9 Steps for Building an Email List from Scratch [AIB]

We all know that list building is important, but it often becomes an afterthought when compared to other critical tasks.

The truth is email marketing isn’t just an item on your to do list—it can make or break the success of your website.  This is especially true if you’re building an Authority Internet Business.

My recommendation is this: Design your site (from day #1) with the goal to build a massive email list.

This should be done before content creation or any sort of marketing.  In fact, you can use an email list to build momentum for your authority business in a variety of ways:

  • Establish relationships with people interested in your niche
  • Generate downloads, reviews and purchases of Kindle books
  • Understand the common obstacles that readers experience
  • Create buzz and social recommendations for your high-value content
  • Promote other marketing channels like Facebook, YouTube, iPhone apps and Udemy.

Now, one of the reasons people don’t build an email list is they think it’s a difficult task.  Fortunately, you don’t need to do much to turn your website into a subscription generating machine.  In fact, when I built my authority site (DevelopGoodHabits.com), I designed it with one goal in mind—turn each visitor into an email subscriber.  And here is how I did it in nine steps:

{Important: Some of the resources in this post contain my affiliate link.  That means I’ll earn a monetary compensation if you make a purchase.  With that said, I’ve personally tested each product and only list the ones that are good for list building.}

[title color=”green-vibrant” align=”scmgccenter” font=”verdana” style=”normal” size=”scmgc-2em”]Step #1: Create a Lead Magnet[/title]

You’ve probably heard me talk at length about the “lead magnet.”  Basically, this is a piece of content that you offer in exchange for a visitor’s email address.   People won’t join a list simply because you ask.  But they’ll subscribe if you’re offering something of value for free.

What you offer depends on your market.  You could do what Clay Collins recommends in his interview with Pat Flynn and create a PDF with niche-specific resources.  Or you might write a lengthy report like I’ve done in many niches.  My only piece of advice is to always offer a lead magnet.  Even if you’re unsure about what people want, it’s better to offer something instead of nothing.

[title color=”green-vibrant” align=”scmgccenter” font=”verdana” style=”normal” size=”scmgc-2em”]Step #2: Establish Ad Tracking Codes[/title]

The key to scaling your authority Internet business is to know what’s working.  Specifically, you should track every marketing campaign in order to determine their overall effectiveness.  When applied to email marketing, this means tracking every point where someone can subscribe to your list.

It’s easy to track subscribers.  All you have to do is go to your email marketing service and add an “ad tracking” code.  In Aweber (my preferred email service) you can create tracking codes here:

Sign Up Forms —> Settings —> Advanced Settings —> Ad Tracking

Here’s how this looks:

The goal here is to add this code wherever you offer a lead magnet.  For instance, I’m currently tracking advertisements in a variety of places:

  • Kindle books
  • Within blog content
  • Splash page
  • YouTube videos
  • Sidebar widgets
  • Facebook ads

At first, you might not think this information is important.  But, after building an email list for awhile, you’ll notice that the bulk of subscribers come from a few places.  This knowledge helps you focus on the strategies that actually work instead of the time wasters.

[title color=”green-vibrant” align=”scmgccenter” font=”verdana” style=”normal” size=”scmgc-2em”]Step #3: Create a Squeeze Page[/title]

A squeeze page is how you “sell” a lead magnet.  Nowadays, people are leery of giving away their email address.  So you need to convince them that the free offer is worth the risk.  With a squeeze page, you automate the process of delivering the lead magnet and adding subscribers to your list.

Squeeze pages come in many shapes and sizes.  Really, the “best” one to use is the page that has the highest conversion rate. So I encourage you to test different tools to find the page that gives you the best opt-in rate.

There are many tools you can use to create a squeeze page.  Some cost money, while others are free.  Here are some resources to help you get started:

A squeeze page can become an invaluable part of your authority Internet business.  So you should create at least one for the marketing you do outside of a blog.

[title color=”green-vibrant” align=”scmgccenter” font=”verdana” style=”normal” size=”scmgc-2em”]Step #4: Drive Traffic to the Squeeze Page[/title]

You shouldn’t always drive traffic to a blog.  Instead, a better idea is to use your lead magnet as a mechanism for generating interest in your personal brand.  Specifically, I recommend linking to the squeeze page on different platforms.  Done correctly, this strategy can help you build an email list long before you start getting decent web traffic numbers.

