How to Grow Your Newsletter List: 6 Methods That Work

Now that you have an amazing email newsletter, it’s time to figure out how to get people to read it. So today I’ll reveal the magic beans that will help you figure out how to grow your newsletter list — including an idea from a newsletter with more than $2 million in annual revenue.

See how to grow your newsletter list

The list-growing techniques below are from successful standalone newsletter businesses, as well as from b2b and b2c ecom companies’ newsletters. As a result, they should work for any type of email newsletter, including yours!

1. Find a great specific niche (think 3-4 words specific)

It’s no surprise that you need great, focused content to develop a strong list. This approach is all about getting your content right, by creating something for an audience that already exists.

Andrew Parker wrote about the “unbundling” of Craigslist outlining the opportunity to carve out niche products from broad horizontal networks such as Craigslist (or Kickstarter, Amazon, etc). These vertical niche networks (ie: Airbnb, Zillow, Stubhub, Etsy etc) are something special to a specific group – and as a result, these specific niches present an opportunity for newsletter creators.

As Greg Isenberg illuminates today, Reddit is being unbundled now:

  • r/sports → StadiumLive (spaces for gen-z sports fans)
  • r/Streamers → (top esports streamers community by top esports player Snoopeh)
  • r/insert city → Nextdoor (unicorn company)
  • r/books → Goodreads (space for book fanatics to show off their reading lists)

So, there’s definitely an opportunity to identify a vertical niche and build a newsletter around it. To do that, just check out what subreddits are trending or popular. For example as Greg highlights, “r/gifrecipes → 2.2m members who consume and share recipes in GIFs in the cooking vertical.”

Ideally you’d also marry that with what your passions are. Because it’ll be a lot easier to craft engaging content for a subject you genuinely care about and are knowledgable about. So basically look at your bank account and see what’s draining your funds each month – and write about that!

Get ideas for what to cover directly from the subreddit by looking at popular topics, and using word cloud tools to see what questions and comments pop up a lot. Be an awesome participant by helpfully answering community questions (sometimes by sharing your newsletter) and starting discussions.

This approach also works for Facebook Groups. Find a niche group and grow with it!

2. Ask your community to shout from the rooftops

Y’all, I wish I was kidding. But the reality is, beyond having a wildly successful career in the area you’re going to write about so that you build your own credibility, you’ve also got to get other people to vouch for you.

For example Lenny Rachitsky of Airbnb fame said that his paid newsletter’s growth came almost exclusively from word of mouth, Twitter, and LinkedIn. And he elaborated that, “Early on…it was important to light the spark by getting awesome people with a big following to spread the word. For me, that was folks like @andrewchen @hnshah @ljin18 @hunterwalk @jamesbeshara @ianmcall @nbashaw (thank you all!)”

So before you launch your newsletter consider the people in your network with the largest social influence on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Reddit, and ensure your topics are tailored to something they’d be interested in. Create a list in a spreadsheet of folks with lots of followers that you know, or use SparkToro to find them (enter a competitor’s website) and start to build relationships.

After you launch, don’t hesitate to drop each of them a personal note asking if they’d be willing to share your newsletter. Be sure to share their impact after they’re supported you, so that they feel even better about their contributions, and maybe even do it again in the future.

3. Speaking of which, create a referral program

Email newsletter Morning Brew‘s referral program accounts for “over 30% of their total subscribers.” The main focus of their program is on getting readers to make their first referral, “because 90% of people don’t ever share.”

The Morning Brew team says the program works because it’s a milestone-based rewards program, and they’ve made it as easy as possible (think one-click) to share.

Morning Brew's rewards program to help grow your email list

Make sharing via email simple

Every user has a unique referral code, and they are incentivized within the daily email newsletter and on the website to share. In the email there’s a Sharing section which has a call-to-action based on each subscriber’s specific opportunities such as, “you are only # referrals away from the next reward,” with a button that says, “Click to share.”

