many bad guest post pitches I get daily. This is one related to my personal website (notice it’s 2 of about 94). 

What does that mean? It means that influential bloggers and content creators will say things like “I don’t accept guest posts.”

But what they really mean is “I don’t accept unsolicited guest posts.”

There’s lots of advice out there on how to guest post. Here are a few resources to check out:

When it comes right down to it, the best way to get guest posts and promotion from influencers in your industry (and therefore send traffic back to your website) is to build relationships before you pitch.

4. Offline networking

“The Meetup Hack: How to get your first 1,000 subscribers.”

Intrigued? This is an article by Leslie Chen, who used the meetup platform…Meetup…to build her email list.

using meetup to build your email listSource: GrowthLab

Worth noting—this kind of advice often comes from marketers who do marketing for other marketers. But not in this case. Chen runs a health-related business.

(By the way, this is also an example of a guest post. Leslie Chen contributed it to GrowthLab, an online publication).

Famously, Kevin Hart used to collect email addresses from fans at shows when he was still a small-time, touring comedian. By taking advantage of the offline opportunity to build an online platform, he was able to rise to prominence much faster.

Your offline networking opportunities will depend on where you live. Meetup might be a platform that works for you, or you can look for other opportunities.

What kinds of offline opportunities are those?

  • Teaching an offline class. A local coffee shop brings in guest speakers, who almost always bring a way to collect email addresses. Could you be one of them?
  • Small group meetups. I go to a monthly meetup with some other marketers. It’s been incredibly valuable—but you can’t find info about it online. Go to events like this regularly to build relationships.
  • Sponsored events (even “networking” events). Lots of organizations run events that are open to the public. Going to one event and schmoozing probably won’t get you much. Going to all of the events and making connections with the same people over and over will.

If offline networking events are terrifying to you (the way they used to be for me) I would say this—the image of the “business-card slinging social butterfly” is largely inaccurate.

I remember going a meetup where, before I’d even said my name, I was holding a guy’s business card. After what would be generously called a short “conversation,” he dipped off to sling a business card at someone else.

I didn’t get to say my name. I don’t remember his. He didn’t come to the next meetup.

Instead of that kind of behavior (which is the offline equivalent of spam email), go to the same meetups consistently. Become known there. Meet people. Make friends. Over time, they’ll learn what you do.

I don’t even have business cards any more.

Here are the pros of offline networking:

  • Incredibly personal. Someone who signs up for your email list after meeting you in person is likely to be highly engaged.
  • Highly targeted. Because you meet people at relevant meetups, they’re likely to be interested in your topic.
  • Highly qualified leads. This is most important for business to business or especially expensive purchases. If you’re selling expensive stuff, there’s no substitute for facetime.

As an added bonus, offline networking puts you directly in your market. Super useful for market research.

Of course, there are some cons:

  • You have to actually go places. Actually going places seems less and less popular nowadays, but offline networking does mean getting out of the house.
  • It takes a long time. You can’t just go in and start taking names. It takes time to build relationships.
  • Numbers will be low. There’s a limit to how many people you can reach with offline meetups. Unless you really want to #hustle, this might be a better tactic when you’re just getting started (or only need to reach a small number of people.

If you’re struggling to get your first few subscribers or you’re in a business where you don’t need many customers (B2B, or a well-paid freelancer/consultant) offline networking could be a great fit for your list building.

5. Word of mouth

The renowned consulting firm McKinsey and Company has stated that “word of mouth generates more than twice the sales of paid advertising in categories as diverse as skincare and mobile phones.”

But…does it though?

Word of mouth makes a lot of sense intuitively—of course you’re more likely to trust recommendations from people that you already know.

So why don’t marketers like word of mouth? Because it’s harder to measure and harder to predict. Which makes it harder to argue for a budget.

How can you use word of mouth to build your email list?

Check out this example from tech copywriter Josh Garofalo.

Josh Garofalo uses referrals to build his email listOh yeah, you’re going to get experimented on.

That short message is at the bottom of each email Josh sends. (And in the spirit of supporting his mission, here’s the link to sign up for his newsletter).

