How to Build a List: Why Would Someone Bother to Sign Up and How to Retain Them

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This is a guest post by Ana Hoffman.

@ signsIf there’s one thing I learned about learning internet marketing, it’s this – never take a marketer’s point of view without caution (unless of course if it’s Frank Kern or Dean Hunt and the likes that are talking).

Take list building for example.

Left and right, we’re literally swamped with list building tips from so-so marketers.

I wouldn’t even attempt googling the topic – you won’t find much credible, current, let alone free information on it.

So, where do you really learn it? And I mean the real deal?

Well, aside from the trustworthy experts (and there are only a handful), the best way to learn it is from the end-user’s perspective.

Yes, that’s right. People like you and me.

After all, aren’t we all targets of someone’s list?

There are two essential parts to the list building puzzle.

The first is about the obvious list building, that is making people sign up for your newsletter. Or should I rather say the reasons why people would even bother to put their coveted email address into your form.

The second one is about the art of retention.

It’s about making sure you’re not operating a cold list (a list that’s useless and with virtually zero subscriber action) and keeping people glued to your next email.

Okay. On to the first one.

Why Would Someone Bother Signing Up to Your List

Chances are the answer is no one.

I mean, ask yourself: how many newsletters have you signed up for the past week, let alone the past month?

The truth is we’re all reluctant to give away our key information, except if we come across something really special.

List Building Don’ts

1. When we are fed up with getting even more tips in our inbox.

Check various blogs right now with newsletter opt-in forms.

Usually, they would say something like “sign-up to receive more <insert niche here> tips!

Personally I think it’s not a well-thought catch phrase (if not lousy). The blogosphere is a dump site of virtually endless tips and you’d still want to chunk that to my inbox?

I don’t think so.

2. Lack of call to action.

Your opt-in form is just sitting right there, at the sidebar.

I get it – it serves a function being there at the sidebar. Someone might sign up just by seeing it, right?

Yes, probably. But let’s admit it, what kind of conversion rates would you get without actually asking people to sign up?

I’m not saying you strip it right now. My point is that you should never depend on just having your opt-in form plastered in some part of your blog.

3. Traditional internet marketing.

No innovations. Boring.

“Sign up to my email list and you’ll get my perfect money-making system right in your box – for FREE!”

People would generally avoid lists like these like a plague that they are.

List Building Dos

Of course, there are some instances, in which we’d be more than willing to give up our private info and then some. Usually, these scenarios are reserved for newsletters by niche experts.

But who says you can’t copy their strategy?

1. Exclusive information value.

In Brian Clark’s newsletter, for example, the first couple of lessons are published in the blog (as teasers), but once you get hooked, you have to sign up to read the whole sequence.

2. A possibly good return.

Again it’s all about exclusivity.

Do not present your newsletter as yet another information source that you can find anywhere else.

Instead, position it as something that can bring exclusive benefits to subscribers only.

For instance, if you are an email subscriber at Traffic Generation Café, you might get a free blog audit – something that a reader in general won’t get. For free, that is.

3. Immediate return.

This one is much more common.

Subscribe to get a free ebook, a free course, a free access to videos, etc.

Effective? Yes. A bit overused though, don’t you think?

Unless, of course, you step it up a bit and come up with something more exciting… something like this:

4. Give ‘em a free gadget.

Okay maybe not a gadget, but a prize perhaps?

Organize an outrageously good contest to spike attention to your newsletter subscription list.

For instance, John Chow gave away a free iPad 2.

Before that, ShoeMoney once gave away lots of Flip Mino HDs to spike up the number of his Twitter followers.

Seriously, if you have some funds to spare, this strategy will work wonders.

How targeted of an email list you’ll get? That’s another story.

5. Create a squeeze page without making it look like a squeeze page.

I’m sure everyone’s familiar with your typical squeeze page.

Single-page site, big bold headers, green check lists, the why-it-is-important’s, and of course that very prominent subscription box.

Glen Allsopp has recently tried this method and reported a 64% conversion rate. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

6. Use the link to your squeeze page (or any page with your sign-up form).

Instead of your home page, that is. Places like your social media accounts or in your comments.

Everyone can get nosy at some point. That’s why people click on your Twitter bio link (for example) or your comment name to see who you are and what you are about.

Why not lead them straight to the page where they’d be enticed to sign up? Might as well convert every little bit of traffic you are getting.

