Email is the single greatest tool for the modern marketer, granting direct access to existing and potential customers, targeting specific audiences, and driving long-term sales.

Without an engaged list of subscribers with whom to communicate, however, the benefits of a solid email marketing campaign fall flat. The days of brands purchasing email lists are long gone, as they should be. Marketers need to discover new ways to grow their email lists organically in order to acquire an audience of dedicated subscribers.

Read on for actionable tips that every modern marketer, content manager, or growth hacker can use to grow a thriving email list.

Why build your email list?

Here are two major reasons why modern businesses of all shapes and sizes should focus on building their email lists:

1. Email has a huge reach
Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter garner attention for their large user bases, yet email marketing has a much higher reach than both of them — combined. Facebook claims to have more than 1.35 billion users and Twitter has more than 270 million users, but according to Campaign Monitor research, there are upwards of 4 billion email accounts worldwide, meaning email has a reach 3x greater than Facebook and 15x greater than Twitter.

Case in point: Both sites use email to send notifications and requests, knowing people rely heavily on email and that it’s an effective way to drive traffic back to their sites.

2. Email is crazy effective
Facebook has progressively reduced the number of people that a brand’s posts can reach in an attempt to drive businesses towards paid advertising options.

In fact, organic reach on Facebook is only six percent, a decline of 49 percent from peak levels, according to analysis from Ogilvy. This means that every time your business posts a Facebook update or promotion, less than six percent of your audience will see it.

By comparison, email open rates hover around 30 percent, making your message 5x more likely to be seen through email than Facebook.

The formula for success

There’s a simple three-part formula for building your email list:

Valuable Incentives + Simple Subscribe Opportunities + Large Email list

Basic logic tells us that no matter how many subscribe opportunities you present to a visitor, it’s unlikely they’ll act without an incentive. No matter how good your incentive is, you may have a tough time getting people to subscribe if you don’t make it easy.

Creating a valuable incentive

Marketers have dreamed up heaps of incentives over the years to encourage people to join their email lists and the sky’s the limit. It really depends on your product or service, as well as the style of your brand.

For instance, consumer sites can market with catchy phrases and discounts while financial services companies generally take a more formal and conservative approach. The key is to pick out what makes sense for your business and its audience.

Ideas for awesome incentives

Great content
Have a blog or some helpful eBooks or guides? High-quality content may be all you need.

The folks at Buffer, for example, write helpful posts about social media marketing and productivity. The quality of the content alone is valuable enough to entice 1,000+ people each week to subscribe to their email list.

Alternately, you can try the approach that marketing blog KISSmetrics takes and use live webinars as an incentive to capture email addresses. Their webinars are deep dives into popular topics featuring industry experts sharing their success stories.

Here are three tips to help you create great content:
Use extensive research
The team at Buffer will spend, on average, six to eight hours writing a single blog post over a period of three days.

Tell a story
According to the crew at Groove, telling a story through your content can increase readership by 300 percent.

Make it visual
The brain processes visuals faster than text and 65 percent of people are visual learners, so add unique images to drive home your point.

Discounts and offers
If you sell something online, offering discounts or presenting various other value-added offers can be a great incentive for people to join your email list.

Some examples include:
First-order discounts
The potential to save money on an initial purchase is a great incentive to subscribe, but the discount is also a motivator to buy. So you can build your email list and increase sales at the same time. It’s a win-win!

Free or express shipping upgrade
Not only is this offer highly relevant (particularly when offered during the checkout process), but to get your hands on a wanted item quicker is a powerful incentive.

Early access and exclusive promotions
If you have brand awareness, offering early access and exclusives as an incentive to subscribe to your email list can work miracles and keep costs down.

Fashion retailer Huckberry requires people to create an account and join their mailing list before they can enter the online store. This unorthodox approach, along with beautiful imagery and compelling text, creates a sense that this is an exclusive community — and people’s desire to be part of it creates an awesome incentive to subscribe. Not sure this will work for you?

Try these alternatives:
Early access to new products
We all like to be the first to own something, so offering early access to new products and features can be an excellent incentive to subscribe.

Special discounts and promotions
Special access is an effective way to build your list, so it’s worth trying an exclusive offer as an incentive to subscribe.

Contests and giveaways
Humans are naturally competitive. Use this to your advantage by running giveaways and contests on your website where people provide their email address for the chance to win something.

Unbounce recently did a study on the effect a contest had on 100 of their customers’ landing pages. They analyzed the results from more than 3 million visitors and found that landing pages with a contest gathered 700 percent more email subscribers than those without a contest option.

