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Best Email List Building Lessons

It's another Expert Briefs, where I ask really smart business owners to answer your burning questions.

If you've missed past Expert Briefs, you can click on the undies to see them all –>

Here are a few of my favorite Expert Briefs:

The question I asked our experts today is:

Tell us about a mistake you've made in your online business
specific to list building and, most importantly,
what lesson you learned from it.

Here are our answers in the order we received them.

I found it interesting to see such a common thread amongst the replies. And, as usual, I agree with all of our experts. (They're pretty smart!)

markMark Mason of says:

Well, the easy mistake to make is forgetting to deliver value to your list. If you treat your list like an ATM, you'll soon find that you don't have a list anymore. The people on your list will tire of pitch after pitch, and they will unsubscribe from (or stop opening) your mail. We've all made the mistake of sending one too many promotions.

But since that one is so obvious, I want to talk about a more subtle MENTAL mistake — letting your unsubscription requests get under your skin. Let's face it, some percentage of your list is going to unsubscribe some day. Depending on how you treat your list, that could be as many as one-third to half of your subscribers over time.

The major email tools like Aweber and GetResponse allow you to collect a comment from the person that is unsubscribing. The problem is that some people out there are unsubscribing from your list because their bad attitude and circumstances have gotten the best of them, and they cannot wait to take it out on you.

I have gotten some of the nastiest unsubscribe comments in response to some of my best email newsletters. Sometimes I'll send a newsletter with award-winning free information and no pitch, only to be rewarded with an unsubscribe comment complaining how I am an idiot and a crook that is just out for people's money.

So, the MISTAKE you can make (that I have made in the past) is taking unsubscribe comments to heart. Don't do that. People can unsubscribe from your list for all sorts of reasons — and they often have very little to do with you if you are treating your list well.

Proper midset is critical to Internet marketing success. Don't let a few bad apples on your list take that away from you.

LynnLynn Terry of says:

One of the mistakes that I made early on was to build too general of a mailing list. This made it difficult for me to write to the list, and it made any given mailing less relevant to the majority of my subscribers. It's a mistake that creates detachment on both ends of an email.

The best thing you can do when building a list is get specific. Know exactly who you want to subscribe to that list, and why, and know exactly what you are going to send them.

If your site is broad or more general, you can create mini topical mailing lists within the categories or sections of your site. You can then mail topical items to specific subscribers. Using a mailing list manager like Aweber, you can also choose to send an email to multiple (or all) lists. So instead of having one big general mailing list, you build topical mailing lists – which combined make up your “big list”.

Another common mistake I see is that people wait until they have enough subscribers to start mailing their list. And how many is enough? What is that magic number?

I went through this same thought process myself when I first set up my mailing list. And then one day it dawned on me: These 9 people have no idea that there are only 8 other subscribers. And they could care less! They signed up to receive my tips, and all they know is that they haven't received a thing. That's not very nice!

So start building lists, and communicate with those subscribers from day one. Somebody has to get the ball rolling, and that somebody is you.

AliceAlice Seba of of Contentrix says:

The biggest mistake I made in regard to list building is thinking that size matters over targeting. In the early years, I participated in co-registration services all I got was trash.

These services operate on the premise of offering a website visitor a number of subscriptions on a related topic… and when you pay into it, your subscription gets included on the list. Sounds nice… hey? You can leverage other people's traffic and grow your list, right?

Well, here's the problem. These people who tick the box to sign up for your list have no clue who you are. Sure, they might be interested in the type of information you provide…but there is no relationship, no engagement. In fact, there are probably a lot of angry people who go on your list and are crying spam.

At that point, I realized that there is absolutely no point in having a large list that cares nothing about you and may, in fact, be pretty annoyed with you to boot.

Since then, I have focused on building targeted lists of people who are very interested in my business, my point of view and who want to hear from me.

The benefits of that include:

  • Loyal fans who spread the word about my business
  • Higher conversion rates

Of course, some people might say they'd rather have a lower conversion rate on a larger list if it results in more sales.

