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Newsletters Guide

Part 5 Basics of Building and Using Your Email List

Rule number one: No matter what, make sure you are getting permission to add people to your email list, and make sure it is easy to unsubscribe. Otherwise, frustrated people will mark your email as spam, and your newsletter (or even your entire domain) could get blacklisted by email providers.

Make a great sign-up page that gives people a sense of what to expect from your newsletter and a clear reason why they should join your list. (Note: MailChimp offers a “Translate” option to automatically translate your forms and response emails into more than 40 languages.)

Ways to get people to sign up:

  • Add a Call to Action on your Twitter account and Facebook pages. Use the built in tools like Twitter cards, pinned tweets, and Facebook’s action buttons to make it easy for people to click and join.
  • Interstitial Pop-Ups on Your Website: Many people worry about putting a pop-up on their homepage, but they work really well and may not be as hated as people assume. (Or try a popup when someone is about to leave your site. See for an example.)
  • One-to-One Outreach on Social Media: Don’t hesitate to talk regularly about your newsletter and remind people why they should subscribe. When you highlight someone or another organization in your newsletter, tag them on social media and let them know. Clover built their audience by messaging influencers on Instagram and featuring them in the newsletter.
  • Contests and Promotions: Create evergreen content — for example, reports and guides — aligned with your mission and ask people to subscribe to your newsletter to download a free copy. But watch out for high unsubscribe rates from people who may think this is a bait-and-switch promotion.
  • In-Person Events: In-person events (yours and other people’s) are a great place to sign people up for your email list. Don’t miss a chance to ask people to join and make it easy (but make sure they know they are being added to your email list). MailChimp has a dedicated “subscribe app” for iPads and Android tablets.


Once you have someone signed up, you may want to consider an automated “welcome series” or other carefully tested ways of solidifying your relationships with new subscribers. Your welcome messages can help them learn more about you, point out recent projects they might find useful, and remind them to add you to their address book or move your email to a better tab in Gmail.

Sending welcome messages is also a good way to practice segmenting your list — i.e., sending different messages to different people based on the data you have about them. For example, everyone on your email list who hasn’t opened an email from you in two weeks could get a different message or a different subject line than those who have been reading every week. Or anyone with a .edu email address could get a message tailored to university staff and students. Segmenting can be important because it allows you to test different messages and personalize your content. This helps you ensure your newsletters are as relevant as possible to your audience. Smart segmentation of lists can result in much better open rates and clicks.

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