The Ultimate Guide to List Building and Maintenance

Illustration by Sènga la Rouge Illustration of someone with a long list

Successful email marketing requires more than elegant templates and well-written copy. In fact, those things are wasted if nobody knows about your list. This makes it essential to put at least as much energy into building (and maintaining) your list as you do into creating content for it.

In this guide, I will explore the ins and outs of optimizing your mailing list. These are organized into three sections:

  • Starting your list. Discover the importance of goal setting and scheduling time for list building and management. I’ll also talk about the importance of using both signup forms and landing pages + how to get your contacts onto your list legally and ethically.
  • Growing your list. Learn how to break your main subscriber goal into small, actionable steps. I’ll also discuss how to build a signup opportunity into every interaction, the power of signup incentives, and how to build a list if your business is local.
  • Maintaining your list. Make sure your email address is whitelisted, your open rate stays good, and your list is clean.

By the time we’re done, you’ll have all of the knowledge and resources you need to build a successful email list.

Starting your email list

The early days of your email list are the hardest. With nobody on your email list—we’ll discuss in a bit why you want to start at zero—it’s hard to see the value of it. However, if you approach email marketing with discipline and strategy from the beginning, you’ll eventually reap the rewards.

Goal setting and scheduling

The first step to creating a successful email list is to build a realistic long term subscriber goal. For example, you might aim for 1,000 subscribers in one year (although many small businesses thrive with fewer subscribers). This gives you both something to aim for and a reasonable amount of time to do it.

Moreover, setting a goal for one year out encourages you to stay the course for twelve whole months. We tend to think of the internet as a place where everything happens quickly, but most “overnight sensations” have put several months or even years of work into their success. You need to give your strategies—we’ll talk about those later—time to work.

The second part of this is that you must actively schedule time for list growth and maintenance. This can be a half hour or a whole afternoon, whatever fits into your existing workday. The key is to make sure it’s a regular appointment, booked in your calendar for a specific time each week or month, with reminders to hold you accountable.

Signup forms

Next, you’ll want to create some signup forms and place them in strategic locations on your website.

Signup forms should have prominent placement on your site and minimal required information. Extra information is great for personalization, but every additional field someone needs to fill out is an obstacle between them and signing up.

Your signup forms should also be mobile friendly. Luckily, MailPoet signup form templates already are!

There are four types of signup forms you need to work with:

Embedded forms

These are forms placed directly in the content of a post or page. For example, I’ve embedded this form into the home page of my Business for Authors site:

Author Marketing club signup form
Embedded signup form example

You can place these forms anywhere within your content. Personally, I find these forms most effective when placed at the bottom of a post or page. Your audience has enjoyed your content enough to read to the end, so they’re more receptive to receiving more content from you.

You may also want to put an embedded signup form in the sidebar or footer of your website.

Pro tip: If your site is still under construction, put a signup form front and center on the “Under Construction” page. This gives you a built-in group to announce your new site to!


Pop-ups are signup forms that appear as an overlay on top of your content. Many people dislike them because of their intrusive nature, but that intrusive nature is what makes them effective. A pop-up forces you to consider a company’s offer.

This pop-up from Optimonk is a great example:

Example of a pop up signup form from Optimonk
Optimonk pop-up

The best email marketing tools also offer specialized features to make pop-ups less intrusive. You can set a pop-up to open when someone tries to navigate away from your page or after they’ve been looking at your content for a certain period of time.

This is quite easy to do in MailPoet. Simply enable pop-up placement for your form, scroll down to the bottom of the sidebar, and fill in the required fields:

Pop up form settings in MailPoet
MailPoet pop-up settings

Pop-up forms can be effective on any page of your site, but they are particularly powerful for long-form content.


Slide-ins are exactly what they sound like: signup forms that slide into view as someone scrolls down the page. These forms typically appear in the bottom left or right corner, and they are often quite small. Many even start as a simple button, like this slide-in form on the Sleeknote blog:

Slide-in form example from sleeknote
Example of a slide-in form from Sleeknote
Sleeknote slide-in form part two

Slide-in forms are effective because our eyes are naturally drawn to movement. This means we’re bound to notice a slide-in form, especially if it’s a vibrant color. They’re also less intrusive than pop-ups, since they don’t take up the entire page or cover the content users are trying to view.

