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How to Build an Email List for Free: 9 Proven (and Reliable) Ways

  • List Building

Your email list is your best friend when you work with email marketing. The ideal email list contains plenty of relevant subscribers, who have all willingly given you their email address because you have promised them valuable content in return.

That means you can send them great offers, new products and new ideas that will convert your subscribers into customers.

As a matter of fact, 51% of marketers have pronounced email marketing as the top digital channel. It all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

However, none of that will ever become a reality, if you don’t have any subscribers. A lot of the people I talk to claim that it can be a costly affair to grow your email list – but that is a common misunderstanding I want to correct.

The truth is, it is possible to build an email list for free.

And in this post, I’m going to show you exactly how to do it, step-by-step.

Before you know it, you’ll find yourself with an email list stuffed with relevant emails without busting your marketing budget.

Do keep in mind that nothing in life (unfortunately) is ever free. So when I tell you, you can do all of these things without spending any money, it does, however, mean you are going to invest a certain amount of your own time implementing these tips.

I have done my absolute best to create this guide with that in mind, so all of the tips are easy and fast to implement, which means you can keep doing what you do best – all while your email list grows bigger and bigger without ripping your pockets.

Let’s just get started, right?

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Make The Most Out of Your Stock Products

If you own an ecommerce store, you have most definitely tried having products in your shop that are out of stock. It’s never a good thing, is it? Retailers lose an estimated $93 billion in annual sales because of out of stock inventory.

Your visitor was incredibly close to making a purchase, but can’t get their hands on that item they wanted to buy. Don’t let them get away!

You can turn the seemingly bad situation into a free, easy and efficient way to get that customer’s email – and offer them great service at the same time, but not everyone has figured that out yet.

So how do you do that?

Let’s take ASOS as an example. If you want to buy a product that’s out of stock you’ll simply be informed that your preferred size or product is not available.

Now we can’t have that! The visitor will simply go somewhere else to buy. You need to consider how you want to go about messaging your potential customers when it comes to out of stock products.

Why not inform the visitor, that “the selected product is unfortunately out of stock, but why don’t we get back to you once it’s back?”. You can then ask for their email address and send them a notification once the product is back in stock.

Vildmedvin has that part completely under control.

When you fall in love with a product that’s out of stock, the black box above appears. It says ‘Unfortunately this product is sold out. Write your email address in the field below to receive an email once it’s back.’

However, I have one simple yet vital thing to add here. Vildmedvin.dk gets the visitor’s email address, but they are only allowed to use it to get in touch once the wine gets back in stock.

That means they aren’t converting the customer into a lead they can use to promote other offers in the future. You have figured it out already, haven’t you?

Here’s the deal:

To make the most of an otherwise unfortunate situation, you should offer to get back in touch when the product is back and add a checkbox enabling them to opt in for great offers and discounts once a month (or whatever frequency you send out newsletters)

My favorite example of an ecommerce store that absolutely aces this trick is Fithythree.

As shown above, you can click the red text “Get notified” when a product is out of stock. When you click the text, this popup appears.

The visitor can enter their email and thereby get notified once the product is back in stock. At the same time, they have the option to receive emails about other products and promotions.

Bottom line:

Not only do you make the most of a sticky situation, the emails you’ll collect by doing this are incredibly valuable as the visitor has already decided to purchase something from you. That means they are highly interested in your brand and what you have to offer.


  • If a product is out of stock, ask the visitor for their email
  • Add a checkbox so that the visitor can opt in for your newsletter as well
  • Make it clear what value the visitor gets from signing up

Use Your Email Signature

This is an important one for me: don’t just use your email signature to tell the reader who you are, what your phone number is, and what company you are from – use it to collect emails!

This trick is so incredibly simple yet unbelievably effective. Personally, I use my email signature to collect emails. Check this out:

I’ve added an: P.s.: Do you want exclusive insights, tips, tricks and hacks from leading ecommerce businesses and influencers? Subscribe to the Inside Ecommerce Influencers and a link to subscribe.

The result:

I have experienced a 1.5% conversion rate on this one, so let’s just do some quick math here:

If you have 20 employees who all send out ten emails a day, that’s 200 emails everyday times the total number of working days in a month. That’s thousands of emails you’re sending out! With a 1.5% conversion rate, it’ll result in loads of relevant emails each month – and you haven’t paid a penny! And I promise you that you can do this in less than five minutes if you just follow this quick guide to changing your email signature. nd out anyway.


When in your inbox, click the “Settings” icon.

If you scroll down, you’ll see the “Signature” box, where you can add the option to subscribe to your newsletter.

