The biggest mistake bloggers and business owners make today is not actively building an email list. Many do not realize the benefits and massive opportunities possible with their own email list. In this article, we are going to talk about what a mailing list is and just a few of the reasons why (just about) every business and website should have one. We’ll give you an overview of how to start your own and recommend some great mailing list services so that you can start building your mailing list right away.

“One of the biggest mistakes I made as a blogger and business owner was not starting an email list right from the start.”

– Pat Flynn, Smart Passive Income

What is a mailing list?

An email list is simply a list of email addresses used for marketing purposes. The list itself could be something as basic as a handwritten list on a piece of paper, something more organized like an excel spreadsheet or, more commonly, a list that is managed using a dedicated online email marketing service. The purpose of an email list is to provide direct contact between you and a self-selecting audience.

The important distinction between an email list and other marketing channels is that the people on your mailing list have actively chosen to be there by either subscribing or making a purchase. This means you have a direct channel of communication with both existing customers (who already love your products or services) and potential customers who have shown an active interest in what you have to offer.

8 Benefits of building an email list

1. Low cost & efficient

Email campaigns are very low cost and efficient because of their targeted nature. With enough tweaking, an email list will reduce your cost per lead and increase the lifetime value of each customer.

 2. Targeted

Everyone on your mailing list has chosen to be there, so you know they are already interested in what you have to offer. This means they are more likely to purchase your products or service. This also makes email lists a great place to source reviews.

3. Segment customers into groups

Email list services often offer segmentation tools that allow you to divide your lists up into groups. With these tools, the messages sent to each person on your list is targeted to their specific interests, purchases or stage of engagement with your business providing a sales funnel tailored for every customer.

4. You own the list

Unlike other marketing channels, such as your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, you own and are in complete control of your mailing list. You are not at the mercy of another platform’s policy changes that could undo all your social media campaign and SEO planning or worse leave you back at square one with nothing at all.

 5. Private

Not everyone is comfortable “liking” social media posts because it’s then broadcast publicly on news feeds and timelines. Emails have the advantage of being discrete as very few people share their inbox with others.

6. Great for brand building

Mailing lists are perfect for strengthening your brand identity. Every email sent includes imagery and content that will establish or continually reinforce your brand in the mind of the recipient, all while promoting you and what you are offering.

7. Measurable performance

All of the most popular mailing list services include detailed statistics that can be used to improve your mailing list campaigns to increasing audience engagement and conversion rates.

8. More frequent

Emails are quicker and cheaper to produce and send then other forms of marketing so you can communicate with your audience more often. This also means you can react quicker to changes in your business with spontaneous promotions and reaction to current events.

Social Media vs. Email Lists

“But can’t I do something similar using social media?” Social Media is a great tool for online marketing but it is no substitute for your own email database. To illustrate this point think about every website you have every signed up to. The first thing you will be asked for is your email address because that is the most direct, widely used and reliable form of online communication.

Think of the number of social networks that have come and gone over the past ten years. If you had relied on MySpace for all your direct marketing instead of email you would be back to square one when MySpace died out.

Social media is a great way to find new audiences and is an important part of modern online marketing, but it lacks the direct, personal touch that makes email so effective.

How to start a mailing list

1. Create a blog or website

Your website doesn’t need to be custom built or have an award winning design. You can very quickly and affordably set up a WordPress website of your own in a few hours with a great looking theme. If you need some help creating your own website take a look at our guide.

Lots of people get caught up at this stage and spend too much time trying to create the “perfect” website. Make sure you don’t fall into this trap. Dedicate an afternoon or a day to follow our guide and get your website made so you can move onto more important things like attracting an audience.

2. Sign up to an email marketing service

You’ll need to sign up to an email marketing service. They’ll provide you with subscription forms you can embed in your website or provide an API that you can use to link your account with your website using simple plugins.

There are a lot of email marketing services out there to choose from, and we’ll give a few recommendations later in this article. Some of the more popular choices include MailChimp, AWeber, Constant Contact and ConvertKit.