You can use slide-in forms to great effect on any pages long enough that people are likely to scroll down. To create one in MailPoet, simply build your form as you normally would, then choose “Slide-in” as your form placement. You’ll then be able to customize several aspects of the form, including setting a time delay before it appears.

Slide-in form settings in MailPoet
MailPoet slide-in form settings

Fixed bar forms

The final type of signup form to consider is a fixed bar form, sometimes called a floating bar form. This type of form appears along the top of your website and stays there, following your visitors as they scroll through content.

Many sites, like OptinMonster, use fixed bar forms to great effect.

An example of a fixed bar signup form from OptinMonster
OptinMonster floating bar form

These forms are great for long pages or blog posts, making sure your visitors can access the signup form any time they want.

You can turn any MailPoet form into a fixed bar form by choosing “Fixed Bar Form” from the placement options in the form editor. However, fixed bar forms work best with minimal height, so you’re better off creating a custom signup form for this.

Landing pages

The other marketing tool you want to create right away is a landing page. This is a specialized marketing page with no links other than the signup link for your newsletter. Landing pages tend to feature short, punchy copy with an emphasis on what people receive if they sign up.

These pages work even better when combined with a specific subscriber incentive, like this landing page for Industrial Strength Marketing:

Landing page examples from Industrial Strength Marketing
Industrial Strength Marketing landing page

There are several tools you can use to build a high-quality landing page with minimal effort. Some of the most popular are Unbounce, InstaPage, and Wishpond.

Pro tip: Put a link to your landing page in your bios on social media and in guest posts instead of linking to your home page.

Turn your contacts into subscribers

Once you’ve created your signup form and/or landing page, it’s time to utilize your network. Don’t import your contact list into your email marketing software. Adding people to your list without consent is both unethical and highly illegal. Besides, only a small percentage of your contacts will actually be worthwhile leads.

To make effective use of your network, send personalized emails to the people most likely to be interested in your content. These emails need to do two things:

  • Explain why this person might be interested in your newsletter
  • Ask them directly to sign up, with a link to where they can do so

If you haven’t spoken to the person you’re emailing in a while, you might also want to remind them of who you are. Conversely, if you’re emailing someone you communicate with regularly, you might also ask them to share your newsletter with anyone who might be interested.

Add a link to your signature

Finally, you can turn every email into an opportunity to gain a subscriber by adding a signup link to your email signature. This can go underneath your main website link.

Dos and don’ts of starting your newsletter


  • Set long term subscribers goals
  • Schedule time for drafting email content
  • Schedule time for marketing your list
  • Use multiple types of signup forms
  • Build a landing page + use the link in author bios
  • Ask colleagues and/or clients who might be interested in your content to subscribe and/or share your newsletter
  • Put a link to your newsletter in your email signature


  • Wait to publish your newsletter signup form until your site is live; you want a list to announce the new site to!
  • Rely on only one type of signup form
  • Leave your email marketing to the last minute/whenever you “have time”
  • Import contacts from an old newsletter list; if the old list has only been dormant for a short period of time, send a newsletter asking people to subscribe to the new one
  • Import contacts from your email or social media (learn how to safely reconfirm your subscribers instead)

Growing your list

With your signup forms in place and your contacts turned into subscribers, it’s time to think about your long-term email marketing strategy.

Create short term goals

The first part of your email marketing strategy will be your goals. These should be daily, weekly, and monthly subscriber goals calculated to help you reach your long-term subscriber goal.

To calculate these goals, subtract the number of subscribers you already have from your long-term goal. For example, if your goal is 1,000 subscribers by the end of the year and 100 of your contacts signed up for your newsletter (this is pretty generous for most small businesses, but the round numbers are useful), you need to get 900 subscribers. 900 divided by 12 is 75, so you’ll need 75 new subscribers per month.