Apple mail:

  1. Open your Apple mail. In the top bar, choose “Mail” and click the “Settings” option.
  2. A new window will open where you click “Signatures” in the navigation bar.
  3. Add a new email signature by clicking the “+”.
  4. Hit save.


  1. Open a new message.
  2. On the “Message” tab, in the “Include” group, click “Signature”, and then “Signatures”.
  3. On the “Email Signature” tab, click New.
  4. Type a name for the signature, and then click OK.
  5. In the “Edit signature” box, type the text that you want to include in the signature.
  6. Click OK to save your new signature.

This hack should take up no more than two lines in your email signature. As you can tell, I prefer a short, get-to-the-point way of promoting the newsletter. If you design your signature well enough, it will seem like you are offering the receivers of your emails an extra treat every time you send them an email. 

  • “Subscribe to my newsletter and get the best garden hacks every month.”
  • “Want to become a master chef? Subscribe to our newsletter and receive yummy recipes once a week.”
  • “By the way! I want to share my best ecommerce insights with you through my newsletter. Sign up here.”

Those three examples are short, precise and efficient without taking up too much space.

You can easily link to your Mailchimp form if you are using Mailchimp. To get the link to your opt-in form you go to your Mailchimp list, click the drop down, press choose forms and then general forms.

Here you’ll find the link to your form which you should enter as a clickable link in your email signature.

And it’s just that simple! Optimize your email signature and grow your email list using the emails you send out anyway.


  • Promote your newsletter (or service or event) in your email signature
  • It’s easy to setup in most email services – takes no more than five minutes
  • Link to your Mailchimp form, if you are using Mailchimp
  • Your promotion in the signature should be no longer than two lines

Discover how Airtame converts 3,8% of all visits to email subscribers and how you can, too.. Learn more

Invite Users to Subscribe Before They Check out

Once your visitors have decided to purchase something from your ecommerce store, they have decided they like your brand, your product, and your site. Your product range has sparked their interest to that extent that they just can’t live without that one thing, they have decided to buy.

That is excellent news for you – and you can get even more out of it. By giving them the option to subscribe to your newsletter during checkout, you can indeed collect some relevant and valuable emails from people, who have already shown an interest in what you have to offer.

However, you must do something extra than doing what 98% of all ecommerce stores do: simply writing “sign up for our newsletter.” That is in no way effective – because why should they?

A different, innovative and fun approach is Greenline. During checkout, they offer the customer to sign up for their newsletter and receive free sweets with their delivery. 

That is very effective, as it has increased their sign up eleven times! ELEVEN. And as mentioned before, the subscribers you collect when they are in the process of buying are more relevant than any other leads.

In the checkout process at Greenline, they ask for all the “normal” things you usually ask for in a checkout process: Are you a private person, business, or public institution? And then they ask for email address, phone number, name, address, and zip code.

Then they have a small checkbox at the bottom where you can subscribe to their newsletter. This form is also found in many checkout processes. However, Greenline lures their customers in with the promise of candy with the caption “Gummy bears and great offers” “sign up for our newsletter and we’ll add some candy to your order”. I mean… CANDY!

How great is that? It almost seems wrong, but then again, who doesn’t like candy. They have even included an image of some gummy bears to make our mouths water. This really is a great example of offering people that little extra to get them to sign up for a newsletter.

Another company that offers a great incentive is Zalando. They have made it absolutely crystal clear what the customer gains from signing up to the newsletter – and by including a discount they make it hard to resist! Everyone likes a great offer, hey?

As this popup says, all subscribers will receive a voucher for a 10% discount – as well as exclusive offers, first-to-know campaigns, and the newsletter will update the subscribers on latest trends.

By doing that, you are offering the customer a powerful incentive to why they should sign up – what will you give them in return for their email address?

You must always make it clear why it’s a great idea to sign up. I stumbled across Gotogate’s checkout process, where I was surprised to see that they have a checkbox saying ‘I do not wish to sign up for the newsletter.’

That is an absolute no go. It is wishful thinking if you figure, you can trick people into subscribing. The leads will in no way be relevant, and the receivers will just get annoyed by your newsletters.

Don’t cut corners on this one. It’s bad for your spam score, and it’s bad for your loyalty.


  • Add a box allowing the customer to sign up during checkout
  • As always: Make it clear what they will get in return for their email
  • It is super effective to have a quirky or different incentive – for example: receive sweets with your purchase
  • Do not trick the customers into subscribing

Subscribe via newsletter

This one seems so simple – but simple hacks are the best hacks really!

When you send out your newsletter, it is only people on your email list that’ll receive it right? But how often haven’t you forwarded a relevant newsletter to a friend, a colleague or your mom? I do it all the time.

