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Building an Email List From Scratch (Ultimate Guide)

Truth is: Emails will outlive us all. 

And for a good reason. Email marketing generates $38 for every $1 spent which makes it one of the most effective techniques for reaching out to your audience.

It’s what most companies use for acquiring new leads, nurturing the existing ones and improving customers’ loyalty.

If you are not convinced, just take a quick look at these stats:

It’s pretty clear that email marketing is here to stay and building your very own email list is no longer an option, but a must if you want your business to stay afloat.

If you are just starting – don’t be worried. In this article we will show you exactly how to build a huge email list from scratch and give you tips on how you can expand your existing list.


Let’s dive in!

Define and understand your target audience

First and foremost, you need to gain a deep understanding of who is in the audience that you are trying to reach. In order to grow an engaged email list, you need to find the people who are actually interested in what you have to offer. 

Here’s a quick guide to the target audience analysis.

Analyze your product

If you aren’t sure who would benefit the most from your product or service, you might be wasting a lot of time and money trying to grab the attention of the wrong crowd.

Here’s a set of short questions that you should answer yourself:

  • What need does my product fulfill?
  • What are the main points and problems that my product solves?
  • Who would benefit the most from using my product

Understanding your own products is essential because it will help you to uncover their key benefits. Once you know their benefits, you can then market the product to the right people in such a way that it shows them exactly how it will solve their problem. 

Everything will improve, from the way you write headlines on social media, to the way you write content for your website – and to who you market the content to.

Use analytics

There is a saying in marketing: “Focus on what people do, not what people say”. And that’s why using analytics for monitoring the behaviour of your audience is so crucial for understanding their needs.

Starting from simple and free tools such as Google Analytics through more advanced ones such as MixPanel, Amplitude or Finteza, you can easily track the behaviour of your website’s visitors. 

We at Digital Olympus prefer to use Google Tag Manager that allows us to track how exactly users are interacting with our website as well as consuming our content. For instance, you’d love to know how many users have spent at least 15 seconds on your site. In case you want to get this data, here’s what you need to set up:

google tag manager analytics example

Knowing what pages your website’s visitors are going to, how much time they spend there and what CTAs appeal to them the most, gives you a better idea of how to convince them to join your email list. 

Pro tip: You can also install chatbots on your website which serve as a powerful analytics tool for monitoring the behaviour of your website’s visitors and helping you segment your audience in an automated way.

Understanding your customers is just one part of the puzzle, though. Not all customers are the same; they behave differently and they have different problems that need resolving. As such, the next thing to do is …

Set the criteria for segmentation

Segmenting your target audience is crucial if you want to personalize your approach to different groups of people. Target audience segmentation is what can help you offer your customers-to-be attractive lead magnets and build your email list more quickly. 

Depending on the niche your business operates in, here are some of the most common criteria you can use to segment your audience:

  • Demographics – if you sell across various countries then most probably you want to send them emails in their local language.
  • On-site behaviour – For instance, people that converted on a particular page obviously want to receive further communication related to this topic. For example, visitors that decided to join our email list while reading our email outreach guide are interested in learning more about how to build links through this approach. 
  • Industry – It obviously makes sense to segment your users based on their industry, as the more personalized your approach is,  the more your leads will be ready to purchase your products or services. Here’s a good example of how you could create case studies for each and every industry that you’re currently working with:
crm sector solutions criteria for segmentation
  • Level of engagement while interacting with your emails and site – I’m a big believer that there’s no reason to send emails to people that are no longer interested in consuming your content. In fact, I noticed the deliverability of your emails are connected with how well your users are opening your email messages. At Digital Olympus we’re manually cleaning users that have discontinued opening our emails, as we don’t feel that they bring us value.

Pro tip: You can also use Woorise to design a survey for your website asking your visitors questions in order to segment them. The survey you design can be customized in order to collect the data you are looking for.

woorise survey contest

Once done, you will be able to use this information to deliver personalized email campaigns. But before that, make sure that you have a clear picture of who you are marketing to, which brings us to the next step.

Design your buyer persona

Once you’ve got all the information gathered, it’s time to design your buyer persona. You can use tools such as Venngage that have a good number of pre-built buyer persona templates so that your whole team is on the same page and understands the target audience you want to reach out to.

Here’s an example of a buyer persona template:

buyer persona

Choose the right email marketing platform

There is an abundance of email marketing solutions on the market. In order to choose the one that is most suitable for your needs (and your budget!), you might need to set some criteria. 

