What you Need to Know Before Starting an Email List [Plus the Best Email Services]

by Ashley Barnett
*Some of the links below may be from our sponsors. My full disclosure statement.*

If you have a blog you've been probably been told you need an email list. And it's true — you do need one.

Email lists are like social media profiles on steroids. There are no algorithms deciding who sees what, less competition, and more ability to send only what is actually interesting to your individual readers. ConvertKit, Mailerlite, and MailChimp are the most popular service providers for new bloggers.

Why You Should Have an Email List

You already know how important it is to get followers and how those followers can mean more pageviews and engagement on your blog — but your email list is much more effective than any social media account at driving traffic.

Why? Because it's so targeted. The tools that email service providers have allow us to narrow exactly who will be interested in what. Plus you have less competition in their inbox than you do in their feed. I know we all get a lot of email — but we get fewer emails than we do Facebook posts.

Also, social media platforms control who sees what. Even if someone follows you it doesn't mean that they will actually see anything you post. This is not true with email — every subscriber will receive that email.

All businesses want repeat customers and your email subscribers are saying “I want to be a repeat customer!” They want to see your stuff. They want you to email them. They want to engage with your brand. That's amazing! Give them the opportunity to do that by building an email list.

Plus, you own this list. If you build your community on Facebook and Facebook decides they don't want to support that feature any more then you lose your whole business. But that can't happen with an email list. That list belongs to you.

How Email Providers Work

There are basically four parts to having an email list:

  • Getting people to subscribe
  • Organizing subscribers
  • Sending emails
  • Reporting

Every email service provider out there will serve these four needs.

Getting People to Subscribe

The first step to building an email list is getting people to sign up! Every email provider will give you a way to create forms and/ or landing pages that you can use to collect names and email addresses.

Typically, the service provider will have several versions of each option. These will likely be templates where you can drag and drop pictures and format colors and maybe even fonts. This will help match the form to your brand so it looks nice on your site.

Here is a screenshot of a few of the form templates from ConvertKit just so you can get an idea.

Once you choose which form you like you can customize the image colors to match your brand.

Freebie Giveaway

Having a free giveaway will get more people to sign up for your email list. This freebie will likely be a PDF download. When creating this free download think about a problem you can solve for your ideal reader.

  • A food blogger might give away 5 easy breakfast recipes
  • A travel blogger might give away a list of packing tips
  • A parenting blogger might give away 10 fun summer activities

Think of something that your ideal reader would find interesting — the stronger the freebie the better it will convert.

Delivering the Giveaway

Delivering the freebie will go one of a few ways. You will advertise your freebie however you like, maybe via social media or on your site. When someone signs up they will get a confirmation email with a link that they need to click on in order to confirm their subscription.

What happens when they click on that confirmation link will depend on the email service provider you use.

Clicking the confirmation button might:

  • download the PDF directly
  • take the reader to a landing page, ideally on your site, where they can download the PDF
  • trigger a second email that includes a link to the download — This is my least favorite option. I think it's confusing for the reader.

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    Organizing Subscribers

    One very cool function of email service providers is the ability to organize your subscribers. You can keep everyone on one list where they all get the same emails as the same time, but you can do so much more than that!

    Email service providers will allow you to segment your readers into different categories. The beauty of this is that you can customize the emails that different readers get. This allows you to deliver what is interesting to one reader without annoying all the others.

    For example, let's say you have an article about eating a gluten free diet but not all readers care about this. You could set it up so that anyone who subscribes to the form on that particular post is put onto the “gluten free” list and you can send your gluten free content only to those subscribers.

    This works wonderfully if you are selling a product. You can send sales emails to your list but exclude anyone who is already a customer. That way you aren't trying to sell people who have already bought — cause that's super annoying to everyone.

    Sending Emails

    Ah, finally, we get to the point of all this. Sending actual emails!

    There are two types of emails you can send.

    • One time blasts
    • Automatic emails

    Each email service provider has different names for these but they do the same things. One time blasts are your weekly newsletters that you'll use to send your current blog posts or any timely announcements to your list.

    Automatic emails are emails you set up ahead of time that will go out in a series, automatically over time when someone triggers them — such as by signing up for the list.

    One time blasts are pretty straight forward. You can schedule them ahead of time and choose which list segments to send them to, but they will go out one time to the subscribers you selected and that's it.

    Automatic Emails

    The automatic emails however can get pretty fancy. You can set up series of emails that will go out over and over to everyone who triggers them. A common example is a “welcome series”. Most bloggers have a set of emails that will go out automatically whenever someone signs up for your list.

    Typically the first one is an introduction of some sort and then the emails walk the subscriber through their best content and probably some sales materials for either their products or affiliates.

    This can get sophisticated if, say, you have different triggers built into the welcome series emails. As an example, let's go back to our gluten-free reader above.

    Let's say the food blogger above had an email in their welcome series that allowed people to download an ebook of gluten-free recipes. The blogger could set it up so that anyone who clicked that link would be added to their “gluten-free” list and then would start a new series of emails all about being gluten-free.

    You can see how well this could be used for affiliate marketing or sales.

    Let's say you are an affiliate of SiteGround but not all your readers are bloggers so you don't want to promote it to your whole list all the time. You could have an email in your welcome series directing people to your post about starting a blog.

    Those that click over to that post can be added to a new list that will then trigger a different series of emails that deliver blogging content and promote SiteGround. That way you can market much more heavily to those who may be interested and not annoy those who aren't.