That means there are plenty of relevant subscribers out there that you can easily catch by adding the option to subscribe to the newsletter via the newsletter itself.

It is important to add a clear CTA in the bottom of the newsletter – no massive CTA buttons here – and a link that redirects them to your form as I mentioned earlier in this post.

The most vital thing is to give them a great reason to sign up. When they receive your newsletter from someone they know, they are more likely to do so, as the friend has already subscribed and has found the content valuable and shareable.

Regardless of that, you must tell them what they get in return for their email address. 

At Sleeknote, we have put a CTA in the bottom of our newsletter saying: Do you want to keep receiving exclusive insights?

Way too many marketers miss this golden opportunity to reel in a bucket load of emails. Instead, they just have the unsubscribe option.

That means that non-subscribers who get the newsletter from a friend have to actively enter your site and subscribe – and that is too time-consuming. Make it easy!

MediaREDEF sends out tons of valuable content regarding music, technology, culture and videos and they have nailed the subscribe option.

They have made it easy to forward to a friend, and they have included the subscribe option. However, I do think one thing is missing. They aren’t really making it clear what the subscriber will receive – why should they subscribe?

The people at further has got that one under control. Check out this great example:

Not only have they made it incredibly simple to forward the newsletter, but the subscribe options are both at the top and bottom of the newsletter – impossible to miss but not in the way or distracting.

Why it works:

It works because they offer the subscriber amazing stories and tips, and emphasize that it is without anything else but relevant content. I especially love that they inform the reader about how easy it is to unsubscribe at any time and that they won’t spam their inbox.

So by simply adding the subscribe option and including a catchy, informative and inspiring CTA you can collect all those emails from people who are enjoying your newsletter anyway.


  • Add the subscribe option in your newsletters
  • The CTA should be clear but discrete
  • Tell the potential subscriber what they will get if they subscribe
  • To complete the circle, make it easy to forward the newsletter

Optimize Your CTA’s

You are incredibly cool, if you have the subscribe option in your newsletter, but as I briefly mentioned earlier, you must answer their ‘why should I?’ question – or more commonly known as ‘What’s in it for me?’.

Don’t give them the impression that they are about to sign up to yet another newsletter – one out of the thousand others in their inbox. So wherever you want them to subscribe – whether it’s in your newsletter, email signature or during checkout – you must give them something valuable in return.

Look at Greenline – they send out free gummy bears with all subscribers’ purchases. It is not a massive thing, but it is different, and their competitors aren’t doing it.

A CTA must never – ever – just be ‘Sign up’. Not in a million years.

Now let’s do a field study, shall we? Have a look at Mulberry.

What’s right:

  • They give the sense of urgency and VIP-status. If you sign up for their newsletter, you’ll be the first one to know about new sales, when they get new products in store, and you’ll even get exclusive previews before everyone else.
  • In addition, you can also choose to receive more information and news from Mulberry – and this actually works, because you are never in doubt about what will land in your inbox.

What’s wrong:

It’s not all breezy with the Mulberry example. 

  • Though options are okay, they have included WAY too many input fields. Keep it simple. Always.
  • What’s the point of entering title AND gender? Obviously, if I enter that I’m a ‘Mr.’ surely they can figure out that I’m a male? Or maybe not? Modern times, ey.
  • The CTA is ineffective. ‘Subscribe’ – really? Why not ‘Join the VIP-club,’ ‘Be the first to know,’ ‘Receive amazing offers.’ Or at least something that will make the visitor want to subscribe. Never just ‘subscribe’.

Using social proof

I know there are a lot of different opinions on the use of social proof – some claim it’s irrelevant, and some say that it is super effective.

In my experience, it doesn’t have the same effect as it used to have.

For sure, it doesn’t work having a CTA saying ‘Do as thousands. Sign up for our newsletter.’ That will lead the potential subscriber to think ‘am I just another subscriber?’ and will give the impression that the newsletter is just like all the others, left unopened and eventually deleted.

What to do instead?

If you insist on using social proof, I highly recommend you to use more quirky numbers. It is more powerful saying ‘Join 4,693 other ecommerce fans. Get your tips now.’ It seems like the number is the exact number of subscribers and will seem more accurate.

Getting the personal touch will also lead more people to sign up – so if it feels like a personal contact from one of your employees sending out personal newsletters, people will be more inclined to subscribe. You can do that easily by saying: ‘Receive our very best offers and receive the latest news from Louise.’

Become a CTA master

CTA’s are tricky; I agree – which is why I have made an independent blog post on CTA’s. You can read it here.