For instance, in addition to creating content for DevelopGoodHabit.com (DGH), I’m also building an email list by leveraging other platforms.  So for the last quarter of 2013 (October through December), I’m focusing on generating subscribers from these websites:

  • Amazon Kindle publishing
  • Facebook Ads
  • YouTube.com
  • Udemy.com

What’s the lesson here?

No longer do you have to rely on Google to “discover” your site.  Nowadays it’s possible to build an email list and generate income long before you get a large amount of web traffic.  Instead, you can create a presence on other platforms which can be used to expand your authority business.

{Stay tuned: In a few weeks, I’ll detail my first “authority traffic and income” report which will show how my site averages only 50 visitors a day, but is on track to generate over $1200 for September.}

[title color=”green-vibrant” align=”scmgccenter” font=”verdana” style=”normal” size=”scmgc-2em”]Step #5: Run Split-Tests on the Squeeze Page[/title]

Split-testing is another important concept for managing an authority business.  With a split-test, you create two variations of a squeeze page with one difference between each.  After setting up this test, you drive traffic to each variation and see which converts better.  So if “Page A” generates 47 subscriptions for every 100 visitors, then it has a 47% conversation rate.  And if “Page B” generates 39 subscriptions for every 100 visitors, then it has a 39% conversation rate.  This means that Page A converts better than Page B at an 8% difference.

Now, don’t worry if the math sounds a bit confusing.  The important takeaway is to always test different squeeze pages because you’ll maximize the number of subscriptions you get from each source of traffic.

There are a few tools for running a split-test.

The first is the Content Experiments tool that Google provides as part of their Analytics program.  Simply watch this video to see how to see how it works:

Another option is to use the split-testing features that are now part of many squeeze page programs.


In Lead Pages you can quickly create variations of the same page in about a minute.  You can see how this looks from a recent test I started which promotes a lead magnet to readers of my habit Kindle books:

You’d be surprised at the results you’ll get with different split-tests.  In the above example, I deleted four words from the original version, which increased my opt-in rate by 13.75%.  While the test is still in the early stages, I think it shows an example of how small changes can dramatically improve the performance of a squeeze page.

[title color=”green-vibrant” align=”scmgccenter” font=”verdana” style=”normal” size=”scmgc-2em”]Step #6: Install a Splash Page[/title]

Splash pages combine the functionality of a squeeze page with a content driven website like a blog.  Basically, a splash page is an opt-in form that’s generated on top of your content.  Like a squeeze page, it offers a lead magnet in exchange for a person’s email address.

To show what I mean, here is a screen shot of the splash page that’s displayed on DGH:

Now, you could make the argument that a splash page might annoy new web visitors.  Honestly, I think that’s a completely valid point—it’s an aggressive marketing tactic that could piss off a few people.  So you should think carefully about the ramifications of installing it on your website.

One thing you could do is toggle the display settings so it’s only shown once per visitor.  That way, you’ll build an email list without annoying regular readers with the same advertisement.

It’s pretty easy to create a splash page.  I do it with a simple WordPress plugin called Welcome Splash.   It’s a straightforward tool that can easily be customized for your blog.   Plus it includes a few settings that allow you to control how often and when the advertisement is displayed.

[title color=”green-vibrant” align=”scmgccenter” font=”verdana” style=”normal” size=”scmgc-2em”]Step #7: Add Value to Build an Email List[/title]

One of the main reasons I love splash pages is you have an opportunity to build an email list on every part of your website.  Whereas many bloggers only use their home page and sidebar to generate subscribers, a splash page generates an obvious subscription form on every single page.  Then you can build an email list by directing people to specific pieces of content.

Now, we all understand the importance of social sites like Twitter and Facebook.  The mistake many people make with these platforms is they aggressively promote products instead of making connections.  A smarter solution is to tell people about helpful blog content and build a list of people who are interested in what you have to say.

