If you’ve spent any amount of time reading blogs about blogging and content marketing, chances are you’ve heard the advice that you need to build an email list. Even so, many new bloggers ignore this or put it off as something they can do later. You may think email newsletters are only for established bloggers, but it’s actually the other way around: many established bloggers become and remain established because of their email newsletters.

Any savvy blogger will tell you that an email newsletter is hands down the best way to drive loyal traffic to your website, especially when you have an engaged audience. And it’s really logical when you think about it: anyone who trusts you and likes your content enough to give you access to their inbox is going to be a pretty loyal reader. This is the kind of person who will keep going back to your website, share it with others, and help build a community around your brand. And this is the kind of person who’s going to be most likely to spend their money on you.

I hope you’re at least intrigued by the idea of building a list, but perhaps you’re not quite sure how to go about doing it. Or maybe you already have a list, but want to learn how to use it more effectively. Our recent poll of Flippa Blog readers indicated that many of you  fall into one of those categories: over half of respondents have an email newsletter, and another 25% have been thinking about starting one. In this post, we’ll explain both how to start an email list and how to optimize it for maximum effectiveness from the very beginning.

1. Choose a Newsletter Service

The Flippa Blog uses Campaign Monitor, but the two most used services by Flippa users are MailChimp and AWeber. Both are good choices for new email marketers, but there are both pros and cons to each.

Perhaps the most appealing feature of MailChimp is that it’s free for up to 2,000 subscribers. It also has a very easy to use interface with templates that make setup a no-brainer. This makes it the logical choice for many first-time bloggers who are just starting to build a list and aren’t yet making any money from blogging. However, MailChimp’s delivery rates aren’t quite as good as AWeber’s. MailChimp also becomes a little more expensive than AWeber once you get past 2,000 subscribers.

If you’re really serious about blogging and know you’re going to put in the time to keep building your list, AWeber is the more widely recommended choice. There is no free option with this service, although you can try it out for a month for just $1. After that, pricing starts at $19 per month for up to 500 subscribers. If you use your email newsletter well though, the service should more than pay for itself. Many find AWeber’s interface less intuitive than MailChimp’s, but AWeber also offers more dedicated customer support, better delivery rates, and more in-depth tracking options. These are features that will ultimately allow you to get more out of your list.

2. Segment Your List

We haven’t even talked about collecting email addresses yet, and here I go writing about how to segment them? Yes, it’s that important. You might think there’s no need to worry about segmenting your list until you have a lot of subscribers, but the thing is that there’s no reliable way go back and collect more information from people who have already subscribed. Depending on your niche, it could be very valuable for you to be able to divide your subscribers based on location, age, job title, gender, and so on. Customising your email campaigns to each of these various groups can significantly increase open and click rates, as shown in this data from MailChimp. It’s a good idea to get this extra data from your subscribers from day one, even if you aren’t using it right away.

However, you also have to consider that your visitors may be more reluctant to sign up if they have to fill in a lot of information right away. It may be wise to just ask for email addresses first, then ask for more information on a follow up page as a compromise between high conversions and lots of data. Visitors who have already entered their email addresses may be more willing to enter more information if you let them know it will allow you to send them more personalised emails.

3. Collect Email Addresses

You can’t start reaping the benefits of your newsletter until you get people to sign up for it. One of the most common and most effective strategies is to offer something valuable to people who opt in to your list. You could give away a free ebook, an exclusive video series, or other premium content related to your niche.

It’s also important to make sure you’re providing your subscribers with value within your emails themselves. One great way to do this is to give your subscribers access to new information or privileges before anyone else. For example, Ramsay of Blog Tyrant sends new blog posts to his list before promoting them anywhere else. This gives his subscribers the opportunity to leave the first comments, which can be a great way for them to get more traffic to their own websites. He also gives away a free ebook, and he shares exclusive tips in his newsletter that he doesn’t share anywhere else. Such a sheer amount of value makes Ramsay’s newsletter very enticing — so enticing, in fact, that I signed up for his newsletter even though I already follow him on social media.

Of course, no matter how much value you give away in your newsletter, people can’t sign up for it if they don’t know about it. You need to start promoting your newsletter just as much as you promote your blog itself. You could link to your sign up form not only in your own blog posts, but in guest posts as well. Or you could talk about your newsletter in an already-established channel, like YouTube videos or your Twitter account. Ultimately, you’ll want to gain a new audience with your newsletter, so your goal should be to create content that’s good enough that other people will promote your newsletter for you.

4. What to Send

It’s a good idea to give your email subscribers some sort of exclusive content you don’t share on your website. Perhaps you could share special tips or how-tos. Or you could get more personal and share thoughts or stories from your everyday life to help build a closer relationship with your subscribers. You could also provide links to interesting posts or other content around the web that might appeal to your readers, content you haven’t shared on Twitter or on your blog.

But if you’re just starting out and aren’t sure what to include in your newsletter, you can simply email your blog posts. This can be done automatically with a feature called RSS to Email, available as part of all major email newsletter services. Once you’ve set it up, your subscribers will receive all your blog posts in their inboxes without you having to do anything at all. You can have your posts sent individually as they’re published, or collectively as a regular digest. Once again, there’s a tradeoff here: sending frequent emails may drive more traffic to your site in the short term, but it can also affect your deliverability rates and increase the number of people who report your content as spam.

Of course, you can also send sales information. You may have heard the saying that “the money is in the list,” and most financially successful bloggers will tell you it’s true. As a matter of fact, email marketing is so effective that it accounts for 37% of Quick Sprout‘s total revenue. Many email marketers say their lists are like personal ATM machines, because they can generate revenue on a whim just by sending a simple email.

You have to understand, though, that these email marketers are able to sell through their lists because they have already provided a lot of free value and built up trust with their subscribers. If you get too salesy and start making a full-on pitch in every newsletter, don’t think your readers will hesitate to toss your emails into their Spam folders. According to this recent blog post from Jay Baer, 21% of email recipients report email as spam even if they know it isn’t. This is all the more reason to make your relationship with your subscribers your top priority.

Over To You

Regardless of where you are in your web business career, there is really no good excuse not to start an email newsletter. You can start it at little to no cost, it’s very easy to set up, and you can even have it run on autopilot. There’s a reason every popular blog (including this one!) prompts you to sign up for its email list. You’re selling yourself short if you’re not taking advantage of this extremely simple yet powerful marketing tool.

Do you have an email list? Do you have any more tips about choosing a service, getting subscribers, or coming up with great content for your list? We’d love to hear them!

Thanks to Dawgbyte77 for the image!