If you want to build an email list, how are you going to collect email addresses?

More importantly, how are you going to collect the right email addresses? People that will be leads and not just contacts?
When you’re building an email list, you need to make sure three things are true:

  1. You have a way to reach people
  2. You have a way to collect their emails
  3. They’re the right people

Building a list is one thing—if you want your list to power an actual business, you can’t rely on worn out tactics like list buying or social media contests.

Here are 15 ways to collect email addresses:

  1. Collect email addresses with Facebook Ads
  2. Offer a captivating lead magnet
  3. Sign up button on your Facebook business page
  4. Use popups to make your forms more prominent
  5. Reach out to people one on one
  6. Share your link on social media with compelling visuals and snippets
  7. Ask for email addresses
  8. Create incredible email content
  9. Ask people to share your emails
  10. Add a link to your signup form in your normal email signature
  11. Host live events and bring your forms
  12. Own content on a platform like YouTube or Pinterest, then link back to your site
  13. Optimize your form design and opt-in copy
  14. Add a subscription bar to your website
  15. Partner with other people in your industry

(If you’re just getting started, 2, 5, 9, and 15 are great. If you’ve been around a bit, look at 1, 8, 13, and 15. Yes, 15 is always good).

1. Collect email addresses with Facebook Ads

Note: Only do this if you already have a way to turn subscribers into buyers (products, sales funnel, etc.). Otherwise you could waste a lot of money.
Why are Facebook Ads such a common email collection tool for small businesses?

  1. They are relatively inexpensive
  2. You can see results fast
  3. You can reliably reach people who are ready to buy from you

The biggest challenge for a lot of small businesses is reaching people. When you can’t spend a ton of money and need to generate sales quickly, there aren’t a whole lot of advertising options out there.
Facebook Ads offer a fast, simple, effective way to target people who might be interested in your product. It’s a really common way to get leads and collect email addresses.
Here’s the play-by-play:

  1. Create a piece of valuable content that solves a problem for your target audience
  2. Use a Facebook Ad to send people to a landing page, where they give you their email
  3. Send new subscribers their content, along with a welcome series that tries to sell them your product/service

For some products, you can send people directly to your store (this is especially common for ecommerce businesses).
Here’s an example of an ecommerce Facebook Ad I saw in my News Feed.

ecommerce Facebook ad exampleThey probably targeted me because they know I like working out

In this example, Ten Thousand sends me straight to the store page for their shorts. Unfortunately for them I’m a loyal buyer of Savage Ultimate’s shorts (seriously, these things feel like air), but I’m sure I look like a good match to  the Facebook algorithm.
Here’s another example from my own News Feed, driving me to download a case study.

lead magnet facebook ad exampleI have pretty varied interests

If I click on this ad, costing them money (sorry), I get taken to a landing page designed to collect email addresses.

lead magnet capture formThis is how they collect email addresses

We could quibble about the form design here, but the point is this:

  1. Facebook Ads are a way to collect email addresses when you need leads on-demand
  2. Facebook Ads are trackable, so you can see what you make based on what you spend
  3. Facebook Ads push people to sign up or buy right away, or enter people into nurture sequences
Facebook Ads are a trackable way to get leads on demand – so you can see exactly what you make based on how much you spend Tweet this!

Note, Part 2: Facebook Ads will get less efficient over time, because you’ll reach your most interested leads with your first few campaigns.

2. Offer a captivating lead magnet

“I need that now, yes please give it to me, wow.”
That’s the response you’re going for when you create a lead magnet.
A lead magnet, also called an opt-in offer or “carrot,” is anything you give your audience in exchange for their email address. It’s one of the most tried-and-true list building tactics out there.
(You’ll notice that several of the other ways to collect email addresses require having a lead magnet).
We put together a huge post on how to create great lead magnets, including examples of all different kinds of lead magnets, like:

  • Checklists
  • Reports
  • Courses
  • Videos
  • Ebooks
  • Spreadsheets
  • Templates

And so on.
Nowadays, everyone has a “CAN’T MISS ULTIMATE GUIDE TO 725843x YOUR RESULTS.” Because lead magnets got so popular, your lead magnet needs to be better than the ones published in 2009.
When you make a lead magnet, here are the things that make it great:

  1. It solves a heavy, emotional problem (not the most important problem, just a heavy and emotional one)
  2. It solves that problem fast (choose a problem with a short-term solution, even if it’s not what people need long-term)
  3. It solves that problem relatably (people need to see themselves in the problem you’re solving)

It’s easier said than done, but those are the foundation (this huge guide goes into more detail).
A lead magnet that gets people to sign up for your email newsletter is one that people think will give them a quick win.
Again, there are tons of examples in that other article. Here’s one from Peter Nguyen of The Essential Man.