If you just want to keep reading this post, it’s cool. You can just check out the major learnings from the post here:

  • Find out what you want your visitors to do. The CTA should only contain one message, so be clear on this one
  • Give them the sense of urgency, tell the visitor that they should sign up right now
  • Spark their interest by giving them something in return for their email address – like sweets, money or the chance to win
  • Let them know exactly what they’ll get once they sign up
  • Use numbers. ‘Get 20% on your next purchase’ works better than ‘Get discount on your next purchase.’
  • Spice up your language – if it’s appropriate for your target group

The great thing about CTA’s are that you can change them for free – they are all yours, and it’s your imagination that sets the limit. You will probably spend some time coming up with the best CTA’s, but I guarantee you it’ll be worth it!


  • Answer their ‘what’s in it for me?’ question
  • Don’t have too many input fields
  • Make it clear what they get – how often and what kind of newsletter?
  • CTA’s must be more than just ‘subscribe.’
  • If you use social proof, use exact numbers e.g. 65,879 instead of ‘over 65,000.’

Physical Stores

If you have physical stores, it is an excellent opportunity to collect leads without having to buy expensive equipment or train the staff. Hopefully plenty of customers visit your store every day – why not ask them for their email address when they are in your store? It’s just that simple. Asking for their email can seem odd or out of place if the staff doesn’t explain why they should. So instead of just asking them for their email, ask them if they want to save money on their next purchase – because who wouldn’t? I’ve previously spoken to Torkel Johannesen and Alf Johndal from the Norwegian beauty universe VITA. They introduced me to their amazing omnichannel strategy. They use their physical stores actively to collect emails and thereby sign ups for their newsletter.

Torkel and Alf from VITA also told me, that it is important to motivate the store personnel to ask the customers for their emails.

Explain to them that if they collect emails, they will be able to send out tailored offers and thereby make the customers return to the store. That will make it clear to the staff why emails are valuable – not only for you but their business as well.

But that’s not all…

As an extra bonus, you will also be able to segment your newsletter subscribers based on their geographical area, as you will be able to see the store where they signed up.

The key is to really get your staff on board. Otherwise, you won’t succeed. Convince them that it will add value for the customers and it will shine through when they ask the customers for their email addresses. A nice way to make the staff extra keen is to have competitions between the different stores – who collects the most emails?

A good way to collect emails is to offer the customer a discount on their next purchase or a voucher for a specific product or campaign. That will keep them coming back if they can save money.

A super easy and proven effective way to grow your email list through the physical stores is with competitions. Whenever I visit a Samsøe Samsøe shop, there is always a new competition going on.

They typically have a big bucket and a form where the customers can write their email address to participate in the competition. It says on the form that they will receive other relevant information, offers, and a notification whenever there is a new competition.

That is a brilliant way to go about it, as the customers will be more inclined to sign up because they can potentially win something. You just have to remember to state clearly that they will receive other offers. Otherwise, you are going to end up with tons of unsubscribers once the competition is over. You can also add a checkbox where they can actively choose whether or not they want to receive latest offers, trends, and sales from you.

And, there’s more…

If you attend conferences and events, it is a golden opportunity to meet your potential subscribers face to face. If they have met you and have become familiar with your brand, they are loyal-customer-material. This is where you ask them for their email address so you can keep them posted on your latest ideas, best prices, newest products and so forth.

A company who really knows hows to make the most out of events is Shark Gaming. They attend plenty of conferences and events, and they collect plenty of emails by offering vouchers or discounts. You can easily do the same.

If they have spent time at your stand and have checked out your products, they have probably felt inspired by your brand or are interested in your product range. That means they will most likely be thrilled to receive your best tips or products in their inbox – so you should give them the opportunity!

Summing up, meeting the customers face to face can be used actively to collect email address – and it doesn’t cost a thing. You have to change your approach at conferences, and you need to motivate your staff in physical stores to collect email addresses. As well as the customers have to know what value they get from subscribing, the staff should as well.

Get Subscribers Through Social Media

Chances are, you have already invested masses of time on your social media profiles or Facebook business page. You have written or created amazing content you are posting on your social media profiles like Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook. Why not use those platforms to collect emails as well?

On Twitter, you can create a tweet where everyone can sign up for your newsletter with their Twitter information in just one click. It is an easy and free way to grow your email list.

With Twitter lead gen you can tweet one tweet where you include a great CTA and the link to your form. You can also pin it to your Twitter page so that it will stay on top. Tweets are free, and you don’t have to do any promotion – however, the number of signups you’ll get on this one depends on your activity level and the amount of followers you have.