When clicked, the button takes the reader to their own referral hub where all possible rewards and programs are listed. There are buttons for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, and SMS that make it easy to share and an “invite via email” feature using a pre-written blurb that can be customized.

Use automated emails to get referrers to take action

Morning Brew also uses automated emails to drive their referral program. Some key action-based emails they use are:

Milestone emails: Create triggered emails after the first successful referral and at each subsequent referral milestone, to acknowledge the reader’s accomplishment, show them how to redeem their reward, and to motivate them to hit the next milestone.

Nudge emails: Create emails that push readers who have been stuck for two weeks just one referral away from a milestone (2, 4, 9) to get that one last referral.

Offer big-ticket giveaways

And the final tool in the MB referral program toolkit is giveaways. They run huge giveaways from MacBook Pros, iPhones, $2,000 cash, to trips to Singapore to get people to make their first referral. Most importantly, the messaging is simple: “For the next # hours, every person you refer who confirms their email is an entry into the giveaway. The more people you refer, the more entries you have.”

For these folks, be sure to force double opt-in so they’re more likely to retain and more committed to your content. Ideally align the content of your giveaway closely to your email newsletter – for example if you write about books, give away a book.

4. Make sign-up dead simple

Your sign-up conversion experience is one of the biggest levers you have because it’s the final point of conversion. So a small improvement there will have drastic results. Here are a few ways to improve your sign up page:

Make sure the copywriting on the page highlights the benefit of joining:

  • What are they going to learn about?
  • How frequently?
  • How will it improve their lives?
  • How is it different from any other newsletter?

Reduce form fields. Only ask for email address and name. Yes, get name! Email is derived from writing letters, and you’d never send a letter without a name. Or if you would, you clearly didn’t grow up with my grandmother’s etiquette lessons.

Also, allow all types of email addresses, including personal such as Gmail, AOL, etc.

Finally, keep the sign-up page uncluttered with a clear form-fill CTA above the fold.

5. Plan for forwards

Assume the best case, which is that readers will forward your newsletter to their friends. So empower those friends to sign up quickly.

Make sure you have a clear option at the top of the email so they don’t miss it. Here’s a great example from Ann Handley:

How to grow your email list by making it easy for new readers to subscribe using Ann Handley's newsletter as an example

Notice how she ends the paragraph with the link. Making the CTA the last part of a block of text helps it stand out, driving more clicks.

6. Make the thank you page a viral sensation

Once upon a time during a marketing team brainstorm I had a colleague who suggested we make a viral video for our campaign. The idea made me laugh, because who sets out to make a non-viral video? If you knew the trick to making something go viral, of course you’d do that.

But here I am making the same recommendation to you, my dear reader. I think it computes though: make the subscriber thank you page something your readers have to show their friends. So that they say, “Hey, you have to sign up for this thing, because you’re going to be so surprised by what’s at the end.”

Basically take your very best piece of content ever, and stick it there. You could tap into nostalgia by doing a huge rating list of your favorite {insert things – like Beanie Babies} from the 90s. You could tap into our love for control and reveal an interesting set of predications. You could reveal an interesting data set that will help people make decisions better. Or reveal a clue that can be used to unlock a chance at a giveaway.

Now you know how to grow your newsletter list

Now that you know what’s up – give it a go! Actually, one more thing (bonus tip!) write a fire subject line and make no email marketing mistakes such as including spam trigger words. If people don’t open your emails, they’ll never share them. Keep your subject line short (55 characters or less), make it intriguing (words like shocking, surprising, you’ll never guess, etc), and use numbers.

You’re all set to grow your newsletter list to infinity and beyond. Up next discover ways to fix email deliverability.

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By Megan Mitzel

I'm the wearer of overalls behind the marketing advice website Marketing Overalls. I'm also a senior marketing director with more than ten years of experience leading acquisition and lifecycle marketing at successful startups. Before that, I got a business degree at UNC-Chapel Hill. Before that, I owned a seashell shop. And that's the tea on me.