Style Cheat SheetIf a dude who wants to look better sees this, how could he say no?

If you want to collect email addresses, you need to solve problems.

A great lead magnet promises to solve a medium-sized problem quickly (10 minutes to 2 days). That's what gets email opt-ins. Tweet this!

3. Sign up button on your Facebook business page

This one’s quick. Add a newsletter signup form to your Facebook page.
Here’s what we have on our page at ActiveCampaign.

example of a Facebook signup formYou can sign up right from Facebook

I’ll be frank—you aren’t going to get a ton of signups from your Facebook page.
But it’s still worth doing. As far as easy ways to collect email addresses go, this is one of the easiest. Because if someone is actively seeking a way to subscribe to you, they should be able to find it easily.

Fast win you might have missed – add a sign up button to your business Facebook page Tweet this!

4. Use popups to make your forms more prominent

Do you have a sign up form on your site? How easy is it to find?
The first time I went viral on Reddit, my blog post picked up over 40,000 pageviews in 24 hours. But…I only got 4 email subscribers.
I had an email collection form in the sidebar of my website, and one at the bottom of the post. And because the post was over 4,000 words long, people just didn’t make it to my form.
Then I added a popup. Email signups went way up. Problem solved.
Pop-ups can be annoying, but they work. Here’s some research from Sumo, which shows that even average popups have a 3.1% conversion rate.
Pop-Up Conversion Rates

Pop-ups work. This chart comes from the Sumo research.

If the idea of adding a popup makes you uncomfortable, don’t worry—you can add popups that aren’t scammy or excessively annoying.

The average pop-up form converts at 3.1% – a great way to collect email addresses Tweet this!

We put together a full post on how popups affect your conversion rate. If you don’t want to be annoying, you can try…

  • Triggering popups after 30 seconds, instead of immediately
  • Triggering popups after 50% scroll (so people only see them after reading some)
  • Triggering popups based on exit intent

If you don’t use a popup, you’re missing one of the best ways to collect email addresses.

Expert insight: Andy Crestodina on form prominence

Andy Crestodina
There are a lot of ways to make your signup form prominent. Some:

  • The popup …couldn’t be more prominent. It forces the visitor to deal with it
  • The sticky header or footer …it stays in their field of vision
  • The in-line CTA …injected into the content, it’s in the flow so they can’t miss it
  • Large elements
  • High on the page
  • Contrasting color

There are “Laws of Visual Hierarchy” that determine how visually prominent any element is. Generally, more prominent things are more likely to convert. If they don’t see it, they won’t click it.
The laws of visual hierarchy

You can see this chart (and 27 other web design tips) on Orbit Media’s site

5. Reach out to people one on one

What do you do if you don’t already have an email list or other audience?
A lot of people take to online forums or start focusing on SEO/paid ads right away. Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz and Sparktoro, argues that this is a mistake.
Because you should focus on the people who are easiest to reach.

which audience is easiest to reachPeople you already know are easier to reach (via Rand Fishkin)

It’s easier to reach people who already know you. So when you’re first starting out, don’t be afraid to reach out to people one on one.

Before you go down the rabbit hole of paid marketing – have you talked to people you know? Tweet this!

You can reach out via email or some kind of messenger. Include a link to your sign up form or landing page. Collect email addresses one at a time—until you reach a critical mass and can move on to bigger tactics.
You don’t want to pester your friends or family, but asking once isn’t much of an imposition—and it’s how a lot of email lists get started.