Remember that some industries have quiet periods and hyper-active periods throughout the year. If you run a B2B business, you might see a dip in new subscribers during December. To make up for this, you might want to aim for 80 signups per month throughout the rest of the year. This reduces your required signups for December to 20.

On the other hand, if you run an ecommerce store, December might be your busiest month. If this is the case, you might expect to get 150 signups, reducing your regular monthly subscriber requirement to 68/month.

If these numbers sound intimidating to you, don’t worry! You can always choose lower numbers. However, I encourage you not to limit yourself to “safe” numbers. Aim to stretch yourself a little bit. If you think you can hit 300 subscribers, aim for 400.

Create a signup incentive

The best way to ramp up your subscriber numbers is to increase the value of what you’re offering. A signup incentive does exactly this, with the added bonus of instant gratification.

Your signup incentive can be any bonus relevant to your audience. For example, if you run a fitness blog, you might grant access to a short training video.

There are numerous other possibilities as well:

  • Checklist
  • Worksheet or workbook
  • Ebook
  • Email course
  • Video course
  • Quiz
  • Webinar
  • Templates
  • Access to an additional community, such as a private Facebook group or Slack channel
  • Entrance in a giveaway, especially a recurring giveaway
  • Coupons or discount codes

One company that does this really well is Social Media Examiner. They’re constantly doing valuable research on social media and offering the latest reports as subscriber freebies.

Opt-in incentive from Social Media Examiner
Social Media Examiner signup bonus

The possibilities are as endless as your imagination. However, it’s important to remember your opt-in bonus is a major part of your list building strategy. You shouldn’t choose a freebie because it’s easy to create or the first idea that comes to mind. Consider what will benefit your customers most and what you can do well. Your opt-in bonus should be the item that best fits both of those criteria.

Promote your newsletter on social media

Funneling your social media followers into your email list makes them permanent members of your audience (unless they choose to unsubscribe). But putting a link in your bio isn’t enough. You need to include regular posts about it in your social media schedule.

The details of this schedule should be optimized for the platforms your audience is on. I don’t want to get into the details of each platform here, but there are some basic rules to remember:

  • Images attract attention. Even on Twitter, a platform arguably known for being text-based, posts with images are retweeted 150x more than posts text-only posts.
  • Authenticity shines. People love to get to know the person or team behind a brand. Sharing the occasional personal story or behind-the-scenes moment emphasizes the “social” part of social media; this can also make people want to connect with you further.
  • People expect brands to be responsive. In fact, 79% of people expect brands to respond to social media messages within 24 hours. Responding to messages and comments from your audience builds relationships, encouraging them to take actions like signing up for your newsletter.
  • Consistency is key. You can’t expect your whole audience to see every post you make. This means you need to promote things like your newsletter on a regular basis. Consider scheduling one post about your newsletter per week on each social media platform.

You can use a scheduling tool like Buffer to make this easier.

Turn sales into subscribers

The next place you want to create signup opportunities is during your sales process. You can do this in a couple of ways:

  • Ask during checkout. Add a simple checkbox where customers can choose to be subscribed. This will typically appear at the end of the process.
  • Include a link in your thank-you email. You can sweeten the deal by offering a special coupon code, possibly a larger one than your primary signup incentive.
  • Send a follow-up email. When your customers have had some time to enjoy your products/services, send an email saying something like “If you enjoyed this product, subscribe to see what we make next”. Again, you can sweeten the deal by offering a special discount, but this isn’t necessary.

Thank-you emails and follow-up emails can easily be sent using MailPoet’s WooCommerce integration. Go to the “Emails” area of MailPoet and click “+New Email”, then scroll down to the WooCommerce emails area. You’ll note four options: Abandoned Cart Emails, First Purchase Emails, Purchased This Product, and Purchased In This Category. These emails are automatically sent when the relevant action is completed.

