Growing an Organic Email List

Spring Cleaning Part I: Growing an Organic Email List


This post was updated on April 10, 2020. It was originally published in April 2015.

Spring has sprung. Though you may already be planning to sweep out your garage and clean out closets, you may also want to add your email list to the cleaning to-dos. Before we dig into the nitty-gritty details of cleaning and maintaining your email list, let’s talk about how to build a healthy list from the start.

Email Lists Don’t Last Forever

Did you know that your email list degrades every year by up to 22.5%? People change jobs— and email addresses—and unsubscribes happen. That’s why you need to consistently grow your list to account for the subscribers you will inevitably lose.

Don’t Buy Lists 

Leslie Knope says no

Though you may be tempted, just don’t do it. That is unless you want a list that’s full of spam traps, bad data, and a lower ROI. It’s also illegal, in case you were wondering. Buying a list will hurt your deliverability, email metrics, and brand as a whole.


You don’t know what kind of data those lists have. They could be old, incorrect, and/or full of spam traps. Sending to bad email addresses can get you flagged as spam, or even blocklisted, which will hurt your deliverability. Your email metrics are also going to suffer a hit, as open and engagement rates plummet and unsubscribes/complaints skyrocket.

And honestly, it’s a waste to send emails to people that don’t want them. Plus it makes your brand look unprofessional, invasive, and out-of-touch. And you won’t get the ROI from your email marketing program that you’re after.

So, if buying a list is out, then what should you do?

Grow Your List Organically

You want to fill your email list full of people who actually want to hear from you. That’s how you can get major ROI from your email marketing program and why email is so effective.

Create Content & Incentivize

 Think about the audience you are trying to attract and create relevant content for them. For B2C businesses, the thing that often gets subscribers to sign up for an email list is a coupon code, a giveaway, an eBook of recipes, newsletters, or exclusive access to a sale or product launch. B2B subscribers want tools that help them do their jobs better, like whitepapers, guides, infographics, and webinars. The best way to tantalize a potential subscriber is by offering some great content for free.

Your best and most-desirable content should be gated to drive an email signup. This the first step towards proving your relevance and value, and it’s also the top of your marketing funnel.

These are also known as lead magnets. 🧲

Other ideas:

  • Provide signup sheets at events
  • Ask for email addresses at point-of-sale
  • Use social media
  • Run surveys
  • Partner with an influencer
  • Use lightboxes and exit popups
  • Create a free tool
  • Offer a free trial period for your service or subscription

Keep in mind that there needs to be something in it for your new subscriber. This is a place where a lot of brands get hung up on their own goal of building their list, rather than focusing on subscriber interest. Be about the customer—what can you give them? What value can you provide? Remember, this is the start of a relationship.

Optimize Your Opt-in Form

 Your opt-in form is where you collect subscriber data, like their email address, name, and any other information you may want to use for personalization and segmentation. There are some important rules you need to follow when you create your opt-in form. The General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, requires active opt-in, which means you cannot pre-tick your opt-in boxes. Just this year in California (with other states soon to follow), CCPA was passed, which requires information on how data will be used, sold, etc. You may also want to update your opt-in form with a “don’t sell my info” button as an option.

When growing your list organically, you can do so through a single or double opt-in process. In case you need a refresher, here’s the difference:

  • Single opt-in: Someone fills out a registration or subscription form and is automatically added to your email list.
  • Double opt-in: After someone signs up for your mailing list, you send a confirmation link in an email that they must click before they are added to your list.

We recommend using double-opt-in lists. They’re compliant with international spam laws and they help boost deliverability and open rates. 👍

Be Transparent

How many emails will you be sending a week? What kind of email content can a new subscriber expect? If you want to keep your subscribers, you need to be transparent and consistent with your subscribers.

Don’t use clickbaity subject lines to drive opens, and make sure you’re sending from a recognizable sender name. You should also be upfront about and maintain an email cadence. Don’t suddenly up the amount of emails you send from two to seven a week. Finally, make your unsubscribe button clear as day, and easy to click.

Set Up a Preference Center

We all like options – including your new subscribers.

Preference centers can prevent a hasty unsubscribe by providing options for subscribers to tailor your emails to their exact preferences. Empower your subscribers to interact with your emails how they want to. It will keep them on your list for longer.

It can also help you segment, which is great for sending personalized emails. Highly targeted, relevant content is likely the reason subscribers signed up in the first place. It can go a long way in maintaining the health of your list and the lifetime of the subscriber.

Don’t Cut Corners

Building your list through a strictly opt-in basis can be tedious, but remember that quality trumps quantity. By purchasing a list, you’re running the risk of gaining unqualified leads, or even worse… fake and malicious email addresses. Ensure you’re protecting your sender reputation and in turn, your brand, through organic list building practices.

Now that you’ve built a healthy list from the ground up, we’ll discuss nurturing your list through email hygiene practices in part 2 of our spring cleaning edition. Stay tuned!

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Avatar for Kirsten Queen
Author: Kirsten Queen

With a background in marketing and a passion for content creation, Kirsten has written copy for ecommerce email efforts and e-newsletters. She now serves as Email on Acid’s social media coordinator and has enjoyed the deep dive into the close-knit and passionate world of the Email Geeks.

Avatar for Kirsten Queen
Author: Kirsten Queen

With a background in marketing and a passion for content creation, Kirsten has written copy for ecommerce email efforts and e-newsletters. She now serves as Email on Acid’s social media coordinator and has enjoyed the deep dive into the close-knit and passionate world of the Email Geeks.

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