Email Academy: 5 essential practices for building high-quality email lists

In this second episode of our Email Academy series, Sinch Mailjet expert Roshni Shah-Chin and Sr. Product Manager, Natalie Lynch, went through the process of creating and nurturing a high-quality email list and shared effective strategies to gain engaged subscribers.

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In the first episode our Email Academy series, we established just how powerful a tool email marketing can be in creating impactful connections to your audience. But the truth is, the success behind each campaign so often depends on the quality of your email list.

This is why building and managing a quality contact list is not just a fundamental aspect of effective email marketing; it's the cornerstone upon which your campaigns are built.

So much so, we decided a dedicated Email Academy episode was the least it deserved.

Our Director of Product Marketing, Roshni Shah-Chin, went through some of the key aspects of email list building, exploring what they are, why they matter, and most importantly, how to grow them.

Whether you're a seasoned email marketer or just starting, understanding the essentials of email databases is essential for reaching your audience and achieving your marketing goals.

What is an email list?

Now, you might be wondering what exactly an email list is.

An email list is essentially a curated roster of individuals who willingly subscribed to receive content, updates, and offers from you or your business.

Typically, people are added to an email contact list after filling out a signup form on a website, landing page, or participating in a contest or survey. In some cases, businesses and organizations may import email addresses from existing customer databases.

If that’s true in your case, then you’ll need to make sure that they’ve consented to receive your campaigns. When it comes to email list building, the key point to note here is the term willingly subscribed.This is important for your overall email deliverability, but it’s also criticalso you don’t fall afoul of data protection laws, such as the CAN-SPAM Act in the United States or the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union.

Why are email lists so important?

Despite being around for the best part of 30 years, email remains the de-facto digital marketing channel for successful businesses. Not surprising really, when you consider over 4.26 billion people use it worldwide.

Like a fine wine, email has gotten better with age. Don’t trust us? Just have a look at some of these email marketing statistics:

  • Email marketing continues to be one of the most consistent drivers of ROI. The average email marketing ROI sits at 4100%. That means you'll see a $41 return for every dollar invested into customer outreach.

  • Approximately 63% of marketers worldwide are taking advantage of the channel.

  • 76% of email marketers agree that email marketing directly contributes to business success.

But remember – at the heart of every successful email marketing campaign is a powerful email contact list. Without it, your emails would float around in the eternal abyss.

Why should you build an email list organically?

Every email marketing expert out there will tell you how important it is to build your contact list from scratch by collecting consent for every address you collect.

Still, 12.5% of our senders at Sinch Mailjet have admitted to purchasing email lists. Here’s why this a terrible idea:

  1. Consent: Simply put, if you buy an email database, you don’t have their express consent to email them. These lists are often bought and paid for without a recipient’s knowledge.

  2. Bad quality contacts: As a result, the contacts within the email list – provided they exist and are not just fake addresses or spam traps – won’t know who’s reaching out to them and are less like to engage with your brand.

  3. Negative sender reputation: Emailing people that are not interested in your emails is likely to lead to negative engagement and increased spam rates, which can negatively impact your sender reputation and your overall deliverability.

  4. GDPR violation: Purchasing email lists runs against just about every data protection law there is. We don’t need to remind you why this is not a great idea.

So, if purchasing out-of-the-box email lists is a no-go, what’s the alternative? Well, you could always try building them organically.

Remember earlier we talked about how important it is for subscribers to do so willingly? When somebody makes a conscious decision to sign-up for a newsletter, it’s likely they’re engaged with the brand. They want to receive that content.

And, yeah, it might sound tedious and harder work than purchasing an email database or scrapping the Internet for email addresses, but building a contact list from the ground-up is worth the while in the long-run.

“Building your list can sound intimidating, but with the right tools and processes you can build something quickly, manage it, and optimize it for growth.”

Roshni Shah-Chin, Director of Product Marketing at Sinch Mailjet

There are two main reasons why building a list organically is always the right choice.

Firstly, recipients that have willingly subscribed to your list will be more perceptive to any offers made through the channel, or more likely to take a desired action. That could be to upgrade to a new product or simply sign up to a webinar – it completely depends on the goals of your campaign.

Secondly, contact lists that have been built organically are great for email deliverability. Possessing an email list full of addresses returning hard and soft bounces or high spam rates is going to make avoiding those spam filters really hard. You’ll see your inbox placement rate decrease and you’ll effectively be sending emails into the void.

Five best practices to follow to grow high-quality contact lists

Right, now onto the good stuff! We told you building an email list organically was worth it, and we’re here to help you get yours up and running in no time.

Here are five things to keep in mind when building out your email lists.

#1 Create customizable signup forms and landing pages

If you want people to subscribe to your list, the first thing you’ll need is a signup form to capture their email addresses and contact data.