Sure, that might work for you, but it may make it difficult for you to grow in the long run. When you build it targeted, it's easier to understand what your readers want and how to deliver it to them…resulting in a more solid and prosperous business in the long run. A large and unengaged list will simply cause you AND your list to burn out.

ShannonShannon Cherry of List Building Promotion Secrets says:

My biggest list building mistake… so many of them. But here's probably the biggest I made:

I thought quantity was more important than quality. And that made me greedy. That is one of the deadly sins, right?

And that greed… that obsession with numbers actually hurt my list building efforts – and ultimately my sales.

You see, being greedy made me focus on accumulating a large list but not connecting with them. I spent all of my efforts growing my list, but not appreciating the people I already had on my list. And you know what they say, it's five time harder to get a new customer than keep an existing one. It's the same with list building and potential customers.

So guess what happened? My potential customers, the ones on my list before, forgot about me and unsubscribed. And although I was getting more subscribers than ever in the door, they weren't qualified. So they never bought from me. Or, even worse, they were the ‘smash and grab' types, who signed up, got my free taste, then unsubscribed.

So in the long run my list building efforts did more harm than good.

Today, I value the list I have. I care for them and nurture them. I still do some big list building efforts, including a creating and promoting my own holiday, where I even confess about my list building ‘sin.'

Repenting is good. Because now, I'm more profitable as a result!

Susanne Myers of says:

I have two mistakes I made for years and years that have cost me I don't know how many subscribers and sales.

1) I didn't test opt-in forms

For years I had the same old plain option form in the upper left or right-hand corner of my site (in the navigation bar) and that was about it. I didn't test different locations, styles, backgrounds, offers, headlines etc.

Then, about a year ago I discovered that aweber offered simple optin form split testing and I've been a big fan ever since. I started having more than 1 optin form on a page and experimented with different styles and calls to action. It's made a huge difference in how fast my lists are growing.

2) Sticking with just one format

My second big mistake was to stick to just one format. If I was building a list with an autoresponder, every message was just queued up in the autoresponder. If it was a newsletter, they got a broadcast email once a week and that was that. I recently started experimenting with mixed messages. For example on my weekly newsletter I have an a/r message with a special offer going out every 2 weeks or so. My sales are increasing and since each message also contains some good free information, my subscribers love it.

Nicole Nicole Dean of .. here! .. says:

Well, as usual, my colleagues are full of sage advise.  Now that it's my turn, which of my many mistakes should I confess? 🙂 I've made many of the same mistakes as my friends have.

Mistake #1. My first list was highly untargeted.
I still struggle with that list, never quite understanding best how I can help those who signed up, since it's a mish-mash of people – all in different areas and various stages in their businesses. It's not nearly as profitable as my other lists, and like I said, I struggle to help those who've entrusted me with their email addys and look to me for guidance. So, been there. Done that.

Mistake #2. Taking unsubs personally.
I used to question myself whenever I saw unsubs coming through. Now that I have a much bigger list, I know they're just part of life. Obviously a percentage of people will leave on a daily basis – whether it's because they're no longer interested in the topic, they're getting duplicate emails from you and need to cancel one, they changed email addys, or they're just overwhelmed with too much stuff. I totally understand and no longer beat myself up about it.

I have a bunch of other mistakes, too, that the others didn't touch on. I'll be teaching those in my list building course — coming soon. (hint hint)

But, probably the mistake that cost me the most money over the years is that I didn't realize soon enough that I had several types of lists, including:

  • Leads
  • Customers
  • Affiliates
  • JV partners/Friends
  • People who wanted to reprint & share my content

Just to give a few examples. I had been focusing most of my attention on the Leads list, and that was a huge mistake. Once I paid attention to the other types of lists, my income grew substantially – and quickly. Which reminds me… I need to connect today with my affiliates. 😉

Please leave your thoughts, questions, concerns below. I personally read them all.

Nicole Dean

PS. Our list of Experts is growing. If you've think of someone who you'd love to see answer these questions, please contact me and let us know. 🙂

I appreciate shares and I adore comments! Please share your thoughts.

