Steps to Build an Email List from Scratch Without Spending Single Penny

Published On: 30 Nov 2022


While nothing in the world comes for free, by using the below strategies you can build an email list almost for next to nothing. Want to know how? Hop on!

In the modern e-commerce world, email marketing is a tried-and-tested way of reaching out and communicating with your target audience. 51% of marketing gurus consider email marketing to be the most effective when compared to other digital marketing tools and for a good reason. For the last decade, email marketing has been the channel generating maximum revenue. You would be pleasantly surprised to know that every $1 spent on email marketing generates a return of 38$, hear high ROI!

However, the secret to a successful email marketing campaign lies in having a killer email list. It would be an understatement when we say that an email list is an email marketer's best friend. But here's the problem, growing your email list can be an expensive affair. But hold on, what if we told you that with little creativity, using the right tools, and following certain best practices you can build an email list from scratch and that too without spending a fortune?

First things first, let's understand what an email list is in the first place and why you should have one.

What is an email list?

An email list refers to a collection of email IDs that a business gathers from people who visit its website or make a purchase. In short a legit email list is one that contains the email addresses of people who have consented to receive messages from a particular brand.

People normally give their consent to be added to an email list when they are interested in receiving information, updates, discounts, and other details about a business in a digital format that is sent to their email inbox.

Email marketing is still one of the best marketing and communication tools in a marketer's arsenal and yields better results when compared to social media and other digital channels. Emails have 6x more click-through rates when compared to a tweet on social media and are in fact 40 times more effective over Twitter or Facebook in acquiring new customers.

Building an email list

Subscribing to a newsletter or sales alerts is a common way to build an email list. Here is an example of how companies get people to subscribe to their email lists through their websites and newsletters.


SprezzaBox curates accessories and grooming products for men and they also have a monthly subscription box. By getting people to subscribe to their monthly box they are also building an email list of customers who are genuinely interested in their products and offerings.

Brands can build an email list by following a few best practices as listed below:

  • Strategically place CTA buttons that stand out and urge people to subscribe on every landing page.
  • Place attractive pop-up images on all your landing pages nudging visitors to subscribe.
  • Smartly timed surveys that pop up while visitors are browsing
  • Posting a sneak peek of newsletters on your social media handle to generate curiosity.
  • Market limited-time discount offers on subscriptions, basically creating a sense of urgency.

Why build an email list?

Still, contemplating the idea of whether or not to invest time in building an email list? The simple answer is YES. A whopping 3.9 billion people across the globe use emails which makes email an incredibly powerful communication tool having the potential to reach out to a large audience. This is reason enough to build an email list. Let us look at a few more compelling reasons why businesses should take the effort to build an email list for their email marketing campaigns.

1) Email is personal

Unlike social media, email is personal, it ends up in the intended recipient's email box, which means you get their 100% attention. There is no distraction from social media which makes conveying the message easier.

2) Get people to come back

When used in the right way, email marketing can help a business get back its old customers. It is a great tool to re-engage old customers who have stopped engaging with your brand.

3) Notify customers of sales

You sure are running ads on various websites, print media, radio, and the tele about your upcoming sale. But chances are that your target customer may still end up missing out on the message. Emails are a great way to notify them of any such upcoming sale ensuring they do not miss out on shopping from you on those days. Include information like the sale period, products on sale with their discounted price, etc. They can always go back to the email to check on the dates and complete purchases of products that have been on their wish list for a long time and maybe buy some more.

4) Promote content

People either subscribe to a newsletter or fill out some kind of a form filling out their personal details. Someone who is spending that kind of time and effort is genuinely interested in what you have to offer. This means any information you share with this set of people will spend time reading what you have to offer. Thus, email is a great way to promote any content initiative you are doing. It could be informing your audience about a blog that you publish every fortnight, any CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiative undertaken by your brand that has had a positive impact, etc. In short, email is a great tool to distribute content.

5) Send exclusive discounts

You as a business may choose to pass on some extra privileges and exclusive discounts to your long-time loyal customers or make them feel special on an important occasion like an anniversary or birthday. Email is the best way to communicate to them about any such discount that you may want to offer.

6) Send sneak peeks of

Revamping your website or launching a new product or working on a very exciting new ad campaign. Email is a great way to generate curiosity around the same. You could send a few shots just enough to generate curiosity about a new product or commercial you are about to release. Since the information is being sent to people who have opted to receive your emails, they will go through any such email sent and also discuss their excitement with their friends and family. Hear word-of-mouth publicity.

7) You can target much better

You can segment your email list basis parameters such as buying frequency, past purchasing behavior, age group, and location, and design a different email marketing strategy for each of these groups and send emails that are relevant to that particular group. Email lists help a great deal in curating and delivering personalized experiences for the right target consumer.

