I’ve seen it many times over: marketers with small, but engaged
and quality email lists do amazing things in terms of sales.
They understand the difference between a cold email subscriber
and a nurtured subscriber, and they apply strategies that turn
the former into the latter.
If you want to build a healthy and engaged email list (i.e.
high open rates and high click-through rates), you need to
learn and apply the same strategies in your email marketing.
In this post, I’m going to show you list-nurturing strategies
that can make a qualitative difference for your email list, but
you should know up front: these are not quick’n’easy hack-tics.
Nurturing email list takes time and effort, but it pays off in
I also included a sweet bonus at the end of the article, so
make sure to read all the way through.
Very quickly: what’s email nurturing
Email nurturing is simply consistently communicating with people
who’ve trusted you with their email address, i.e. permission to
visit their virtual home.
To use the dating analogy, just because they’ve given you their
home address doesn’t mean they are ready to marry (i.e. buy
from you). You need take the time to show why you’re worth
their attention before your relationship blooms and you make
List nurturing is the time to let subscribers get to know you
and your brand, and for you to learn about them! Do try
different ways to engage with them, and track
everything. Then analyze, iterate, track again, and be
ready to change your ways to do what’s working for your
Why people join and stay in email lists
We all love feeling special. The reason why people join email
lists and stay in them is that they love the feeling of being
on the “inside”, members of a private club. Knowing this
psychological trigger, you can cultivate that feeling by:
- making them the first to hear new announcements;
- distributing exclusive content that’s not available on your
- offering special deals to your subscribers.
Top rule of list nurturing
Give more than you ask for.
Think of list nurturing as nurturing relationships with your
friends. It should be guided by generosity and inclusion, and
you should always be a good listener.
On practice, this means starting off your relationships with
subscribers by being the giver.
Give your subscribers generously: your time, your know-how, and
anything else on your giveaway list. Continue in this manner by
making sure the majority of your communication is for their
benefit. This approach will result in loyal readers, trustful
customers, and enthusiastic advocates.
6 strategies for nurturing your email list
1. Give a warm welcome
The moment someone signs up for your emails is the moment
they’re most interested to hear from you. Make sure you deliver
on that expectation. Set up an automated welcome message that
introduces your brand and delivers the freebie you promised (to
borrow a few ideas for stellar freebies be sure to check out
the bonus section at the end of the article).
You’ll find that the welcome email gets a much higher open rate
than your regular newsletters, so utilize that attention. Give
your subscribers something extra, introduce yourself and your
brand in a catchy, authentic way, and ask a question (but be
prepared to reply to each and every one).
Also, realize that many will have signed up just for the
freebie, or on a whim because they particularly liked something
you said. Give those folks a reason to stick around right away,
not waiting for the usual flow of content to persuade them.
The way to do that is to set up an automated email series
(funnel) for a couple of weeks, where you provide additional
perks, showcase your best content from the blog, offer support
and advice and wow them by adding more and more value.
Returning to the top rule of nurturing — it’s best not to do
any sales pushes during this period. Give more than you ask
When I subscribed to Buffer Blog newsletter, I was greeted with
one of the most thought-through emails I’ve seen:
2. Segment your list
One of the most common overlooks marketers new to list
nurturing make is lumping all subscribers together in one
campaign. Instead of sending the same email to every reader who
fills out a signup form, you can segment your subscribers based
on lead intelligence and tailor messages to each group to
maximize your value to them (& their engagement).
Lead intelligence is simply data about your subscribers, which
you can find in the analytics (or reports) tab of your email
service provider (ESP). Look at data like what kind of emails
this subscriber opened in the past. What links did they click?
What webinars of yours did they attend? Which content upgrades
did they download? If they filled out a few forms for content
on a specific topic, nurture them with more of that type of
But how can you segment your list if the only information you
collect is email address?
There are still multiple ways you can subdivide your audience
and hit them with more targeted emails.
If you’re in ecommerce, you can segment based on past
purchases. If you’re a coach, you can segment based on webinar
engagement level (people who sticked around vs. people who left
halfway). I’ve included more ideas for segmentation at the end
of this article.
Segmenting can get overwhelming, so if you’re just starting
out, perhaps it’s best to return to this strategy later.
However, knowing the basics in advance will give you a head
start on what to consider when you’re collecting email
addresses and brainstorming your content.
3. Automate but still be personal
There’s been a lot of talk about email automation lately, and
for a good reason. Smart email marketing takes a TON of work.