  • Dr.Mani

    This is a great series, Nicole. Thanks for doing these mini-interviews.

    It’s also nice to see a list building mantra I’ve been chanting ever since 2002 now become pretty much mainstream. It’s NOT about the size of your list. Never has been. It’s always about the intensity and depth of CONNECTION.

    All success

  • Shannon

    Hey Alice… great minds… make great mistakes? LOL! IT’s good to know I’m not the only one!

    Nic – how about a 12-step program that will stop people from making all these mistakes?

  • Angie - The Work at Home Wife

    Nicole, I am sooo excited to hear you are coming out with a list building course. I have been such a big fan of Jimmy D Brown’s list products. Now that he is retiring them, I have been looking for a QUALITY replacement…to no avail.

    I can’t wait! Good luck.

  • Isha

    Great post Nicole – it was great to read from these successful people the mistakes they made with their lists and what to do differently.

    5 interviews in one post – thank you!

  • Loretta

    Up until about a year ago I completely avoided building a real list… that was probably my biggest list building mistake! I was so afraid of messing it up that I just avoided it like the plague. I kept saying “I can do this without a list” Then once I started I realized it wasn’t so big and scary after all and that it really is a valuable business asset.

  • Becki Maxson

    I especially paid attention to the pointers to segment the list. Especially for those who teach various aspects of internet marketing, it’s so much easier to write targeted messages if you know exactly what those folks are interested in. But it goes for any niche really. Targeted freebies would be a good way to segment folks once they get on your general list.

  • Antonina Geer

    This is a great series! A friend of mine sent me this link today, since she knows that I am currently building a list. Wonderful information and just what I neeeded since I am so new to building lists.

  • Sheila Atwood

    So glad I found this post. Thanks for bringing all of these great ideas together.

    I have been beating myself up over the un-subscribers. Which is stupid. Now I see that the people who subscribe have different personalities and different reasons for subscribing.

    Looking forward to your list building course.

  • Elizabeth from exercise after cesarean

    I have to agree with Lynn, not being specific enough with my list can be a problem. It all gets back to knowing your audience and knowing exactly who they are and what they want to know. That’s often tougher to do than it appears on the surface.

  • TheHappypreneur

    I love this! I think the advice about not making your list to general is really good. It is hard to market to a “vague” group of people. I had my autoresponder set to inform me when someone unsubscribed, LOL, not a good idea. I don’t worry too much about it now, It’s not personal so you can’t take it that way.
    Celene Harrelson

  • Edie Dykeman

    My biggest mistake is letting my email list lapse over the past year. This post is a great reminder that I need to get back to sending out a newsletter on regular basis. Thanks for this great information and encouragement.

  • Darren

    Hi Nicole. Love the article. I think it’s great how you got input from many sources. Nice to see I’m not the only one making mistakes. I guess you could call it the affiliate curve. Hopefully it doesn’t take to long to get out of this curve.
    My biggest mistakes.
    1- Not creating a list sooner
    2- Not using a autoresponder, trying to do it myself.
    3- Not e-mailing my subscribers.

    Then I pretty much had to start over again when I got an autoresponder.

  • Chris from acnegofast

    As you may realize, list building is very important. And seriously it took me a while to really find why this is.

    These days, list building is deemed an absolutely basic element of marketing strategy. It is seen being an investment that will generate long term profit and boost up earnings.

    By building a list that is effective, you can reach your customers and have an opportunity to build long term connections with them.
Without creating a list it will be extremely difficult to sell your products or services. Regardless of where they live, you can communicate with them as long as they are in the list.

    But never make the error of bombarding your target market with invalid offers or exceedingly high advertisements. Only contact them when you have a product or service that might be definitely worth to them, not you.

  • Badal K

    As agreed by all the real value of list is when you are not looking your subscribers as mere money buckets. It is when we make a relationship with them and create a trust by giving them quality content. Apart from that I want to add that giving chance to list members to interact with yourself make major boost to your marketing efforts.

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