Top 6 Dos and Don’ts of Building Your Email List


When you’re starting out building your email list, there are a few rules if thumb to follow for ongoing growth and long-term success. By keeping a clean, ever-growing list of addresses, you'll ensure a high engagement rate with your audience (meaning lots of opens and click-throughs), which will lead to more of your customers making purchases, registering for your events and donating to your cause on your website.

Follow these dos and don’ts to build your email list for success:

#1 Don’t add people from a stack of business cards you collected

So you went to a conference, met a bunch of interesting people, and now you're back at your desk and ready to add all those addresses to your email list. Don't do it! This actually violates federal law. See the federal CAN-SPAM Act established in 2003. You can only add people to your list who have expressly opted-in to receive emails from you. Plus, you really only want people who are interested in what you're sharing. That means that adding a bunch of uninterested people to your list is only going to hurt your open rate.

>>>DO ask these people if they want to be on your list. This gives you a great reason to follow up with them after the event, and maybe you could even ask what they are specifically interested in hearing about from you.

#2 Don’t buy email lists. Ever.

You know how you can buy physical mailing addresses and send out a postcard to everyone in a certain zip code? Well, some people might try to sell you an email list with a similar idea in mind, but they are lying to you. Buying lists actually violates the same federal law mentioned in Don't #1 and the same rationale applies here: these people haven't opted in to your list. Plus, how do you know if these people are A) real and B) interested in you? There's no way to find out. Plus, purchased lists have the added trouble of being detectable by email service providers like Mailchimp, so you won't even be able to send messages to purchased lists anyway (and even trying can you can get blacklisted, which is a sad and lonely place to be).

>>>DO collect email addresses (with clear opt-in language explaining you'll be contacting people) everywhere you can: at events, on your social media platforms and on your website.

#3 Don’t only collect email addresses

Let's say you have 35,000 email addresses in your database, like we did when I worked at the Montana State University Alumni Foundation (this can happen for you!). With a list that large, there's bound to be more than one person named Jane Smith and we didn’t want to mix them up. We needed to send different types of content to different lists (like the class of 1968 reunion invitation) so we needed more information about each person in order to send the right messages to each Jane Smith.

>>>DO collect first name, last name, email address and one other descriptive field that will help you tell people apart. It could be city and state, zip code, or something else entirely.

Another more advanced defining option is to tag people as they come into your email database. Tags can be things like “volunteer,” “attended fundraiser,” or “purchased X product.” These tags allow you to share customized messages with each group and depending on your systems, the process can be automated. Typically, tagging is best for lists above 1,000 people.

#4 Don’t wait too long to connect

As you build your list, make sure you're reaching out to new subscribers and your existing list regularly. Waiting months after adding people to your list might make them forget that they subscribed to your newsletter and cause them to unsubscribe.

>>>DO follow up within a couple of weeks. If you're adding people manually, send a welcome message to your new subscribers and provide a link to your website, a discount or a deal for them in that first message. You'll remind them that they signed up and show the value that your future messages will bring them.

If you're adding people through an automated system like a Mailchimp form on your website, be sure you have your auto-generated welcome message set up so new subscribers get something from you right away.

#5 Don’t stress about unsubscribes

You've worked hard to grow your list and you see that several people unsubscribed from your list. What happened?! Don't worry. Unsubscribes are a part of email marketing and people will come and go. We all get a LOT of email so maybe those people just decided to trim down their subscriptions. That's okay! If they aren't interested in what you're sharing, you don't want them on your list.

>>>DO keep an eye on large numbers of unsubscribes. Mailchimp lists why people unsubscribe and even though only a few people fill out the reason, this could be a source of good information for you.

#6 Don’t ignore your analytics

Along with unsubscribes, there's a huge amount of information available from your email service provider. It'll help you see which messages are being opened, who is opening them and where your audience is clicking.

>>>DO look at your top email-openers and email link-clickers. This helps you identify your biggest fans. These people are highly engaged with your content and should be on the radar of your sales or development team.

Building a strong email list takes time and effort—no easy shortcuts here! But if you follow these rules of thumb, you'll end up with the list of highly engaged customers who can’t wait to hear from you.