How to Start an Email List for Free Right Now

Last modified on 24th October, 2018

How to start an email list for free right now. #emaillists #emailmarketing #mailinglist #startemaillist #emaillistbuildingMy biggest mistake when I started blogging in 2006 was not starting my own email list!

Had I took the plunge, imagine how many email subscribers I would have today, hundreds of thousands maybe?

If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’re already aware of the importance of why you should have your own email list.

So I won’t bore you with the why part (well for most bloggers, it’s where the money is).

Unfortunately creating a mailing list for your website from scratch can be overwhelming and expensive.

But those aren’t entirely true.

The good news?

Starting your own mailing list doesn’t have to be complicated or costly.

So in today’s post, I’m going to show you how to start an email list for free.

And this whole process should take you less than 20 minutes!

Ready? Let’s dive in!

Related:  7 Powerful Strategies That Will Increase Your Email Subscribers Fast


How to start an email list for free (fast)

There are quite a few email service providers that you can use, but all email marketing services aren’t created equal.

For me, I knew growing an email list could take time.

I didn’t want to spend money on something that would cost me a monthly fee, yet generate little to no income, at least during the first few months.

Bootstrapping is the name of the game here :)

Now you may be asking, why can’t you just send email for free from your Gmail account?

Here’s why:

  • Gmail email makes you look unprofessional
  • Gmail limits the number of emails you can send a day
  • Gmail is good for one-to-one interaction but not for mass emailing your subscribers
  • You can’t track who opened or clicked your email
  • Your emails are more likely to be blocked by the majority of email providers
  • Managing your subscribes/unsubscribes can be a nightmare

Next, I’ll describe the exact steps how to build an email list for marketing. These involve:

  1. Signing up with an email service provider.
  2. Creating an opt-in form to collect emails
  3. Placing an opt-in form on your website
  4. Done (sort of)


#1: Sign up with an email service provider

I recommend using MailerLite.

It’s forever free to use if you have fewer than 1000 subscribers.

Unlike some other email service providers, it doesn’t limit the number of emails you can send per month.

Most importantly, you have an unrestricted access to their autoresponder service which allow you to automatically deliver your opt-in freebies/lead magnets after a user sign up.

In comparison, some other email service provides will only let you send one autoresponder email. You’ll have to upgrade your plan if you want to setup more.

Basically, the free tier of MailerLite gives you full access to all their paid features including autoresponder, automation, segmentation, tracking, tagging system – the whole enchilada.

start mailing list from scratch

As your subscribers grow past 1000 people, you can upgrade to a paid plan. Their plans are among the cheapest email marketing software out there too.

Go ahead sign up with MailerLite now.

I should mention that you will need your own domain name to use MailerLite.

Here are a few steps that you need to do during the sign-up process:

sign up for email service provider

Getting your account approved

After creating your MailerLite account, you need to have your account validated by completing these 2 steps:

Complete your profile

Fill in your blog/company information. MailerLite will use this info during the approval process. So make sure your blog is in good shape to improve your chances.

mailerLite profile

Verify your website domain

Your website verification consists of two steps. First, you need to enter your website URL:

website domain verification

The second step is entering your email address.

You must use the same email domain as your website domain, i.e. yourname@yourwebsite.com Don’t enter a free email address from Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo etc. here.

Wait for account approval

Once you’ve completed the 2 steps above, MailerLite will start reviewing your account.

Mailerlite account approval

This usually takes from 15 minutes to 4 hours, but sometimes it may take up to a day. They will send you an email notification after the review is completed.

Also whenever you decide to upgrade your plan, you’ll have to go through the approval process again.


#2: Create an opt-in form to collect emails

MailerLite comes with tools to help you design an opt-in form. This will likely be your main method of collecting new mailing list subscribers.

Here’s how you do it.

Create a new group

First, you need to create a new group to save your subscribers in. Click Subscribers > Groups > Create new group

Create an email group

For demonstration purpose, I named my group Demo Group.

Mailinglist group

Once created, your group will appear in the Groups list.

Next, to create a new opt-in form, click Forms > Embedded Forms > Create Embedded Form

Create opt in form

Below, I named my form “Demo Group Form #1

.Form name


Next, you’ll need to associate the form with a group or groups. Here I selected the Demo Group I created earlier.

