How to Quickly Build an Email List With Hundreds of Subscribers

The old adage in internet marketing is that “the money is in the list.” This is simplistic bullshit, but it does highlight the importance of knowing how to build an email list. In early August, I was talking with Mike Cernovich about Milo Yiannopoulos’ Twitter ban. Mike remarked that Milo didn’t have an email list, which stunned me. Aside from being a failsafe if his social media outlets or websites were taken down (as one was), he could have easily had a list of over 100,000 people, which is extremely valuable for any advertiser.

I’ll leave out the usual bullshit about email’s conversion rate vs. other forms of media. You can find that standard shit anywhere. The point is that it’s an important tool you should have to succeed. It can seem daunting when you’re just starting out, and it will take some time to build up an email list from scratch, as it does with anything, but there is a methodical way in which you can steadily and consistently build up your subscriber base with elastic results based on your traffic.

First you need to manage your expectations. Your conversion rate probably won’t exceed 2%. In fact, a 0.5% conversion rate is just fine when you’re starting out, so don’t get too discouraged. After a year, I have over 100 subscribers on the Masculine Epic’s list and in a few months have 150 on the Outskirts Battledome Wiki’s. This doesn’t include unsubscribes, which will happen (I’ll do a post later about what I learned in managing an email list). Having two lists on two different outlets can help you to collect emails much faster.

Alright, now let’s get into the details as to how you do it.

Have Two Conversion Forms

You can do these in a variety of ways. If you read the Masculine Epic, you know that my conversion forms consist of a feature box (from the Feature Box Lite plugin) at the top and a popup from the Optin Cat plugin.

A popup is a good way to convert, but you need to make sure you do it correctly. If you stick it in someone’s face, as many websites do immediately upon entry, you’re guaranteed to get an exit click almost all the time. Only websites that get astronomical amounts of traffic can hope to convert any kind of volume this way, and chances are, you aren’t one of them when you start out. There’s also just the sleaziness factor to it. The first lesson you’ll learn in sales is that people avoid salespeople like the plague because they don’t want to be pushed into a sale (which is why I don’t have any “squeeze pages” and never will).

Instead, the Optin Cat plugin allows you to set a wide variety of options even in the free version, and I take advantage. I try to make my popup visible to get enough eyeballs on it, but not in an intrusive, in your face way that annoys readers. My Optin Cat settings are as follows:

  1. The popup appears five minutes in.
  2. The popup appears only once per visit to the website.

Since the average span of time for someone to visit a website is only eight seconds, a five minute visit probably means that the visitor has at least a developing interest in what you have to say. He’s probably been reading around somewhat. That’s a good position from which you can make an interesting offer (more on that below). If he doesn’t want to sign up yet, he can just close the box and it won’t bother him again for the rest of his stay. He can sign up later (through your other opt-in mechanism or with the same popup on a different day) or not at all if he likes.

Optin Cat Email list sign up
My popup from Optin Cat

The popup can be seen as your dynamic sign up tool. When starting out, you should have a static one also. The two options to these are generally a feature box on top or a sidebar. Because the Outskirts Battledome Wiki operates primarily on the Joomla! system (it’s easier to create a database with that software), the sidebar is more appropriate. With WordPress, I prefer the top feature box.

While the sidebar is non-intrusive, it also converts less and there’s less you can do with it. The feature box runs the risk of feeling like a squeeze, but it can capture attention immediately if you do it right. It’s also important that the feature box is seen “above the fold,” or “on the first screen.” Since the average length of stay on a website is again, eight seconds, having an interesting conversion form as the first thing you see, but which doesn’t feel like a sleazy popup, is helpful. The key is to put up a picture that’s impossible to ignore, followed by a provocative headline. Since our brains are wired to recognize visual information at least 10,000 times faster than textual, this is where the potential of a feature box really shines.

You can spruce up your feature box even further by taking advantage of the innate human drive toward facial recognition. Have an offer relating to a famous (or infamous) person and you’ll get more interest. This can be far more remote than you think, such as a commonality between your offer and what this person does (see below).

Feature Box Lite allows you to put a short and sweet bulleted list to capture attention beneath your headline. Your bullets should communicate the following three things that are the ingredients to any successful email collection campaign – your offer and the ability to receive it instantly, the benefit of your offer, and an assurance of privacy. These things can also be communicated on your sidebar. The OBD Wiki does it in paragraph form. I like bulleted lists better because they’re better suited to the short attention spans you’ll find on the web. The proof of this, I think, is that the Masculine Epic has a higher conversion rate than the OBD Wiki, even though the latter converts more people because it gets much more traffic. Feature Box Lite also seems to instantly add more people to your list in Mailchimp, whereas Optin Cat can sometimes lose people because it has to go through a double opt-in process (you’ll lose a lot more people this way than you think).

