List Building: How to Kickstart Growing Your Email List

The lifeblood of any successful blog is the email list, I don’t have to get into that topic for the 45,068th time this year.

What I would like to go into are some creative strategies to help you build your list, that don’t involve antagonizing your loyal readers.

I’m a bit sick of the generic “put email sign-up forms here” style posts, most of you know those already, but sometimes, email conversion rates can start to flatline, especially for certain niches.

Below I’ve outlined my 9 favorite clever ways to collect those all important emails without coming off as too pushy to new readers.

1.) Create A ‘Toolbox’ For Current & Future Subscribers

Of all of the techniques that you could possibly implement here, I would be confident enough to call this one the most versatile, in that I can see it working for almost every blog out there.

Now, I should clarify that I’m not talking about a toolbox where you list the products you use.

I’m talking about one that constantly grows with new freebies, and that is only available for subscribers.

One of the best examples I’ve found (and the biggest inspiration for this strategy) is the ThinkTraffic toolbox.

Corbett was really on to something by implementing that into his subscriber benefits, and the copy placed above the opt-in describes it perfectly:

New free subscriber-only resources are being added to the toolbox all the time. Sign up below for free now and get access forever.

Having something like this available only to subscribers not only increases enticement, but increases community building as well.

That’s because people are going to feel like they are apart of a group who gets access to a “members area” of subscriber content, rather than getting that single e-Book lead that they are used to seeing everywhere.

While you don’t want people on your email list just for the bonuses (because they aren’t really engaged in your content if they are only there for freebies), it’s nice to have an updating list of awesome resources that serve as a bonus for email subscribers.

Subscriber Toolbox

So… what kind of resources can you offer?

The classic e-Book is the go-to resource, but there are a lot of other things to give away in addition to e-Books:

  1. Videos
  2. Slideshows (via SlideShare)
  3. Webinars (pre-recorded)
  4. Podcasts
  5. Software
  6. PDF Guides via Scribd

The list really goes on and on, anything digital that you can “deliver” for free is game for this strategy!

2.) Building Lists With Facebook Connect

Building a list “with Facebook” can be really advantageous to the growth of your email subscriptions.

The main advantage is that people typically sign up to Facebook using their primary email, and they are really familiar with the interface, so saying you can “get email updates by confirming via Facebook” really isn’t that confusing to them.

There are tools/plugins such as the Facebook form from services like AWeber that will take visitors to a pre-filled in Facebook opt-in (if they are logged in).

You can also use something like FBListConnect to make the opt-in more direct and add a “share this page” feature after the opt-in.

To make use of this service, you are going to need some kind of ‘clickable’ object on your page, be it a button or some sort of sliding pop-up (more on those later).

Using the social buttons on GraphicRiver is a good place to get these (with the PSD files to customize them), and you can easily place them on your site.

What happens (if you aren’t familiar) is that AWeber will pull the email from the person’s Facebook account (after they give it permission) and sign them up for your list.

The use of Facebook in this manner makes this strategy best for social and entertainment blogs, but it certainly can work on “regular” blogs as well (as seen utilized on KISSmetrics, example on strategy #6).

3.) Using A “Mini” Feature Box

This is one that I’m considering implementing on this site soon.

As you probably noticed on my homepage, I have a feature box above the content and sidebar (full width) that goes over the benefits of reading my site, and gives people a chance to join my list.

The thing is, although this works well on the homepage (since new readers will land there a lot), it can become somewhat annoying for long term readers to constantly have to see it above posts (which is why I’ve disabled it there).

A viable solution that finds a happy medium in this dilemma is the “mini” feature box, placed in the same position above the fold (and content), but not as large or intrusive, and preferably, of a different design than the homepage feature box.

I had a brief conversation with Derek Halpern (who’s site, Social Triggers, is featured above) and he claims that the mini-feature box works well enough to justify using it, although he specified that he was going to play around with the copy a bit soon.

If you aren’t familiar, Derek is the guy who was one of the largest proponents for the feature box strategy as a whole, and is feature box on Social Triggers is largely the one that “set the bar” for how they should be done.