WooCommerce emails in MailPoet
MailPoet WooCommerce Emails

Once you choose an option, you’ll be asked to specify how soon after the action an email is sent. For example, you might choose to send a thank-you email right away. A follow-up email, on the other hand, might come a week later (even longer if physical products are being shipped).

Pro tip: If you run a brick-and-mortar business or sell at events, keep a signup sheet near the cash register.

In-person networking

Gatherings in many places are limited right now due to COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean they’re a thing of the past. As vaccination programs progress, small events and eventually full-blown conferences will return. You can use these events to gain subscribers in a few different ways:

  • Add the link to your business cards. Along with your email and website, list your newsletter link. You can even commission a specialized set of business cards that only link to your newsletter.
  • Hold a raffle or contest. Create a free raffle/contest that requires an email address or a paid raffle/contest where people can leave their email addresses during registration.
  • Perfect your “elevator pitch”. This is a one-sentence pitch you can throw out whenever someone asks about your newsletter. Focus on how your newsletter can help people and test multiple versions of the pitch, ideally with a friend before you attend the event.

If you have a table at an event, you can also place a signup sheet at the front of the table. When people ask what they’re signing up for, just toss out your elevator pitch!

Dos and don’ts of growing your list


  • Break your long-term subscriber goal down into monthly, weekly, and/or daily goals
  • Create a signup incentive
  • Add regular newsletter promotions to your social media schedule
  • Add a signup option to the checkout process of your ecommerce store
  • Put a signup sheet beside the cash register in brick-and-mortar stores and at events
  • Include signup links in thank you emails
  • Send follow up emails to customers asking them to subscribe after they’ve had time to enjoy a purchase
  • Consider offering a special incentive for people who purchase something from you to also sign up for your newsletter
  • Use the MailPoet integration with WooCommerce to automate your follow-up emails
  • Add your newsletter link to your business cards
  • Prepare an elevator pitch for your newsletter + practice it until it rolls off the tongue
  • Consider using contests or raffles to encourage signups


  • Spam personal or professional contacts who have already said they’re not interested in your newsletter with requests
  • Buy subscriber lists to artificially boost your numbers (I’ll talk more about this in the section on list maintenance)
  • Assume you can post your newsletter to social media once and everyone will see it
  • Rush the creation of your opt-in bonus

Maintaining your list

The final piece of the email marketing puzzle is list maintenance. This includes both basic things like sending content regularly and advanced tasks like making sure you’re whitelisted, monitoring your open rates, and performing regular list cleanups.

Ask subscribers to whitelist your email

Some email clients use extremely strict spam filters. To make sure your content always gets through, ask your customers to whitelist your email address. Put this request in your welcome email so users do it right away.

Some users may not know how to whitelist an email, so you’ll also want to include a link explaining how to whitelist an email address. If you don’t want to link to somebody else’s resource, include step-by-step directions within the email itself.

Send on a regular schedule

Scheduling isn’t just something you use to keep you on track. It’s a way to maintain your relationship with your audience, reducing the likelihood that they’ll unsubscribe or mark your emails as spam.

However, you also don’t want to send too often. According to a survey by TechnologyAdvice, as many as 45% of adults want to receive fewer marketing emails. 24% of those adults would also like to see more informative content.

The best email frequency will vary based on your audience, but I recommend starting with one email per month. This is both frequent enough to keep you in people’s minds and infrequent enough to avoid annoying them. You also won’t have to worry about overworking yourself or missing dates.

Use segmentation

Segmentation is the act of dividing your overall list into groups based on things like demographics or actions taken. For example, you might segment your list into people who have purchased something from you before and people who haven’t.

With segmentation in place, you can create personalized email campaigns for these groups. Sticking with the example above, this might look like writing copy about “Your next purchase” for people who have already bought something from you. Meanwhile, the people who haven’t bought anything from you yet might receive an email talking about “Your first purchase”.

MailPoet lets you segment your audience based on several criteria:

  • WordPress user roles
  • Emails opened
  • Emails unopened
  • Links clicked
  • People who purchased a specific product from your WooCommerce store
  • People who purchased products from a specific category

To do this, go to the “Lists” area of MailPoet and click “+ New Segment” at the top of the screen.

