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5 Steps for Building an Email List and Newsletter for Engagement

Email marketing is one of the most effective ways to engage with your audience and promote your business. However, building an email list and creating engaging newsletters can be a challenge. In this blog post, we'll discuss the steps for building an email list and creating a newsletter that engages your audience.

5 steps for building quality email list infographic

Step 1: Choose an Email Service Provider (ESP)

The first step in building an email list is to choose an email service provider (ESP). An ESP is a tool that allows you to send emails to a large number of subscribers. Some popular ESPs include Mailchimp, Constant Contact, and Aweber.

When choosing an ESP, consider factors such as cost, ease of use, and features. Look for an ESP that offers features such as list segmentation, automation, and analytics to help you create effective email campaigns.

Here are some great starting points to getting started with an email service providers without big upfront investments:

- Mailchimp - Offers a free plan for up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month.

- Sendinblue - Free plan allows 300 emails per day and unlimited contacts.

- MailerLite - Allows 1,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month on free plan.

- SendPulse - Offers free plan with 15,000 emails per month.

- Moosend - Free plan for up to 1,000 subscribers.

- Mailjet - 6,000 emails per month free.

- Benchmark Email - 14 day free trial, then up to 2,000 subscribers & 15,000 emails/mo free.

- MailerLite - Up to 1,000 subscribers, 12,000 emails per month free.

- SendFox - Free for up to 150 subscribers.

- Maildump - 1,000 subscribers free.

- Elastic Email - Free up to 150 emails per day.

- Amazon SES - 62,000 emails free for first 2 months.

- Mailgun - First 10,000 emails per month are free.

- Pepipost - Allows 25,000 emails free for first month.

- Mailfit - Free plan with basic features.

Step 2: Create a Sign-Up Form

diverse woman looking at computer smiling

The next step is to create a sign-up form to collect email addresses from your audience. Your sign-up form should be prominently displayed on your website, blog, or social media profiles.

When creating your sign-up form, make sure it is easy to use and includes the following information:

  • A clear call-to-action

  • A description of what subscribers will receive

  • A privacy statement

  • A confirmation message

Here are some free tools for creating sign up forms and popups:

  • Mailchimp - Allows you to easily create signup forms & popups for your website.

  • ConvertKit - Create popups, embedded forms, landing pages with their free plan.

  • MailerLite - Build unlimited popups and forms for free.

  • Spin A Web - Drag and drop popup and form builder, free basic plan.

  • JotForm - Create forms and surveys with a simple editor, free version available.

  • Typeform - Build beautiful, engaging forms for free up to 100 responses/month.

  • Wufoo - Create forms with a simple builder and host them for free.

  • ListMonk - Open source signup form script that's customizable.

  • Privy - Free plan for one popup or banner with basic targeting.

  • Sumo - App sumo me offers free tools including list building popups.

  • Hello Bar - Free plan for one custom bar + basic metrics and targeting.

  • Poptin - Build one popup with basic features on free plan.

  • Picreel - Simple free popup builder starting at $0/month.

  • RafflePress - WordPress plugin for popups and lead generation.

The key is finding one that is easy to integrate with your website, customize, and provides enough features for free to meet your needs. Be sure to compare number of forms/popups, templates, targeting options, integrations, and analytics on the free plans.

Step 3: Offer Incentives

popup coupon example ecommerce

To encourage people to sign up for your email list, offer incentives such as a free e-book, a discount code, or exclusive content. Make sure your incentive is relevant to your audience and provides value.

When promoting your incentive, highlight the benefits of signing up for your email list. For example, if you're offering a free e-book, highlight the knowledge and insights subscribers will gain from reading it.

For ecommerce this could be a 10% off your first order. Even if they don't buy from you immediately they can be put in automated email funnels to recapture sales at a later date.

For lead generation, you could have gated content like a free estimate or e-book in exchange for their email address. Regardless, make sure the incentive is appealing and timely so people will be more incentivized to input their email.

Here is an example/case study of a company that used incentives to grow their newsletter subscriber list:


Dollar Shave Club


Consumer goods & subscriptions


Offered existing customers incentives to refer friends to subscribe


Existing customers would get 1 month of razors for free for each new referred subscriber.


- In first 6 months of referral program, referred subscribers increased by 60%

- Average order value of referred subscribers was 15% higher

- Program helped them reach 12 million subscriber milestone

Key Takeaways:

- Leveraged existing satisfied customers to promote service

- Offered relevant incentive that appealed to their user base

- Referral incentive combined with great product drove viral growth

- Relatively low cost incentive yielded high ROI in new long-term customers

- Continued engagement with referrers and referred customers increased loyalty

This example demonstrates how a relevant, enticing incentive tied to referrals and newsletter signups can cost-effectively grow a subscriber base. Dollar Shave Club was able to tap into existing customer networks to gain new high-value subscribers.

Step 4: Segment Your List

different types of lipstick for segment

Segmenting your email list means dividing it into smaller groups based on criteria such as demographics, interests, or behavior. Segmenting your list allows you to send targeted, relevant emails to specific groups of subscribers.