4.) Use Your Homepage As A Landing Page

This is the one I feel like most people are going to be apprehensive about trying, which I why I brought along plenty of examples to justify this strategy.

This is the one I’ve been mulling over in my head the most, the evidence seems apparent, but I’m still unsure with how comfortable I am with this strategy for an “early” stage blog.

In a nutshell: This strategy relies on using a landing page style design on your homepage, either via a widget (or code) to display a different homepage to new visitors, or by actually creating a static homepage that is a landing page.

For an example of the former, one of the best ones I’ve ever seen is that of Neil Patel’s QuickSprout blog:


In Neil’s example above, a new visitor will hit the page (it relies on cookies) before they land on the blog post or traditional home page no matter where they were linked from.

Notice the copy on the page.

The value proposition is done in a headline font and the call to action is “download now”.

Well written copy by Neil, but I think the main thing here is that this style of landing page acts like a pop-up, without actually being a pop-up.

Visitors still feel like they are on site, and Neil obviously includes a link to skip right to the blog post if they aren’t interested.

Possibly a better way to ask for emails (while providing something in return) upfront, without using a pop-up?

Neil seems to think so, and his subscribers numbers after implementing his custom plugin seem to agree:

QuickSprout Plugin

As Neil’s screenshot above shows, the “intersection” landing page between the actual site skyrocketed his sign-ups in the first month that it was used.

Now, that’s not to say that this trend will continue on forever, but it certainly had a noticeable impact, and Neil has stated that he has not received any complaints for using this strategy.

While other sites use this ‘interception’ style landing page, some sites, such as Copyblogger, have discussed why making their homepage a landing page was an overall beneficial move.

They are a 92% increase in sign-ups for their IMFSP newsletter, one wonders whether some other sites (such as yours) might benefit from using either the intercept landing page like Neil or a full homepage redesign like the Copyblogger team.

5.) Use Toolbars At The Top Or Bottom Of Your Site

I’ve discussed WordPress toolbar plugins before, but if you want a quick recap on the 3 that I recommend, they are as follows:

  1. HelloBar
  2. Attention Grabber
  3. ViperBar

The question is, what do they have to do with opt-ins, and how can you utilize them?

The great thing about toolbars is that they draw eyeballs, yet remain at the top of the site (sometimes with ‘sticky’ scrolling) and can be easily minimized or ignored by readers, but will send a lot of traffic to a specific page.

With the HelloBar or the Attention Grabber plugin, this is going to be your main goal, as they only allow you to add links or social buttons (great for building Facebook fan pages, but not are goal here).

You can send people to a dedicated landing page just for emails, which works wonders with a separate offer.

Here’s a great example page from Onibalusi, where he describes “making money by writing” and then asks for your email.

A toolbar linking to a page like this would do quite well, although I recommend the Attention Grabber plugin these days over HelloBar due to the price raise for HelloBar premium.

If you aren’t keen on creating landing pages, and would rather go for the direct opt-in, there is another option we need to discuss.

The ViperBar from Glen Allsopp is a great plugin that allows you to add a toolbar with email input on your WordPress site.

There are two things to consider when using the ViperBar:

  1. You get less space to make your “pitch” to readers (a landing page give you ample space to describe the benefits of signing up, a toolbar does not)
  2. The opt-in is more direct and may work better in some niches (that being said, the ViperBar is more direct and asks for an opt-in on right on the homepage, which works quite well in many niches)

I’ve found that another big part of this bar’s success is using only the email form, and not the name form.

Furthermore, proper usage of all of these bars includes incorporating them well into your site’s design, using colors that blend with the overall color scheme, but stand out to visitor’s eyes.

For instance, on this site, I should probably run the light blue that I use for my links, or maybe the black I use for my header and footer.

6.) Click-to-Opt In Sliders

This is another one of the techniques I’ve seen featured on the KISSmetrics blog.