3. Place sign up forms around your website

Opt-in forms should be strategically placed in multiple areas of each page on your website. Generally speaking forms above the fold (the area of your website visible without scrolling) and popup forms perform best but should not be used in a manner that is intrusive or annoying for your website visitors.

Here are a few other places to consider putting opt-in forms:

  • A link in the navigation menu
  • A form or link in sidebars
  • Within blog post content
  • At the end of blog posts
  • In the website footer

There are lots of plugins for WordPress sites that can be used to add opt-in forms in the areas listed above. A great choice is OptinMonster which includes some useful features such an opt-in form builder, A/B testing, built-in analytics and a featured called Exit-Intent.

With Exit-Intent OptinMonster tracks the user behaviour to display a popup opt-in form at the moment the visitor is about to leave, helping you to convert visitors who are leaving into subscribers.

4. Sign up incentives

Gone are the days of simply placing an opt-in form on your website and politely asking visitors for their email address. To convince someone to hand over their email address you will not only need great content on your website but also provide some sort of value or incentive for them to sign up to your mailing list. You need to make it worth the time it takes for them to fill in the form.

The most common strategy is to offer a tangible incentive for signing up. The incentive can be anything from a discount code to an e-book.

Here are a few ideas of opt-in incentives:

  • e-book
  • Email course (a series of emails over several days)
  • Webinar replays
  • Discount codes
  • Cheat sheets
  • Free resources/files (PSDs, templates, outlines)
  • Content upgrades

Whichever incentives you decide to use it needs to be easy and cost effective for you to produce but offer lots of value to attract new subscribers.

5. Drive organic traffic to sign ups

A key aspect of driving traffic to your website is on-page SEO. SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, means making your website’s content search engine friendly so that the pages of your website appear as high up the search results page as possible.

The most fundamental rule of SEO is to use keywords in your content. Keywords are a word or phrase someone might use to find your page. It is through the words on the page that search engines decide what your pages are about and what search terms they are relevant to. Using keywords strategically you can better your chances of appearing for high search volume keywords and phrases.

There are a few places you should be using keywords to be most effective:

  • The page/post title
  • Within the page content
  • The page/post URL
  • In image file names and descriptions

Yoast SEO is a fantastic plugin that every WordPress website should use to keeping track of their on-page SEO.

SEO is a broad subject that would be impossible to fully explain in this article. With a quick search online you will find thousands of SEO articles and tutorials that go into varying amounts of detail.

6. Create great email content

Now that you have people visiting your website and joining your mailing list you need to do everything you can to keep them there. It would be wasted effort to put all the pieces in place to then deliver bad email content. The key to maintaining those subscribers is to continue to provide relevant content that has value.

As stated already in this post, the people on your mailing list have chosen to be there because they want to hear from you. So, show them what you’re doing and how it’s going to benefit them. A brief email once a week with great content will keep you relevant without becoming annoying.

As you continue to produce new additional incentives send it to the people already on your mailing list without the need for them to opt-in again. A small gift like that goes a long way to providing value. This also shows that it’s a two-way relationship where not every email is trying to sell something. Nothing will lose subscribers quicker than constantly pestering your subscribers to buy.

To take things a step further make use of your email marketing service’s segmentation tools to group your subscribers into separate lists. This way you can target each group with highly relevant content.


There are lots of email marketing services to choose from at different price ranges and varying features. We have selected a few of or favourites below.


MailChimp is the most popular email marketing service today with more than 12 million users. A great thing about MailChimp is their free trial up to 2,000 subscribers. That means you can start building your email list and tweaking your campaigns for free removing all risk. Once you have more than 2,000 subscribers in your email list the monthly fee should be paying for itself.

MailChimp has all the features most users would need such as detailed analytics, customizable templates, and marketing automation.


ConvertKit is an email marketing service created specifically for writers and content marketers. Because ConvertKit was created with a specific user base in mind it is a more streamlined and user-friendly experience without the unnecessary features and distractions you’ll find in other general purpose email marketing services. ConvertKit is more expensive than some of the alternatives but it’s really good at what it does so completely justifies the price.


Whatever type of website or business you have, an email list should be a key aspect of your online marketing strategy. There is no better way to turn your site visitors into customers and customers into advocates.