Here are a few things you need to consider in order find the email marketing platforms that are the perfect match for your business:

  • Available free trial
  • Third party apps integrations
  • Data segmentation 
  • Email templates
  • Marketing automation features
  • Embedded analytics
  • Easy navigation and automation
  • Security verified
  • Price

Ideally, you would have chosen a few Email Service Providers (ESP), done a few trials and then decided which option resonates best with you. However, if you don’t really have the time to go through several trials, you could simply compare the features, read online reviews or take advice from an influencer you trust. 

Also, it’s always a good idea to use double opt-in that allows you to filter out those users who are submitting wrong emails or left their email by mistake. The biggest downside of double opt-in is that it asks a user to confirm their subscription after leaving an email address on your site. 

As you can imagine, this decreases the number of collected leads especially if by some reason your double opt-in email goes straight to a spam folder. What’s a workaround? You could try an email verification software that ensures that emails that you’re adding to your list are legit and won’t bounce back.

But while email marketing platforms are important, they won’t help you capture leads if your content marketing game is weak. 

As such, you need to …

Invest in content marketing

Content marketing is king. Once you know inside out what the pains and needs of your target audience are, you can start designing your content marketing strategy. This is important for your email list building campaign for a few reasons:

  • Increases your brand awareness
  • Drives traffic to your website
  • Builds trust between your audience and your business
  • Gives you a place for a lead magnet
  • Helps to convince your audience to take an action
  • Will be crucial for lead nurturing later on

We won’t go into details on how to create a killer content marketing strategy, but let us give you a few ideas on how to get started.

Content creation

In order to discover what topics might interest your target audience (and potentially convince them to leave you their contact data), you can start with a free tool – AnswerthePublic. 

For example, let’s say that you want to create content for … 

Going to AnswerthePublic and typing in “content marketing”, you can see the topics which are currently popular in this niche. 

content creation

Once you’ve got this information in place, you can then conduct a content gap analysis to later deliver an outstanding piece of content that brings you traffic and builds trust with your audience. As a result, you are increasing your chances of people leaving their email addresses in your hands.

Another good idea is to use BuzzSumo to check what is working for your competitors and what kind of content is most popular. Let’s say you want to create content related to email outreach. What you need to do is search via your content topic in BuzzSumo and – viola! – you have a list of best performing posts related to this industry:

Wow! Among the top 5 posts, 4 content pieces are written by our very own Alex Tachalova. So, if you want to learn more about this topic you know who to reach out to!

Another way of using BuzzSumo is to check the best performing posts that were delivered by a particular site. For instance, for our good friends chanty.com, the top posts in terms of social engagement are the ones that share some how-to stories:

buzzsumo search top posts

Once you start creating SEO-optimized content that’s highly relevant for your target audience, it’s time to move to…

Content promotion

An effective content distribution is what will help you bring new traffic and make a buzz around your business. The more traffic you drive, the higher are your chances of converting your website visitors into leads.

Here are a few common channels you can use for promoting your content:

  • Social media
  • Zest
  • Facebook and Slack communities
  • Email marketing
  • Influencer marketing

Create an attractive lead magnet

Once you’ve segmented your target audience, you are one step closer to building a list of engaged subscribers. Now it’s time to prepare a real treat for the people who will trade their precious contact information – email addresses – for the lead magnet you’re offering. 

Designing an attractive lead magnet is the key to building an email list that you can later try to convert. 

Here are some of the most common lead magnets:

Ebooks, white papers, templates, checklists, and so on

Hubspot is the best example of a company that has some kind of downloadable content nearly on each and every content page.

the ultimate guide to product marketing

Of course, any kind of gated content such as white papers and templates must be super valuable to the end user. Remember, handing over their email address is a big deal, so they need to feel as though they’re getting a lot of value here. If there’s no value to be gained, people simply won’t hand over their details. 

Email courses

This form of lead magnet is great, because it does not only allow you to generate leads, but also start the process of nurturing them. Email courses do not require as much work and budget as regular online courses. At the same time the word “course” communicates a lot of value for the lead-to-be. It’s a popular lead magnet especially among bloggers and industry experts. Take a look at how Adam Enfroy used it for his own lead generation efforts on his blog.

email cources

Adam Enfroy, adamenfroy.com

I acquired 11,000+ subscribers for my new marketing blog with this strategy in 2019, thanks to my email marketing course.

However, for your lead magnet to be effective, it needs to provide incredible value. I offer a free 15-page PDF download and free seven-day email series. 

In my “how to start a blog” email series, I sell a digital SEO product but don’t push the offer until day four (after the PDF download and 5,000+ words of free content.) Additionally, I include a link to share the email series with friends at the end of each email. 