Segmentation options in MailPoet
Add a segment in MailPoet

This will open a page where you can select the criteria people must meet in order to become part of this segment. You’ll also be able to enter a name and description for this segment.

Segmentation options in MailPoet
MailPoet Segment Editor

For more information on how to make segmentation work for you, check out our Beginner’s Guide to Email Segmentation.

Monitor your analytics

Analytics tell you what parts of your email marketing strategy are successful. There are four key aspects of email marketing analytics:

Subscriber growth

This is the number of subscribers added to your list. You can view statistics for individual days or for growth over time.

Some things to pay attention to here:

  • Average weekly signup rate
  • Average monthly signup rate
  • Spikes in signup numbers
  • Links subscribers are coming from

These numbers can help you determine which of your lead generation campaigns is most effective.

To get more advanced reporting on subscriber growth, combine MailPoet with OptinMonster.

Open rates

This is the number of subscribers who open each email, and serves as an indicator of how engaged your audience is. The average open rate is 23.67%, depending on the industry you’re in.

Businesses with smaller lists often enjoy even higher open rates, since these lists are filled with a business’s most die-hard fans. My recently released Author Marketing Club list has a solid open rate of 40% at the time of writing this article. As it grows, however, this number will probably shift to be more in line with the average.

Low open rates on the occasional email typically mean the headline wasn’t up to your usual level of quality. However, if you notice open rates trending downward, this might be an indicator of a more serious problem with your overall strategy. You might be marketing to the wrong people or holding on to a large number of inactive email addresses.

Link clicks

There are two aspects to this:

  • How many people click on your links
  • What links receive the most clicks

You can use this to determine the best placement and wording for promotional links.


This is the number of people who unsubscribe from your newsletter on a weekly or monthly basis. Some turnover is normal, as people’s interests and needs change. However, if you see a spike in unsubscribes or you’re losing more subscribers than you gain in a month, it’s time to revisit your email marketing strategy.

Clean your email list

The final piece of list maintenance is to clean your list. This is the act of removing inactive subscribers and invalid email addresses from your list.

Inactive subscribers are people who have stopped opening your emails for at least a month (where you place the cutoff depends on how often you send emails). Often these people are simply receiving too many emails; other times, they might have lost interest in your work. You can try to re-engage them with specialized campaigns or use our inactive subscriber tool to stop sending them emails.

Invalid email addresses are email addresses that no longer work.

There are three main reasons to clean these types of emails off of your list:

  • Improve your open rates
  • Reduce your risk of being marked as spam
  • Stop paying for worthless email addresses

The best way to do this is with a program like Clearout. These tools use bots to crawl your list and flag inactive and invalid email addresses.

Pro tip: Cleaning your email list isn’t a one-time thing! At minimum, you should clean your list once a year.

Dos and Don’ts of maintaining your email list


  • Send content out regularly
  • Keep your content informative and relevant to your audience
  • Create list segments based on how people interact with your content and products
  • Pay attention to your analytics
  • Clean your email list once a year


  • Forget to send an email out for months at a time
  • Send every email to every single user on your list
  • Ignore your analytics

Final advice on list building and maintenance

Your email list will only grow if you put time, energy, and strategic thought into making it happen. The details of your strategy will be specific to your business, but there are some key steps to remember:

  • Set both long-term and short-term goals
  • Schedule everything
  • Use multiple types of signup forms
  • Build at least one landing page
  • Link to your newsletter landing page in your bios on social media and in guest appearances
  • Promote your newsletter with scheduled social media posts
  • Create an opt-in bonus
  • Add signup opportunities to your sales process
  • Put a link to your newsletter on your business cards
  • Create an elevator pitch for your newsletter
  • Ask users to whitelist your email address
  • Pay close attention to your analytics
  • Clean your email list once a year

Feeling overwhelmed? Get started with some dynamic signup forms. You can do it 💪