How to Build an Email List that Builds Your Ecommerce Business


 Picture your website traffic as a big funnel.

At the top of the funnel is all of the raw traffic that comes to your site. The next level down in the funnel is narrower, and these are only those visitors who've interacted with your brand in some way (e.g., by reading your blog, following you on social media, or giving you their email address). The bottom level of the funnel, and the smallest, includes those people who've taken the plunge from interacting with your brand to making a purchase.

Convincing someone to give you their email address is much easier than convincing them to buy something, since it doesn't cost anything except the ten seconds it takes to sign up. Once you have someone's email though, you have the opportunity to follow up with them over time and eventually move them from the middle of your funnel to the bottom where they become a customer.

But how can you get that traffic into your funnel and convince people to give you their email address? And then how can you effectively build a relationship with them until they remember you, want your product, and pull out their credit cards?

Let’s dive into some strategies to first build up an email list and then effectively market to it.

Part 1: How to Build Your Email List

1. Use ads to drive traffic to a landing page

The fastest way to start building your email list is to send quality traffic to a landing page. By quality traffic, I mean that it needs to be people who are likely to be interested in your products. Your marketing budget will be much more effective if you carefully choose who to spend it on.

For example, Facebook allows you to show ads to people who are in your target audience. You can choose what age, gender, relationship status, location, and interests you want to target with your ads.

My online shop sells survival knives, so I set up a Facebook ad targeting men ages 18-50 located in the United States who have expressed interest in survivalism and bushcraft. I was able to send traffic to a landing page for about $0.08 per click. The landing page offered a weekly newsletter containing survival articles and gear reviews, and about 15% of the visitors signed up for my newsletter. Within 4 weeks I went from less than 50 to over 1,000 email subscribers.

It’s important to note that sending traffic to your shop’s homepage is not your only option – you should also consider creating a dedicated landing page with a clearly-defined offer and extremely visible signup form. A good landing page will be free from distractions and focus on asking people to sign up in exchange for a newsletter, downloadable resource, or free course of some kind (more on that later).

Here is the landing page that I used to build my email list for my survival knife shop. You can view the actual page here.

1. Use ads to drive traffic to a landing page

If you’re interested in adding a landing page like this to your Shopify site, I’ve made a video tutorial showing you how.

In addition to Facebook ads, another source of qualified traffic is paid Reddit advertising. Reddit is a popular online community divided into “subreddits,” which are groups centered around different interests. For example, there are subreddits dedicated to talking about survivalism, ecommerce, gaming, woodworking, and pretty much any hobby or interest you can think of.

Reddit allows you to buy ads that show on specific subreddits, so that you’re only paying to show ads to people who are interested in your niche. Campaigns start at $5, so it’s super easy and cheap to test it out and send traffic to a signup landing page.

Fair warning: the Reddit community is unique, and you’ll want to be familiar with “reddiquette,” explore the site, and do some research on how to advertise to Reddit users before jumping in.

2. Offer a discount code in exchange for an email address

An often-used method of getting email subscribers is to have a popup window that offers a discount code in exchange for an email signup. This method is most effective for encouraging people who are already browsing your products or reading your blog to sign up to your email list. In my experience, a lot of people will sign up for the discount code but won’t make a purchase right away, which is why it’s important to nurture that relationship over time.

JustUno is an app that allows you to set this type of offer up, and they have a free plan you can start with to try it out. Simply generate a discount code, then plug that into the JustUno app, customize the text that will appear on the widget, and you’re all set.

WOD Superstore is an ecommerce site that uses JustUno to offer a discount code to their visitors in exchange for an email address. Notice the big kettlebell on the left with a “Save 3% on your order” offer. When that kettlebell is clicked, a window pops up with an email signup form, and it instantly reveals a coupon code upon signup.

2. Offer a discount code in exchange for an email address

3. Hold contests and giveaways on Facebook

ProClip USA, a company who sells smartphone mounts for the inside of your car, holds monthly giveaways of their products on Facebook. Visitors can be entered into the drawings by first liking ProClip’s Facebook page and entering their email, and then can enter more times for a better chance to win by sharing the giveaway with their friends.

3. Hold contests and giveaways on Facebook

Giving away one of your products or a gift card to someone who enters a contest on your Facebook page can be a powerful way to both build your email list and social media following. This tactic can generate buzz about your brand on Facebook and build your social following, in addition to collecting email addresses.

Make sure to use a great photo of the product you are giving away, so that it catches people's attention in their busy newsfeeds and is shareable. If you’re giving away a gift card, you could make a collage of your best-looking or most popular products to feature on the contest page.

A few tools you can choose from to create Facebook contests are WooBox and Rafflecopter.