    Reporting

    After you've sent some emails you want to know the results! Are people actually clicking over and reading your stuff?

    All email service providers will give you some reports that will show you how your emails performed. The main stats you'll be looking for are:

    • Open rate
    • Click rate
    • Unsubscribes

    Open rate tells you the percentage of people who actually opened the email. This will make you cry. Don't feel bad if your open rate feels insanely small. Yes, these people said they wanted to hear from you and yet most don't even open your emails. The average email open rate in 2020 is 17.8%.

    That's life.

    Your subject line is everything when it comes to email open rates. So if you are trying to get your open rates up focus there to start. That's where you'll see your biggest bang for your buck.

    Click rate is the percentage of subscribers who clicked a link in the email. This is going to be much lower than your open rate since not everyone who opens will click. The average email click rate is only 2.6%.

    What I really look for when I look at click rate is which links are getting the clicks. This is a big indicator of interest. If you get tons of clicks on one particular subject and none on another then you know what to do.

    Unsubscribes is, well, the number of people who opened the email and clicked the unsubscribe button. Don't take this personally. You won't please everyone and you shouldn't try. Maybe they just wanted your freebie. Maybe your emails weren't what they were expecting. Who knows?

    The average unsubscribe rate is .1%. This means that if you have 1,000 people on your list, you can expect one to unsubscribe every time you send an email.

    Don't get overly caught up in unsubscribes. People are going to unsubscribe… it's just the way it is. What you really want to keep an eye on is if way more than people unsubscribe to a particular email than average (your personal average). This is an indicator that something is wrong with that email.

    If you normally get two or three unsubscribes with every email and then one gets 50… something is up.

    Best Email Service Providers

    So now the big question, which email service provider should you use. From what I see, new bloggers tend to use one of three options.

    ConvertKit

    ConvertKit is my most recommended email service provider. It's what I use here at Hit Publish and what I would recommend to other bloggers. This tool was just made for bloggers.

    I love their automation tools, you can get pretty creative with how people flow through your automatic emails.

    I also like how they segment the subscribers. At first, it was hard to get my head around the “tagging” of subscribers rather than having them on different lists, but once I got used to it I was a big fan.

    One big drawback is that the actual emails themselves aren't very customizable. You can add images and the process is similar to adding them to a blog post.

    But honestly, to me, as far as drawbacks go I'm cool with it. I don't add a lot of images to my emails anyways.

    ConvertKit Pricing

    ConvertKit does have a free plan for up to 1,000 subscribers but you don't get access to the automatic emails. You do have access to the landing pages and forms so you can start collecting email addresses and can send one-time blasts.

    The lowest level paid plan is $29 per month for up to 1,000 subscribers but gives you access to all ConvertKit's premium features. You'll pay more as your list grows but the features you have access to remain the same.

    Click here to get started with ConvertKit.

    Mailerlite

    Mailerlite will do what you need as a new blogger. This is what I would recommend if you need a free plan now and want to keep costs low in the future.

    Keep in mind though that it is a pretty simple service. You can't get too far into the weeds with automation, segmenting, or reporting. But if you just want to send a welcome series and a weekly newsletter with your blog posts then Mailerlite may just what you need.

    I used it a few years back to manage a small list I had from a local networking event I ran. I collected email addresses at the event and then had a short welcome series and would send blasts after the events to everyone on the list.

    It was easy to use and was very happy with it for this purpose.

    Mailerlite Pricing

    Mailerlite is free for your first 1,000 subscribers and then just $10 per month from 1,000 to 2,500 subscribers.

    What I really like about Mailerlite is that they offer automatic emails, called “workflows” on their free plan which is pretty rare. The free automatic emails along with it's easy to use interface is why I recommend this to new bloggers looking for a free plan.

    Click here to get started with Mailerlite.

    MailChimp

    MailChimp is my least favorite of the three services listed here. You don't get automatic emails on the free plan and that is a big deal to me, so if you have to pay anyways, just use ConvertKit.

    That said, they do have a pretty generous free plan allowing up to 2,000 subscribers before requiring an upgrade to a paid plan. On the free plan, you can't send a series of automatic emails but you can send a single email automatically when someone subscribes – which is better than nothing.

    I used to use MailChimp a long time ago for my blog email list. One thing I could say then, and that seems to still be true, is that email design is a big deal to them. They have lots of templates and drag and drop email designs. So if beautiful, image rich, emails are important to you then MailChimp might be the service you are looking for.

    MailChimp Pricing

    Their free plan allows up to 2,000 subscribers and 10,000 email sends. This means if you have 1,000 people on your list then you could send out 5 emails per month on the free plan.

    The next level plan is $9.99 per month but only up to 500 subscribers and 5,000 email sends — which is less than the free plan but does come with some extra features like A/B testing and access to all their templates.

    If you want automatic emails then plans start at $14.99 for 500 subscribers but that quickly jumps to $49.99 per month at 2,500 subscribers.

    Click here to get started with MailChimp.

    Summary

    There you have it. You should start an email list because it's a great way to keep readers connected and involved in your community and blog.

    ConvertKit is my most highly recommended provider since the tools they offer are perfect for bloggers. They are free for up to 1,000 subscribers with limited features. However, they are not the cheapest option once you move to a paid plan.

    Mailerlite will get the job done and they are free for the first 1,000 subscribers and then low priced after that. Plus, they include automatic emails on the free plan.

    MailChimp has a free plan up to 2,000 subscribers with limited features. The paid plans are more expensive than ConvertKit's, so I feel you might as well just start with ConvertKit.

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