Get updates on new articles, webinars and other opportunities:

How To Create a Killer Email List From Thin Air

by Neil Patel

You’ve probably heard people say, “the money is in the list.”

What does this mean?

In online marketing, an email list is the best form of communicating with your customers. Even though social media gets a lot of attention, the most valuable digital channel is email.

the most valuable channel is email

Image Source

Study after study has shown that email beats out every other form of online marketing in terms of ROI.

According to Adobe, email has an ROI of $40 for every $1 spent. That beats organic search and paid search combined!

roi per 1 dollar spent marketing

Image Source

When compared with all the other forms of online marketing across all industries and niches, email wins the day. Always.


Image Source

But if you don’t have an email list, none of this makes any difference.

The only way that you can maximize your marketing value is by building a list.

But how do you build a list? What if you’re starting from ground zero — no email list whatsoever?

The following is a step-by-step process that you can follow if you have absolutely no email list.

First Things First

You can’t create an email list if you don’t have a few other things in place first. At a minimum, here are the resources that you should have before you start building your list.

1. You must understand your audience.

Who are you targeting? Before you begin building a list, it’s helpful to have an idea of who these people are.

I recommend that you create a marketing persona — a made-up person that represents your ideal customer.

A basic persona should look something like this. Fill in the gaps with everything that you know about your target audience.

complete marketing persona parameters

Image Source

A complete persona would look something like this:

rachel small business owner

Image Source

The more you know about your audience, the better!

know your audience

Image Source

Here’s why creating a persona is so important. You need to figure out where your audience hangs out.

First, you need to find people, and then they will give you their email address. One of the most valuable places to find your audience initially is through social media. If you can discover where your audience hangs out socially, you will be able to get their email addresses more easily.

women vs. men social media sites

Image Source

2. You must have a website.

Next, you need a place where your potential list members will gather.

Basically, you need a website.

Creating a website can be a big scary step, so let me explain how to make this as easy as possible.

You don’t need a huge website in order to create an email list. In fact, all you really need is a landing page — a single-page website that contains your email opt-in form.

You can create a beautiful landing page in just a few minutes using any one of these services:


Most landing pages have a few key features, such as an image, a headline, and bullet points.

anatomy of a perfect landing page

Image Source

If you choose a service like Leadpages, you can use one of their premade landing pages proven to have high conversion rates, like this one.

generic landing page

Image Source

Your landing page must have an opt-in form. An opt-in form is where subscribers enter their email address.

Just a quick note about websites. If you choose to use a paid advertising channel like Google AdWords or Bing, you should make sure that your website complies with all their regulations.

Some advertising channels require that you have a multi-page website that includes pages such as Contact, Terms of Service, and Privacy Policies.

3. You need an email marketing service.

In order to communicate with your new email list, you’re going to need an email marketing platform.

There are plenty of platforms to choose from. You can start simple and inexpensive with a service like Mailchimp.

mailchimp email templates

Image Source

Or you can go high-end and use something like Infusionsoft.

infusionsoft sequence

Image Source

An email platform has a very simple purpose: 1) Organize your email list, and 2) send emails.

As your email marketing grows, you’re going to be doing a lot more with your email list, like sequencing, drip campaigns, etc. If you’re starting from scratch, however, just focus on collecting those addresses in a safe and legitimate way.

4. You need a tantalizing offer.

Whatever you’re offering, selling, building, creating, or asking, people need a reason to join your list.

Think about it. If you came across a landing page that asked for your email address, you wouldn’t want to do it unless you were going to get something in exchange.

What does your target audience want? Often, the best offers are your best resources, totally free. You can give them access to your software, a report, an ebook, or something else that gives real value.

AWeber offers a “free guide to standing out in the inbox.”

aweber free guide

This generic opt-in shows you some of the standard ingredients of a tantalizing offer — a clear benefit-oriented headline, bullet points, and an image.

this blog makes 32000 per month

That’s it. You’re ready to start collecting addresses.

Don’t you need content, product, or service?

Not at first. Here’s why. In many cases, you can build a list to get information, not to give information.

How does this work? In the very early stages of a business, it can be useful to discover what your audience wants using a survey.

First of all, you figure out what they’re looking for, and then you give them what they want. Obviously, there needs to be some tantalizing offer that appeals to your audience in general — a free download, a whitepaper or report, or simply giving them the survey results.

So, yes, eventually, you must deliver value to your audience. By “value” I mean things like free resources, helpful information, or some other offer.

No one will want to stay on your list unless they’re getting something from it.

Start with your existing resources.

Use what you have to add your first few email addresses.

What kind of resource do you already have? You probably already have a few email addresses in your work email or Gmail accounts.

Can you just add these to your email list?


But you can email these people personally and send them to your landing page.

Here’s how one blogger did it.

He sent an email to a friend, asking, “Want me to include you?”

bryan harris email

His email included a nice “hook” — “cool places in Nashville to hang outdoors.” It also included an attention-grabbing image.

His friend emailed back:

joel patric mcafee

Above Images Source

Personally, I would recommend sending these people the link to your landing page. That way, you’re not manually inputting the email addresses of people who want to be included. Instead, they are personally opting in themselves.

Where else can you find people to add to your list?

Social media.

If you have a social media account, you can post a link to your landing page. Posting the link on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and everywhere else you can think of will definitely pull in a few email addresses at least.

