How to Build an Email List for Free (With 6 Examples)
By Sam Thomas Davies Head of Content
@ Sleeknote

In a recent post, I explained why you should never buy an email list.

(You can check it out here to learn the details and see why most experts consider it to be a cardinal sin of digital marketing.) 

Along with discussing the pitfalls of this approach, we also mentioned some better alternatives for growing an email list without buying one.

For this post, I’m going to expand on that conversation and delve into how to build an email list for free.

I’ll list six of my favorite list building strategies along with examples from notable e-commerce brands that have mastered this technique.

So once you’re done reading, you should walk away with a handful of highly effective techniques to quickly build your email list without having to resort to dodgy tactics like buying one. 

Here we go. 

1. Use Non-Intrusive Popups

Whether or not e-commerce brands should use popups is a debate that’s been raging for years.

On the one hand, it’s an effective way to capture a shopper’s attention and quickly let them know about your newsletter, along with any perks they’ll get by signing up. 

This, in turn, can have a significant impact on the number of subscribers you gain and the leads you generate. 

A recent study even found, “Some popups can convert up to 40 percent of your website visitors into subscribers and leads.”

So there’s something to it. 

On the other hand, popups can be annoying and intrusive if abused, which can diminish the user experience and create friction.

When this is the case, they can do more harm than good.  

But when you put it all together and look at the big picture, popups can be extremely beneficial and instrumental in growing an email list, as long as you use them responsibly. 

By this, I mean creating non-intrusive popups that showcase your newsletter but without distracting or annoying the pants off of shoppers. 

Let me give you a couple of examples so you can see what I’m talking about. 

The first is from Pilgrim, a Danish brand that sells women’s jewelry, watches, and sunglasses.

Here’s the popup shoppers see when first arriving on their site.

It’s certainly prominent and instantly attracts eyeballs. 

But it’s located on the bottom left-hand side of the screen so that it doesn’t obstruct a shoppers entire view when browsing—something that’s known as an interstitial. 

Instead, shoppers can still easily browse without the popup getting in the way.

And if they want to get rid of it, they can simply click on the “X” button, which is marked and resume regular browsing. No sweat. 

This way, Pilgrim presents the information they want and lets shoppers know that by signing up, they’ll receive a newsletter full of inspiration, sneak peeks at new collections, and so on, but without having the popup hog the entire screen. 

Another brand that uses non-intrusive popups is Frank Body, who specializes in a coffee scrub for all-natural skincare. 

Their popup is located in the bottom right-hand corner and offers 10 percent of the first purchase, which should pique the interest of many shoppers.

But just like the example from Pilgrim, it doesn’t dominate the screen and still allows for a seamless browsing experience.

And for those who simply aren’t interested in the offer, they can get out of the popup either by clicking on the “X” or “Maybe later”—in which case, it disappears. 

The bottom line here is that popups can be a tremendous asset and work well for accelerating the growth of your email list. You just need to design them in a way that they’re non-intrusive and help rather than hurt the digital shopping experience. 

Do that, and you should be in good shape. 

Further Reading

2. Use Personalized Targeting

Personalization is a sales and marketing approach that started off small but has spread to numerous types of campaigns.

And email is no exception. 

Ninety-four percent of customer insights and marketing professionals across multiple industries said personalization is ‘important,’ ‘very important,’ or ‘extremely important’ for meeting their current email marketing objectives.”

One particular way you can implement personalization into your email marketing is with advanced page-specific targeting where you display a customized optin based on a shopper’s behavior. 

This makes it easier to reach the right shoppers at the right name, thus increasing their odds of opting in. 

A good example of a brand that does a great job at this is Apuls, an online retailer that sells quality training equipment and supplements at an affordable price. 

Here’s what their homepage looks like.

Now, let’s say that a shopper is specifically interested in buying supplements and clicks on that link in the navigational menu. 

From there, they want to know more about magnesium supplements from Apuls, so they click here.

At this point, they’re taken to the page for magnesium supplements. 

Considering a shopper has reached this particular page, Apuls can surmise that they likely have an interest in dietary products.

As a result, they feature this targeted popup based on that information, which gives shoppers a chance to win a dietary supplement package worth $3,000.  

I think this is an excellent way to optimize your offers to smaller segments of shoppers, which greatly increases their odds of opting in. 

It’s just a matter of choosing the right conditions for offers to be triggered—something that can be done with many email list-building tools, including Sleeknote. 

Further Reading

3. Place Sign Up CTAs on Your Social Media Profiles

If you have a sizable social media following, you can leverage it to build an email list quickly with minimal effort. All you have to do is add sign up CTAs to your profiles.

Here’s an example from Dollar Shave Club’s Facebook page.

It’s positioned front and center, so users see it as soon as they land on the page.