It works in a simple formula:

Build an audience on a social media platform —> Promote your blog posts —> Display Welcome Splash to every new visitor —> Keep creating quality content to generate more traffic and subscribers

I love this step because you can build an email list without being overly aggressive.  Yes, every visitor gets a pop-up advertisement.  But, besides that, they’ll get a website that’s full of quality, free content.

You can use this strategy on a variety of platforms.  All you have to do is build an audience in places like:

  • YouTube
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Amazon Kindle Publishing
  • LinkedIn
  • Niche-specific forums

Simply focus on creating good content, making connections with like-minded people and occasionally share your blog posts.  From there, it’s not too hard to turn each blog post into a subscriber magnet.

[title color=”green-vibrant” align=”scmgccenter” font=”verdana” style=”normal” size=”scmgc-2em”]Step #8: Install “Sticky List Builder”[/title]

Most bloggers have a subscription box on their sidebar.  But, it’s not easy to make this form stand out amongst all the clutter.  One solution to this problem is to use a tool called Sticky Profit Builder.

With Sticky Profit Builder you add a widget to the sidebar which stays on the screen as a reader scrolls down the page.  (Look to the right as you scan this page and you’ll see how I use this plugin to promote my Kindle books.)

It’s simple to use this plugin to build an email list.  Here’s how I did it for DGH in three steps:

  1. Hired Ian from IM Graphic Designs to create a customized opt-in form.
  2. Added the opt-in form code to the Sticky Profit Builder widget
  3. Placed the widget at the bottom of my sidebar

Now, whenever a new visitor is reading a blog post, he or she sees a constant advertisement for my email list.

[title color=”green-vibrant” align=”scmgccenter” font=”verdana” style=”normal” size=”scmgc-2em”]Step #9: Look for “Hidden” List Building Opportunities [/title]

Right now, I guarantee you’re missing out on hidden list building opportunities.  As creators of content, we all have those MVPs that generate a decent amount of web traffic.  My suggestion is to look for ways to turn this traffic into email subscribers.

You can do a number of things to build a list with existing content.  For instance, here are a few strategies I’m currently implementing:

I. Add squeeze page links in blog posts that specifically relate to the “77 good habits” lead magnet

II. Add squeeze page links to high traffic areas like my about me page

III. Link to content articles from Kindle books and YouTube videos that have a splash page pop up.

IV. Add a simple opt-in form at the end of every blog post

Think carefully about all the content you’ve created.  Odds are, there are a few pages/websites you can use to grow your email list.  My suggestion is to start adding subscription links to these pages wherever possible.

[title color=”green-vibrant” align=”scmgccenter” font=”verdana” style=”normal” size=”scmgc-2em”]How to Start Building Your Email List—TODAY! [/title] 

We just covered a nine-step plan for building an email list from scratch.  I urge you to consider doing all of them before driving traffic to your website.  Or if your site is already set up, then spend the next week adding these elements to your authority business.

Running a successful Internet enterprise largely depends on optimization.  If you can maximize your “visitors to subscribers” percentage, then you won’t need large amounts of web traffic to be profitable.  All you have to create great free (or paid) content to grow your email list.

Currently, I don’t get much traffic to DevelopGoodHabits.com.  But, I’ve set it up in a way where I’ll generate lots of subscribers once I start heavily promoting it.  Simply follow the nine steps I’ve just outlined and you can get the same results with your authority business.

Take Action. Get Results.

27 thoughts on “9 Steps for Building an Email List from Scratch [AIB]”

  1. Hi Steve,

    Great article and thanks for all the advice. You mentioned Udemy a lot. Doesn’t that involve creating a paid course? Even then you don’t capture email addresses? Do you mind expanding on this?

    My goal is to actually build a decent list before promoting a Udemy course itself.

    • Sure thing Lior.

      To be honest, I’m only in the research phase for Udemy. But here’s what I’m thinking: Basically you can create a “free course” on this platform. What I was thinking about doing was starting a YouTube channel that focused on one aspect of habit development and then double-dipping by uploading the videos to Udemy. The way it would drive traffic is to create a unique URL for my site that would only be used for Udemy, that way I’d know if it’s worth the time expenditure.