Make the prize unique:
Queensland Tourism’s “Best Job in the World” campaign offered the winner a job touring the Great Barrier Reef and blogging about it for a year. This once-in-a-lifetime prize not only attracted over 34,000 entries but also secured an estimated $400 million worth of media coverage on CNN, Time, NBC and more.

So consider things you could offer beyond cash: training sessions with athletes, celebrity meetings, and backstage passes are all great examples of money-can’t-buy prizes that appeal.

Nine simple subscribe opportunities

Just as there are a number of incentives to offer, there are dozens of ways to make subscribing to your list super simple.

Here are nine of our favorites. Each won’t be relevant for you, of course, so the key is understanding your incentives and choosing the technique that best fits your needs.

1. Social bar
If your business shares other people’s content via your social media accounts, you’re essentially driving traffic to outside websites. But by using a social bar you can curate content while still building your list.

A social bar sits over the top of content you’ve shared via your social media channels and promotes signing up to your email list. Use simple language such as “Subscribe to get similar articles delivered to your inbox” to entice viewers. Need a tool? Try Sniply.

2. Subscribe landing page
Say you want to promote your email list to your social media followers or via an ad campaign. Where would you send these people? Create a subscribe landing page and you’ll have a dedicated place to send anyone interested in subscribing to your email list.

If you’re using a content management system like WordPress for your website, it’s easy to create a new page. Enter some text about why people should subscribe and add a subscribe form. Alternatively, you can use a landing page builder tool like Unbounce to create the landing page and add in a form.

3. Facebook subscribe form
If your business has a Facebook page, chances are you’ve seen diminishing returns from your efforts as Facebook continues to limit the page’s reach. A great way to overcome this is to convert your Facebook fans into email subscribers by adding a dedicated subscribe app to your Facebook page. It’s easy to set up and sits in the header area of your Facebook page for everyone to see.

4. Pop-ups
Pop-ups still cause some people to shudder, but they’ve come a long way in the last few years. Pop-ups give you the space to sell a promotion or idea — like subscribing to your email list — while focusing the visitor’s attention. When ConversionXL implemented one, the company saw a 30 percent increase in email subscribers each month.

Keep in mind that they can be a major annoyance when not executed properly, so focus on nailing the message, timing, and targeting. Need a tool? Try AddThis.

5. Slider
A slider is a small box that “slides in” to the bottom corner of your page at a designated interval. It’s a prominent subscribe option that’s not as invasive as a pop-up. It also gives you a lot of room to really sell the benefits of subscribing to your email list.

When targeted, sliders are very effective because they allow users to form an opinion about the website before deciding to subscribe. Need a tool? Try Sleeknote.

6. Feature box
Your blog’s homepage is likely its most visited page, so use it to promote your email list.

A feature box is a large call to action below the header but above the posts. Need a tool? You can use a plugin like Plugmatter to incorporate a custom feature box without additional coding or design, or if you’re familiar with coding, you can code it directly into the blog’s template and use the API to send any emails captured directly into your lists.

7. Scrolling header bar
This small bar sits atop the screen when people are on your website. As people scroll through your site, it remains fixed to the top of their browser window.

Does it work? The scrolling header bar is the second biggest source of new subscribers for Buffer, making up roughly 30 percent of their phenomenal 1,000 new subscribers per week run rate. Need a tool? Try the simple and free Smart Bar. Or if you’re looking for a paid option with more customization, try Hello Bar.

8. Pop up survey
These little surveys pop up in the bottom corner of your website and can be targeted to appear based on specific criteria (such as current page, number of pages viewed, or arrival channel).

Then, by asking a question like “You seem interested in our content. Would you like to sign up for the daily email?” you can capture people’s attention and direct them to your subscribe form. When the University of Alberta tested implementing this on their website, they grew their email list by 500 percent. Need a tool? Try Wufoo.

9. Signup and checkout forms
Anytime people are buying a product from you is a perfect time to ask them to opt-in to your emails. After all, these people clearly have an interest in what you offer. How you do it depends on your platform. If your online business is built on a platform like Shopify, you can easily add a subscribe tick box to your checkout process for people to opt-in to your email list.

From here, you can use integration tools like Zapier to make sure all captured email addresses are automatically added to your lists.

Start building your list now.

All right, modern marketers, now that you’ve got the formula for building a solid and successful email list, what’s stopping you?

Just use the methods, tips, and tools you’ve learned in this guide to start growing your email list today. Still have questions? Tell us what you’d like to learn more about, and we can share more resources with you.

Illustration by Cory Uehara
Shane Phair

Author Shane Phair

Shane Phair is the SVP of Marketing at Campaign Monitor, an easy-to-use email marketing tool that allows every marketer to send targeted newsletters to grow their business.

More by Shane Phair