What’s being done here is that the KISS team is using their KISSinsights service to set up a sliding pop-up (more on those later) that is in the “yes/no” style format… without the no option!


What happens is that when a person answers “Yes”, they are taken to the Facebook optin form (pre-filled if they are logged in) where they will instantly be subscribed if they accept.

This ‘asking a question’ style of opt-in is great for getting people to take action.

The reason being is that they are more likely to respond to a question in some way, and interaction is a good thing since your simple request will rarely be met with annoyance, and will lead to more sign-ups.

The “no” is that they can minimize the slider and not have to deal with it again.

7.) Sliding & Contextual Lightbox Pop-ups

Oh lordy, the dreaded Lightbox Pop-up, how dare I mention it!

Truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of pop-ups whatsoever… but I can’t sit here and lie to you: they work, and they work even better outside of marketing & blogging niches.

In fact they even work in marketing and blogging niches, and I’m not the only one who is torn about the issue.

The thing is, if they work, there has to be some way to find a good compromise, and I’ve seen two great examples that just might fit the bill.

The first is the “sliding” pop-up, which doesn’t take up the whole screen, but rather “slides” out of a corner or side, asking for an opt-in.

Opt-in Bar

The idea is that it’s hard not to notice, but it doesn’t obstruct reading, an interesting combination that can prove useful to growing your list.

Now, while I don’t have any data on this type of pop-up yet (as I’m new to using it), I can say that the KISSanalytics tool (which offers a similar option, discussed above) has been doing well enough that the KISSmetrics blog had kept it and big sites like have utilized it as well.

I think that speaks for itself in that it works well enough to use, and my hunch is that this style of sliding pop-up may work even better since it allows for a direct email input.

8.) Comment Opt-Ins (With A Free Bonus)

If you’ve been down below in the comments section of my site, you’ll notice a little checkbox that reads “Notify me of blog posts by email…”, which subscribes people to my list if they decide to check the box while commenting.

I’ve also enabled in on a couple of my other sites recently, and the results have been promising thus far.

I’ve had dozens of subscribers come from the comment forms on my electronic music blog, and I don’t even get many comments on that site given it’s focus on music.

Pat Flynn of SPI has stated that he saw a definitive bump in his subscription rate after adding these comment opt-ins, a bump that hasn’t decreased (and thus has made them worth to keep around).

One thing that I don’t do (that I’m considering, especially since I really enjoy the ‘toolbox’ idea discussed above) is offering an enticing freebie and mentioning it in the comment opt-ins.

I tested this on Sophistefunk, and mentioning the free mixtape I give away with each email sign-up helped me double the usage of the comment opt-in.

Pat also mentions his e-Book in the comment opt-in section, so it seems to be a great way to promote and entice sign-ups if you have something free to give away.

If you want to get started with this, AWeber has a plugin you can use to install the option instantly.

9.) The ‘Sticky’ Sidebar Opt-in

I have to say, I think I saved the most unusual for last.

As a long time reader (and recent guest poster) for the KISSmetrics blog, it’s been equally as fun watching the site’s go through the many design changes that Hiten Shah cooks up for the site (I swear it changes almost daily!)

One design aspect that seems to has stuck around (and made it’s appearance on numerous design blogs) is the ‘sticky’ sidebar, or a sidebar that never leaves the screen.

The premise for this on is pretty simple.

With a ‘sticky’ opt-in form, there is no need to have them all over your site: since it is never off the page, you don’t need a bottom opt-in form, top of page opt-in, etc.

The one problem: It might be distracting.

I discussed this briefly with Derek Halpern of SocialTriggers and I’d have to agree that it might be too good at getting reader’s attention.

I would say take some precaution with design and color scheme, your sticky sidebar should blend with you site but still be obvious about what it’s after.

I like the idea behind the Contently blog, where the sidebar doesn’t slide: it just never moves at all, the only scrolling portion of the site is the content area.

Their email form is actually so subtle I decided to highlight it just in case it didn’t immediately pop out in the screenshot.

A nice way of keeping your email form “above the fold” in a way, while not being obnoxious about it.