Why does this work?

  • Josh knows other copywriters. When you have that first group of people to start spreading your work, you can get a nice jumpstart. I found the newsletter when someone else shared it in a copywriting group on Facebook.
  • Josh doesn’t need a massive audience. As a high-end freelance copywriter, Josh can’t take on a 1,000 new clients—and he doesn’t need to. He just needs to reach the right people.
  • Josh is really good at what he does—and the content proves it. The emails are good. It shouldn’t have to be said, but it does. The emails are good! People want to share them because they’re really insightful.

If you want to spread via word of mouth, you need to have a message worth spreading.

What messages spread? For that you can read Contagious, by Wharton professor Jonah Berger. But if you don’t have time for that right now, here’s a 10-second summary:

  • Emotional content gets shared more than content that doesn’t activate strong emotions
  • Positive emotions generally lead to more shares than negative (exception: anger)
  • Stuff that increases or indicates social status is more likely to get shared

Or, the even shorter version—make stuff that’s really good. Then make it better. Then ask people to share it.

Here are the pros of word of mouth, when it comes to building your email list.

  • High trust. You are more likely to get a highly engaged audience, because the people you reach heard about you from someone they trust.
  • Highly targeted. You are more likely to get a highly relevant audience, because people only recommend things that they expect their friends to be interested in.
  • Let’s you focus on your work. If you can get the word-of-mouth engine started, it may bring in enough business for you to do less other marketing. This will mostly be true for smaller businesses (especially consultants and freelancers).

Here are the cons of word of mouth.

  • Hard to measure; ephemeral. How good of a word is ephemeral? Anyway, word of mouth is hard to predict/measure—and there’s no “playbook” for getting it the way there is for some other tactics.
  • The first share is difficult. Word of mouth spreads through existing networks. If you can get into those, you should be in good shape—but that initial penetration is tricky.
  • Less important at massive scale. This isn’t important unless you get really big, but if you do get super huge, word of mouth just doesn’t have the same reach as other channels.

If you’re a small business, word of mouth can also be helped by having a hyper-specific niche. If you’re the only business that does fitness for ultimate frisbee players, you better believe that ultimate frisbee players will recommend you to each other.

6. Paid search and social

Google ads, Facebook ads, Quora ads, Twitter ads, LinkedIn ads, and Reddit ads. The major search and social networks make their money with your advertising, and they’re very good at it.

Regardless of the specific platform you choose for this, the process of collecting email addresses from paid ads looks similar.

  1. Serve your ad to a targeted group of people who are likely to be interested
  2. Some of them click, and are taken to your website/landing page
  3. On your landing page or website, you make an offer for some kind of lead magnet
  4. They submit their email address and join your list

(Yes, there are also some types of ads that let people input their emails directly from the ad.)

This part is important: only do paid email acquisition if you have a way to make money from getting email addresses.

If you collect a bunch of emails, but don’t have the bottom of your funnel set up—you’re just throwing money away. Paid search and social only make sense for businesses that already have ways to make money and track their leads.

tracks in the sand

Customer tracking looks maybe a little different from this kind, but you should have it in place before spending a lot on paid search and social.

Here are the pros of paid search and social.

  • Highly trackable. If the bottom of your funnel is good, you can track exactly how many customers you get from paid search and social—and how much it costs to get them.
  • Highly targeted. You can reach people with extremely specific interests, which makes it easier to find people who are otherwise hard to find.
  • Easy to turn on and off. If you have something to launch, run ads! If you don’t, stop running ads! Paid social and search make it easy to control the flow of leads.

Here are the cons of paid search and social.

  • They cost money. Duh. But also—it’s easy to spend more than you want to if you aren’t all that familiar with the platforms you advertise on.
  • Costs are rising. As more people advertise to the same group of people, costs go up. Also, your costs are likely to go up over time (after you reach the easiest to reach people).
  • Easy to take up lots of time. It’s easy to get caught up in micro-optimizations that change your conversion rate by a few tenths of a percentage point. If you’re advertising at scale that can be a big difference—but if you’re a smaller business, that energy is probably better spent elsewhere.