6. Share your link on social media with compelling visuals and snippets

When I give people advice on how to promote their content, I tell them to pretend that social media doesn’t exist.
Social media obviously does exist. So why do I give this advice?
It’s too easy to get trapped in the idea that blindly promoting content on social media does something. Because it “feels” like you’re doing something worthwhile, it makes it harder to come up with other promotion ideas (that could be more useful).
Social media can send traffic to your website and email newsletter. You can collect email addresses (sort of). And yes, there are some things that go viral through social sharing.
But social media only works if you do it well. And even when it works, the opportunity to capture emails is usually much smaller than other channels (like organic search, online communities, or landing your content in someone else’s newsletter).
Here’s what social media is great at:

  • Connecting with people you wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to connect with
  • Asking questions of a diverse audience
  • Participating in interesting conversations (which can also lead to connections)

Here’s what definitely does not work on social media: sharing tons of links to your own content, without including any reason for someone to click on it (or sharing other people’s stuff).

If you want opt-ins from social media, you need to have conversations that people WANT to be part of Tweet this!

Unfortunately, this also how most content creators use social media.
If you think about the most popular accounts you follow, you’ll probably find that they actually don’t post a ton of links or use a ton of hashtags—and if they do post links, they’ll usually do a pretty good job of introducing the links with good copy.
Here’s how you can use social media to build an email list:

  • Share content from relevant people in your space
  • Participate in relevant conversations
  • Post your perspective on recent events
  • Occasionally share links to your stuff. Write well.

Ramit Sethi, founder of GrowthLab and IWT, does this well.

Ramit Sethi gets a subscriber from Twitter
Boom! New subscriber

Ramit gives details, and the details are intriguing. Teasing the content of his emails makes people want to sign up.

7. Ask for email addresses

You gotta ask for email addresses.
You need to have prominent forms. Your blog posts should include a call to action. Heck, your business cards could have the bit.ly URL for your best blog post (or your newsletter).
This point seems so obvious that it’s almost not worth mentioning. But so many people are so uncomfortable asking for anything…that they don’t! And if you never ask people for their email address, you won’t collect email addresses!

If you aren't getting opt-ins – are you asking people to sign up in the right places? Tweet this!

If you’re nervous about asking for email addresses because it feels “spammy,” remember:

  • You don’t force anyone to sign up, and they can always unsubscribe
  • It’s not spammy to give people things that will help them

Your content is good. The stuff you offer is good. You’re doing people a tremendous service by giving it to them.

8. Create incredible email content

“Create good content.” Enough said right? (And yeah, this is the most common piece of advice out there).
It’s not enough.
Your content needs to be knock-your-socks-off good. Everyone and their third cousin twice removed has an email list nowadays—you need your list to be the one that people open, click, and read week after week.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, for someone as smart as you), most content isn’t incredible.
Most emails go on for too long, or are boring, or don’t really solve the problems they say they’re going to.

Underrated email list growth tactic – make your emails easy for people to share with their friends (who then opt in) Tweet this!

So how can you make content that’s incredible?

  • Start with a deep understanding of your audience’s problems. You don’t need to be a supergenius writer to solve their problems.
  • Use a compelling angle—and interesting hook that connects two seemingly unrelated things to make your point.

Content marketing expert Jimmy Daly calls this kind of content “movement-first.”

Movement-first content
Daly, writing about movement-first content

If you want your emails to really connect, they need to pack a punch. Daly has other advice on what makes content “good” here.
Anyone can dash off a quick email to a list. Laboring over incredible content gives you the right to use the next tactic…

9. Ask people to share your emails

When you have incredible content, you earn the right to ask people to share it.
Also, they’re more likely to actually share it when you ask.
Asking people to “smash that like button and subscribe” is basically a meme at this point (because so many YouTube personalities do it in such a teasable way).
But when your content is incredible, you earn the right to say things like “if you’ve been enjoying this content, I’d really appreciate it if you could forward this email to someone you think it might help.”
Heck, go ahead and take those exact words.
Josh Garofalo, an excellent copywriter who writes for tech businesses, does exactly this in his copywriting newsletter.

Josh Garofalo uses referrals to build his email listAwwwww yeeah, time to get experimented on.

Josh doesn’t promote his email list all that much, because he doesn’t have to. His emails are so good that I got my mom (who is a massage therapist and not in the tech world at all) to sign up for them.

The fastest way to get referrals to your email list – ask for them Tweet this!

People share the content because it’s really good. I share it all the time, and that kind of sharing is all you need to collect email addresses. You can check it out for yourself here.
When your content is amazing, you can ask people to share it.
How will you know when your content is amazing? People will literally tell you by replying to your emails.

