Email Marketing

4 steps to organically grow your email list

As an experienced marketer, I often hear from clients that one of their key marketing objectives for the coming year is to grow their email house file and offset attrition. However, clients tend to focus on acquisition campaigns for net-new customers instead of nurturing the audience that is already engaging with their brand. While email acquisition is an important component, it is not the only strategy for growth. A complete strategy includes building a robust organic email growth plan

What is organic email list growth and why is it important?

Organic email list growth happens when you are able to convince new subscribers to join your email program through compelling content and enticing offers instead of through purchased or borrowed lists. Organically grown email lists tend to have better engagement rates (opens, clicks) and cause fewer deliverability issues.

In this article, we will explore four strategies you can implement to build a sustainable organic growth plan.

1. Develop compelling calls to action (CTAs)

Consumers need to be incentivized to perform the CTA you’d like them to perform. Copy and design need to work together to promote and sell the big wins for subscribing. Here’s how:

  1. Find a reward that’s valuable to your target audience. Go beyond the generic – use the data you have on your prospects’ preferences and interests to determine a rich and relevant reward that will excite and engage them. For example, you could use a confirmation email to create a personalized offer that entices the customer to opt into your email program.
  2. Follow the ‘six second rule.’ Consumers have a lot of options. Marketers should try to grab the consumers’ attention within the first 6 seconds to optimize engagement.
  3. Utilize clear and concise bullet points. Keep readers’ attention by using bullet points to highlight program benefits.
  4. Sell the subscribe. Promote what guests will receive for sign-up through strategic copy and design placement to showcase the big wins for subscribing.
  5. Apply conversion-centered design concepts to guide action. Make encapsulation, color, contrast, and white space work in your favor.
  6. Make optimization a constantly evolving process. Make it a habit to develop and test multiple CTAs to ensure you stay on top of your game through optimization.

Brand example: One Kings Lane

Home décor brand One Kings Lane uses conversion-centered design to tempt consumers with this pop-up overlay offering 20% off when they enter their email. The popup is centered in the page and the white space leads the eye directly to the important copy. The sparse copy also lets the viewer know exactly what the offer is in less than 6 seconds.

2. Incorporate a sign-up overlay

Your homepage needs to have a sign-up overlay. While interstitial (pop-up) forms can sometimes get a bad rap, well-executed site overlay forms are an important strategy for growing your subscriber list. Chances are the homepage is the most trafficked page of your site and it’s the easiest way to get in front of as many eyeballs as possible. Best practices for site overlays include:

  1. Offer an incentive to fill out the form. Drive customers and prospects to interact with the form by offering them something of value.
  2. Incorporate a phased testing approach. Are we mentioning testing again? Yes, we are! Continue to test site placements, creative layouts and CTA buttons to identify the most effective approach for your customers.
  3. Utilize dynamic pop-ups. Behavioral pop-ups that are triggered when users perform specific actions are a good way to engage your audience as they browse your site, or even try to exit it.

Brand Example: Hem

Furniture and home décor brand, Hem, welcomes visitors to their website with a homepage popup that lists the incentives for signing up to their newsletter right off the bat. Hem starts off with a discount offer, and then lists off other, non-monetary, reasons for visitors to enter their email. The checkmarks next to each reason make the list clear and comprehensive.

Brand Example: MVMT

Watchmaker MVMT drives program growth by targeting bounce behavior across key site pages with this dynamic popup. This strategy allows them to seamlessly capture sign-ups right before potential guests leave the site


3. Utilize a cross-channel approach

Data is knowledge and knowledge is power. Sometimes, the most important imperative for marketers is to simply get more information on their customers. Implementing a cross-channel approach can encourage customers to give you additional details about themselves that can help you fill out a more robust profile.

Brand Example: Old Navy

Clothing retailer, Old Navy, takes advantage of SMS subscribers who are always on their smartphones by texting them to ask about their messaging setting preferences. The message contains a link that takes the viewer to a mobile form, where they can fill out their first name, email address, zip code, birthday, and set their SMS alerts. Old Navy keeps careful track of their subscribers, adding the subscriber’s reference ID to the URL of the mobile form allowing the information to be correctly stored in their database.

4. Build a smart partner-based marketing program

Partner-based marketing (PBM) empowers companies to collaborate with another business that is either complementary to their own or that attract a good chunk of their customer base. For a PBM program to be effective, companies need to choose the correct partners. According to a recent Forrester report, choosing the wrong partner can lead to increasing costs per acquisition, limiting revenue growth, and ceding new markets to competitors,1 so marketers need to get it right the first time. Relying on data-driven insights to find the right mix of media partners to activate, identify placement/creative specifications and measure performance is key. Using a 3rd party service, such as Data Axle, to help identify key partners is an easy way to get this right the first time.

Brand Example: Pottery Barn and Sherwin Williams

Home décor retailer, Pottery Barn and paint brand, Sherwin Williams, teamed up to create an exclusive line of paints. The paints were showcased and sold in a brand-new section of the Pottery Barn website, “Paint Landing”. The partnership was a smart move because their customers share an interest in home décor and redecorating. Through this partnership, each brand vouched for the quality of the other with their customer base and were also able to upsell their customers. The Pottery Barn website provided complimentary style assistance for both brands’ customers, allowed customers to coordinate paint colors with Pottery Barn and “Paint Landing,” published a number of helpful blog posts and how-to ideas for do-it-yourself painting and decorating, as well as an overlay to encourage new email subscribers to opt in.


Organic email list growth is tough, but achievable when combined with strategic design, compelling copy, cross-channel campaigns and strategic partnerships. Brands that invest in organic growth will see an increase in customer engagement and capture essential customer data.

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Kimberly Snyder
Sr. Marketing Strategist

As a Sr. Marketing Strategist at Data Axle, Kimberly helps clients develop and optimize best in class customer marketing communication strategies. She creates robust omni-channel program visions, capturing the customer experience and leveraging customer data, to create personalized and relevant lifecycle strategies. She applies her vast marketing experience, running multiple IR500 programs, to propel her clients' programs' KPIs quarter over quarter. Follow her on Twitter @kimberlysnyder - it's worth it - she was recently named among the ‘75 Email Marketing Influencers You Need to Follow’ by Atomic Reach.