8) Build relationships

You must have often come across the phrase “out of sight is out of mind”. The same holds true for any brand as well. There are cases where a customer buys your product once but never comes back, in most cases the problem is not the product itself. Any business loses a customer due to poor customer care and handling. Like any other relationship, a brand needs to build and nurture its relationship with its customers. Email lists are a great way to stay in touch with customers who are genuinely interested in your brand and also win back those who lost interest somewhere on their way.

Sending personalized emails that appeal to a customer's interest at every stage of the customer journey goes a long way in building a strong brand and customer relationships.

9) It's cheaper

Email still continues to be one of the most impactful and cost-effective tools in a marketer's arsenal and is suitable for both small and large businesses. It is a known fact that acquiring new leads and customers is more expensive than retaining the old ones. An email list is a ready-to-use database of customers who have already used your products/services. When creating any email marketing campaign for this group, you save huge costs on lead generation and lead acquisition, which makes email marketing a whole lot cheaper than any other digital platform. Placing an ad on Instagram/Facebook still requires spending money even for your existing customers.

How to build an email list for free?

Your email marketing is as successful as the quality of your email marketing list. Building an email list entails getting new and existing customers to sign-up and keeping them engaged with some kick-ass content, promotions, and offers. While nothing in the world comes for free, by using the below strategies you can build an email list almost for next to nothing. Want to know how? Hop on!

1) Newsletter popups

Getting customers sign-up for your newsletter via a newsletter subscription on your website is a great way of building an email list. Their spending time on your website is already an indication that they are interested in and like what you have to offer. Why not nudge them to subscribe to your newsletter?



Clothing brand Varley does this beautifully. They offer first-time buyers a 10% discount on their first order if a prospective customer signs up for their newsletter. This is a great way to generate more sales and also build an email list of contacts who are genuinely interested in your product.

2) Promote email forwarding and sharing by subscribers

Referral discount coupons can do wonders for a brand. More than any advertisement and online review, people still make their purchasing decisions based on recommendations from friends and family. Now imagine that coming with a discount coupon.



Benefit cosmetics did it bang on. Not only are they offering discounts to customers making a purchase, but they are also offering an additional discount if they refer a friend/family and that member makes a purchase. This way not only does the person visiting the website subscribes to your email lists but gets friends and family as well to subscribe. A genius way to build an email list.

3) Hold a contest and spread the word on social media

Promoting a contest on social media is a great way to not only gain new followers but also new subscribers on your email list. Running a contest and announcing a giveaway on your social media handle such as Instagram is a fun and cost-effective way of building your email list. The rules usually make it mandatory for a participant to follow your page, tag other people, and get them to follow your page as well.



209 Magazine is promoting a contest on Instagram and leveraging hashtags to gain more followers. These followers will eventually check their website and a few may end up registering for a magazine subscription. Hashtags will help them reach out to a larger audience.

4) Include a call to action on your Facebook business page

Call to action or CTAs are short statements appearing on landing pages, social media pages, or emails inviting people to take a certain action. A few popular examples are:

  • Call us
  • Chat with us
  • Book a demo
  • Buy now
  • Subscribe
  • Visit our website



Here PopSugar "Sign Up with Facebook" is a brilliant option for people who use Facebook regularly. One it reduces one or two steps and makes subscribing easier and quicker. They have also clearly mentioned in fine print that by signing up the user is giving PopSugar permission to send emails on their email ID.

5) Host giveaways

Everybody likes winning goodies in a contest. Running contests and planning giveaways not only helps you gain more subscribers and followers for your email list and social media accounts, but it is also a great engagement tool. In the process, you also build a great online community.



Getting people to talk about things that matter the most to them and running a contest is also a great way to get people to share their email contact. We like the way PetSmart is asking pet parents to share what being a pet parent means to them and offering the winning story a goodies basket of pet supplies worth $250. By doing this, PetSmart is not just building a great database but also connecting with its target customers at an emotional level and in the process creating a great community of like-minded individuals.

6) Add sign-up options at checkout

Another way to build an email list is to ask first-time shoppers to sign-up at the time of completing a purchase. However, make sure there is an option to check out both as a guest and after signing up. Let the customer choose, not giving a choice can lead to the customer not coming back at all.


Zara, a DTC fashion brand manufactures premium clothing for men, women, and kids. We like the fact that Zara gives customers an option to create a new account or sign out as a guest. This is a great way to get genuinely interested customers on your email list.

7) Use exit popups

A user visits your website, browses for some time, and finds some really good products but may not be exactly happy with the price point and drags the mouse to the cross sign and a pop-up appears on the screen. Exit pop-ups appear on a user's screen when they are just about to leave your website or app.Installing an exit pop-up is a great idea to reduce bounce rates, make customers feel valued, get them to spend more time on your website, and get an addition to your email list. Given below is an example of an exit pop-up:


We like how this exit pop-up has been designed. Not only will the customer be able to complete his purchase but will sign up for the brand's email list as well.