Paid search and social are big opportunities that make it easier for small businesses to reach new audiences. Before you start, make sure you’re the type of business that can benefit from the channel.

Which list building tactics should you ignore?

There are two list building tactics that are common, but not worth your time. They are social media contests and buying lists.

Social media contests are essentially online raffles. People give you their email address to get an entry, and can get more entries by sharing the contest on social media. The winner gets a prize.

It’s not that social media contests can’t get you a lot of email addresses fast. They can.

The problem is that the people who give you their email for a contest are probably never going to turn into customers. They aren’t interested in what you have to offer—they just wanted a free iPad.

In most cases, social media contests are more energy than they’re worth.

Buying lists is when you pay to get a list of emails from someone else. Don’t do this.

It’s scummy. It’s spammy. Depending on the details, it could be illegal. And it doesn’t work.

Yeah, there people out there who will sell you email lists.

But conversions rates will be low. Your deliverability will take a huge hit from all the people marking you as spam. You’ll have spent a bunch of money to get the list—and get negative results in return.

Search engine optimization, online groups and forums, guest posts, offline networking, and word of mouth are really all the tools you need to get traffic that grows your list.

How to collect email addresses once someone comes to your website

If you make an offline connection who gives you their email address right then and there, that’s awesome!

You just combined “traffic” and “conversion” into one step.

For most other channels, getting people to come to your website is only the beginning. When someone finds you in Google, reads your guest post, or otherwise winds up on your website—you need a way to get them to sign up.

As you’ve probably figured out on your own, it isn’t enough to say “join our email list” and put up some opt in forms. It takes more than that.

Here are the key conversion rate optimization things you should think about.

  • A single call to action
  • Opt-in copy
  • Lead magnets
  • Form prominence

A single call to action

“Sign-up for my newsletter! Oh oh oh, also check out this ebook I made. AND WAIT, DID YOU KNOW YOU CAN GET A FREE CONSULTATION!???!?”

Phew. Take a deep breath. That’s three things.

Choose one.

When you give people multiple things to do on a page, they become less likely to do anything. The difference is this:

  • One, clear, compelling call to action: “I want that now.”
  • Many calls to action: “Ummm…which one should I pick? Not sure I need these.”

Uncertainty and confusion murder your conversion rate with a rusty pitchfork. You want people thinking “oh my, oh geez, that’s exactly what I need and I want you to give it to me right this second.”

If you make them choose, they start thinking. Which slows them down and makes them less likely to give you their email address.

“One call to action” is one of the best-known rules of conversion rate optimization. Let me give you an example that shows what this is like in practice.

Here’s an email sent by WhirlPool (via MarketingSherpa).

the control they were testingOne primary call to action, with three secondary

And here’s the updated version they tested.

the winning variationOne CTA that’s more prominent

The result was a 42% increase in clicks. Outside of choosing plan tiers (which is a bit of a different circumstance), I’ve never seen a simplified CTA like this lose a test.

Opt-in copy

What do your people want?

Give them that.

Opt-in copy is one of the most overlooked parts of list building. But it’s also one of the most powerful. Changing the words you use to make your offer can have a huge effect on your conversion rates.

Why? Because the more people understand what they’re getting and why they should care, the more likely they are to give you their info.

We’ve written plenty about how to find messages that your audience craves. You can read more about how to write incredible marketing copy in this article.

For quick tips, here are five guidelines that can help your conversion rates.

  1. Be clear (not clever). Step one is being understood. If people don’t understand you, they won’t convert. Get rid of marketing-speak and save the puns until you have a message as clear as glass.
  2. Sound like a human. “We’ll help you optimize your life through transformative…” No. Stop. Get rid of jargon and sound like a real person. Even technical, smart people prefer to read jargon-less copy.
  3. Offer specific benefits. How will giving you an email address help them? Specificity is key—everyone promises to “save you time and money, and also you’ll lose weight.” Not everyone says “Get delicious, pre-tested meal plans that help you shed pounds without breaking the bank on groceries.”
  4. Add emotion. Emotion leads to action. The best copy pokes at strong emotions. Make your copy reflect the burning pains that your audience has.
  5. A low-friction CTA. You need to ask people for their email address at the end. CTAs like “Get your free” or “See how” usually do better than ones like “Learn more” or “Sign up,” which sound like more work.