To segment your list, collect information from your subscribers such as their location, interests, or job title. Use this information to create segments and send targeted emails to each group.

Below are some ways you can segment your list. However, you don't want to segment too much if your list is on the smaller end. If your list is under 1,000, then we would recommend you limit the segmentations to no more than a couple.

By Demographics:

- Age

- Gender

- Location

- Income level

- Job title or industry

By Interests:

- Based on topics they've engaged with

- Products or services purchased

- Content downloads or webpage visits

- Questions asked or needs expressed

By Behavior:

- Email open rates

- Click rates on links in emails

- Purchase history

- Loyalty program level

- Website engagement

By Relationship Stage:

- New subscribers

- Engaged subscribers

- Inactive subscribers

- Customers / non-customers

- Brand advocates

Other Examples:

- Segment by lead source like social media, website, event etc.

- Create groups based on customer lifetime value

- Group by purchase recency, frequency, monetary value

- Separate subscribers from one-time purchasers

Segmenting your list allows you to deliver more personalized, relevant messages and offers. Test different groupings and optimize based on open and click-through rates.

Here is an example of effective email list segmentation from online retailer ModCloth:


eCommerce fashion

Segmentation strategy:

Divided email list into groups based on customer data including:

- Welcome series for new subscribers

- Re-engagement flows for lapsed customers

- Browse abandonment sequences if they left

- Preferences and purchase history categories

- VIP rewards program tier


- More relevant content and offers increased open rates

- Email revenue increased 300% in one year after segmentation

- Win-back campaigns had 30% success rate with lapsed customers

- Cart abandonment emails drove 20% increase in recoveries

Key Takeaways:

- Granular segmentation allows personalized messaging

- Ongoing list maintenance keeps segments updated as interests change

- Consistent testing refines approaches for each segment

- Combining behavior and preferences is very powerful

- Welcome and re-engagement flows are key for subscriber lifecycle

Through continually optimized segmentation, ModCloth drove major improvements in email engagement and revenue generation. This example demonstrates the value of dividing subscribers into targeted lists based on attributes and behaviors.

Step 5: Create Engaging Newsletters

asian man smilling at newsletter email on phone

The final step is to create engaging newsletters that keep your subscribers interested and informed. Your newsletters should include a mix of content such as blog posts, news, promotions, and exclusive content.

When creating your newsletters, keep the following 11 tips in mind:

1. Focus on providing value - Share truly useful content, tips, or stories instead of overt promotions. Useful advice and education builds trust.

2. Keep content scannable - Break up text with subheaders, bulleted lists, short paragraphs, and bold key points. This makes it easy to scan.

3. Get visual - Include images, infographics, screenshots, videos or gifs to add visual interest that grabs attention.

4. Curate and comment - Curate external content like articles and research relevant to your audience. Add your own voice by providing brief commentary.

5. Foster interactivity - Ask questions, run polls and surveys to spark engagement. Feature user-generated content submitted by subscribers.

6. Vary format - Combine different formats like tutorials, first-person stories, Q&As, case studies, lists, etc to add variety.

7. Spotlight customers - Profile existing customers, showcase use cases and testimonials to build familiarity.

8. Create themed issues - Having a central theme or narrative thread tying all pieces together makes it cohesive.

9. Keep it brief - Be succinct and focus on quality over quantity. Remove any repetitive or unnecessary content.

10. Drive to action - Include clear calls-to-action to drive specific types of engagement.

11. Test and optimize - Analyze open and click-through rates to refine your approach. Continually experiment and improve.

Here is an example of how outdoors retailer REI creates engaging newsletters:

Focuses on quality over quantity

- Publishes 2 newsletters per month, keeping each one brief but impactful.

Curates relevant content

- Features stories, advice, and education around outdoor activities and adventures, not just promotions.

Gets visual

- Incorporates stunning photography, infographics, and videos to bring stories to life.

Varies formats

- Combines gear guides, first-person trip journals, expert tips, customer spotlights, etc.

Sparks interactivity

- Encourages readers to submit photos and stories which are then featured.

Drives to action

- Provides clear calls to join REI outings and classes, or shop for highlighted gear.

Optimizes based on data

- Carefully analyzes metrics like open rate, click-through rate, and conversions to refine content.


- Average open rates of 19%, well above industry benchmark

- Click-through rates consistently higher than retail industry average

- Reader surveys give high marks for being informative, useful, and inspiring

- Newsletters support brand positioning as a leader in outdoor lifestyle

This example shows how REI leverages curated stories, visual media, and reader participation to create newsletters that engage subscribers and support the brand. The data-driven approach also ensures continual optimization.


Building an email list and creating engaging newsletters takes time and effort, but it's worth it to engage with your audience and promote your business. By following these steps, you can create an effective email marketing campaign that keeps your subscribers interested and engaged. Remember to choose an ESP, create a sign-up form, offer incentives, segment your list, and create engaging newsletters.

Still not sure how to start?

Get a free consultation and we'll see if McFarland Marketing can help build your list.



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