11 Non-Spammy Ways to Build Lists

Building an opt in list can seem like a daunting task, but you’d be surprised how well a few simple tricks can work.

Make it easy

1. Make it easy to subscribe. Don’t make people give you their life history by requiring lots of information. Just get an email address. You can send out a survey later to segment your lists.

2. Ask for it. Don’t just put a small link on the bottom of your homepage — put a subscription form right at the top of your sidebar. Many potential subscribers aren’t specifically looking for a signup form, so unless you grab their attention with a clear call to action like “Subscribe now,” they may never even know you have an email list.

Make it enticing

3. Start with great content. If you already have relevant, useful information on your website, people will be more likely to subscribe to your list. Give them a reason to like you, and they’ll naturally seek out more of your content — including email newsletters.

4. Make a beautiful subscription form. And don’t stop at beautiful, make it useable. If you’re using a free solution like PHPlist and you lack Photoshop skills, hire a designer to make a custom form that looks professional and matches the rest of the site you’re putting it on. If your subscription form looks amateurish, people will assume your emails are too. So make that form look awesome, and people will want to sign up and receive awesome content.

5. Offer some choices. Even if you only offer people a choice between text and HTML emails, that choice will make them feel like they have some control. If you can, also let them choose the frequency — daily, weekly, or monthly. Not only will subscribers be more likely to read your emails, they will feel less like they’re being marketed to because of the perception that you are offering useful information on their schedule, not pushing out stuff on your own agenda.

6.Give away freebies. This could be the single most powerful way to build lists: find something that your audience is dying to know, put a teaser with just a small part of the information on your website, and then tell them they can have the whole article — if they sign up for your email newsletter. The freebie could be an e-book, an article, a coupon — whatever drives your customers. Put a short headline advertising the freebie right above your signup form to entice people to subscribe.

Make it clear

7. Tell people what to expect. Whenever I give up my email address, I’m wondering what can of worms I’m opening. Saying “sign up for our newsletter” doesn’t make it clear whether I will get a weekly sales pitch or daily industry tips. Post a quick blurb about the frequency (if you’re not letting people choose) and the topics your emails will cover.

If you really want to build lists, show a sample newsletter on your website, and link to it right under the subscription form. This has the added benefit of prescreening subscribers — if you post a typical newsletter and someone signs up after seeing it, that subscriber is far more likely to open your emails and stay on the list.

8. Reassure people that you’re not a spammer. A short line of text underneath your signup form like “We hate spam too” can work wonders. If that text links to a privacy policy where you clearly state that you never rent or sell email addresses, you’ll never send promotions, or just that you only use email addresses to send your opt in newsletter can provide the reassurance people need to take the brave step of disclosing their email address.

Reach out elsewhere

9. Tell your customers. If you email receipts, add a subscription link (and a description of your newsletter’s topics and frequency) to the bottom of the receipt.

10. Advertise other places. If you have a Facebook page, put a subscription form there. If you write a guest post on someone else’s blog, see if you can put a subscription link in your bio. If it’s appropriate in a forum you participate in, post a link in your signature. Many people will find you in places other than your website.

11. Never, ever buy lists. The temptation is strong — many companies advertise “safe double opt in lists” you can buy for a few hundred dollars. But the truth is, those people do not want your emails. Think about it: if you subscribed to a list about real estate, would all the real estate newsletters in existence be useful to you?

Some would be about selling your house. Some would be about buying real estate in California. Others might give you tips on how to flip houses.

So even if you initially gained a few subscribers this way, they would quickly unsubscribe because your content wasn’t relevant. Many would mark your email as spam. At worst, you could get into legal trouble. At best, you would only be engaging a tiny fraction of the people you sent email to. Buying a pay-per-click ad would have a higher conversion rate, and it wouldn’t damage your reputation.

Be creative

There are many ways to build lists, but the most effective way is to make it clear what people are signing up for, make your form look professional, and post a call to action in multiple places. Follow the same principles that guide the rest of your business, and you will steer clear of looking spammy.

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About The Author

Elaine ShannonElaine Shannon is a web designer and small business owner from Texas. She started out as a graphic designer, taught herself how to make websites, started Alamo Websites with the help of Cricket’s SEO classes, and now enjoys being a mentor at the V7N forums. She believes anyone can learn to be successful on the web — it just takes time, practice, and some good advice.

You can find her web-related articles on the Planning Websites blog. She loves to connect with new friends via TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn.


  1. Just the information I’ve been looking for as I have been having trouble getting anyone to sign-up, going to try out your suggestions. Thanks!

    • ElaineElaine05-31-2011

      Sure! Let me know how they work out.

  2. Greg De TisiGreg De Tisi10-18-2012

    TRULY AWESOME and often overlooked massively.

    It’s funny as I have spent 8 years online and built a great business, YET I always learn new ways to tweak what’s going on with my list and I highly recommend to others checking this out as the key to sustainable success is continual improvement of course.

    You are a star Elaine and thanks for the great value here!:)

    Best
    Greg

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