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Updated August 30, 2021

Newsletter How To Build An Email List From Scratch (11 Surefire Tactics + Examples)

How To Build An Email List From Scratch (11 Surefire Tactics + Examples)

Your email list is one of the most important tools you can have when it comes to driving sales for your store. Learn how to build your list form the ground up with these tips and examples.


Building your email list from the ground up doesn't have to be complicated. Whether you're just launching your Shopify store or you just haven't gotten around to capturing email addresses from your site visitors, there's never been a better time to start building your list than now.

If you do it right, your email list equals money for your store. So the more subscribers you have, the more money you'll bring in with every email you send.

And Privy makes building your list easier than ever. Here's what you need to know about building your emails list.

In this guide, you'll learn:

What is an email list? 

Your email list is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal when it comes to driving sales for your ecommerce store. It’s a list of contacts who each raised their hand and showed interest in your brand by signing up to receive your emails.

The contacts on your email list are called subscribers. And we’ve found that every email you capture from your subscribers is worth $33.

Which means the bigger your email list, the better. Because it means you can can expect to bring in more money for your business through your email marketing efforts.

But before you can start building your email list, you'll need an ESP (email service provider), like Privy. Your ESP is where you’ll manage your contacts and send your emails.

There are a bunch of ways to manage and grow your email list, but we’re going to focus on building your list from the ground up. Let’s get into it.

Email list building best practices and pitfalls to avoid 

Now that you know how important building an email list is (and why it should be a priority for your ecommerce store), you need to understand best practices and common mistakes to avoid.

Because in order to leverage your email list to bring in sales for your store, you need to have a strong foundation to build off of. Here's what you need to know.

Do use an ESP

You're building your email list so you can send emails regularly and generate sales from you store, right? But in order to send out these marketing emails, you’ll need an ESP (email service provider). This is where you’ll manage your email list and marketing emails and track your results.

Do have a welcome offer

One of the most effective ways to build your email list is to use a welcome offer for first-time visitors. Your welcome offer could be anything from 15% off your visitors' first order, free shipping or a free gift with purchase, or even a spin to win type offer using a gamified form.

The best way to share your welcome offer with visitors? A welcome popup. Privy can help you create a welcome popup that feels native to your store rather than invasive and out of place.

And remember that what you offer is going to have the biggest impact on how quickly you build your email list. 

Do get consent

You need to have the consent of your subscribers when they join your email list. This is important when it comes to complying with privacy policies like the CAN-SPAM Act and GDPR. So whatever you do, make sure you have the right permissions in place when you're building your email list.

Do maintain a healthy list

As you build your list from the ground up, it's really important that you maintain a healthy list. There are 2 main things you should be paying attention to: removing bounced email addresses as well as unengaged subscribers.

Email addresses that bounce are contacts that are not mailable. Which means every time you attempt to contact them through email, it won’t go through, hurting your deliverability and overall list health.

Over time, certain contacts will become unengaged with your email list. As much as it stinks, it’s the reality of email marketing and something you should understand from the very beginning. A certain group of subscribers will eventually stop opening or engaging with your emails. And you should treat that as a sign that they do not want to be communicated with. So do yourself a favor and remove them from your list.

A healthy email list should be a top priority from the very beginning.

Avoid buying email lists

It's important to understand that building your email list isn’t quick or easy. It's a long term investment that needs to be treated with care.

But a lot of businesses don't want to wait, so they'll buy email lists looking to build their lists faster. The problem with this approach is that these contacts don’t have awareness or intent around your brand. Not to mention, it’s really annoying when you get an email from a business you’ve never heard of. So, when you buy lists, you can end up hurting your brand reputation and email health.

If you take one thing away from this section, it should be never ever ever buy email lists

Avoid making new subscribers wait to hear from you

Once you have a welcome popup in place to help you grow your email list, you want to make sure you're sending them a welcome email immediately when they fill out the form. Don't make them wait.

If you don't have an automated welcome email in place, your new subscribers will question whether their information went through. Not to mention that if you offered a discount, you need to deliver on that promise.

When you're building your list, it's important that your subscribers hear from you right away. It will build trust and remind them what your business is all about.

