How to Grow Your Email List by the Thousands

grow your email list by thousands

This is how you go from a slow trickle of email subscribers to growing your list by over 1,000 new subscribers per month.

When you first begin blogging, email list building is likely to be one of the lower priority items on your to-do list. You have so much to worry about from blog design to just getting your first few posts written.

For beginner bloggers, it can be both intimidating and confusing to know where to begin growing an email list.

Well, in this post I’m going to outline all the different ways you can begin growing your email list by the thousands. Today.

You see, every blogger started in the same place–we were all newbies at some point, just trying to figure out what the heck we were doing.

No matter how big the blogger you admire is, they were once right where you are.

So I’m going to navigate you through all of the stages of email marketing maturity that I went through as a blogger, and hopefully cut your learning curve significantly.

Stage 1: Picking Your Email Marketing Software

grow your email list stage 1

I’ve written a bit about this in my previous post, The Biggest Social Media Mistake, but I’ll touch on it again here.

Picking your email marketing software can be really difficult. There are too many options, and if you don’t really have a solid strategy in place for your email list, it’s very hard to compare features of different products.

I’m going to make it dead simple for you– just pick one of the following:

There are plenty of other great email service providers out there, but the last thing you want to spend time on is trying to pick the “right” email software. Trust me, you’ll waste hours of your precious time comparing a bunch of features you won’t even use.

So, make this part easy on yourself and just choose from one of the two options above.

But, Dustin, why only these two email marketing software providers?

I’m glad you asked. And don’t call me butt Dustin.

Basically, both of these companies provide a few things that are crucially important to get started with your email list:

  • Super easy to get started
  • User-friendly interface
  • All the bottom-line features bloggers need
  • Affordable

When I first got started, I chose MailChimp. Recently I moved over to ConvertKit after 5 years of growing my list.

If I could go back and do it all over again, I would start with ConvertKit.

mailchimp vs convertkit

The huge benefit that MailChimp offers over ConvertKit is that it’s completely free to use for up to 2,000 subscribers. That alone will be the deciding factor for most new bloggers.

However, the reason I’d go back and choose ConvertKit out of the gate is three-fold:

  1. Email list management and segmentation is simpler
  2. Setting up automated sequences is simpler
  3. Basically, everything crucial for a thriving email list is way, way simpler

Now, to be fair, I’m not saying that MailChimp is overly complicated to use (for the most part). However, for the majority of things that matter, ConvertKit is just so much easier.

So your choice is basically: Do I want to spend more time figuring out my email marketing software but not have to pay money? Or do I want to spend $29/mo so that I don’t have to spend time figuring things out?

Your call. I would choose simplicity over saving a few bucks.

Bottom line: just make a decision.

Stage 2: Your First Subscribe Forms

grow your email list stage 2

Once you have your email marketing software (EMS), you have three types of basic subscribe forms:

  • Copy/Paste forms: you can simply copy and paste the form code from your EMS.
  • Hosted forms: these are forms that are hosted on your EMS domain that you can send people to.
  • Form plugin: if you’re on WordPress there are a number of plugins you can use to create subscribe forms. My two favorites are Ninja Forms with their MailChimp add-on (ConvertKit add-on coming soon), and OptinMonster.

New bloggers generally start out by simply sticking a subscribe form into their blog sidebar with the words “Subscribe to my email list!” or “Free updates, subscribe below!” and call it a day.

most interesting man gif

As if getting emails from you, for free, was some sort of amazing deal.

I did it. You probably did it. And some of you are probably still doing it right now.

That’s okay. We all start somewhere.

But I hate to break it to you– this is probably the least effective way to actually get people onto your email list.

Don’t believe me?

Well, Debbie Doubter, I tried this approach for almost 2 years because I didn’t really have any sort of strategy behind my email list. And since I was using MailChimp, I had no real incentive to create a strategy because I wasn’t paying anything to have it.

So I grabbed the embed code, pasted it into my sidebar widget and called it a day. I later discovered Ninja Forms, which made this a bit easier.

But I still didn’t have any compelling reason for people to subscribe.

Well, for those first 2 years I managed to add a total of 90 subscribers. That’s it.