Ok, all that is great hypothetically. What does it actually look like in action?

I love this example from Darya Rose of Summer Tomato.

great opt-in copy from Darya RoseAND she has a PhD? Definitely show me!

How does Darya do on each of our five points?

  1. Be clear, check. It’s a video with three steps. Easy to understand.
  2. Sound human, check. Darya has a PhD, but the words she uses are conversational.
  3. Offer specific benefits, check. “Body you love without dieting.” Not to mention the sub-benefits she lists.
  4. Add emotion, check. “Dieting rollercoaster,” “ridiculous diet rules,” “body you love.”
  5. A low-friction CTA, check. “Show Me.” Can’t be clearer or lower friction than that!

The better your opt-in copy, the more people will sign up for your email list.

Lead magnets

Unfortunately, “sign up for our newsletter” isn’t the most compelling offer.

In olden times (by which I mean, the mid-2000s), there weren’t that many newsletters around. The opportunity to get a weekly email from someone smart was actually a pretty big deal.

Nowadays, there are so many newsletters that the thought of reading all of them is a bore.

A lead magnet is anything you offer your visitors in exchange for their email address. That could be…

  • Ebooks
  • Checklists
  • Free reports
  • Videos
  • Calculators
  • Coupons
  • Free trials
  • Templates
  • Quiz results
  • Email courses
  • …and the list goes on

There are literally dozens of ways to offer people a lead magnet—and many types of lead magnets you can offer. We wrote up a huge, 6,000+ word guide to lead magnets here. It should cover what you need to know.

If you don’t have time for that right now, here are the three most important things to think about when you offer a lead magnet.

  • Target it at a specific problem. A great lead magnet solves one problem really well. Your lead magnets will do better if they don’t solve a long list of problems—but if they instead give people a single, compelling benefit to focus on.
  • Target it at a specific audience. The more specific the audience you target, the more compelling the offer is. A lead magnet about “how to improve grip strength for your golf swing” is more specific and compelling that “how to improve grip strength.”
  • Offers a quick win. The best lead magnets solve a problem right now. Even if it isn’t the biggest problem, or the one that needs solving long-term. Offering a quick win means fast results—which people like.

Offer a quick win in return for an email address. You’ll get more email addresses and grow your list faster.

Form prominence

If it’s hard to find your form…no one will find your form.

I learned this the hard way. When I had a blog post go viral on Reddit, I brought ~42,000 people to my personal blog in the first 24 hours.

How many do you think signed up? 42,000? 4,000? 400?

It was 4.

Ouch.

I had a form at the bottom of the blog post, and on the sidebar of my website. Unfortunately, people don’t really submit those forms (and I wasn’t offering a lead magnet yet).

Content marketer Andy Crestodina shares four ways to make your sign-up forms more prominent, in his blog post Email Signup Forms: The 3 Factors in Boosting your Email Signup Form.

Andy Crestodina's advice on pop-upsCan popups be annoying? Yes. Do they work? Also yes.

On my personal website, I added a popup and moved my CTA higher in the blog post. Even though I missed the initial wave of traffic, I still picked up a few hundred email addresses.

Conclusion: How to do your email acquisition

Email acquisition ultimately comes down to two steps.

  1. Get in touch with people
  2. Get them to give you their email address

To do step one, use the six ways to generate traffic (or otherwise get in touch):

  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Online groups and forums
  • Guest posts and partnerships
  • Offline networking
  • Word of mouth
  • Paid search and social

Choose the channels that make sense, based on your business model and your audience. Ignore social media contests and paid email lists.

Then, convert people from “interested” to “on your email list.” Do it by:

  • Having a single call to action
  • Writing clear opt-in copy that offers a specific, emotional benefit
  • Offer a lead magnet that solves a narrow problem quickly
  • Make your opt in forms more prominent

Follow those steps and your email list will grow.

A trial is worth a thousand words.

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