Email is an essential tool for growing your business. It builds relationships, keeps you top-of-mind, and lets people know what’s up with your brand.

Email marketing offers great value for your marketing bucks too, with an average return on investment (ROI) of $36 for every $1 spent. If you put $1,000 into your email marketing strategy and spend it well, you have the potential to drive $36,000 in revenue. The larger your email list and the more responsive your audience, the more you stand to earn. Enter the email marketing database.

Let’s dive into how an email marketing customer database can help you grow and how you can create one, even if you’re a marketing newbie.

What is a database in email marketing?

Don’t let the word “database” scare you. An email marketing database is just a list of people who want to hear from you, plus essential information about those people.

The most basic versions can handle a handful of customer names and email addresses. People give you that information when they sign up for your email list. But your database can get more complex too, as you get more information to fill it and more tools to manage it with.

Email marketing database vs. list: What’s the difference?

An email list is the name-and-address combo you just read about. Each entry might also list a phone number and address if you’ve chosen to collect that info.

Your email list is an essential part of your marketing strategy. People sign up when they’re new to your business, maybe not ready to buy but interested in hearing more. You use their information to start a back-and-forth dialogue — you send them valuable information and learn what they want from their responses.

Your email list becomes a well-maintained database as you gather more information about your subscribers. That database includes current contact information, plus valuable details like demographics and purchase history.

How to create an email database

It all starts with a simple signup. You invite website visitors, in-store shoppers, and others who come across your business to give you their information in exchange for valuable offers and updates.

Some businesses will try to buy email marketing databases. These pre-made lists sound tempting but stay away. Purchased email lists don’t include people who’ve asked for your emails, which means they’re likely to land you in spam. Some email service providers can block your address completely.

Plus, finding creative ways to grow your email list is much more fun.

Building a solid database for email marketing

Every email marketing database starts with someone saying, “Yes, I like what you’re doing and want to hear more.” Here are a few best practices for encouraging that “yes” — and all the yeses that lead from signup to purchase.

Optimize signup forms to boost conversions

Adding people to your email list is only okay if they agree to hear from you. Agreement can happen in two ways: express permission or implied consent. Implied consent means someone has given you their email address in the context of a business conversation. They know your business has it, which means it’s okay to use it unless they’ve requested otherwise.

The other option is express permission, meaning someone has signed up to receive your marketing messages. A permission-based opt-in policy is best for many businesses. People know they’ve signed up, so they’re less likely to feel spammed.

Plus, you get to create fun email signup forms like this one:

Popup for signup from Pourri.
Check out this fun popup form by anti-odor brand Pourri. Fun colors, an appealing offer, and an opening line that makes you look twice — plus, it only asks for an email address! Image source: Pourri

Once you’ve created a form or two, place them strategically across your website. Start on your home page, so it’s one of the first things visitors see. You can embed the form into the page or create a delayed popup, such as the Pourri form above.

Creating a dedicated landing page to host your opt-in form is also smart. You can link to that page almost anywhere, from customer receipts to employee email signatures. In-signature links are helpful for building a business-to-business (B2B) email marketing database, especially when the sales process involves extensive back-and-forth.

Create customer segments for personalization

Did you know 76% of consumers get frustrated when messaging is impersonal? But here’s the good news: email marketing is one of the most straightforward channels to personalize, as long as you have the right data.

You can collect segmentation data by asking for it directly in your contact form — but be selective about your request. Overly long forms can be turn-offs. 

Instead of asking subscribers for the data you want, use a list-building tool that connects to your website and tracks user activity. Start by targeting two or three large groups with broad needs — “website visitors who have browsed kids’ products” instead of “women between 30 and 45 with three children living in Colorado.”

Deliver valuable and relevant content

The way to impress personalization-hungry subscribers is to offer content they can use. You entice them to sign up with a promise of value, as in this example from the Mad Fientist podcast:

Content download lead gen from Mad Fientist.
This landing page from Mad Fientist teases the answer to an intriguing question, promising content subscribers can’t get elsewhere. Plus, check out the social proof and “zero spam” promise under the call-to-action button. Image source: Mad Fientist

This is what marketers call a lead generation offer or content upgrade. A potential subscriber encounters your brand and it seems like a good fit, so they sign up to receive something extra.

That “something extra” needs to deliver on its promise. Provide your readers with information or offers they can’t get anywhere else. The goal is to keep them engaged until they convert.

Encourage engagement and re-engagement

The best content engages current readers and expands your audience. Supercharge your emails by encouraging subscribers to forward and share content with others who might be interested. All you need is a shareable link and a simple message like “Share this” or “Forward to a friend.”

You can even use email content to re-engage inactive subscribers. A stale list can hurt your deliverability scores and damage your open rates, so it’s worth sending a “come back” message occasionally. Select a high-performing content piece or exciting offer and work it into a re-engage campaign. Make sure you include a CTA so lapsed readers know what to do next.

Utilizing social media and website strategies

Some email marketing database subscribers will sign up after navigating to your website, maybe through social media, a paid ad, or organic search results. Here’s what you can do to catch their attention before you can turn website visitors into signups.

