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We’re about to tip into full-on summer. If you’re like most people, the last thing you’re thinking about now is Christmas. And yet that’s exactly what retailers need to be planning for.

There are 149 days until Black Friday – 152 until Cyber Monday. That gives you roughly five short months to get your online operations up to snuff.

Before I get you too stressed out, remember: It’s summer still. All those promotions and landing pages and shipping headaches are still far off. But there is one thing you should be doing now. It’ll help your Christmas business like nothing else.

Now is a fantastic time to build your email list – to start testing what attracts your best buyers, and to begin building a relationship with them so you can swing right into the fall for a very Merry Christmas.

The best part of this is that list building isn’t hard. I’ve ranked these list-building tactics according to how likely they are to work. I’m sure you’re doing at least a few of them already, but you could always add some more. With a little work you can probably double how many subscribers you’re getting now, and still get in some summer. Here’s how:

1) Add a pop-up (or overlay, or interstitial).

A lot of people don’t pop-ups. They can be annoying if they’re not done right. But there have been case studies where pop-ups increased email opt-ins by 1000%. Yeah: 10x. And so – if you really want more subscribers and all the benefits that come from them – it’s time to try this.

If you’re still resistant, here are a few ways to make pop-ups less annoying:

  • Don’t show the pop-up until someone has been on your site for at least 30 seconds. That’s the best practice, but honestly, I see retail sites pushing pop-ups faster than any other niche. As soon as you’re on an ecommerce site: bang, there’s that pop-up. Kinda like Patagonia has done here:


Pop-ups build email lists

  • Don’t show the pop-up on every page. This is the red flag of spammy sites – repeatedly pushing a pop-up in your face, making you close it on every page you view. So be polite: Show the pop-up once per visit. Or even better, once every 3-7 days.


Want to take it even further than that? Use a pop-up plugin or software that’s smart enough to not show the email list opt-in pop-up to people who have already signed up. For those users, a pop-up is better served for suggesting products, or asking them to review products they’ve purchased.

  • Offer an incentive. Maybe it’s a discount, maybe it’s a free gift. Or maybe your emails are so awesome that they speak for themselves. But don’t just say, “Sign up for our list”. Give your visitors a reason why.


2) Keep the opt-in form simple.

Notice the form in that example above. It’s got one field: the email address. They aren’t asking for people’s preferences, their zip code, or even their name.

Just adding the name field to an opt-in form can cut your list growth by at least 10% – and 20% wouldn’t be out of the question. And the more fields you add, the lower that conversion rate will go.

But you probably still want that name information, though, don’t you? You know personalization can almost double click-throughs and opens when it’s used correctly.

So get your subscribers’ name later on – after you’ve got their email addresses. In the biz, this is known as “progressive profiling”. It’s the technique of asking your subscribers for additional information over time, instead of right when they sign up.

You can do this in emails, or right on your site. Here’s how TravelZoo gets the zip codes of their new subscribers.

First, you enter your email address in the opt-in box (notice how there’s also a link to sign up near the top of the page, too – in the header navigation).

First step of email sign up process

Then they confirm your email address (or get your Facebook information, too):

TravelZoo email signup process

And then they ask for your zip code.

getting more information from subscribers at sign up

Even if you bail on this and don’t give them your zip code, they’ve still got enough information to continue the dialog with you. And I’m willing to bet they’ll continue to customize which emails they send you based on how you interact with their first few messages.

3) Add email opt-in forms to the header and footer area of every page on your site.

The idea here is to have an email opt-in form in view as often as possible. So when a subscriber has a moment of enthusiasm for your site, that opt-in form is right there, in view, easy to fill out and promising good things.

Just adding an opt-in form to the footer of a website can increase opt-ins by 20%. That’s what I saw on my site when I added a footer opt-in form. Having an opt-in form in the header area is even better, though I know that’s super-valuable real estate for a lot of you. You can always compromise and just have a link to a sign-up page in the header. That won’t get you quite as many opt-ins as having the embedded form right there, but it’s better than nothing.

Here’s how Yankee Candle has laid out their header area. They’re using a link as the opt-in prompt.

Sign up link in header area

They’ve got a full embedded form in the footer area:

Add an opt-in form to the footer of your website

This is the most common setup I see on retail sites: A link to subscribe in the header, then an opt-in form in the footer.

4) Add a feature box.

Every once in awhile, you also see what’s called a “feature box” – an opt-in on the home page that fills up much of the first screen. Here’s a modified version of that from Indochino. Note how it can be collapsed, too. That’s a nice way to get the visitor’s attention, but then not force the feature box on them.