Avoid stressing about unsubscribes

No matter where you are in your list building journey, you're going to see unsubscribes every now and then. And the bigger your list gets, the more unsubscribes you'll see. Don't take it personally or stress over it. 

Think about these unsubscribes as contacts helping clean your list for you. If they're unsubscribing from your list, the chances they were ever going to convert and make a purchase are incredibly slim. 

As long as you're sending helpful and engaging emails and not spamming or overwhelming your list, unsubscribes are largely out of your control. Focus on what you have the power to improve.

Avoid throwing in the towel

Remember: email marketing is a long term play for your business. You're not going to get results and build your list overnight. Patience is key. 

So when you get frustrated or overwhelmed, take a step back and get back to the basics. Because if you follow through and focus on building your list and sending regular emails, it will pay off. Hang in there.

7 ways to build an email list the right way 

In the State of Shopify Report 2021, we found that the median conversion rate for Shopify merchants is 1.12%. So you should expect to convert at least 1% of your website visitors.

But here are 7 ways you can build your email list from the rest of your website traffic that might not be ready to make a purchase just yet.

1. Have an enticing offer

Your offer should be what hooks your visitors. The better your offer is, the more traffic you’ll get to join your email list. A few examples of an offer would be:

  • a discount
  • free shipping
  • a free gift with purchase

...the options are endless, but here's an example of an offer that will help you turn your site visitors into subscribers to build your list.

Screen Shot 2021-05-20 at 12.50.47 PM

2. Leverage content

In ecommerce, most people think about a discount as a way to grow their email list (and that works!).

But many brands don’t want to come off as a “discount brand,” so another effective way to grow your email list is to offer content in exchange for your visitors’ emails. Whether that’s downloadable content or a newsletter from your brand.

Like this free recipe guide example: 

Screen Shot 2021-05-20 at 1.18.42 PM

3. Select your display type

When it comes to capturing emails from the traffic coming to your store, you have a ton of options. But using the right display type is a critical step in building your email list from the ground up. 

Here are 4 different display type options you can choose from with Privy.

Use popups

Popups are the #1 way that we see merchants growing their email list.

You’ve probably seen hundreds of popups as you’ve browsed online. They’re incredibly effective and can be customized to fit the feel of your site so they feel native to your store and aren’t annoying to your visitors.

Screen Shot 2021-05-20 at 4.09.49 PM

Use flyouts

Flyouts are another common type of website display that are extremely effective for growing your email list.

Flyouts are a less intrusive type of display compared to popups, since they slide out from the corner, top or bottom of your user’s screen (rather than in the middle). Like this example:

Screen Shot 2021-05-20 at 1.47.18 PM

And in the State of Shopify Report, we found that the average flyout conversion rate is 6% (compared to 4.6% for a popup).

Use bars and banners

Announcement bars and banners appear at the top or bottom of your screen and take up the whole width of the screen.

These are commonly used to display new announcements or offers like free shipping, but can also be used to build your email list, although they don't typically convert as well as the other display types because they're much more subtle.

Screen Shot 2021-05-20 at 4.15.19 PM

Use spin to win campaigns

A spin to win campaign is the perfect way to gamify collecting emails. Because they’re a much more interactive display type, they convert really well (who doesn’t love to win things?!). Spin to win campaigns average close to a 16% conversion rate according to the State of Shopify Report 2021. So they’re clearly an effective way to grow your email list.

CopperCloset Spin to Win SMS

4. Use tabs

Tabs are an extremely powerful addition to your website display. These show up on the side or in the corner of your website and remind users that you have an offer or message to show them if they’re not quite ready to sign up for your list when they first see your popup.

Because tabs allow your visitors to trigger your message, showing clear intent, we found that on average, tabs convert at 23.6% for Shopify merchants.

Here's an example of what a tab might look like:

Screen Shot 2021-05-20 at 4.26.52 PM

5. Use embedded forms

Your popups and onsite displays are going to be the most effective strategy to get your website visitors to sign up for your list, but embedded forms give your visitors an alternative way to join your list.

You’re probably used to seeing these in the footer of a website, like this example:

Screen Shot 2021-05-20 at 4.31.24 PM

6. Define your targeting

This is where you define the audience for your campaigns. Which means controlling who sees what. You can target by criteria like user type, current URL, time on site and so much more.