Social media will give you exposure far beyond your own circle of friends and family. Most social media platforms, for example, allow your information to be publicly accessible.

Using the right hashtags on Twitter will give you a broad range of exposure to hundreds of people.

tweets with hashtags

Image Source

Another powerful social media method is to join relevant groups where your target audience is active. Often, these groups allow you to post links to your own product or services, allowing people to opt in.

LinkedIn groups are one of the most powerful methods of gaining exposure and interaction. LinkedIn groups often consist of members who are exactly the people you are trying to reach.

Give yourself a week to a month to pound social medial for results. You may be shocked by what you get. As long as you have an appropriate offer, your email list may explode to dozens or hundreds of email addresses.

Now, it’s time to take things to the next level.

Purchase ads.

So far, you’ve been able to build your list organically. This is the best way to do so, but it’s not necessarily the fastest — not yet anyway.

As you build subscribers, create content, and gain organic traffic, your email list will grow spontaneously. But you can jumpstart your list by purchasing ad traffic.

What kind of paid traffic? Here are the best sources:

  • Facebook ads. Using Facebook’s powerful segmentation features, you can quickly target your ad to a very narrow demographic. You may pay a few dollars for every email address, but you will get value by using Facebook ads.
  • LinkedIn sponsored updates. Linkedin’s native ads provide a similar level of targeting. Obviously, a LinkedIn audience is going to differ in nature and purpose from Facebook, but if this is your audience, give it a try.
  • Twitter ads. Twitter ads will promote your tweets to a growing audience, bringing more traffic to your landing page and potentially gaining more followers, too.
  • Using AdWords, you can grow your list by ten times. AdWords gives you a huge influx of targeted traffic that will blast the size of your list to unbelievable heights.

Doesn’t all this cost money?

Of course it does. Don’t run from it just because of the associated costs.

Remember, the money is in the list. Whatever money you spend on gaining email addresses, you will get back in the revenue from this list.

Start content marketing.

Everything that I’ve described so far is a very targeted method of list building.

However, there’s a far more powerful strategy that I haven’t even touched on yet.

Content marketing.

Whether you’re a beginner or advanced in content marketing, you probably know how powerful it can be.

Content marketing builds your list indirectly by first attracting users to your content, and then inviting them to be part of your mailing list.

This is the exact strategy I use on my blog. At the very top of my blog, I invite people to join me on my journey. By entering their name and email address, they gain access to my lessons on building traffic.


Buffer does the same thing. Their blog includes a call to action, inviting people to get “actionable social media advice.”

schedule your first post

Never underestimate the power of content. Content marketing has been and will be one of the most powerful forms of marketing.

Simply by posting a few targeted articles with strong SEO, you will begin to grow your traffic and your subscribers.


Is that it? Can you build your email list with just those few steps?

Absolutely. But there are other things you can do, too. You can try advanced techniques like webinars, giveaways, and popups. The more strategies you test, the greater your email list will grow.

Once you get the hang of it, it becomes like a game. With ever new tactics and innovative methods, you can grow your email list by leaps and bounds.

But it’s never just about growing a list. It’s about building a relationship with the people on your list.

The money isn’t in the list as much as it is in the relationship that you have with those people. You don’t just build a list and leave it. You build a list and cultivate it with high-value emails, exclusive offers, rich information, and a personal tone.

What methods did you use to build your email list from scratch?



Get updates on new articles, webinars and other opportunities:

Neil Patel

Neil Patel is the co-founder of Crazy Egg and Hello Bar. He helps companies like Amazon, NBC, GM, HP and Viacom grow their revenue.


Comment Policy

Please join the conversation! We like long and thoughtful communication.
Abrupt comments and gibberish will not be approved. Please, only use your real name, not your business name or keywords. We rarely allow links in your comment.
Finally, please use your favorite personal social media profile for the website field.


Your email address will not be published.

  1. Anonymous says:
    January 21, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    Offer giveaways. Content doesn’t just have to be social media content and/or blog posts. You can make use of reports, how-to guides or something else that the target audience will sight as valuable information. As soon as you provide a high quality giveaway, your visitors will be much more likely to give their information in exchange for your giveaway.

    • Anonymous says:
      May 3, 2016 at 8:32 pm

      Great post Neil I just want to add one point.
      One of the best ways to get people to actually opt-in to email list is to offer something, called an ethical bribe it is also called lead magnet that could be anything like a report or an eBook or something that can be build or write and give it away as a free

  2. Dirk says:
    January 21, 2016 at 7:24 am

    Hey Neil, like Lucy can you expand about how are we going to know what our target audience wants? Is there some kind of software that can help?

  3. Keith says:
    January 21, 2016 at 6:21 am

    Neil another great post. Thanks

  4. Anonymous says:
    January 20, 2016 at 12:19 am

    Very Good Article. Thank you for posting it.

  5. Lucy Barber says:
    January 19, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    Thanks for the post, Neil! I have been trying to find good resources for brainstorming what kind of offers our content marketing should have. For some reason, my creativity is completely dried up in this arena. The question “What does your target audience want?” for some reason doesn’t get at the root of the problem for me. Do you have any resources you would recommend for brainstorming that “Tantalizing” content?

Show Me My Heatmap

literally addicted to the stuff I'm seeing in @CrazyEgg. Such a fantastic piece of software! #Marketing #Content #Digital

Chris Vella-Bone