Feature box

While feature boxes do take up very precious real estate on your site, they tend to pull their weight. It’s not uncommon for people to see their email opt-ins double after adding a feature box.

5) Use Facebook’s lead generation ads.

Do you ever boost posts on Facebook? I bet you do. But here’s a way to use your advertising budget for better long-term results. Facebook’s lead generation ads are specifically designed to attract possible subscribers. They’re reasonably affordable, and an ideal way to get your Facebook followers to migrate over to your email list.

Facebook's lead generation ads are a good way to get subscribers

Of course, most of the other major social media networks also have lead generation ads (namely Twitter, though some people don’t recommend using its lead generation cards).

But Facebook is still the best place to start with these types of lead generation ads. Why? Well, the audience is far larger, for starters. And if you know Facebook’s ad platform, there are excellent split-testing tools and filtering tools there. All that makes Facebook a great place to develop and test ads. Once you’ve got a winning, profitable lead gen ad, then go try it on the other platforms.

6) Use social media overlays.

Do you share a lot of stuff on social media? Probably some of your own content, and some of other people’s, too. That’s what we’re supposed to do – share about 20% of our own stuff, and then 80% of other people’s content. Trouble is, when you share other people’s content, you’re actually directing your social media followers away from your account. You’re sending them off to go look at that page you just shared.

What if you could follow them as they went off to that third-party page? What if you could even get a little email sign up opt-in form to show up on that third-party content?

Well ha: you can. Services like Snip.ly can add an overlay to any page you share. That overlay can include a link, some copy, or an opt-in form like this:

Tools like Sniply can help your build your list even when you share other people's content

You can even split-test those forms, so you can find out which opt-in offers work best. Setup takes about 2 minutes for the form. After that, you can just add it whenever you’re making a link.

Snip.ly can also be used to links that don’t appear on social media, too. So if you created a resource guide, or an ebook, or anything else with links, you could add an opt-in overlay.

7. Add a YouTube annotation.

We’ve written about how important video can be for retail sales. Here’s a way to make it even better. Every YouTube video you publish can include a prompt to join your list. It can have a direct link to your website, where you can direct people to a landing page tailor-made to convert them into subscribers.

Here’s how Derek Halpern does it. Notice the call to action in the upper right-hand corner of the video?

YouTube annotations let you link to your website

That’s called a “YouTube annotation” – a clickable prompt that will bring people to Derek’s website. He’s set up a very slick opt-in page (sometimes called “a squeeze page”) to get maximum results from those clicks:

Landing pages are better than home pages for converting traffic into email subscribers

This is actually another killer trick for getting more email subscribers: Send them to a dedicated landing page. You’ll get about 20-30% more subscribers if you use a landing page. Why? Because it focuses peoples’ attention. That makes them more likely to go through the process of opting in.

Want to try this? You can do it from within your YouTube account. Or there are third-party services like Outromaker.

8. Add forward and sign up prompts in your emails.

People still share emails – a lot. In fact, email sharing is one of the biggest parts of “dark social”, a spooky term that refers to all the sharing that we can’t track with standard analytics. By some estimates, there’s twice as much activity on dark social as there is on all the social media platforms combined.

Let’s get you in on the action. Add prominent share links and prompts to your emails. Then close the deal by including prompts for the people who get those forwarded emails to sign up.

Here’s how Digiday has done it. I’d like this call to action to be more visible, but it’s better than most:

Get new subscribers when people forward emails

9. Add a “Sign up” button to your Facebook page.

This is so easy – setting up a Facebook “call-to-action” to build your list takes about 5 minutes. And once it’s done, you’ll start seeing a steady trickle of new subscribers. Do note that I wrote “trickle” – this probably won’t double your list growth overnight. But it’s really easy to do and costs nothing. So why not?

Use Facebook call-to-actions to build your email list

10. Add a HelloBar.

This is a skinny opt-in form – almost like a ribbon – that runs across the top of a visitor’s web browser. It can be set to appear only at the top of each page, or to move along with the user as they scroll down the page. Either way, the HelloBar can be a sleeping giant for building email lists. When Buffer reported on how they doubled their email list in just one month, the Hello bar came in as the 2nd most effective tactic:

Best tactics for building an email list



Now’s the time to start testing these list-building tactics. Maybe every one won’t work for you, but there’s sure to be a few that do. Just keep testing – sometimes one opt-in offer can make all the difference. And fortunately, it’s still summer, so we’ve got lots of time to test and refine our list-building before Christmas comes around again.