7. Nail your trigger

Once you have your display type and audience defined, your trigger is the cherry on top. This determines when the campaign will show. Whether that’s based on exit intent, scroll, or the amount of time on the site. Because showing the right message to the right audience at the right time is critical to your list building success.

Popup examples to build your email list 

We just covered 7 ways to build your email list, but if you're just getting started with building your list, you know how important it is to get inspiration from other ecommerce stores.

You want your popup to match the look and feel of your brand. So use these examples as a jumping off point to start designing your own welcome popup to build and grow your email list.

Urban Skin Rx

Here’s an on brand and super effective popup from Urban Skin RX. They have a clear message, simple form, and strong hook with their 15% offer:

Screen Shot 2021-05-20 at 4.04.32 PM

The design is simple, but professional. It has clean lines and a mix of colors that really pop (especially the photo). The 'subscribe' button stands out, rather than blending in, making it really clear where visitors should click to complete their subscription. Also note the mix of upper and lowercase as well as bold/non bold font.

Bella Doña

This welcome popup from Bella Doña doesn't offer a discount of any kind. Just exclusive access to insider info. But the design really pops. The custom heart shape and mix of colors and patterns is a total showstopper. And they get bonus points for including their logo.

Screen Shot 2021-05-20 at 1.10.15 PM

Protein World

Protein World keeps it simple with this welcome popup:

Screen Shot 2021-05-20 at 1.26.44 PM

The pop of yellow is a great contrast to the grey tones and the bold font to showcase the 25% off incentive is genius. Not to mention they include a dropdown that includes information they can use to segment their email list depending on their subscribers' goals.

The more information you have about your subscribers, the better. Just keep in mind that the more information you ask for, the more people are going to drop off while they're filling out your form, so you just want to ask for the basics.

Mountain Crest Gardens

Matts Jopson, VP at Mountain Crest Gardens, started using Privy in 2017 and told us:

“During peak season, there isn't a day where we don't have at least 100 sign ups using Privy's email capture tool (sometimes upwards of 300).”

One of the most effective campaigns the Mountain Crest Gardens team uses? A Spin to Win campaign. They’ve been able to drive a 20% redemption rate on the coupons they offer in this popup:

Build your email list with Privy Convert

At this point, we’ve covered:

• What an email list is
• Best practices to build your email list
• 7 ways to build your list fast
• 4 of our favorite list growth examples

Now let’s get into how Privy can bring your list growth goals to life.

With Privy Convert, you can:

• Create high converting popups: Choose from dozens of pre-made recipes and templates or build your own popup from scratch with our drag and drop editor.
• Target your customers: Choose from over 10 options when it comes to who you show your popup to. Whether that’s based on current URL, cart value, UTM parameters, or anything else, you can make sure you're sending the right message to the right audience.
• Send automated welcome emails: Automatically communicate with your signups by sending a welcome email (or series of emails) within your Privy Convert campaign.

And you can get started with Privy Convert for FREE today. Sign up for your free trial and get unlimited access to Privy Convert and Email for 15 days. No credit card required.


How to build an email list FAQ

Got a question about building your email list? We collected the most popular questions people have and compiled them below.

How do I create an email list?

You create an email list by setting up your ESP (email service provider) and launching list growth campaigns. Once you’ve built your email list, there are a ton of ways to start growing it to drive more sales for your business.

Is it legal to buy email lists?

It’s not illegal to buy lists, but it’s not recommended. While in theory this will grow your list faster, in most cases it leads to poor list hygiene because these contacts have no idea who you are or what your brand does. If you do consider buying an email list, it’s important to keep the CAN-SPAM Act in mind.

What tools should you use to build your email list?

To get the most value out of your email strategy, you need a place to grow your list and send emails. That’s why we recommend using Privy. Grow your email list with Privy Convert and turn those contacts into sales with Privy Email all in one place.

What is a good email list growth rate to aim for?

This will depend on a lot of factors (like your brand, company size, target audience) so there isn’t a benchmark that will work for everyone. You should take the time to think about your store’s goals and create milestones to work towards when growing your list.

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