4. Have an email signup box in your site footer or sidebar

4. Have an email signup box in your site footer or sidebar

It never hurts to have a regular, old-fashioned email signup box on your website for anyone who wants to subscribe even without being motivated by one of the above options.

This is especially effective if you have a blog with high-quality regular content, as people will be more likely to subscribe in order to be notified when you have fresh content.

Ok, so now that you’re building up a big list of subscribers, how can you nurture those leads and move them toward a purchase?

Part 2: How to Leverage Your Email List to Boost Sales

1. Publish a newsletter

A regular email newsletter is a good way to keep your email list warm without being too “salesy.” You can base the newsletter on your latest blog posts, or even curate content from other sites in your niche.

For example, I send out a weekly newsletter to my survival newsletter subscribers. The newsletter includes the first few paragraphs of my latest blog post, with a link to read the full post on my blog. I also curate several links to survival gear reviews on other websites and a few survival articles from other blogs. Finally, I include a “featured survival knife,” which has a picture of one of my products and a link to view more details (and hopefully make a purchase!).

By regularly sending this type of newsletter, you can build your reputation as an expert in your niche and nurture your relationship with subscribers. Since you're regularly providing free, quality content, you’ll get subscribers in the habit of opening and reading emails from you, rather than mentally categorizing your emails as junk mail.

Huckberry is an example of a brand with an awesome newsletter. It’s got great writing, a preview of their latest blog posts, and also contains a lot of featured products, but is so well-done that it doesn’t feel like you’re being sold to.

1. Publish a newsletter

2. Send a drip email sequence

Another way you can interact with your email subscriber list is by setting up a drip sequence (a series of autoresponders). An autoresponder is an email that you set up to automatically be sent to new subscribers at a certain time after they initially sign up.

For example, your landing page could offer a free email course on a subject related to your niche. New subscribers would automatically receive this course broken into several emails over the course of a few days, weeks, or months after signing up.

The advantage of an autoresponder series over a newsletter is that it doesn’t require you to constantly create new content--once you write and set up the series, it’s all automated for new subscribers.

For example, rather than my weekly newsletter (or perhaps in addition to it), my email signup landing page could offer a 7-week email course teaching a variety of wilderness survival skills, with emails being sent once a week for a total of 7 emails.

You might want to set up two landing pages – one that offers a weekly newsletter, and one that offers a free course. Then, send traffic to both pages and see which one converts better. Every audience is different, so it’s always a good idea to test and see what works best for your niche.

Autoresponders like this can be easily set up using an email marketing service like MailChimp or Aweber. For an email service that’s especially focused on this type of autoresponder series, check out Drip.

3. Holiday & seasonal promotions

A more traditional form of email marketing is to notify subscribers of special offers based on upcoming holidays or the time of year. You might want to let your subscribers know about a Black Friday sale, an after-Christmas sale, or a spring clearance sale.

You can also remind people about upcoming holidays like Mother’s Day, or even send them a “happy birthday” email with a special discount code.

Here’s an example of a holiday promotional email sent before Christmas by one of my favorite brands using Shopify, Ugmonk.

3. Holiday & seasonal promotions

4. Subscriber-only discounts

Whether you send a regular newsletter, an autoresponder series, or just send emails about special promotions, you can always include discount codes for your subscribers to boost their motivation to make a purchase.

It is possible to generate unique discount codes for each person on your mailing list, but in my experience this is more trouble than it’s worth. I’d recommend instead generating a single discount code that can be used an infinite number of times, but making sure that it is only available for a certain time period. If you do this, make sure to mention in your email copy that the discount code expires on a certain date.

This type of limited-time offer serves two purposes: first, it prevents customers from using the code multiple times at any time in the future that they want to, and second, it creates a sense of urgency that encourages subscribers to purchase something now rather than waiting until later.

5. Notify your list of social media contests & giveaways

An email list can also be leveraged to give a nice boost to your social media presence. Let’s say, for example, that you’ve invested in advertising to drive traffic to a landing page and build up your email list, but you don’t yet have as many social followers as you’d like.

To achieve your goal of increasing your social following, you can hold a giveaway as mentioned above in Part 1. Once the contest is underway, send an email to your subscribers letting them know that they can enter the drawing for a free product or gift card by liking your Facebook page or whatever social platform you're working on.

This strategy helps to engage your email subscribers in yet another interaction with your brand, which can not only help those subscribers move down the funnel closer to a purchase – it can also help your subscribers spread the word about your products to their own friends and followers. Exposing your brand to the social media networks of your email subscribers can help your brand to reach even more people and draw them into your funnel.

Are you using email marketing in your business? Let us know in the comments.

5. Notify your list of social media contests & giveaways

About The Author

Leighton Taylor publishes a blog and podcast, Ecommerce Pulse, where he discusses ecommerce strategy, interviews experts, and documents his own journey of building and growing an online store.