7. Try testimonials.

Why not collect positive testimonials from the people who’re already on your list?

There’s nothing known to marketing right now that beats social proof and a word of mouth.

How to Retain Your Subscribers


While you’re trying to get more and more people to sign up for your list, hope you realize that there are already those who are in it and need some attention as well.

There are two no-no kinds of lists.

The first is the cold one – the list that really doesn’t convert into actions or clicks (or worse, is not even being read at all) and the dying one – where your subscribers just go *poof* one by one.

You won’t want to end up with either one.

Therefore, how do we retain subscribers and keep the list hot?

1. No crossing fingers.

Simply put, deliver what you promised when they signed up.

2. Observe the right frequency.

There isn’t a standard, but see to it that you send at least an email a week (take note the word at least) just to make sure they don’t forget who you are.

My personal sweet spot is 2-3 times per week.

3. Keep them on the edge of their seats.

Email them something you don’t post on your blog, for instance.

I do it all the time. Or email them a post or a tip that you haven’t published yet and make sure they know it.

“Being included” is a very powerful social trigger.

4. Don’t spam. NEVER EVER.

Marketing Takeaway


It’s not easy nowadays to seduce your readers into giving you access to their inboxes.

The trick is you’d have to give them a clear incentive to do so.

Of course, make sure you’re true to your word and to never keep your list stalling.

Always, always promote and keep the connection to your existing subscribers.

There. Off you go to build your very own responsive list.

Traffic, traffic, traffic… Can’t do without it, but don’t know how to get it? Ana does, and she freely shares her best insider traffic generation tips and secrets on her Traffic Generation Cafe blog. If you liked the post you just read, you’ll find even more tips on how to build a list on her blog.
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  1. says

    Great info Ana, I’m sure it will help hundreds of web masters out there trying to build and retain users, material you’ve provided here is simple yet many people tend to ignore this and go on spoiling user experience with new letters and other stuff which are of no value to users.

  2. Chris Coldiron says

    Thank you so much for the explanation, and advice. This has been very useful. Something else that I have found that helped out quit well, and was only $1 from Amazon.The book is called The Highly Profitable List building Academy: Secrets to huge profits building list online. It gives you step by step help to build huge list. Hope this helps.

  3. says

    Hi Ana I enjoyed this posts because it really had genuine instructions on how to get traffic.Up until now I’ve just been busy concentrating on putting up websites and getting in the practice because I love to write and just wanted to be heard.Now that I feel confident enough for traffic reading your post is motivation to put more effort in that direction.

  4. says

    Great article Ana, just Tweeted it.

    Thanks for brining attention to Glen Allsopp’s squeeze page. It really looks like a great idea. I’m going to try it out and see how it goes.


  5. says

    My experience as a member of lists is that the first few emails I receive after I join a new list are interesting and original. But by maybe the fourth email almost all lists turn into sales pitches for the same old stuff. IOW there’s not a lot of originality in most lists.

  6. says

    i scare to subscribe newsletter while i scare to get spam so you can find out that lot of form now do have a word that we promise not to spam ! It really work .
    I love the way of your form which do have dropbox. It allow to customize us and only send us what we want. The best is put more drop down box that do have our interest would be better.

  7. says

    i am a blogger everyday i browse different types of articles to get lots of new tips while i was browsing,i found ur blog your article is really awesome.Thanks for sharing such nice article here.i also want to share valuable how to build a list tips.

  8. says

    You are so right. Most people do understand and are skeptical of any enticement to get on or in anyones autoresponder. I think heart felt sincerity along with the basics, ie. state the benefits, features, restate benefits and then make a clear call to action is still the only shot we have.
    Of course branding yourself, which takes time is also adviseable.

  9. says

    Hi! Ana,
    Thanks for your tips, the do’s and don’ts. I actually implemented an optin box on my website but I read somewhere on the internet that optin boxes pisses readers off.

    Please, Ana, is that true? I’m quite confused on this because I’m still a new blogger.

    Awaiting your response.
    Thanks in advance.

  10. says

    Your contents are great and yes the key is to offer something special to your visitors.. like free trainings, videos, ebooks.. all these cost money but giving it to your readers for free is a sure fire way to capture leads

  11. says

    That’s a great collection of tips for listbuilding! You’re very right, who would want even more ‘Top Tips for ‘ in his/her mailbox? Creativity is needed here (as it is in many places).

