List Building 101: Building a List from Scratch

February 26, 2016 - By 

“Marketing is like sex: everyone thinks they’re good at it.”

You don’t want to be bad at email marketing, right?

In the guide below, you will go through the crux of list building. If you haven’t read anything about list building, the following guide is enough to make you understand how this email marketing stuff actually works.

List Building 101

Email Marketing Defined

According to Wikipedia, when a message (commercial or non-commercial) is sent via email, it falls in the domain of email marketing. Every single email that is sent out to a potential customer or a current customer refers to email marketing.

List Building

In order to send emails to potential customers, you must have a list or email list of people with their email addresses, names, and other information.

There are two ways to get this list:

  1. You can purchase a list of email addresses from a third-party which is not a good idea and it is not legal in most parts of the world. But it is still a part of the game.
  2. You build your own email list. This happens to be a professional, systemic and business approach. In this case, you send emails to only those people who have provided you with their email address and have agreed to receive emails from you.

List building is expensive and time-consuming while list buying is easier and relatively inexpensive. But as Ramsay Leimenstoll said, “A small list that wants exactly what you’re offering is better than a bigger list that isn’t committed”, you should build your own email list because you own it, subscribers know you and they will not hesitate to buy from you.

Things You Need

Before you proceed, there are quite a few things that you need to start building an email list of potential customers.

  • Autoresponder or email marketing service (such as MailChimp, GetResponse etc.)
  • A domain name and hosting plan. You should have your own website.
  • Landing page templates. You can choose free or paid templates but there are a lot of drag-and-drop page builders too such as OptimizePress.

Creating a Lead Magnet

Now this is the first step towards list building.

A lead magnet by definition is “a high-value bribe offered to a prospect in exchange of his/her contact information (email address mainly)”.

The fact of the matter is, nobody will going to give his/her email address to you just because you have a landing page and something to sell. People will give their email address if and only if they will get something extremely valuable which is irresistible and free. Else, you don’t stand a chance.

You need to create a squeeze page, which is a specific type of landing page that is used to capture email addresses of potential customers. You will offer lead magnet to the visitors on the squeeze page. Idea is to give them an irresistible offer at no cost but only when they give you their email address.

A lead magnet has to be specific, relevant and must be available instantly. These three characteristics must be met in order to make lead magnet work.

There are 6 main types of lead magnets.

  1. Guide or report (Most famous)
  2. Cheat sheet
  3. Videos normally video training
  4. Free trials
  5. Resource list
  6. Instant discount

Using a PLR PDF as a guide for lead magnet is not a good idea unless you have updated and made it better. If you find nothing else, just grab a nice looking free PLR PDF report on a subject related to your niche. Update it, rewrite it and make it better by taking it to another level.

Setting Up Your Autoresponder

Create a new campaign in your autoresponder and insert the code in your squeeze page. If you are working on WordPress, things will get a lot easy.

By the way, you can create squeeze page using page builder available with email service provider too. GetResponse has a nice drag-and-drop landing page builder. All the pages are self-hosted by GetResponse on its server so you don’t need a website of your own.

You need to setup a new autoresponder with your email service provider and hook it to the squeeze page. Make sure that subscribers receive their freebie via an email.

Setting up Tripwire and Core Product

The lead magnet should be the first phase of your sales funnel. All the subscribers must be entered in a sales funnel where you should offer them with a tripwire and then the main product.

A tripwire is a very cheap, normally less than $10, initial product that you offer to your subscribers. Idea is to convert them into buyers.

Once you develop a buyer-seller relationship, then you have to offer them with your main expensive product which is more likely to be purchased since by now you must have developed a relationship of trust with your list.

So setup your autoresponder in such a way that all the subscribers are moved into the sales funnel and are offered with tripwire, valuable content and then the main product.

Traffic Generation

Once you have setup a lead magnet and your squeeze page is ready, you are all set to send traffic to it.

But before you do so, check everything.

Test the squeeze page, check the autoresponder, links and everything else.

You can choose from an unlimited range of traffic generation methods but the best ones are PPC, solo ads, and forum posting.

Solo ad seems to be a relatively affordable traffic generation method for list building. You will contact email list owners in your niche and they will send an email to their list with a link to your squeeze page. You can expect to receive 100 clicks for $40 on average which makes solo ads targeted and super-cheap.

Social and search PPC are also great methods to send tons of traffic to your squeeze page. However if you are a fan of free traffic, nothing can beat forum posting. Spending a few hours every day on 3 to 5 forums in your niche will help you generate a lot of traffic.


Do you expect to get tons of sign ups with your first ad campaign and first squeeze page and offer? Well, you shouldn’t.

You should consider yourself lucky if things go well in the first turn. But even if things go well and you see a good response with massive conversion rate, you still need to test multiple variations of squeeze page copy and design, offer, email copy, tripwire and even your entire sales funnel.

There is always a chance for improvement.

  • Design more than one landing page with different content, headlines and CTAs.
  • Choose a single squeeze page that performs best, and then use its variations to further test and tweak.
  • In case, if conversions are low, your squeeze page is not working.
  • If the first email to subscribers (containing a link to the freebie) does not convert, email copy has some issues, better change it.
  • Low subscribers buying tripwire, change the tripwire and/or make your email copy better.
  • The fewer number of buyers purchasing core product, email copy needs to be fixed or maybe try changing the product.
  • The low open rate of emails means email subject is not working. Make it catchy.

You see, there is no single best rule. Testing is a continuous process. Everything has to be tested, tweaked and then tested and tweaked and so on.

Subscriber Grouping and Segmentation

Once you have people joining your email list, you need to group them according to their buying behavior, demographics, activity or any other variable.

This segmentation helps in building a relationship with your list, sending them relevant emails and in crafting a marketing strategy for every single subscriber.

It is one of the most crucial steps in list building but unfortunately, email marketers ignore it intentionally assuming that they will create groups once they will have a good number of subscribers. And once you have a good number of subscribers, you realize that half of them are inactive just because you never created a suitable marketing strategy for them.

For instance, you need to create a separate group for those who do not buy tripwire. Move all those subscribers to a separate list and then create an autoresponder series for them. Deliver them more value. Maybe, offer them with a different tripwire a few days later. If you will leave them, they will unsubscribe because these are the people who didn’t like either your lead magnet or tripwire, and are not happy with you. Make them happy by creating more personalized offers and email series.

Your job is to interact with every single subscriber in your list.

This segmentation helps you a lot in the long-run. Creating a good email marketing strategy for every subscriber and every group must be your ultimate goal.