My best months I added a whopping 9 subscribers.

So eventually I knew something had to change–I needed to do something differently. That’s when I grew into stage 3.

Stage 3: Lead Magnets

grow your email list stage 3

The month I began utilizing Lead Magnets, my email list grew by 289%. I went from a list of 90 subscribers to 350 subscribers.

My young blogger mind was blown.

chris pratt mind blow gif

What’s a “Lead Magnet”? Well, according to Digital Marketer:

Lead Magnet – noun – an irresistible bribe offering a specific chunk of value to a prospect in exchange for their contact information.

In simplified terms–it’s something you give people instant access to in exchange for their personal information (for our intents and purposes, their email address).

Some common types of Lead Magnets are:

  • Free ebook
  • Free templates
  • Free swipe file
  • Free email course
  • Free downloadable thing

You get the idea, right? Giving away a thing that is valuable in exchange for the person’s email address.

Sponsored by Adobe

It’s a relatively simple concept, but the execution can sometimes get technical. And because it’s got a bit of technicality to it, many beginner bloggers put off doing it.

The Easiest Way to Create and Deliver a Lead Magnet

Okay, so I’m about to remove every excuse you have to create and deliver a lead magnet.

I’m going to lay it out for you as simply as possible so that if you’re not using any Lead Magnets at this point, you will by the time you’re done reading this.

Step 1: Create a valuable thing.

It should either be something they can download instantly or you can send them via email. Try to ask yourself what your target audience needs or what challenges they’re encountering.

Here are some quick options:

  • Create an extensive blog post that you haven’t published and turn it into a PDF using Google Docs
  • Create an infographic using
  • Create a checklist and turn it into a PDF with Google Docs
  • Package together a bundle of free stock photos
  • Put together a list of your top resources and (again) turn it into a PDF with Google Docs

You get the point.

I keep using the example of Google Docs because it’s the simplest for me. You can probably do the same with Microsoft Office or whichever Rich Text Editor you use.

Step 2: Create a form that offers the thing.

Again, you can use your EMS to create a form specifically for this lead magnet and then just copy/paste the code. ConvertKit makes this especially easy.

Or if you’re using WordPress there are plenty of plugins you can work with to create a form for a specific Lead Magnet. My favorite to use is Ninja Forms because it’s super easy.

The important thing is to create a form specifically for this one thing. You don’t want to use a general form because you won’t be able to differentiate the people who sign up for this specific thing.

Step 3: Pick a way to deliver the thing.

Once they fill out the form, you need an automatic way of delivering the thing you promised them.

If it’s a downloadable thing–a PDF or other type of file–upload the file to Google Drive, Dropbox, WordPress, or anywhere else that will give you a link to that file.

Then you have three options:

  1. Have your EMS email them the link to the download once they’ve signed up.
  2. Have your form redirect them to a “Thank You” page where there is a link to the download (super easy with Ninja Forms).
  3. Have your form “reveal” a link to the thing once the form is submitted via the success message (also easy to do with Ninja Forms).

The first option is set up through your EMS while the other two options need to be controlled by your form. Do whichever is easiest for you to configure.

Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to begin collecting emails.

Step 4: Promote Your Lead Magnet

Put this lead magnet form everywhere you possibly can throughout your website:

  • Blog sidebar
  • Below blog posts
  • On your home page (if you have one)
  • Create a landing page for it (just a standard WordPress page will do)

Just make sure it’s highly visible and people can clearly see “Get this awesome thing by entering your email address.”

Obviously, you’ll want to brush up on your sales psychology a bit to make sure your copy is attractive.

When done right, your email subscribe rate will get a significant boost as long as you get this in front of your website visitors.

While this is a fantastic way to quickly grow your list, it does tend to take a while to produce. There’s a lot of work involved, and Lead Magnets aren’t supposed to be a “mass appeal” for your audience.

Most bloggers produce one and keep it at that. And that’s fine.

However, when I entered the next stage in my email marketing journey, I couldn’t believe how quickly my list began to grow!

Stage 4: Contextual CTAs (Post-specific Lead Magnets)

grow your email list stage 4

When I started implementing what I call Contextual Calls to Action (CCTAs), my subscriber rate jumped 400% the next day. I actually wrote about this previously because it was so powerful for me.