  12. says

    Wow I have never seen such extensive method of building a list.. so complicated yet very well explained.. so the idea is to tease a bit and then sign up for more and then offer and so on…

  13. says

    One useful strategy is to utilise your automated emails to start segmenting your lists. This is particularly useful if you’ve kind of got a “broad” topic list, eg: “work from home”

    You can use the autoresponder to direct people to other optins according to their specific interests within the niche, (such as an MLM sublist, internet marketing, etc)… and then REALLY start warming them up, knowing you’re hitting the hot spots.

  14. says

    Hi Ana!

    Great seeing you here. =)

    Email lists have sorta become my newest headache, but it’s all a time thing. I apply what I learn from Brandon Burchard, Frank Kern, etc., and essentially what they say if what you’ve reiterated here. It’s good, solid, basic advice.

    The one thing I have a love-hate relationship with email lists is how infinitely subjective they really are. What works for one person’s list won’t work for someone else’s, and even within the same niche, what works “here” won’t necessarily work “there.” The endless experimentation is what I just don’t have the nose for.


  15. says

    “5. Create a squeeze page without making it look like a squeeze page.”

    Great tip, lots of them look shady, but when they look professional, they have higher success rate.

  16. says

    There’s so much hype around email lists, but it’s actually more difficult than you would think to make money (and provide user value) via email lists. Great, realistic post!

  17. says

    I am loving this article with its depth of details. I am just getting started in this area of marketing online, and as a newbie this is some awesome information. Thanks so much for putting this info out for us!

  18. says

    I have one really cold list. It irritates me terribly. However, I have another list that is really responsive, so a bit of balance there. I don’t overdo the mailings, I don’t always offer a download (the info is contained in the email), and I never mail info to all my lists. Ionly mail info relevant to that list.

    Enjoy the journey.


  19. says

    Ana, Excellent article on list building! Here’s a cool tip also, you can collect as much as hundreds and thousands of email subscribers via Pay-Per-View(PPV) traffic sources such as TrafficVance and MediaTraffic. This is normally how i build my list. Views are very cheap.

  20. says

    Hi Ana, it’s so great to see you guest posting here on Lisa’s blog. Well done.
    I’ve been thinking about list building a lot lately and I tried to take the point of view of the subscriber. In this post you answered most of the questions I had and talked about the importance of “exclusivity”. I agree that is the real hook that makes it worthwhile.

    I think many of the successful marketers you mentioned (yourself included) are good at list building because they honestly do have something awesome to offer their subscribers. Another key factor seems to be “Authority”. By that I mean, when you have a positive reputation online, more people will feel that it’s worth a shot. Authority also means ranking high for keywords that will pull in the right kind of organic traffic and targeted visitors that will yield higher conversion rates.

    Thanks for the tips Ana, enjoy the rest of the weekend.

  21. says

    You have made great list to get more fans page. So far, I feel difficult to get fans page for my blog. But, I don’t know How the way to make it. And, once more, My trouble is free time to take care my blog. Almost a month I don’t take care my blog because I have to attend on training that is presented by my company where I work, and I can’t spare my time to take care my blog, but sometime I check on my email, I have a lot of emails from visitors of my blog, and I can’t replay them. I hope I can try your post

  22. says


    I think the key of getting results is being unique, creative and helpful in everything you do. The sign-up list is something like a trade, they trade their email address for something that you (will) offer in exchange. You must approach them with unique texts – Sign up here for learning new techniques/copyrighted discoveries/unknown secrets about .. whatever. I think this looks great than the old-fashioned way spammy look-a-like just like you’ve mentioned in this article. The answer is being smart and unique.

    Best wishes,

    George Williams

  23. says

    Hi Lisa,

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! for this timely post that was so beneficial to me.

    As I was wondering what can I do to generate traffic to me so that I could even get people to opt-in to my list, a tool comes along “Cloud Flood” that allows me to leverage on it to get people to visit my site.

    just implemented and tested it… Love It!

    Next, is to keep the finger cross so that more visitors come to my side and hopefully the momentum comes.

    Most important of all, thank you Ana Hoffman, for without your blog post, I would not have known about this Cloud Flood Tool ( FREE too 😉 )

    Cheers and have a great weekend!

    William Siong
    How To Make Money With A Computer

  24. says

    Hi, Ana

    I must admit that your pointers on how to get more subscribers by running a contest where they get a chance to win something is pretty cool. I have seen that John Chow has done this pretty often, but i never looked into how successful this method is.