Select group

Click “Save and continue” and on the next page, you can edit and format your optin form.

Few things to keep in mind when designing your opt-in form:

  • The less information you ask for the better. This improves your conversion rate.
  • Ask for an email address and perhaps the first name so that you can personalize your emails. So instead of “Hi”, you can greet your subscriber with “Hi June”.

The default MailerLite optin box only asks for the user’s email address. To add the name text box, click on the email textbox edit icon, then click on the “Add new field” button.

Add name field

Play around with the form design and settings. Don’t worry if you make a mistake because you can always edit, delete and recreate the form.

When you are done, click on the Done Editing button.

newsletter design

You can watch the video below for an overview of MailerLite embedded form.


#3: Place opt-in form on your website

And now’s the fun part!

There are two ways you can embed the form into your blog; manually or by using a WordPress plugin.

I am going to show you how to do both.

When you are done designing your form, you’ll find the following code snippets under your Form Settings tab.

Form settings

opt-in html code

#1: Manual Integration

For the manual embed, you will need to copy the first code snippet once into your website header.

Most WordPress themes should have an option where you can paste the first code snippet into the header.

For Thrive Themes which I’m using, I can paste the code via the Analytics/Scripts section. Yours may be different.

Header code

Then, for the form body itself, you can paste it anywhere you want it to appear. It can be on your sidebar, within a post or at the end of a post.

To show it within your post, activate Text mode then paste the code into the text editor.

wordpress text editor

Below is how it looks like in my post.

opt-in form preview

That’s it!

You’ve now successfully created your first email opt-in and people can start signing up for your email newsletter.

#2: WordPress plugin integration

If you are using WordPress, you can install the plugin for MailerLite. To do so, click your Profile image > Integration > WordPress

Follow the instructions to complete the steps.

Mailerlite wordpress plugin


How to send your first newsletter

Adding subscribers

Now that you know how to start an email newsletter, you can start sending your first email newsletter!

But wait.. how can you send newsletters if you haven’t got any subscribers?

Good question!

I suggest you test the sign-up process by signing up using a secondary email address to see if everything was set up properly.

Alternatively, if you have an existing subscribers list, you can import it or manually enter them to MailerLite.

Here’s how to do it:

Click on the Subscribers tab > Add subscribers

Add subscribers

Then choose one of the ways to upload your list, either with CSV, Excel or manually entering emails one by one.

Create your first campaign

In MailerLite, the emails that you create are called campaigns.

To create your first campaign, click Campaigns > Create your first Email

Create email campaign

On the next page, you will see 4 campaign types. But for demonstration purpose, we are going to create Regular Campaign.

Create regular campaign

Enter your campaign’s subject title. You can use emoji to grab attention, though I’d recommend you use it sparingly and test if positive results are produced.

Another thing to consider is adding personalization to engage more with your subscribers.

Fill in the rest of the details. Then click NEXT: Content.

Check out the following video on how to Quick Start your campaign and how to use the drag and drop editor when designing your email.

Once you’re done, click Done Editing.

Edit email campaign


Send your first campaign

Once you’ve designed your campaign. It’s time to send it out.

On the next screen, you should be able to select the subscribers you want to send the emails to.

Select the Group or Groups, then click the NEXT: Review and confirm button.

Select campaign recepients

On the next page, you may want to send a test email to yourself to check how the email will look like for your subscribers.

Send test email

Sometimes the test email ends up in spam folder because of the additional word Test added in the subject field. Don’t worry, this does not happen with the regular campaigns.

Click the NEXT: Schedule button below.

Schedule email campaign

Select the Send now option, then click the Send button.

Sending email campaign



How to customize your confirmation page

The confirmation page is where the subscriber is directed to once they clicked the confirmation link in the email.

Confirmation email sample

MailerLite provides a default confirmation page which is hosted on their server.

While this works fine, the design is rather uninspiring and basic.

Confirmation page

So, you might want to customize your confirmation page:

  • If you want to track your email signups
  • To improve engagement. Perhaps you want the new subscriber to follow you on Twitter
  • Provide a download link to freebie/lead magnet as promised earlier

To specify a different confirmation page, just change the URL of the landing page to one of your own.