Now, I’ll dive into the details of all three components.

Your Offer

Just that. Getting people to give you their email addresses in this age of hypersensitivity to spam requires a certain degree of incentive. Just saying “sign up to keep track of the latest posts” usually won’t cut it. RSS and Twitter feeds exist for that stuff. Instead, you’ll want to offer something exclusive. Scarcity is one of Robert Cialdini’s famous six principles of influence, and exclusivity ties in to that.

Any offer is better than no offer. I started off with a simple worksheet tied into the concept of your Great Work. This converted surprisingly better than you might imagine at first, but then tapered off as time went by. Fortunately, by that time, Stumped was nearly done, and I changed the offer to two free chapters for signing up. This increased my email signup rate significantly (it also marked the beginning of using a recognizable face in association with one of my offers in the Feature Box).

I later supplemented this with my free ebook – The 48 Laws of Power: A Creative Retelling. I changed my Optin Cat popup to promote that while Stumped’s free chapters remain offered in the Feature Box. My email list conversions were tapering off once again, but after doing this, they bumped up once more.

Outlining two different offers with your two email signup devices will probably get you more than using the same offer twice.

For the Outskirts Battledome Wiki, we have a publication called OBD Monthly that all email subscribers receive. This was our opening offer, and it got far enough on its own, but Maria Veloso in Web Copy that Sells cautions that these kinds of publications should be your secondary, not your primary offer, in this day and age. Email conversions boosted considerably when The 48 Laws of Power: A Creative Retelling, became the primary offer.

You can start off very small if necessary. An OK offer is fine. Just continue to improve your offerings. You can’t go wrong with a free ebook or free chapters of a published book, and the double utility of using those to promote your finished work is also a massive plus.

And I might as well just tell you now that I’ll soon be doing a similar retelling of The Art of Seduction. This will be another ebook free to all of my email subscribers.

As a final note to your offer, make sure you say that it can be received without any pain or hassle in your signup form. I like to use the words “instantly receive.” Done.

Email list signup conversion
A fear-based offer.

What Are The Benefits?

“Sell benefits, not features,” so the old saying goes. The second point of your email sales pitch should be to briefly outline the major benefit of your offer, and that benefit should hit on some emotion. For Stumped’s two free chapters, the highlighted benefits are that you’ll be able to read how an authority figure (Donald Trump) uses the authority of his personal brand and his social proof (another of Cialdini’s influence principles) to sell himself. The benefit is that you too, can use these principles (as illustrated by Donald Trump) for your own purposes once you know them. The emotion it plays on is the desire for success, or generally, opportunity.

For The 48 Laws of Power: A Creative Retelling, the offer is confidence – the knowledge that you too, will have power plays available to you to make you more successful.

When offering OBD Monthly to viwers of the Outskirts Battledome Wiki, the offer was essentially exclusive information, correspondance with members, or in a couple of words, “VIP status.” This conveys exclusivity and status to those who like our community enough to give us an email.

From there you fill in the blanks with whatever features you think will shore up the benefit, such as the number of pages you’ll get on the topic, or the like.

Spam and Privacy

Email users are sensitive these days. You should assuage any doubts they have. This means that you should tell your audience essentially two things:

  1. You will only send them an email sparingly. You will not flood their inboxes.
  2. You will keep any email they offer you in confidence, and never share it with a third party.

There is also a third thing you can do to increase your email signups – don’t ask for a name. If you’ve ever noticed, my signup forms on both of my websites only ask for an email address. This adds a third layer of privacy to your prospective email list member. Getting too personal only raises more doubts, which means you’ll lose more potential conversions than you need.


Internet marketers in my opinion like to overhype the importance of building an email list, but there’s no doubt that it’s an important tool to utilize. If for some reason your website or social media outlets are taken down, you’ll have a backup so you won’t lose an important part of your audience while you rebuild. It’s also an important way to continually remind your audience of your existence.

If you follow these steps you should be able to build a fairly sizable email list in proportion to the traffic you get quickly enough. The essence will always be:

  1. Make a good and exclusive offer/s (and keep improving on them).
  2. Communicate a major emotionally satisfying benefit that can be obtained instantly.
  3. Guarantee privacy and non-spam.

You can (and should) experiment with different forms and sales copy to see what works best, but those components must always be in place. If they reasonably are, given time and traffic, your list will grow.

The tactics seen in Stumped will also help you grow your list.

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