    The down side to this is that the subscribers may not convert very well, but i think it’s worth a shot.

    Thanks for the tips Ana

    Kind Regards
    Todd, Dowell

  25. says

    Weird I was just wondering about this yesterday. You are totally right that there isn’t much good information about this on the web. I am really glad that I found this on here. Of all places the one website that I am subscribed to helps me out!

  26. says

    This article is an eye-opener, but building lists via these opt in forms are getting more challenging by the day. Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook are the preferred methods of staying informed these days. I find it easier and less intrusive to just follow my favorite people’s messages on these sites. I’m an information junkie, but I’ve signed up for only a tiny number of newsletters. The rest I receive as spam.

  27. says

    Hi Lisa and Ana,
    Great post and some great info for my future list-building plans. I don’t really have much to ‘squeeze’ from my readers as yet, but this is good stuff and I like your writing style, Ana, since you kept me reading right to the very end. And so much so, that I signed up to your blog to see what else you have to say and got a surprise ebook for doing it. Cool. I might even learn something about blogging :)

  28. says

    Wow Ana,

    What a great blog post :-)

    Very informative, and unique. I haven’t put an opt-in form on my site yet mostly because I’m still in the process of building pages and content.

    These are great tips for when I am ready for list building.

    Thanks again

    Ti Roberts

  29. says

    Great post. You email 2 – 3 times a week? I can barely get 2 – 3 in a month, and typically when I have done one per week for a few weeks, I oddly enough get complaints that I’m emailing too much. Seems a bit silly considering some people email their lists daily, but oh well.

  30. says

    7. Try testimonials.

    Why not collect positive testimonials from the people who’re already on your list?

    There’s nothing known to marketing right now that beats social proof and a word of mouth.
    great information.

  31. says

    Great reminder! Building a list is one of the best decisions I made. My list is responsible for thousands of dollars in revenues each year. It is also a big reason why my traffic levels are high and sustainable over time through recurring readership. A list also allows me to operate remotely away from a website or a blog – if nothing else, it is a great contingency plan in the event your web properties fail and you need to connect with your followership.

  32. says

    Your 3d tip in Don’ts and 3d tip in Do’s kind of mix up, don’t they :D? Because while I find “subscribe and you get millions of free books” annoying, I do sometimes subscribe just for that.

    But then again, it depends on the connection between your visitors and you.

    • says

      Not necessarily, Tarrum – “perfect money system in a box”, which is a concept that doesn’t exist to begin with and a free ebook that provides a lot of value (hopefully and better) are really that related in my book.

      The main point I was making is trust and the first one would make me run, not walk.

      Thanks for the comment!


  33. says

    Excellent post!

    Here is what has worked for me:
    1) Create a product that solves a problem.
    2) Pre-sell with NON optin videos or articles that provide some of your best advice.
    3) Offer an Free mini-course of audio lessons or videos that requires an optin. Here again let them have your best stuff.
    4) Hard sell and soft sell more of your best stuff, while removing all risks. That means give them the NO questions asked guarantee. They must be convinced that if they want a refund, you will give it to them promptly.

    If what you give away for free and sell is high quality, you will have faithful followers for a long time.

    It helps if you are truly interested in helping others solve their problems.

    • says

      Sounds like a perfect sales model, Jordy – we could all do very well following it.

      Too bad not many are all that good at these steps, since, once you break it down, there’s a lot of skill involved in each step, wouldn’t you agree?


  34. says

    Weird I was just wondering about this yesterday. You are totally right that there isn’t much good information about this on the web. I am really glad that I found this on here. Of all places the one website that I am subscribed to helps me out!

  35. says

    Hello Lisa,
    Just think my list converts great, even though i don’t ask squeeze page. The few that get to subscribe, i make sure i give them the best. I send newsletters to my subscribers just once a months and their response is still very satisfactory.
    I also notice it’s best to promise less and deliver more.

  36. says

    My experience is slightly different.
    I ran could of “contests” on my blog where I required people to subscribe in order to take part. Prizes were very real – flash drives. Conversion was very low.
    But from those who subscribed (not only during contests), only one has unsubscribed so far!
    Conclusion? Your rules does not work all the time. Real give aways are not always good reason for people to subscribe. And it is content which make them stay, not anything else.


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