Click your Profile picture > Subscribe settings > Confirmation Thank You page

Subscribe settings

You can create the page as you normally would when creating a page in WordPress. Here’s how mine looks like at the moment.

Confirmation page

The design will definitely be changed in the future as I run experiments to my improve engagements.

For further reading, you may want to read my article below. Pay attention to the section where I talk about customizing your thank you page.

How to Grow Your Email List Using Google Analytics Goals Tracking


How to design beautiful & high converting opt-in forms

Here’s the thing though – the default MailerLite opt-in form looks rather uninspiring!

While it gets the job done, people won’t be signing up in droves anytime soon.

Of course, you can make your opt-in form more beautiful and compelling but the MailerLite form design and options leave much to be desired.

To help you create a beautiful and high converting opt-in form, I recommend using Thrive Leads. It’s not free but it’s well worth the price.

You can see it in action here at Sabahan.com as I use it to design all my opt-in forms.

If you are serious about building your email list faster, having versatile and professional looking opt-in forms are crucial.

And Thrive Leads will help you achieve that goal.

After you sign-up, you’ll have access to Thrive University. It’s a free online marketing course you can take at your own pace.

You can learn how to:

  • Design persuasive and beautiful opt-in forms
  • Grow your mailing list faster
  • Create irresistible opt-in offer, a.k.a freebies/lead magnet
  • Implement the next generation email list building tactics
  • Implement advanced strategies in email marketing
  • And more…

Build email list course


If you ask me, the email marketing courses worth far more than the price of Thrive Leads itself.

You can access them all for free with the purchase of Thrive Leads (only a small portion of the courses are Thrive member exclusive).


Entice people to sign up by offering freebies/opt-in offers

People don’t sign up to mailing lists for no reason. They will only give you their email address if they can get something of value in return.

People don't sign up to mailing lists for no reason. They will only give you their email address if they can get something of value in return.Click To Tweet

Gone are the days where you can just paste your opt-in form in your sidebar, and that’s enough to get people into your list.

Today the Internet is a busier and a noisier place. You need to stand out from the crowd to get noticed.

Providing great content is a good start as it may be enough of an incentive for some people to register their email to get updates.

Unfortunately, soon you’ll find your conversion rate is still low.

Most of your visitors would leave after they get what they wanted and may never return.

So how can you get more people to sign up?

By offering what we call a lead magnet or optin freebie. These are incentives that solve a particular problem your audience is facing.

Related: How to Deliver a Lead Magnet or Optin Freebie Easily

These opt-in offers/lead magnets can be in the form of:

  • PDF guide
  • Checklist
  • Free ebook
  • Cheatsheet
  • Spreadsheet
  • Video or email course
  • And so on…

Here’s one of my own opt-in freebies to give you an example.

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Your lead magnets don’t have to be complicated though. In fact, you should start with something simple which offers a quick fix to a problem.

So how do you create an effective lead magnet that converts regular visitors into email subscribers?

That’s a big and interesting topic on its own and deserves a dedicated post.

Stephen from AspiringBloggers.com has shared some opt-in freebies ideas  to help you grow your subscribers list.

You can also learn some email marketing strategies from  Thrive University.

When you register, you can get access to more than 20 different guides, video courses, training webinar recordings and interactive content to help you build your online business.

Best of all it’s totally free to join!

The catch? While most of the guides can be implemented regardless of the tools you are using to design and build your blog, some guides are specific to the Thrive Themes plugins.

It’s free anyway, you got nothing to lose but more email marketing knowledge to gain. If it’s good enough to help me get started, it should be useful to you too!

Register with the free Thrive University now.


Where should you place your opt-in form?

When it comes to placing your opt-in or signup forms, the more location you placed them the better.

Here at Sabahan.com, I have opt-in forms at the following locations:

After each blog post

So far this location hasn’t converted as well as I hoped for. I suspect this is due to the fact that there are so many blogs placing their forms at the same location resulting in “opt-in form blindness”.

Blog footer

The hero image sign up form

A hero image is a large, featured image prominently displayed on the homepage.

