How to Build an Email List for Lead Generation

This article was updated on July 23, 2018. For newer insights, check out Jump-Start Your Email Marketing Without Spending a Fortune!

Everyone has an email address. Many people even have two or three. Email marketing boasts the strongest engagement rate among direct marketing methods, with an impressive ROI of $38 for every $1 spent.

If your business isn’t yet building an email list, or if you’re not using your database to its maximum potential, it’s time to get started!

Data is the number-one driving force here at Forge and Smith. Here are some powerful email marketing stats that can’t be ignored:

  • Email use worldwide will top 3 billion users by 2020. (HubSpot)
  • Two thirds of emails are read on mobile devices (HubSpot)
  • Reports have found that email marketing gets 174% more conversions than social media (Campaign Monitor)
  • Email referrals have a higher conversion rate than website visits from search and direct traffic, too (Smart Insights)
  • Email notifications about abandoned carts have been reported with a 40.5% open rate (HubSpot)

Why you should use email marketing

If you’re still not yet convinced that email should play a central role in your digital strategy, let’s look at even more serious logic.

Your email subscriber data belongs to your business

While social media platforms are great for brand awareness and marketing, you don’t have any control over how those networks grow and change, or how they allow you to interact with your audience.

Every time a social media channel modifies its interface, policies, or — even worse — has a privacy breach, you run the risk of losing touch with your customers. Your email database data can be backed up and stored in reliable files, so even if your email marketing software should crash or go out of business, you won’t lose the ability to reach your audience.

Email subscribers are closer to conversion

A person’s inbox is a private place. Email addresses are just like phone numbers, and we do everything we can to protect our contact information by only giving them out to people and brands we trust.

If someone has opted into receiving your communications, they’ve already shown interest in your products or services. It’s up to you to take great care of that special trust, by protecting their data, ensuring the quality of your communications, and customizing their email experience as much as possible.

Email is a quick and reliable way to stay in touch

Ready to announce company news, product launches, or exciting deals? Email is your medium.

Thanks to ever-changing social media algorithms, fewer and fewer people see your content. On-site SEO is increasingly competitive due to the huge volume of content published every minute, making it difficult for small businesses to gain visibility when relying solely on blogging.

Emails to your subscriber list have a significantly higher chance of being seen, and of driving traffic and conversions.

How to quickly build and grow your email list

Hopefully the dazzling email marketing statistics have convinced you that your business should be investing time and energy into building your email list. But where should you even start, and how can you keep adding new subscribers?

Create a compelling CTA on your website

If building your email list is a key priority, there should be a pop-up or repeated callout on all of your website’s primary and other pages. If you’re using a pop-up, be sure to use a heatmap or other tracking method to ensure that your customers aren’t finding it more annoying than enticing.

Consider the following when creating your CTA:

  • Size, colour, and placement — Is it a pop-up, or a part of the page layout? If it’s part of the layout, does it stand out from the rest of the design? Is it located somewhere people are likely to see, or is it buried way down by the footer?
  • Copy — Let people know exactly what they’ll get when they opt in. Will you send coupons and discounts? Interesting industry data? Easy DIY hacks? Be specific and concise, and use a tone and language that will appeal to your ideal customer.
  • Keep it simple — The more fields your visitor has to fill out, the less likely they are to take the time. Ask for their first name (so you can personalize their emails) and address, and nothing else unless absolutely necessary.

Promote your email offering on other channels

Encourage sign-ups on your social media profiles, email signatures, receipts from POS units — anywhere that it would be appropriate in your audience’s interactions with your business. Contests, giveaways, and limited offers are great ways to quickly elicit an email sign-up through a promotion you’re already planning.

Don’t forget to include a ‘share this’ suggestion and link within your email (usually in or near the footer). This is an easy way to encourage your subscribers to become brand ambassadors and spread your emails to others likely to enjoy your content and sign up!

Incentivize your customers

Who doesn’t love a discount? If you’re able to offer a coupon code, complimentary service, free content download, or other value-add for signing up, it’s a great way to get those contacts coming in.  

Create useful, relevant content

Your customer is inviting you into their inbox, so be a polite guest! Take the time to produce high quality content that will benefit them in some way. Quality is much more important than quantity when it comes to email marketing, both in email frequency and in the amount of content included in each communication.

Whether it’s coupons, videos, blogs, or links to relevant third party content, make sure that anything you send brings something new and useful to their day. This will keep them opening your future emails, and hopefully decrease your chances of the dreaded ‘unsubscribe’.

Email, test, repeat

Don’t just send your emails out into the ether and forget about them. Pay close attention to your email marketing data, and look for ways to improve. Most email marketing software should give you easy access to all kinds of valuable data that you can use to see even better performance:

  • Segment your audience — Once you have a subscriber list started, look for ways to segment your contacts by demographics relevant to your business. This way you can deliver the most relevant content to the groups most likely to open and click through.
  • Test subject lines — A great best practice is to write 2-3 different subject lines, and send each to a smaller group of your subscribers. Choose the best performing line to send to the rest of your email list.
  • Test creative elements — Another good practice is to test how different copy and imagery perform. Your audience might respond well to CTA buttons with a sense of urgency, teasers with a quirky tone, or give the most clicks to recipes compared to news items. You could split test the same email with two different versions of copy, or with two different layouts. Just don’t change everything in each version, or you can’t tell which part triggered the reactions! Use this information to improve future emails.
  • Use heatmaps — Many email clients offer the ability to create heatmaps that show how clicks are distributed throughout each element of your emails. Your audience might be prone to clicking the most on the content at the top of your emails and ignoring the bottom, or click more frequently on images than copy. Find out!

Reach out to the silent ones

Another valuable piece of email marketing data is the ability to track which customers haven’t been opening your emails. Consider sending a personalized message to incentivize them to come back. Anywhere from 24-45% of subscribers are reported to open re-engagement emails.

Letting subscribers slip away without trying to find out what is causing their loss of interest is a missed opportunity to win them back.

Find out why they left

In a perfect world, your emails would be so helpful and engaging that no one would ever unsubscribe. Unfortunately, people will drop off your list. Be sure to configure a simple unsubscribe survey that allows them to choose a reason they opted out, or to provide useful feedback.


We hope you’re thoroughly convinced about the power of email marketing, and excited to build your email list and create awesome content for your subscribers.