Building subscriber lists is an essential part of email marketing, but it can be a daunting undertaking. After all, you not only want a lot of email addresses, you want a lot of email addresses that are relevant to your business and your goals. Additionally, there are strict rules and regulations about how subscriber lists are built.

As Chief Strategist and Co-Founder at Trendline Interactive, Andrew Kordek has written dozens of strategy documents for clients who needed to improve and add to their lists ‒ and no two clients’ strategies were alike. Because every organization has unique needs, Kordek says there are “literally hundreds of ways to collect email addresses today.”

But what if you approached the task of beefing up your collection of email addresses by thinking about it as a party?

Yes, a party.

After all, says Kordek, you’re inviting subscribers to experience your brand, and you’re asking for something precious from them. You want them to want to come to this party, and, once they’re there, you want them to enjoy themselves and be glad that they took the time to attend and eat and drink and make merry. Kordek’s bottom line: “Don’t let your party suck … do it right.”

Below, Kordek and other thought leaders join the party to offer their best practices for building an effective subscriber list. These experts are:

1. Ensure that your sign-up process is streamlined.

“In my experience, most companies don’t think the sign-up flow through very well. So they end up with a clunky process that is a bit hard to complete. The trick is to get the most out of the interaction during the sign-up and make it flow ‒ or you run the risk of losing the subscriber before they even sign up.” (van Rijn)

2. Plan the sign-up experience from your potential subscriber’s point of view, from start to finish.

“There are tons of cheap and easy methods for acquiring an email address, but my philosophy is that you get what you pay for. I have said and will continue to say that acquiring an email address is the easy part. The key to building a subscriber list is the experience before, during, and after that the subscriber goes through once they give up their ‘digital Social Security number.’ A lot of companies fall down on this part, but I think it’s the most important part of the process.” (Kordek)

3. Review your email analytics then clean up your current lists.

“Our client’s email list consisted of approximately 350,000 subscribers, was producing about a 3 to 5 percent open rate and less than a 1 percent click-through rate. Our first priority was to review their email analytics. My team made a shocking discovery: Almost 60 percent of our client’s list consisted of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ bounces ‒ bad, undeliverable addresses and email addresses blocked by ISPs. They had been blacklisted by several major ISPs, including Yahoo. After we meticulously cleaned their list and took steps to have our client white-listed with the ISPs, open rates immediately shot up 12 to 16 percent, and click-throughs increased 5 to 7 percent.” (Harpointner)

4. Don’t bother with unrelated offers, no matter how tempting.

“Use related offers. A related offer is something you give to a customer that relates to a product or service you sell. An unrelated offer does not relate to your business, but on the surface might be tempting to give to customers if the goal is to maximize subscribers. For example, the promise of a free latte at a global coffee chain might drive massive opt-ins ‒ of people who like free lattes. If you’re a marketer for the global coffee chain, that foot traffic to your retail stores might be a good thing (if, for example, you’re enticing a new customer segment to try your coffee, have good fraud/abuse controls in place, and have a plan to up-sell those ‘free-lattes’ once they set foot in the store). But if you’re selling something unrelated to coffee, those lattes you’re buying are building you a poorly targeted list.” (Scearce)

5. Always include a call to action.

“Always give people a ‘Next Best Thing to Do.’ So after they subscribed, ask for some more preferences on the thank you page. Send a welcome email or, even better, a welcome series. Show them a way to shop easier. Give them a “top 10” of blog posts to read. Send them a personalized offer; it doesn’t have to be a discount. That will give the email relationship a running start.” (van Rijn)

6. Plan email acquisition like a big party that your guests won’t want to leave.

“Think of email acquisition as a party. If I get to your party and you take my coat and shove me into the door and let me fend for myself, the experience sucks right from the beginning. Sure you can offer me some sort of discount to join your list, but then what? How are you going to live up to my expectations of your party? Eventually the 10 percent off, or final sale, or something else that everyone else is doing is going to wear off. Invest in time and resources to make it a killer experience from the beginning. Then go out and spend money on stuff like SEO and landing pages and offers. If you do it in reverse, the ‘Fire! Aim! Ready!’ approach will almost always come back to bite you in the butt.” (Kordek)

7. Know your audience and tailor content to their interests.

“To build a subscriber list, you must start with a sturdy foundation. If it is indeed subscribers you are looking for, then you must start the process with valuable content for a niche audience. Why would they subscribe otherwise? Know who your audience is. Yes, they love widgets and need to know everything about them, but besides widgets, what else are they interested in? This information will guide you to other sources where your widget-lovers hang out and subscribe.” (Carraturo)


Building up your subscriber list is at the heart of email marketing, so you must ensure that your list is of the highest possible caliber. As emailmonday’s Jordie van Rijn says, “The quality of your list and what you know of them is critical to building ROI.” Clean up your lists, keep the sign-up process simple, think like a potential subscriber, always include a call to action—and make email acquisition like a big party that your guests won’t want to leave.