Hero image conversion

It’s one of the first elements a visitor see when they visit your site.

A hero image tells what your site is about and how you can use it to show you have a solution to the visitor’s problem.

It’s an ideal place to add your opt-in form to directly influence the behaviour of a visitor as they go through your site.

But why do I use a button which introduces an extra step instead of an actual opt-in form?

Well, people have discovered that asking the visitors to click on a button or link before showing them the opt-in form can improve your conversion rates.

I found that to be true for Sabahan.com. Currently it’s my best performing opt-in form.


Inside specific posts

I haven’t created many of these yet. But I think if you have a highly targeted and compelling opt-in offer, this location can CONVERT LIKE CRAZY.

Optin within blog post

The ribbon bar at the top

This ribbon is a horizontal bar that appears after the reader scrolled to 70% of my article.

Why 70%?

Because I only want to show it to readers who are actually interested in my content.

This improves my conversion rates tremendously and I get good sign-ups from mobile users.

ribbon button optin

The scroll mat (or welcome mat)

Scroll mat turns any page into a full-screen signup form that’s displayed immediately on page load. It rolls down to welcome visitors to your website when they land on a specific page.

I was a bit reluctant to implement this at first for concern that it may affect the users’ experience. However if authority sites like Problogger.com find such ‘popup’ acceptable, the least I could do is test it on my blog.

Scroll mat

In any case, I’m limiting the scroll mat to only appear once a week. So far it is one of my best performing opt-in forms.

On the sidebar

The ‘obligatory’ signup form widget on my sidebar. For best result, I recommend placing this at the very top of your sidebar before any other widgets.

Sidebar optin form

On my About page

A call to action button on my About Page. I got a few signups here.

About page opt-in form

There are many other locations you can experiment with in addition to the above. Each placement will perform differently depending on your site design, niche and audience.

The only way to find out which one performs the best is to test out the various locations as you go along.

For that purpose, I’m using Thrive Leads to track my email sign up conversion rates.

Thrive Leads helps me find out which opt-in forms/content perform the best over time. I can even conduct an A/B testing to automatically increase my conversion rate.

Email signups conversion rate report

I know there are tons and tons of things I can do to improve my conversion rates. I’ll be glad to share my finding in my future posts, so stay tuned.


How to track which traffic source brings you the most signups

By default, MailerLite tracks who has opened your email newsletters or clicked on links.

However, if you want to track where your new subscribers came from then you’ll need to use Google Analytics.

I’ve dedicated an entire post to teach you how to use Google Analytics to track your email signups.

Check it out here: How to Grow Your Email List Using Google Analytics Goals Tracking



There you have it!

That’s how to start an email list for free from scratch.

Email lists offer the best form of communication with your audience.

Even though social media marketing often gets the spotlight, having access to your audience email addresses is still the most valuable digital marketing channel for your blog.

Not content marketing, nor influencer marketing.

Now it’s your turn.

Have you started your mailing list yet? Now that you know how to create an email subscription list, are you going to start one soon?

Please share your story in the comments.

Thanks for reading!


An engineer by training, Victor has been working full-time online as an Internet marketer, a programmer and an app developer since 2001. He has been blogging at Sabahan.com since 2006 sharing his experience and teaching people how to make money online. Click here to join his private Facebook Group for bloggers.

  • Very detailed and helpful guide about creating a email list. Thanks for sharing Victor!

  • Cat Ibanez says:

    Great info Victor!

  • Susa says:

    Thanks, this gives me something to work with! Creating a mailing list is still on my long list of To-Dos and I have been procrastinating on that for ages …

    • Victor says:

      Yea I was like that for the longest time too lol. But with this quick and free guide, there’s no excuse not to start one :)

  • Thank you for sharing this. This will be most helpful! I bookmarked this post :)

  • Sofi says:

    Extremely detailed post of greatly needed information

  • Jay Safdar says:

    A very detailed blog post thank you! Heard of Thrive Leads but what you have written here makes it so much cleaer for me-as I was unsure about it.

    • Gaman says:

      Glad you like the post Jay. Thrive Leads is such a useful email opt-in tool for me. The accompanying email marketing courses have helped me be up and running in no time too.

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