That way, anyone who follows their brand on Facebook or simply stops by their page has the potential to become an instant email subscriber and can be funneled into their optin list. 

And fortunately, setting up a CTA on Facebook is dead simple.

Just check out this quick guide from dotdigital Group for a step-by-step walkthrough. 

Another idea is to incorporate email optins into your social media posts.

Take this Instagram post from GreenBlender, a company that sells smoothie recipes, fresh ingredients, and superfoods, for example.  

calls to action

Here they have an offer where users can download their free eBook by clicking on the link.

After doing so, users arrive on this page where they enter their email address and ZIP code before downloading. 

If you already have a built-in audience through social media, why not tap into it and increase your subscriber base?

Whenever there’s already a level of rapport like this, a good percentage of your social media followers should be interested in signing up. 

And this can instill an even deeper sense of loyalty. 

Further Reading

4. Offer Major Perks 

If you want to pique a shopper’s interest, a good way to go about it is to incentivize your offers. 

There are a lot of ways to do this, but I find that some of the most popular perks include giving shoppers a discount or offering free shipping.

That’s what women’s activewear company Sweaty Betty does with their offer.

Here’s what shoppers see toward the top of their site.

And here’s the offer they see after scrolling down toward the bottom.

It’s pretty enticing and gives shoppers 15 percent off their first full price order, as well as free shipping and returns.

And this can make a big difference in motivating shoppers to take action and sign up. 

If they were only lukewarm on the idea initially, adding incentives like this could be just what it takes to get them on board. 

So rather than using a bland, boring optin that simply says something generic like “Sign Up,” do something to sweeten the deal and make shoppers feel compelled to subscribe. 

You want to be cognizant of your profit margins when determining your offer, but the increase in your number of sales and customer lifetime value should usually justify this move. 

Further Reading

5. Add an Optin to Your Checkout Page

Here’s the scenario.

You have a shopper that has been browsing through your e-commerce site and has added an item to their cart.

They’ve decided to go through with their purchase and are on the checkout page.

This is a time when they’re often receptive to offers like signing up for an email list. 

Just put yourself in their shoes for a second.

They have a fairly strong level of interest in your brand and products. 

After all, they’re just about to complete a purchase.

So this is the perfect time to let them know about new products, exclusive offers, discounts, etc. they can gain access to by signing up.  

That’s why it’s smart to experiment with adding an optin to your checkout page.

As long as you incorporate it in a way that’s seamless and flows with the rest of the checkout process, a good chunk of customers will go ahead and become subscribers.

Luxury shoe brand Jimmy Choo does a great job of this on their checkout page and allows customers to painlessly sign up by entering their email (something they need to do anyway to make a purchase) and click on the box, thereby agreeing that they want to receive notifications. 

Jimmy Choo makes it super easy and requires minimal steps to avoid any friction. 

And if they’re not interested, all they have to do is not click the box. 

As a final note, I don’t recommend having the box pre-clicked because this goes against guidelines from the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which mandates that people opt-in manually. 

This means it’s technically illegal if you’re selling to customers located in the European Union or the European Economic area. 

Further Reading

6. Place an Optin on Your “About” Page

This last strategy is a little unconventional but makes perfectly good sense if you think about it. 

If a shopper clicks on your “About” page, it means they’re interested in learning about your brand, story, culture, and so on. 

So it’s not that much of a stretch to assume they’d also be interested in joining your online community and receiving updates from your brand.

That’s why I think placing an optin box in this location is a logical move. 

After a shopper has learned a bit about you and what differentiates your brand from other competitors, you can nudge them to sign up.

Men’s grooming company Beardbrand pulls this off perfectly on their “About” page, where they introduce key team members and provide links to their social media accounts. 

Here’s what shoppers see above the fold when arriving on this page. 

And here’s the optin they see toward the bottom that encourages them to join the Beardbrand community. 

Notice that they also incentivize the offer by letting shoppers know they’ll get into Beardbrand’s 5 Day Grooming Bootcamp to take their beard to the next level. 

This, combined with the community aspect, should get plenty of shoppers on board and provide the motivation they need to become subscribers. 

And this is certainly a formula you can mimic and use in your own list building efforts as well. 

Just be sure the copy you use focuses on inclusivity and jives with your brand identity. 

Further Reading


Email has been and continues to be one of the absolute best channels for generating leads, nurturing them, and establishing long-term loyalty. 

And that’s unlikely to change any time soon. 

As long as people keep routinely checking their email, it’s going to be a viable medium.

If you were wondering how to build an email list for free, the six simple strategies I outlined here should point you in the right direction. 

At the end of the day, finding success just boils down to presenting your newsletter in logical locations with a lot of visibility and using the right incentives. 

With a little experimentation, you should be able to come up with a winning formula that helps propel your email list so that you continually pull in new subscribers.