8) Trade downloads for emails (lead magnets)

Lead magnets compel people who visit your website to exchange information like their email address to access a knowledge resource such as a whitepaper, eBook, case study, etc. In other cases lead magnet could be a trial subscription, a free product sample, or any product/service-related incentive. Lead magnets can be understood as something that is of interest and value to the visitor compelling them to share their email ID and subscribe to your email list.

9) Targeted landing pages

Targeted landing pages are typically personalized landing pages that help you drive a very specific type of customer persona. These pages are designed such that they offer detailed descriptions about a particular product or service such that they convince the potential customer to complete the purchase or subscribe to your services.

Let's say, someone is looking for information on how and when to consume protein shakes for maximum benefit. There is X company selling protein shakes which also has a knowledge resource page on its website for all protein shake-related questions. Typically, when someone searches for information on protein shakes they get automatically directed to the knowledge landing page. However, on clicking the article link a pop-up appears asking for an email address and name. This is a great way to grow your email list with high-quality subscribers. These people have demonstrated a genuine interest in what you have to offer.

10) Create A Referral Program For New Signups

Personal recommendation by a friend/family or more popularly known as word-of-mouth marketing is one of the strongest tools out there. By rewarding existing members every time they refer a friend or family member, signing up can help you grow your email list phenomenally. US-based, The Morning Brew grew its newsletter subscribers from 100,000 to 1.5 million subscribers in a short span of 18 months, of which 30% subscribers came on board through a referral program.

11) Use your email signature to get people to sign up

Email signature is as important as an email and when done right can help drive traffic to your website, increase brand awareness, nurture customer and partner relationships, and get you new subscribers on your email list.



Here a CTA (call-to-action) has been prominently placed in the email signature to register for a webinar.

12) Use a chatbot to engage with potential customers

A chatbot is a software application that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to chat with prospective customers. The majority of the people browsing any website are comfortable chatting with a chatbot or reading self-help guides to resolve queries rather than talking to an agent. This is the reason most website landing pages have chatbots these days. Chatbots are a great opportunity to get the email addresses of your potential customers. When a customer initiates a chat with a chatbot, ask for their email ID right away.

Some customers might not want to give out their email addresses, so make the chatbot interaction fun and interesting. Offer the potential customer to play a quiz and at the end ask them to share their email ID to mail results.

13) Create a survey to collect email addresses from your target audience

Running a survey in Google forms or any similar tool is a great way to build an email list with quality leads. Why? Anyone investing their time and energy in filling up a survey is genuinely interested in what you are offering. You could add an opt-in button to the survey form asking whether or not you can send them promotional emails in the future.

What to do with the email list?

A quality email list is a gold mine of data and when put to use effectively can get you great returns. Let's see what you can do with your email list.

1) Segment your audiences

Sending personalized emails is not just about adding the first name, the content must resonate and be of some value to the recipient. Segmenting your target audience and then designing separate email marketing campaigns for each of these segments is the key. One way to segment your email list is to base the source on where you have gathered an email ID. Segmentation will ensure you send highly relevant content to a particular group.

Use case: Say you are a brand manufacturing clothes. You have 2 lines, one targeted at college students (fast-fashion) and one is premium clothing for women in their 40's and 50's. When designing an email campaign you need to make sure you segment the list according to age and then send relevant emails to that age group.

2) Measure engagement

Email marketing helps you gauge audience engagement and gives you an opportunity to analyze how often your subscribers complete the desired action. The KPIs to measure audience engagement in your email marketing are

Simply running a campaign and sending emails to your subscribers is not enough. Measuring their engagement and making amends if required is equally important.

3) Create an email marketing strategy

Now that you have an email list in place, segment it and create separate email market campaigns for each segment. Set clear goals for each campaign, personalize the subject line and email content keeping your target audience in mind, be conversational, follow-up, AB test, and make amends where required.


A clean email list is the key to running email marketing campaigns that are effective and yield the desired results. Follow these basic ground rules to keep your email list clean and healthy:

  • Clean your email list regularly, once a year at least. Remove any duplicate and dummy email IDs (addresses from where emails bounce back).
  • Keep a track of disinterested subscribers and make a campaign to connect with them and re-generate their interest. Retaining existing customers is always in the best interest of your business.
  • Maintain basic email hygiene, with no spamming of subscriber inboxes.
  • Use email automation tools for effectively managing your email marketing campaign.
  • Always use double opt-ins to add contacts to your email list.

A good quality email list is the foundation of a successful email marketing campaign. Invest time in building one, do not rush. Integrating your CRM with your marketing automation tool to deliver personalized and relevant emails at every step of the customer lifecycle. Deliver genuine and quality content to your subscribers so that they stay with you long term and you get the full worth of every penny spent in building your email list.

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