Build it and they will come: how to grow an email database

Build it and they will come: how to grow an email database

Sarah Miles

Sarah Miles
25th July 2017

People who subscribe to receive updates from your company are essentially warm leads and highly valuable assets for your business. Targeting these leads with regular email communications could return £33 for every pound spent on email marketing.

Despite this, most companies concentrate on increasing website traffic instead of converting visitors into sales or subscribers. To get the most from your website you need to focus on building a thriving email database – a list of warm and willing potentials.

To help, we’ve put together a guide which includes ways of keeping your existing subscribers happy and more likely to share your content, as well as tried and tested methods for attracting new followers including:

  • Design
  • Automation
  • Content
  • Case Studies & Whitepapers
  • Social Media
  • Incentives
  • Registration
  • Website


Make it appealing

Whether you’re sending a direct email, newsletter or sharing the latest blog, design is essential. Choose one that is nice on the eye, easy to digest and free from spammy adverts. Keep branding consistent to help retain subscribers and be inspired by some examples of great email newsletters.

Make it shareable

Use social share buttons to allow users to share key points or entire articles from your email communications. If others see you as a good resource, they will want to sign up for regular updates so they can be the ones sharing your great content!


Subscription management

Email automation services like MailChimp and Campaign Monitor are great tools for managing your email databases. These are linked to your website and can manage sign-ups, unsubscribe requests and even harvest the reasons why people are leaving the mailing list.

If you’re a WordPress user, there are respective plugins, like the MailChimp plugin, to help you create good looking opt-in forms that are easy to integrate into your site.



Creating blog posts to share with customers is a great way of keeping them engaged. Create helpful, well researched and informative blogs and you’ll see your following increase in no time. WordPress users can use a plugin like MailChimp to convert people who comment on blogs into subscribers.

Answer genuine questions

Coming up with ideas for blogs can be a challenge but, with a little digging around, you’ll be amazed at how much material you can produce from your own site.

If your site has a FAQ section, look at what questions are being asked about your services, industry and products. You can use these to create lengthier articles.

If you don’t have an FAQ section, use sites like Quora and Answer the Public to find questions being asked that relate to your niche.

Company updates

Updates from your company make good material for newsletters. Share any current vacancies, new appointments, work completed, work in progress, new product launches and charitable work – and don’t forget to mention how much money you raised!

You can even tie in company updates to national and international events. For example, did your company do anything for International Women’s Day or did you have an outing to the pub during the world cup? Personal stories not only help to build a brand persona, they also attract new subscribers, as these stories are easier to ‘buy’ into.

Case studies & whitepapers

Case studies provide a perfect opportunity to show how your brand can positively impact your customers. With permission, create a case study that outlines the customer’s situation before they used your company and then demonstrate how purchasing a service or product from your company benefited them.

Make sure you use tangible data where possible, e.g. sales increased by 80%, dropped three dress sizes, or attracted 18 new customers in the first day.

To capitalise on the case study, only allow people to download it when they have submitted and verified their email address. You can send them an email with a link to the download.

White papers are in-depth, highly authoritative pieces of writing and typically include new research data around an industry or product. Since a white paper should contain primary research, it might be worth investing in a market research company or a specialist copy writer with industry knowledge to help you create one.

Social media

Share posts

If you’ve produced a great blog, press release, or white paper, remember to share it across your social media platforms. When visitors land on your page to read more, use a tool like Hello bar or Optin Monster to encourage and capture new email subscribers (see more below).

Facebook newsletter signup app

If you use Facebook, the Newsletter Signup App places a side bar icon on your Facebook business page. The app needs to integrate with an email management service like MailChimp but it’s very handy for gathering email addresses.

Paid for ads

Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook all offer pay per click (PPC) campaigns which you can use to generate more email sign ups. Twitter is especially good at setting up relevant adverts depending on your objective. On all platforms you can target audience segments by age, location and interests.


First time buyer offer

When people first land on your site, offer them a discount if they subscribe to your newsletter.

Recommend a friend

Recommendations or referrals are highly effective. It’s reported that around 84% of consumers are likely to act on a personal recommendation, so encourage your existing customers to share their experiences with friends and family.


For e-commerce sites

When buying online, customers are required to create an account. It has become common practice for companies to include customers who register on their mailing list by default, but make sure that the check box for opting out is clearly visible so that you can’t be accused of ‘duping’ customers into being contacted.

There are UK laws about direct marketing and it’s advised that you make your intentions clear in your Terms and Conditions. You must also always give customers the option to opt out of further communications.


There are several ways you can use your own website to obtain subscribers:

Permanent sign-ups

Create a ‘sign up for the newsletter’ box and put it in a prominent place on your site. Website headers, footers, contact information and blog pages are the most effective places for this because users who are visiting these areas are often looking to get in touch.

Pop ups

As the name suggests, a pop-up appears on screen in front of the content being viewed. These normally have to be actioned (either a customer signs up or closes the box) for access to the content. Some argue that pop-ups can ruin the user experience but by using page-level targeting and avoiding standard copy, they can be extremely effective. Always tailor the pop-up text to make it highly relevant to the on-page content.

For example, a pet shop website with a dedicated page on cats could use a pop-up with the following message: ‘Want to know more about cats? Then sign up for our weekly digest with details of new cat products and helpful tips, delivered directly to your inbox’.

Slide ups

These are a little more strategic than a pop up because you can select at what point they appear on page e.g. appearing when people have scrolled through 60% of the page content. You can also request that they aren’t shown to the same visitor again within 30 days and are removed completely if the user is already registered.

Tools you can try:

Optin Monster: By combining page-level targeting with exit-intent (when a user heads towards the close button), Optin Monster claims that their customers increase email subscriptions by up to 785%.

LeadPages: Use LeadPage to create stunning landing pages designed for optimal conversion. You can also create registration and thank you pages.

Dreamgrow Scroll Triggered Boxes: Designed specifically for WordPress, Dreamgrow is useful for creating slide up boxes to convert users who are already engaging with your content.

Hello Bar: Use Hello Bar on any web platform to attract email subscribers. It integrates with MailChimp and the premium version allows you to fully customise it. It’s really simple to use, too.


Measure what works and what doesn’t

If you decide to implement any of the Call To Actions (CTAs) listed above, make sure you monitor subscriptions to evaluate which methods are most effective. Use Google Analytics to assess if any of the tools impact on bounce rate – this could be an indication that the user experience is being hindered.

Monitor content

If you include a variety of information in your newsletters, measure the types of content or topics that are achieving the most shares. Did the shares impact on the number of sign-ups achieved? If so, use this to inform the content in your next newsletter. As the saying goes, ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it!’


If you’re getting a lot of unsubscribe requests, try to attribute these to specific things that you are doing. Perhaps you’re sending too many emails? An email automation service like Chimp Monitor will ask customers why they want to unsubscribe, so review this information and act on it.

Building an email subscription list is important and should be a priority for your business. Consider which of the methods suggested above will work on your site and don’t be afraid to use more than one simultaneously.

Establishing a list will take time and involve a bit of trial and error. You may find that some methods work effectively one week and not the following week, which is why continued monitoring is so important. Ultimately, you need to include highly visible CTAs on your site, tempt people with offers and keep the sign-up process simple.

As with most things in life, you can’t expect something for nothing so entice customers; make following you worthwhile. That doesn’t mean you need to offer discounts every week, but write compelling and helpful content that will aid your audiences’ buying decisions. If you’re consistently creating great content, people will recognise your brand as a reliable source of timely information and you’ll start to see a steady growth.