10. Add a link to your signup form in your normal email signature

This one takes almost no work. It probably won’t get you hundreds of email subscribers overnight, but it’s so easy there’s no reason not to do it.
Any time you send an email, you have an opportunity to promote your content.
Just add it to your email signature.

email signature exampleInclude a call to action in your email signature (image via Relevance)

Email signatures are great because it’s space that isn’t being used for anything else.

Your email signature is a missed opportunity. Why not put something interesting there (besides just your name)? Tweet this!

There are even software businesses designed to make it easy for whole teams to change their email signatures at once.
A link to your newsletter (or an especially great piece of content) is an easy way to make sure that everyone you email knows about your content.

11. Host live events and bring your forms

No one said you need to build your email list online.
Offline networking and live events are two of the most overlooked methods to collect email addresses. But they make sense—if someone is motivated enough to leave the house, they’re more likely to be an engaged email subscriber.

Underrated email tactic – host live events and collect email addresses there. Those people are more likely to follow up with you. Tweet this!

Just ask Leslie Chen, who used Meetup to get her first 1,000 email subscribers.

using meetup to build your email list1,000 people, met through Meetup (via GrowthLab)

Platforms like Meetup make it easier to create live events. Other common examples are:

  • Teaching an offline class: Organizations often bring in speakers to run small workshops. There’s even a coffee shop by my apartment that does this.
  • Networking events: There are lots of regular meetups out there—I go to a small marketing meetup every month in a bar, and this kind of meetup is a great opportunity.
  • Speaking: If you do any speaking, make sure to include a call to action at the end of your presentation

Some people use a simple pen and paper to get their offline signups. If you use ActiveCampaign, you can also use our iPad Forms App (which works even without internet).

ActiveCampaign iPad formAfter you collect email addresses, your contacts will automatically sync when you get back online

As more and more marketing moves online, don’t forget that offline channels can still be powerful.

12. Own content on a platform like YouTube or Pinterest, then link back to your site

Sometimes a blog post isn’t the best way to make your point.
When video or audio are key parts of your content, it can make sense to host your content on other platforms (like YouTube, or one of the many podcast sites).
At the same time, you don’t want to be at the whim of those platforms. If YouTube suddenly decides to change their algorithms, you could wind up missing out on views.
So—send people from your content to your email list.
This is exactly what Vanessa, an ActiveCampaign customer, does for her business Speak English with Vanessa.

YouTube lead magnets exampleVanessa uses calls to action and lead magnets to turn some of her millions of viewers into email subscribers

Vanessa’s videos have millions of views, and she has over 400,000 subscribers on YouTube.

If you have a distribution channel that works, you NEED a way to get your viewers' email addresses (to keep the convo going) Tweet this!

YouTube makes a ton of sense for Vanessa as a platform—after all, people want to hear English while they learn English. But she wants to have more on-demand access to her audience (and the ability to sell to them directly), so she builds an email list anyway.
How? A simple call to action in her videos.
As Vanessa says, “a simple way to send them things and organize students with tags is so helpful.”
An email list, grown through her lead magnets, is a simple way to send people things. She uses YouTube + lead magnets to collect email addresses.

13. Optimize your form design and opt-in copy

When you’re list building, it’s easy to get caught up in getting more traffic to your website.
But you also need to be able to convert that traffic into actual email subscribers. That’s you collect email address—no conversions = no subscribers.
That’s why opt-in copy and form design are criminally underrated ways to grow your email list. Done well, they let you get more out of the people who are already coming to your website.
We’ve written a bunch of content on how you can improve your conversion rates through copy and form design. Here are some of the best ones:

There’s a ton in those posts, so here are some quick tips:

  • Be clear, not clever. People should understand exactly what you offer within 5 seconds.
  • Get specific. The more specific of a benefit you offer, the better your conversions.
  • Use the words your audience uses to describe their own problems.
  • Make forms prominent, brief, and easy to understand
  • Add emotion. Emotion drives people to take action (especially awe, fear, anger, and envy)
Most common reason for small email lists – opt in copy that makes it hard for people to understand what they get Tweet this!

Here’s a great example of opt-in copy, from Darya Rose of Summer Tomato.