Optimize your website layout

Place your signup form as prominently as possible without overpowering other essential content. Some brands turn their hero image right under the navigation banner into an opt-in form. Others place a link in a sidebar or include it as part of the menu, then have that link go to a landing page.

Customer reviews should include only the signup form and a customer review. Strong reviews provide valuable social proof, showing potential subscribers that customers like them find you helpful and relevant.

Run contests and promotions

A social media contest is a fun and engaging way to get subscribers. Contests are inherently interactive and promote value, warming people to your brand.

Page visitors can submit their email addresses to enter, and you follow up with a “good luck” message. Include teasers of other valuable content, and you have the makings of a long-term interested subscriber.

Social media also lets you reach more people with discounts and promotions. Run Facebook or Instagram ads that link to promotion landing pages. Include signup offers on those landing pages, and you have two pathways to conversion.

Ask your followers to subscribe

If you share longer-form social media content, such as YouTube videos or Instagram Reels, add a call to subscribe. People who watch your video are interested in the topic, so remind them you have more to offer. A single sentence is plenty: “If you enjoyed this video, click the link below for exclusive content.” Customize your pitch with details about what you send, or keep it relatively general.

If you have a B2B marketing customer database, use your LinkedIn profile to scout for signups. Share valuable content and create downloadable lead magnets that offer more. Checklists, guides, and ebooks are popular options.

Finally, add CTAs to your profiles on all active accounts. If someone clicks through your post to your bio, they want to learn more about you. Take advantage of that by inviting them to sign up.

Collaborating for list growth

Co-marketing with a non-competing business can get your email marketing database in front of even larger audiences, often with less cost than running an ad. All you need to do is find a company that serves your audience but in a different way. Then, ask if they’d like to offer mutual discounts for signups.

Say you’re a salon partnering with a bridal shop. You might offer a discount to brides who sign up to hear from the shop while the shop does the same for you. This process can be a lot of fun.

Consider offline and online strategies. If you attend trade shows, partner with a related business or two to collect in-person signups for the group. Post your partner businesses on a signup sheet at your check-out counter and pitch its value while people are paying. Get creative and see what you can come up with.

Maintaining and managing your email marketing database

Email service providers are picky. They consider whether a sender’s emails frequently go to spam or bounce off invalid addresses. If they see a lot of that, they might bounce or blacklist you. Plus, emailing invalid addresses is a waste of time and money.

Not buying lists is the first step to maintaining deliverability. Email list hygiene is the second, and it needs to happen regularly. Have a standard timeline for going through your list and deleting addresses that haven’t received your email in a while.

Some people might get your emails but not engage. Consider sending them a re-engagement message asking if they still want to receive your messages, then delete them if they don’t reply.

Finally, check the engagement level of the rest of your list. If you have multiple subscribers who engage only sometimes, tweak your copy and run some A/B tests to see what gets better results. Minor improvements in engagement can have a significant effect on conversion.

Advanced strategies for email list expansion

Your email marketing database is never complete. Once you’ve established the basics for building your list by adding subscription forms on your website and opt-in asks in your socials, it’s time to take it to the next level. Here are a few ideas to play with:

  • Place more popups: If you haven’t already started using popups for list signups, add them on a few web pages. Try exit intent popups, which show themselves when a visitor’s navigation shows them ready to leave.
  • Target signups in your Facebook marketing strategy: Facebook’s lead generation ads exist specifically to get email addresses.
  • Create a welcome email series: Automate your marketing so new subscribers get a sequence of messages to whet their appetites.
  • Follow the numbers: Pay attention to email marketing metrics, such as click-through rates and conversions. Play around with alternative strategies or new content.

Don’t worry if you’re not ready for this stage! Bookmark this page and follow along as you build your strategy. We’ll be here for you.

Tools, resources, and service providers for easier list-building

Building an email marketing database should be easy and fun. Instead of trying to do it by hand, embrace the power of an email database service. Look for a marketing and email platform with the following features:

  • Email templates: A variety of designs to match your branding
  • Automated drip campaigns: Email sequences you can schedule to reach people at the right time
  • Actionable analytics: Campaign results that are easy to see and understand
  • Integrations: Easy connections with the software you already use
  • List-building plugins: Tools for getting signups wherever you are online

There are many options out there, so we’ll save you time. Check out Constant Contact.

Designed for easy use by all kinds of businesses, Constant Contact makes it fun and easy to build your email marketing database. It also works seamlessly with supplementary tools that help you build your email list online to start sending sooner.

Start building your email marketing database

Of all the email marketing best practices you can learn, list-building is one of the most important to master early. So, congratulations, you have a head start! You’ve learned how to create great signup forms, segment your list, and create valuable content. You’ve also discovered the power of social media and collaborations to get more signups, and you’ve started to build your toolkit. You’re officially ready for your first list-building step: creating your first opt-in form. This is the fun part! Choose the fields you want to include — just email is fine at this point — and spruce it up with some brand colors and images. You know your brand, so trust yourself and enjoy the process.

Download the guide

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