Essentially this is a tactic I thought up because I had a handful of high-performance evergreen posts that were getting lots of traffic and I wasn’t converting that traffic to subscribers very well.

So I came up with the bright idea to give people reading those posts a contextual reason they should subscribe to my email list. I asked myself this:

How would the reader benefit from subscribing to my list in a way that relates directly to this post?

In the example of my Social Media Icon Set it was pretty easy: subscribe to my list and be notified whenever I release a new version of this icon set. (I eventually changed this to “Download the icons by subscribing to my list.”)

In the example of my Best Places to Find Free Images it was not so clear cut. I decided to make the Contextual CTA a “Get notified when I find more Free Images Sites” and it’s worked out pretty well. Not great, but still way better than no CTA at all.

After implementing this tactic on my top 20 evergreen blog posts I went from adding an average of 80-100 subscribers per month to now adding 200-250 subscribers per month.

ralph macchio whoa gif

And the big kicker was, I was writing fewer blog posts than any previous year.

Did you catch that? I was producing less content, but more than doubling my subscriber rate.

At this point, I was hooked on exploring new ways to dramatically increase my email subscriber rates. So I began exploring one more route that I was previously 100% opposed to.

Which leads me to the next stage.

Stage 5: Pop-ups (and Why I Changed My Mind About Them)

grow your email list stage 5

There are few marketing tactics that can be as polarizing as the use of Pop-up boxes. You know, those things that unexpectedly interrupt your browsing to ask you to do something?

ugly popup box example

For the longest time, I was one of the people on the violently opposed side of the spectrum when it came to pop-ups.

I hated them.

In fact, if a pop-up was intrusive enough, I would often close my browser tab immediately, and vow to never return to the site that so rudely threw their CTA in my face.

But I had a bit of a revelation.

You see, many times we can have very strong opinions about things that we’ve never actually explored. This is part of our flawed human nature of hating things we don’t understand.

So when it came to pop-ups, I knew there were many “experts” talking about how they “work”. I always wrote it off as a bunch of gurus who don’t care about user experience and only want to make a quick buck using any tactic possible.

Well, I decided to put my own preconceived notions to the test. In my opinion, you can’t fully speak against something you haven’t tested yourself.

So I decided to put pop-ups to the test.

My theory had always been that while pop-ups might gather more email subscribers, the quality of those subscribers would be lower (worse open rates and click rates).

I went ahead and began utilizing OptinMonster which allowed me to use Exit Intent based pop-ups. This means I could create pop-ups that only fired off when it detected the reader was leaving the browser window (as if they were going to close the tab).

I closely monitored both the number of subscribers and the affect those subscribers had on my email open and click rates.

Boy, was my theory wrong.

As “experts” predicted, my subscriber rate went up when I added the Exit Intent pop-ups to key pages. On average, this added about 7 more subscribers a day.

Over the course of 6 months, that was an additional 1,400 subscribers that wouldn’t have otherwise subscribed. These are, most likely, subscribers that were about to leave my site before subscribing.

To me, that’s a big gain. But what about the quality of the subscribers? Did my list open and click rates suffer like I thought they would?


Open and click rates remained relatively unchanged. There was a slight dip, but not nearly enough to cancel out the extra lift in subscriber growth.

So I officially became a fan of pop-ups. Albeit, I’m only a fan of Exit Intent pop-ups since they only jump on the screen when a visitor is leaving, but this is still a big leap from my previous violent opposition to all pop-ups.

I also recommend utilizing the fly-ins which can slide into the bottom of the content, out of the way. These have proven to be even less abrasive and don’t interrupt the reading experience while still drawing enough attention to important calls to action.

Now, as exciting as this journey was for me so far, this next stage was the real game changer.

Stage 6: Content Upgrades – the Game Changer

grow your email list stage 6

When I started implementing Content Upgrades, my subscriber rates exploded by 1,000% almost overnight!

That’s a 10x increase in email list growth. And it really wasn’t much more work than I was already doing.