      Again, I’m still researching this traffic technique. One person who knows WAY more about this subject is Rob Cubbon, so you might want to check out his site: http://robcubbon.com/

      • That won’t work because Udemy hosts the videos you upload and you can’t use YouTube. You can, however, message all of your Udemy students at once and use that as a marketing tool.

  2. Lior’s right, you don’t actually get the email address of your followers on Udemy but you get the ability to email them through Udemy’s announcement system, which is the next best thing.

    I think Steve’s right to consider Udemy as a way of promoting your brand and your list, just like you can do with Kindle or YouTube.

    The great thing about Udemy is that you can re-use old content that’s you have on YouTube. For example, most of my 3 free courses was stuff I had on YouTube anyway. I just rebranded it and packaged it up as a course. You can also put about 20-25% of your paid for courses on YouTube as well because that can drive sales at Udemy.

    Free courses generate a lot of subscribers on Udemy very quickly. I’m getting 300-400 a week. You can start with a free course or a paid course but I’d definitely advise to start with a free one to get the subscribers in. Some people start with a free and turn it into a paid course! You can change your price anytime.

    If anyone has any questions about Udemy I can try to answer them. I’m subscribed to the post’s comments.

    Great article about email list building, Steve. 🙂

    • Hey Rob,

      Thanks for stopping by and adding some clarification to the conversation. I’m really excited about the possibilities with Udemy. It’s great to hear you’re getting a large amount of subscribers from Udemy. I assume the 300 to 400 people are subscribing to your classes, not email. Or are those email subscribers. Either way, that’s freakin’ awesome.

      I just found the “hook” for my class, so I’m going to spend the next month figuring out the right kind of presentation, but hope to join you there soon.

      • Correct the 300 or so people a week are just course subscribers – but they can all be reached by email (without actually getting my grubby hands on their email addresses) and marketed to and a certain percentage of them will buy (around 1%).

        Check out any of my courses. And if you want to check out any of my paid courses just drop me a line and I’ll give you a free coupon. 🙂

        • That’s incredible Rob. I can already see how this would be helpful if you regularly publish updates to the product, which brings people into your course.

          I’ll definitely check out the free one you have and might do the other if you’re offering. 🙂

  3. Is Welcome Splash free?
    If you have any influence on Sticky Profit Builder owners bring to their attention the fact that there is long after 10th of May so they blatantly lie on their landing page about possible change of price. Poor use of the scarcity factor is in my top5 things I HATE in internet marketing.
    Ad.2. Tracking codes. So you have to create several different forms, each with a different ad tracking id for the same list. Am I right on this?

    • Hey Michal,

      WS is about $47, but I’m not 100% of the price. I do agree that the SB sales page leaves something to be desired. What annoyed me was the multiple OTO’s. With that said, I do love the functionality of the core plugin.

      For the tracking codes, you would have to create variations of the same form. They don’t necessarily have to be any different, but having different pages for each source of traffic helps you track where everything comes from. If that’s too much of a hassle, I’d recommend doing it for your top one or two sources, like what I do with my Kindle book customers.

  4. Thanks Steve for such a great article. That was a very comprehensive one!

    I’ve been considering starting some online courses too. Since I write non-fiction music books, I believe it would be a great complement for them. But was a little held on the idea because I had not found a plataform to do so. Most of the video hosting plataforms are a little expensive (at least for me in this moment). However, Udemy seems like something I might find useful for my needs, and fits the budget, so I’ll give it a shot.

    Thanks for the information.

    • I think Udemy is a great option simply because it’s a platform that has a built-in audience. Plus, it’s starting to get some traction among affiliate marketers, so if you have a good course, it might get promoted without requiring you track people down. I’m definitely looking forward to checking it out.

  5. Very nice overview. Just started to build a list for my first niche website and at the moment I am collecting 1 a day (2 day sample ;)) with about 40 visitors a day.

    I am not sure yet what to do with it, but I guess it’s better to start collecting already. I am using a lead magnet with common mistakes people are making in my niche (without realizing it) It’s short but informative.