Free trials and freemium accounts

One of the most common ways to generate new leads for SaaS businesses is to offer free trials for new users or a freemium option. Trials usually start with 7 days free access to the premium version of the tool/software. Freemium means that the user has forever access to the free version of the service, but in it’s limited form. 

woorise pricing freemium model

For example, Woorise offers free access to the basic version of the tool with the limit of 500 entries for contests and giveaways.

Webinars and online courses

SEMrush webinars are a good example here, because they involve industry experts. When you invite an expert onto your webinar, you not only broaden its appeal and entice prospects with the promise of more value, you also benefit from the experts sharing it to their audience. This means more leads. If you think of using webinars for the lead generation purposes, check out this guide to choose the best webinar software.

webinar example

Newsletter and community access

Offering “insider” content in a form of a newsletter and access to the community around your product or service is a powerful way to encourage people to leave their email addresses in your hands. 

Here’s what Kevin from kevin-indig.com said about this method.

Insider content worked really well for me to build my email list. I do add curated content (my top 5) as well.

It’s a two-pronged approach: on one hand, I can try out new topics, see how my subscribers react to that, and then either write a longer article about the topic or speak about it at a conference. On the other hand, subscribers get new, exclusive content that they wouldn’t get anywhere else or have to wait for a long time.

newsletter example

Forever free tools (calculators etc.)

You can also offer free tools, such as calculators, photo sizers, UTM generators or others. Just take a look how LiveChat is generating new leads using their typing speed test.

free tool example

Once you’ve got your lead magnets all prepared, it’s time to pick the right tools to assist you. 

Experiment with lead generation tools

If you want to be effective in building your email list, you need the right lead generation set of tools. You already got your lead magnet ready, and now it’s the time to choose the way you want to deliver it to your audience. 

Here are some of the most popular and most effective lead generation tools you can use.

Quizzes, polls, and giveaways

You can use Woorise to create quizzes, polls or social media giveaways to capture more leads. A quiz must be fun to the end user, relevant, and engaging. Here’s how a basic giveaway form looks like:

woorise simple giveaway example

It’s also a good idea to make the questions as personal as possible so that you can glean key information that will help during the lead nurture process. 

Pro tip: Add the lead capture form after the final question but before you reveal the results. 


Pop-ups aren’t as annoying as marketers think. In fact, the best ones enjoy a conversion rate of over 9%.

Pop-ups can be used in a variety of ways when generating leads, but all good pop-ups have an enticing CTA, a clear and direct message, one or two benefits, and their timing is perfect. 


The great thing about chatbots when it comes to lead generation is that they take care of so much of the hard work for you. 

Conversational interfaces in the form of a chatbot lead prospects on a bit of a journey that can end with them handing over their contact details. The chatbot addresses their concerns, answers their queries, and does it in such a seamless step-by-step process that the interaction is easy and even a bit fun for the end user. 

CTA buttons

When all is said and done, the CTA button can make or break your lead generation campaign. If it isn’t properly optimised, conversions will be down. Take a look at how Bid4Papers used a convincing call to action on their landing page. It’s a simple lead generation form that encourages website’s to place an order for writing a college paper.

call to action buttons example

There are so many ways you can experiment with your CTA button, and you will need to do some A/B testing to see what works best.

Create separate landing pages

A great way to build an email list effectively once you’ve segmented your audience is to create landing pages for each of your products, features or each buyer persona. This allows you to tailor your offer so that you don’t miss out on leads. The idea is for the right leads to land on the right pages.

In this way you can speak directly to those people who are truly interested in joining your email list. Separate landing pages are also great for qualifying your leads which is helpful in later stages of lead nurturing and sales process.

For example, by creating separate landing pages, you know exactly what topics interest each lead. If one lead converts on Landing Page A and another lead converts on Landing Page B, you can modify your future emails so that they target these specific customers with specific messages. 

Promote your email list across other channels

Social media is a great place to publish posts that promote your email list. Like this:

instagram collect emails example

The idea is that you could promote your newsletter on social media, or some secret materials to be received when folk sign up. Because social media is full of people, it’s a great place to spread the word and boost your chances of collecting more emails while raising brand awareness. 

Don’t forget to add a call to action to your social profiles that tells people to sign up to your list in order to receive a free gift (or any other lead magnet). You can also add a “sign up” button to your Facebook page. These are easy-to-implement hacks that go a long way. 

Naturally, promoting your stuff on social media can take a lot of time. So why not use social media marketing tools that automate the whole process for you? 


Email lists are so valuable to businesses, and they can bring in a lot of sales. As long as you use the tried and trusted techniques in this article, you can build your email list from scratch. 

The next step is to then build a strong relationship with your subscribers before turning them into long-term, paying customers. Take a look at this guide to avoid making mistakes in your email outreach once you’ve started your campaigns. Good luck!

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