Summer Tomato VideoPowerful, emotional, clear language that comes from an authority (she’s got a PhD)

If you can nail down your opt-in copy, you’ll get more email subscribers—even if you don’t increase your traffic.

14. Add a subscription bar to your website

Ever seen one of these guys hangin’ out on a website?

header form exampleSounds pretty epic (Source: TwelveSkip).

Adding a bar like this to your website is pretty straightforward. Use an email capture tool like OptinMonster or SumoMe, and you can add the bar to any page you like.
It’s worth noting that the conversion rate on bars like this (and also sidebar CTAs) tend to be relatively low. Here’s a click map from Oli Gardner’s research at Unbounce.

Click map of sidebar CTA“Out of 1,481 (desktop) visitors and 3,428 clicks, only 3 people (0.09%) clicked the sidebar CTA. More people clicked on the statement beneath the button than on the button itself.” – Oli Gardner, Unbounce

Even though clicks will be low, it’s still worth doing.
Because the people who fill out this form are your most motivated subscribers. They’re the people that subscribe not just because you’re offering some guide, but because they’re actively looking for more of your content.

Good rule of thumb: if someone is specifically seeking you out, it should be easy for them to subscribe. Tweet this!!

Easy to set up once + more email addresses = simple, worthwhile list building tactic.

15. Partner with other people in your industry

The fastest way to collect email addresses is to piggyback on someone who already has an audience.
If someone already subscribes to content similar to yours, they’ll probably be interested in your content. Plus, word of mouth is powerful—if someone you trust recommends content, you’re more likely to actually check it out.
Writer Michael Ellsberg called this the Tim Ferriss Effect—because one post on Tim Ferriss’ blog sold more of his books than an op-ed in The New York Times.
Writer Ryan Holiday agreed, saying:

“I’ve done a lot of media over the years but I have never received as many emails from an appearance as I did from Tim’s podcast. And they were all so nice!”

If you want to piggyback on another platform, there are a few things you can to do:

  • Say something incredibly well. Influential people won’t share bad content. This goes back to the point of making something incredible.
  • Share the influencer’s content, and tag them
  • Mention and quote the influencer in your content
  • Engage with the influencer on social media, without promoting yourself

After a while, you’ve earned the right to send an email. But you aren’t promoting yourself just yet—your initial email should be a simple “I love your work.” Without asking for anything.
Influencers get dozens of cold pitches a day. But since they’ll recognize your name and you aren’t asking for anything, you’re extremely likely to get a response.
Eventually you can ask for a 10-minute phone call. And then the floodgates open and you’ll be drowning in opportunities:

  • Co-hosted webinars
  • Podcast appearances
  • Guest posts
  • Other co-created or co-promoted content

Of course, all of this gets easier once you have an audience of your own. But these kinds of partnerships are still powerful.
Conversion XL started as a small conversion optimization blog. As it’s grown, it’s been able to attract bigger and bigger names.

CXL does a partner webinarA webinar co-hosted with an influencer

CXL regularly hosts webinars with marketing influencers. It’s a win-win—the influencer gets to expand their reach, and CXL gets promoted via the influencer’s email list and social media.
Partnerships are a great because they let you get access to a relevant audience. With access and a trusted recommendation, you get a fresh source of email subscribers.

Conclusion: How to collect emails

When you build your email list, you need ways to collect email addresses.
At the same time, 15 ways is a lot of ways. How should you prioritize what to focus on?

  1. If you don’t have a great lead magnet yet, do that. It will help you convert more leads from every other channel.
  2. If you have lead magnets and some traffic, optimize form copy and prominence. Converting more of the people that visit you will help you grow faster.
  3. If your list is small, reach out and ask for shares. Once you have a bigger list, it’s easier to grow (more people to promote you). Early on, spreading through personal networks is fast.
  4. You only need to nail small optimizations once. Email signatures, subscription bars, setting up Facebook page signups, and popups are all one-time setups, even though their impact isn’t necessarily huge.
  5. Only put down money if you can make money. Ads (on Facebook or elsewhere) are only helpful if you already have a funnel that you can use to get sales.
  6. Think about where traffic comes from. Where do your leads come from? Check out this post on email acquisition to learn more about how to get people to your site (after all, you can’t get subscribers if you don’t have visitors!).

In a sentence: Focus on the biggest opportunities for the stage your business is at.