Creative Ways to Build Your Email List That Don’t Involve Annoying Your Readers

Raise your hand if you hate pop-ups.

You can’t see me, but I have both my hands (and my feet!) up.

And my guess is your readers would agree with me.

After all, they’re so distracting! They either pop-up right as you land on a site—which you may not even be sure is something you’re interested in just yet—or they interrupt you as you’re nose-deep in an interesting article.

Whenever I land on a site that greets me with a pop-up, I immediately close out of the window so I can continue reading the article I wanted. I don’t even consider reading the pop-up, and I couldn’t even tell you what they looked like. And I imagine most people are the same way.

I know, I know. Pop-ups convert fairly well, as the experts would say, but I’m not buying it.

I think the majority of people enter their email address simply because it can be a challenge to close the stupid pop-up window. Or they sign-up to clear the annoying box and eventually unsubscribe later down the line.

The only tolerable pop-ups are those that implement a delayed feature that at least gives your reader time to decide if they’re ready to give away their email address. Pop-ups like these usually come up after a user has been on your site for at least 30 seconds.

Okay, so I may be a bit harsh on the ol’ pop-ups, but I believe there’s a better way to ask your readers for their email addresses—and that’s exactly what I’ll be showing you in today’s article. We’ll take a look at several creative ways to build your email list without annoying your reader (or potential reader) in the process.

Email Addresses are Like Diamonds

We’re all inundated with emails on a daily basis (121 emails per day to be precise). As soon as we wake up, we’re instantly greeted with a slew of emails promoting the latest sales, most recent articles from our favorite sites, and spammers promising a small fortune if we donate to their village.

It’s a lot to sift through every single day. And consumers are getting wise to this; they’re much more hesitant than ever to hand out their precious email addresses, and I don’t blame them.

Emails should be looked at in the same way as diamonds: the final product (a new reader) can be expensive to acquire and almost priceless at times, and they won’t come easy. But once you capture that shiny email address you’ll have an audience for which you can eventually sell to.

Instead of hammering your readers over the head with pop-ups, use these creative ways to get your readers to happily trade you their precious diamonds.

Bribe to Subscribe

The most popular email-capturing masterpiece is the email opt-in. Using this option, readers submit their email addresses in exchange for something.

This special something is usually in the form of a helpful gift such as:

  • An e-course
  • E-guide
  • Printable/usable worksheet
  • Checklist
  • Recipe, etc.

Essentially, you create something ridiculously enticing for your readers that helps solve one of the obstacles or challenges they’re facing. Then they’ll trade you by handing over their email address. This is known as the bribe to subscribe option.

It’s a great route to choose, and it’s one of my favorites since it gives the reader something of value. Who doesn’t love a free present?

Once you’ve created your gift, all you have to do is add an email capture box to your website with a little description of what readers can expect. That’s it.

Here’s what ours at Audience Ops looks like:


You can see that founders are given free access to a 7-part email course designed to help them earn an ROI on content marketing. All they need to do is submit their name and email address.

Can I Get Your Opinion on Something?

Surveys are another great way to capture email addresses from your readers, but they require a little more legwork than email opt-ins. This is due to the fact that surveys can take time and energy from your already busy reader.

If you’re just starting to build your list, or you’re looking to grow an existing list, there’s no better way to get inside your reader’s head than by asking them. That’s one of the best things about a survey: if done correctly, you’ll have instant feedback from your customer, using the exact words they use, and you’ll walk away with an email address as a bonus.

I know that sounds awesome, but let’s pull back the reigns and get realistic for a second.

Not everyone wants to fill out your survey, so it will be a total numbers game. You’ll need to hit the ground running to get your survey in front of as many eyes as possible. Plus, you’ll need to balance the begging with respecting your reader’s time. If you blast your survey too many times or you ask a different one every week, you’re likely to annoy your reader—which is the exact opposite of what we’re trying to do here.

Spend time crafting a survey before your product launches if you’re just starting out. Once your survey is ready to go, share it on your social media channels and send those closest to you a personal message only if you think they’d benefit from what you’re offering. Don’t send more than 1–2 surveys per year or you’ll start to annoy your readers.

Similar to the bribe to subscribe option, it helps if you can give your reader something of value in return. So if you have the option of giving a discount or free access to a certain section of your site, use this as an incentive for your reader to complete the survey.

And if you’re just starting out, let your potential survey respondents know that you’ll be using this information to create content that’s going to help solve their problems, and you can’t do that without their input.

Remember, you’ll be taking up some of your reader’s time so it has to be worth it for them.

Sarah Peterson over at Unsettle suggests using surveys that are 2–5 questions at most, with the first question being open-ended (with an unlimited character count) so your readers can honestly express the struggles they’re facing.

KISS + Strategic Placement

Sometimes all it takes is strategic placement.

If you know one of your articles is performing better than others, add an email capture box at the end encouraging users to sign up to receive more awesome articles packed with tips just like the one they’re reading.


The idea here is to keep it so simple (KISS) that your reader doesn’t have to think or work.

Try not to plaster these signup boxes everywhere or your reader will begin to tune them out. That’s where strategy is key.

You can tuck these sign up boxes into places like the sidebars—just in case users don’t have a chance to finish the article—or immediately after the article ends since they’ll see the value in what you have to offer after reading your killer content.

You should also consider adding a link to sign up for your newsletter in your email signature. This is super helpful for when you’re responding to readers asking for advice via email.

Add a P.S. at the end of your email signature that lets them know they can receive your advice automatically via your newsletter.

By pointing it out, and since you’re already helping them, you’re more likely to capture another email address without having to do too much extra work.

As you can see, you don’t need to annoy your reader or distract them with pesky pop-ups in order to capture their email address. Add your email capture box to your sidebar or at the end of your best performing articles so the option is always visible.

Create something that your reader can actually use (opt-in offer) or ask for their opinion (surveys) in exchange for their email address. The idea is to make it super easy and value-driven for your readers.

Following these tips means you’ll never have to beg to build up a successful email list again.