    I have a question about the Content Experiments. When I setup different variations do you let Google index them all (or do you use no index for the variations). Google don’t like duplicate content so it might seems like I have a lot of the same pages on my website this way.

    Another thing, am I not sure how I can test how many affiliate links are getting clicks. I want to make an AB test with one a big table with lot’s of different products (like 20) and another one with only a select one, like 5 or so.

    But how can I test this. I saw you can set up a goal (page) but I link to external companies with my affiliate link so not sure how to do it.


    • Bas,

      Honestly, I don’t worry too much about duplicate content with my squeeze pages. One thing you can do is create a new website that’s only used for conversion — I’ve seen some bloggers do that.

      For the affiliate links, you’d need some sort of link tracker. It can be something simple like Pretty Link or you can use an advanced program like AdTrackz. Beyond that, there is a way to do it within Google Analytics, but it’s something I’ve never done. So you might want to look at the videos that GA offers to see how to set it up.

  6. A wonderful post as always Steve. I cannot stress the importance of having a landing page to capture leads. Most bloggers rely on just the home page and their sidebar optin form. Having optin forms on sidebar and under every blog post is quite important. But it is far more important to have specific landing pages that are designed to convert.

    When I say “designed” I not only mean the design but also the type of content that goes into that sort of a page. And while doing promotions in the form of guest posting it is highly important that we drive traffic to a landing page instead of the home page. That way it is much easier to convert the traffic.

    And even more, it is great if we have multiple landing pages for multiple purposes and even for multiple audience who from specific referrals. This is particularly useful when you guest post on a big blog; you can have a landing page welcoming visitors who come from that blog – a tile like “Welcome ……. blog readers” will make it exciting and warm 🙂

    • I like that last part Jane. Though it’s a strategy I haven’t used much myself, I’ve seen a lot of smart guest bloggers maximize their results from posts by offering a special report or offer on a separate squeeze page for each blog. Very smart idea!

  7. OMg I am so slack with my lists!!! I know what to do but I just never to get around to it…
    By the way Steve… You have awesome content here!! I do not read many blogs at all as I find them a waste of time, but your stuff gives me ideas and inspiration.

  8. This post has come just at the right time for me. Will start implementing those 9 points. Looking forward to your September report as I’m also averaging 50 visitors a day but not making any money yet because I haven’t implemented my follow-up autoresponder series yet but I do have 180 on my list so far.

    This is great for inspiration – thanks!

  9. Hi Steve,

    Those tips are really awesome, although I think squeezing pages should only be used if you have a lot of traffic and you can afford losing some of them however on low traffic blog I think squeezing pages would annoy new readers, I mean I land on your blog for the first time and I was annoyed by it but I decided to continue since I was interested in learning how I can grow up my email list. Thanks again for sharing your tips.

    • Qasim — It is a tricky strategy with the squeeze pages. I do agree they can turn off some people, but I’ve also run the numbers and having a splash page converts better than anything I’ve ever seen. My only advice is to test it out and see if you can find that sweet spot between list-building and providing good content.

      For instance, when I installed it on DGH, my “bounce rate” didn’t go up, so I used this metric to determine it wasn’t turning off my core audience who would be interested in the free offer.

      Ultimately, it comes down to only using the techniques that you’re comfortable using. If you don’t like one strategy, then there’s nothing wrong with ignoring it.

  10. Hi Steve,
    Good stuff! When you say you add email subscribers via Amazon Kindle Publishing, how do you exactly do this? Do you include a link within your e-books that direct them to a subscriber page? Just wondering…


    • Bob,

      I just have a few paragraphs that introduces the book (77 Good Habits to Live a Better Life), then I provide a book cover with a link. This goes an opt-in form that’s part of the Lead Pages software, which tracks the opt-ins and does basic split-testing. Actually, I think I’ll put together a followup post to this in a week or so. Stay tuned…


      • Hi Steve,
        OK, you kind of lost me there. When you say you have a few paragraphs that introduces the book, are you talking about the book description within Amazon? I think a followup post would help. 🙂


  11. Hi Steve,

    Honestly, it is very important to create a mailing list if we want to see beyond our nose when dealing with our business but one thing I found very difficult is building my landing/squeezing page.

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