And not just any form. Customizable signup forms and landing pages make the experience unique and personable to your customer. The more relevant your form feels, the more likely contacts are to join your merry club.

You’ll also want to make the opt-in process as smooth as possible. Try to keep the copy on the short side and get to the point. You can convey a lot of information and still be succinct with your wordage.

Another tip to create a stellar signup form is to minimize the steps required to sign up. Really think about what contact data you need from your subscribers to be able to offer personalized email content but avoid asking a thousand questions.

Consider what’s critical at this point and what can be gathered in the future with other data collection strategies.

Mailjet email editor.

Mailjet’s Email Editor has a host of easily customizable templates

#2 Highlight the value of your email program

Remember that your customers are bombarded daily by brands, whether that is a YouTube video, display ad, or a roadside banner. Competition for their time and attention is high.

So, as you think through your email strategy, ask yourself this: What is the value your campaign offers? What will your customers get by subscribing? And why should they sign up? If you don’t have a strong case for each of these questions, you’ll struggle to keep their attention.

This is also a good time to set expectations, particularly in regard to email frequency. A consistent email cadence not only keeps your brand top of mind, but is also key for deliverability, engagement, and revenue.

And what will they be getting? A blog post a week? Discounts before they go live on your site? Set these expectations early on and then make sure to deliver on them.

“Obtaining and growing a contact list has two measures of success. First, we must convince the customer to sign up, then second, we must keep them engaged. They want to keep receiving those emails from us.”

Roshni Shah-Chin, Director of Product Marketing at Sinch Mailjet

#3 Offer incentives

Discounts, promotions, exclusive content – these are all great incentives to get potential subscribers to sign up to your email list. But they’re not the only ones. Two other effective tactics you could try are exclusivity and urgency. Here’s an example.

Sign up in the next hour to receive exclusive access to our members-only content.

Let’s be honest – nobody likes to miss out. So, by creating a sense of exclusivity around your mailing list, with strategies like members-only promotions, you incite a feeling of FOMO amongst potential subscribers. You’ll have them asking: What is this members-only content? Can I really afford to miss out?

Then, for added power, put a time limit on your offering to create a sense of urgency. This forces subscribers to make an on-the-spot decision and take action.

#4 Integrate email across other channels

Email isn’t the only channel in your marketing strategy – or at least it shouldn’t be. So why not leverage email signups across all other channels in your marketing mix?

Don’t just focus on those engaging with you through your website. Guest posts, organic social media content, social ads, and support channels are great places to promote your newsletter.

For example, if someone contacts your company to ask if one of your products will be coming back into stock, reply and encourage them to sign up to your email database. That way, they can be the first ones to see the new catalogue or learn about next season’s products or services.

Pro Tip: Looking to secure more subscribers for your newsletter? Then this post of 20 ideas to grow your email list is definitely worth a read.

#5 Maintain a healthy contact list

So, we’ve established our process, we know what we need to do for building out our list… The final piece of the puzzle is keeping that list healthy to maintain a strong email deliverability.

Now, there are some quick and easy ways to do that.

The first is to set up a double opt-in process. This means sending a confirmation email to new subscribers confirming their interest in your newsletter.

Why is this important, you might ask? Because this builds trust and brand recognition, as well as guaranteeing the quality of your list. If people make the effort to confirm their interest in your newsletter twice, the chances of them engaging with your content is higher.

Once you have your list, you’ll want to conduct regular list hygiene. Email list cleaning involves removing unsubscribed or unengaged contacts to enhance email deliverability and increase conversion rates. That way, your marketing emails reach interested recipients, boosting the overall effectiveness of your campaigns.

Interestingly, in their recent report, State of email deliverability 2023, our partners at Sinch Mailgun found that a combined 38.7% of respondents Rarely or Never conduct list hygiene.

Chart showing email list hygiene frequency

A snapshot from Sinch Mailgun’s State of Email Deliverability Report

Finally, don’t set it and leave it! You’re going to want to continually monitor your performance across the opt-in process.

What are all the different workflows that lead to your customer subscriber base signing up for your newsletter? What’s performing well? What’s not? Where would you be able to further optimize?

Also, look at where your traffic is coming from. You might be surprised to find sources you hadn’t thought of – again, areas to potentially add a CTA and rive people to sign up for your newsletter.

Sign up to Sinch Mailjet’s Email Academy

If you find this article helpful, you’ll be happy to hear we’re running an entire webinar series to help you develop and launch a successful email marketing strategy.

Throughout the series, we’ll teach you how to craft amazing campaigns, incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) and optimize your strategy using email performance insights. Plus, we’ll show you how to do all of this on Sinch Mailjet.

Check out past webinars in our YouTube channel and sign up to our Email Academy email list to stay in the loop regarding new episode releases.

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