It was like I stumbled upon a growth tactic that had been staring me right in the face. And the results were unbelievable.

people losing it gif

I think it was Mike Allton that first brought the idea to my attention, noting how similar Content Upgrades were to my idea of CCTAs.

What is a Content Upgrade?

Well, the idea is basically a combination of the Lead Magnet and CCTAs. You give people a Lead Magnet that is specifically for the post they’re reading which enhances, or furthers the value of the post itself.

For example: In my Ultimate Guide to Branding Yourself on Social Media there is a downloadable quick-reference checklist.

content upgrade example 1

Another example: In my How to Promote an Epic Blog Post for 30 Days in 5min there is a downloadable version of the templates.

content upgrade example 2

Are your gears starting to turn?

The Impact of Content Upgrades

One person who has written a great deal about the idea of Content Upgrades is Bryan Harris. He says that,

“I normally experience 20-30% opt-in rates on these bonuses and some have been as high as 62%!”

Another person using Content Upgrades with great success is Brian Dean of Backlinko. He first experimented with this tactic and found:

“The result? A 785% increase in conversions (compared to the previous month).

On this blog, I have several blog posts converting at 50% or better. That means that half of the people landing on those blog posts are turning into email subscribers.

Take a moment and let that sink in.

What if you could get one out of every five (20%) of the people who read your blog post to sign up for your email list? What would that mean for your blog?

Let’s do some math:

If you had 100 new visitors per day to your blog, and you were able to convert 20% of them to subscribers, that means you’d be gaining 20 new subscribers per day. That’s roughly 500 subscribers per month.

At the end of the year, you would have added over 6,000 email subscribers to your list.

And that’s if your traffic stays completely flat the whole time.

Have you had that many subscribers join your list in the last year? If not, then it’s time to start creating Content Upgrades right now.

If you can create a Lead Magnet using the methods I mentioned above, you would just need to do this for your most popular blog posts. Start with your top 10–the 10 blog posts that have had the most traffic over the last year.

Then begin asking yourself the following question for each blog post:

What can I add to this blog post that would make it easier, more effective, or more tangible to the reader?

If you can answer that question, you can easily create a Content Upgrade for it.

I’m telling you, this will change the game for your email list growth.

When I began utilizing Content Upgrades, I went from adding 200-250 subscribers per month to adding over 600 subscribers per month.

And this brings us to where I’m at today. At this point, because of the cumulative effect of creating more Content Upgrades I’m now adding over 1,000 email subscribers every month.

And I haven’t even maximized all of my best evergreen posts with Content Upgrades yet.

If you’ve read this far, and you decide to take your blog and email list growth to the next level by implementing these growth stages quickly, you will be amazed at the results.

Let’s Make it Super Easy for You

Many of you reading this will see the process of creating a Lead Magnet and cringe at how much work it seems like. Then you’ll read the Content Upgrade section and think, “wait, I need to do that for almost every blog post? You’re crazy!”

And you’re right. It is a lot of work. But it’s definitely worth it.

However, I’m working on a new project that is going to make the process exponentially easier.

This will be a tool built to give you everything you need build and manage Lead Magnets and Content Upgrades right within your WordPress Dashboard.

This project is a direct result of my own frustration with how unnecessarily complicated the process is for so many content creators.

I’ve spoken with dozens of great bloggers and content managers working on some of the largest blogs on the internet. They all had the same resounding problem: creating Lead Magnets and Content Upgrades is too complicated!

So I’m working with a team to develop a solution. And I need your help to make it even better than I can imagine on my own.

If you’re a content creator, blogger, or working on a team to develop email marketing strategies, I want you to sign up for our Beta list.

I’m going to then choose a handful of subscribers who I am going to personally work with to develop out their content and begin generating more email subscribers than ever before.

So head on over to our brand-spankin’ new website (just a landing page at the moment) and sign-up for our Beta list.


In the comments below, tell me what stage you’re in and what you’re going to do, after commenting, to grow your email list.

Bonus: Grow Your Email List Infographic

To make this super easy for you to both remember and share I’ve created this handy infographic with all the tips above. Feel free to pin the below infographic or even embed it on your own website using the embed code.

grow email list infographic

Embed Code:

<a href="" target="_blank"><img src="" alt="Email List Growth Tips Infographic" /></a><br /><em>Image courtesy of <a href="" target="_blank"></a></em>

Now get out there and start growing your email list like a pro!