To create a Twitter lead gen card, you must have a Twitter Business account, and you need to integrate your account with your email software provider.

Here’s how you create a Twitter lead gen card:

1. Log into Twitter. Click the “Setting” icon and select “Twitter Ads” from the drop-down menu.

2. Click the “Creatives” Tab in the top Menu in Twitter Ads and Select “Cards”.

3.  Click “Create your first Lead Generation Cards”.

Then this form will appear. Here you’ll need to have a link to your privacy policy ready, and an alternative URL where people can find more information about you and your business.

Fill in all the required information, and click “Create Card.”

4. Once your card is created, you click “Compose Tweet with this card”, and this form will appear.

5. Leave the default delivery setting set to Standard. Write your tweet and click the blue cards icon and choose your card (the card I created was named test).

6. That was it! Now you just click “Tweet,” and it’s live.

Another easy way is to edit your description of yourself on all social media platforms and include a link, which will send visitors to a landing page, where they can sign up. It is as easy as that!

We’ve done that on our Sleeknote Twitter account as you can see below.

The link redirects visitors to our front page where you can sign up.


  • Promote your newsletter in your description on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
  • Use Twitter lead gen to collect emails
  • Have a set post on Facebook promoting your newsletter

Discovery why Campaign Monitor and 900+ businesses are using Sleeknote to turn more visitors into customers (the reason might surprise you). Learn more

Be the Expert

You probably feel like an expert within your area – and so you should! But why not share your knowledge with as many people as possible? And how about you collect emails while doing it? The answer: Email courses!

Personally, I think this is a fantastic way of building up a reputation as a leading expert in a particular area, collecting emails and followers as well as increasing sales. You heard me right.

Instead of giving away all your knowledge entirely for free through blog posts or ebooks, ask people for their email and create an email course.

If you are selling interior, create an email course where people can learn how to decorate dark rooms, small spaces or use more colors – the sky’s the limit.

The course will consist of a range of emails (let’s say 10) that will come every five days. You call the shots on this one, so think of a topic others could benefit from learning more about and create a range of emails with valuable content – just as you would build up a blog post.

However, you must have an incredibly strong CTA, as not everyone is interested in getting more emails! That means your course must be really valuable and you must do your best to explain others why and how it can benefit them – will it help them solve a problem? Will they become better at something?

What’s nice about this trick, is that your main focus shouldn’t be on sales, as I am convinced that sales will follow automatically. People that have followed and liked your course will automatically turn to you, the expert, when they need something.

To do this, you can just use simple email systems such as Mailchimp or Campaign Monitor to set up automated flows.

Once this is done, all you have to do is to focus on creating a valuable and interesting course and start collecting incredibly valuable leads.


  • Create a range of emails evolving around a certain topic
  • The goal should be to educate and inspire the receivers
  • Set up the whole thing in a simple system like Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor
  • Don’t focus on sales – they will follow automatically
  • Create a strong CTA

Video Magic

First of all, I want to say: If you aren’t doing videos already, get started! They are the future of ecommerce, in fact, according to a report by Cisco, video will account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic in 2017.

People want to interact with companies through videos because it is more personal and more face to face.

Your videos can be just about anything – and they work perfectly to support an already existing blog post.

If you are already using videos in your content marketing, you should consider how to turn viewers into leads. It is actually possible. I have discovered the tool Wistia, which allows you to collect emails directly in your videos through their Turnstile feature.

Basically, you add a popup directly in your video, and you should use the same principles as when creating any other incentive to sign up. An example could be: “Be the first to know when we publish a new video guide.”

It is extremely cool, and it enables you to convert viewers to leads!


  • Get started doing videos – they are the way to go
  • Collect emails straight through your videos using the tool Wistia
  • Videos can support your existing blog posts adding, even more, value

Free Downloadable Bonus

Want More List Building Strategies?

Get access to our free list building toolkit and skyrocket your email list today (includes resources not found in the blog post).

Wrap up

Growing your email list clearly does not have to be expensive. There are countless of little things you can implement here and there to collect plenty and relevant emails.

I have offered you a few tips in this post. The goal is not to try and put EVERY email list building strategy into effect – just those that make the most sense for your business, your style, your writing goals… and your sanity.

All of the things I have gone through in this post are great ideas and experiences I have made, and I know for sure that they will help you to effectively grow your email list and keep your email marketing budget intact.

You should spend that hard earned money on something else when you can do some tweaks here and there and collect valuable, relevant emails without investing anything but your own time and patience.

I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have – and I would also love to hear how it goes if you decide to try a few of my tricks out! Your feedback matters – more than you think!

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