Dustin W. Stout Avatar

22 responses to “How to Grow Your Email List by the Thousands”

  1. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Oh, absolutely. Content upgrades convert way higher on average and give you more detailed info about the people converting since they’re getting something more specific from you. Really helps with segmentation (if you’re doing that).

  2. Joe Avatar

    This is something that I have got to try! Content upgrades for me sounds like a great option! Are conversion rates higher for those?

  3. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Hey, we’ve all done it, Carol. Glad to help you along your path! So what’s the first step you took after reading this article?

  4. Carol Avatar

    Great post! Well written and comprehensive. Came just at the right time for me as I am guilty of the simple subscribe widget on the sidebar lol. Thanks so much!

  5. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Glad it was helpful for you Jay!

  6. Jay Avatar

    Hey Dustin.
    Thanks a lot for this thorough guide!
    And I agree, email lists are kind of far down on the newly-started blogger’s priority list. But as things evolve, it’s an important thing!
    I’ll definitely take your tips into consideration (and soon action).

  7. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Me too Brent!

    And I’m glad you noticed the redesign… I noticed a growing trend in web design so I’m giving it a try.

  8. Brent W Robison Avatar
    Brent W Robison

    Man, this is a seriously simple, yet results-packed post! I hope people drill down and really take these on step-by-step and see how much growth their list has.

    Btw.. ContentMagnets’ new design is looking AWESOME!

  9. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Thanks Harsha! What stage would you say you’re in?

  10. Harsha Avatar

    Good post on how to improve email marketing lists and choose ESP

  11. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Awesome Lorraine! I’m glad I was able to clarify that for you. Often times these jargony terms are just thrown around and few people take the time to explain what they mean in a practical way.

    I’m sure by implementing the above tips, you won’t be saying “I’ve got a small list” for long. ?

  12. Lorraine Tilbury Avatar

    Thank you SO much for clearly defining what a lead magnet is! This was always a bit mysterious to me.
    Great simple actionable advice to grow my list, thanks again! I’ve got a small list and nearly non existent blog posts so this is perfect to get me going.

  13. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Hi Kirsten! Thanks for stopping by. So glad you liked the podcast–Jenny is great!

  14. Kirsten Avatar

    Hey, Dustin! I’m so glad to have heard your episode with Jenny! I’ve long heard about Social Warfare (and think it’s time to make the switch!) and loved this episode. I’m a big email nerd (and coffee junkie) so glad to have found you. Hope to connect more and just signed up for your list.

  15. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Glad you liked the post Tonya! I have not personally used Aweber, so I cannot say for certain. I can say, however, that ConvertKit has been the easiest and most intuitive way to build out my email marketing strategy. I really wish I would have made the switch sooner.

  16. Tonya Avatar

    Great post Dustin, I love these tips. I’m currently using Aweber, would you choose Aweber or Convertkit? I’m working on creating content upgrades and I truly hope it will be “the game changer” that you mentioned. Thanks for sharing!

  17. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Awesome Gene! Looking forward to see what you produce!

  18. Gene Whitehead Avatar

    Man, this is some seriously filling mind-food! This is the second time I’ve combed through this post, thank you for putting all of this together.

    I’m setting a goal to provide CCTA’s for my 10 most popular posts and then I’m moving on to the next 10.

    When that’s done, I’ll look at the posts that don’t perform, update them and add CCTA’s to them as well.

    You’re right, that’s going to be a ton of work, but I believe you when you say it’s worth it!

  19. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Glad I could help Wanda!

  20. Wanda Avatar

    This is really helpful Dustin. As a new blogger I was all but lost when it came to email subscribers. Thanks for this!

  21. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    You’re very welcome Lynne! Have you created a lead magnet before?

  22. Lynne Hunter Avatar
    Lynne Hunter

    This project sounds great and I’m really excited to be part of it. Fantastic post, full of actionable tips even making bribes sounding easier to do than I thought. Thanks for the wonderful tips.

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