Automation takes your communication to the next level: it’s
more targeted (i.e. personal), efficient, and frankly, better
quality, because it eliminates human error. Automation does not
mean “robotic” or “general”, though. You can automate and still
“Automating” email simply means mapping out messages that will
hit your subscribers’ inboxes automatically.
You still control 100% of the “mapping out” process, and you
can be strategic by segmenting the list properly and serving
the most relevant information to segments automatically. You
also still control 100% of the content, so you can flavour your
message by using your authentic voice when writing the
automated email series.
Obviously, the email below was automated (after I haven’t used
Duolingo in X number of days), but because this little green
owl evoked emotion, it felt personal:
Here are a few more ways to be personal in automated emails:
- Sender personalization
- Geographic relevance
- Writing in a conversational way
4. Choose the right frequency
“How often should I email my list?” is always one of the first
questions among email marketers. It’s important to find a
“golden mean” that’s unique to your brand.
An optimal solution for most marketers is emailing subscribers
once a week. Emailing every day gets annoying, while if you
choose to email any less than once a week, you risk being
forgotten and not recognized the next time you connect with
subscribers. However, if the nature of your blog requires that
you email more often (and you set that expectation when they
sign up) or you’re doing a series of emails (that are truly
good and fascinating), then sending emails more frequently will
work for you.
If you’re still not sure, test it! Start with what you think is
most suitable and then decrease or increase frequency depending
on the open rate, click rate, and unsubscribe rate. When you
finally find your “golden mean”, stick with it and be
5. Don’t forget they’ve received your other emails
Make sure that each of your emails doesn’t look like it’s the
first message that subscriber received from you.
For example, if the first email had a link to a freebie
download and a short intro to your brand, the second email
should take the conversation forward, and talk about something
that relates to your first message, but doesn’t repeat it. For
example, you can begin the message with “Last time, I told you
the story about my struggle with Y, and I received an
overwhelming response. This time I want to talk about X…”
Look at how Ramit Sethi does it. In one take, he makes sure I
see the link to his article (even if I didn’t open the previous
email), and makes his email correspondence with me feel
continuous and purposeful.
Your email campaigns need to feel coordinated, which is why
it’s good to have an editorial calendar. Make sure you
diversify the types of emails you send, not just the content in
For example, if this week you shared a personal story with
readers, the next week you can send a list-based mini blog
post, the following week can be a how-to tutorial, a case
study, or an infographic, and so on. Alternate, but also
mention your previous emails, so that your communication with
subscribers feels like a deep and continuous relationship vs. a
series of one-off messages.
6. Make use of your evergreen blog content
Chances are you already have a few phenomenal posts on your
blog: content that never gets old and (statistically) gets most
traffic. Or maybe, you have an old but amazing blog post that
nobody seems to notice anymore.
Make sure you reuse that content by sending it to your new
subscribers. They probably signed up for the current freebie,
or one of the recent blog posts, so make sure they get a chance
to read some of your best work.
Here’s the second email I received from Noah Kagan after I
signed up for his list:
List nurturing secret: Unsubscribes aren’t always bad
Unsubscribes are a natural part of email marketing, and you
shouldn’t obsess over them. You don’t want to waste efforts on
folks who are not interested in your work, so you should thank
them for allowing you to concentrate your efforts on readers that
do care about your content.
Average unsubscribe rates depend on the industry, but all tend
to be within 0.2% — 0.5% range. If you are within that range,
don’t sweat it.
I would recommend making the unsubscribe link prominent in all
your campaigns, as hiding or obscuring it will only lead to
irritation and spam complaints. If you make the unsubscribe
process painless, people will be thankful for the easy way out
and will leave with a positive impression about your brand.
Taking it one step further, it’s advisable to “clean” your list
every 6-8 months by deleting subscribers who haven’t opened any
of your emails in that time period. “Losing” subscribers in
bulk can be scary, but it’s the right thing to do, like
extracting your wisdom teeth. If they are not active, they
Cleaning your list will reduce your costs, increase engagement
level, and send a positive signal to ISPs (improving your
chances not to end up in the spam folders). I recorded a
step-by-step video tutorial on how to delete
inactive subscribers, and you can watch it in the bonus section
at the end of this article.
A short note on importance of testing
For all of the points above, I want to re-iterate: you need to
TEST IT. Email is a great channel for a whole bunch of reasons,
one of which is that it’s highly trackable. Track everything,
test different approaches, do what works for you and your
audience, and results will follow.
To summarize, here are the insights you should be aware of
to build a highly engaged and nurtured email list:
- Make subscribers feel special by giving them exclusive
access to some of your content
- Give more than you ask for.
- Greet new subscribers with a strategic welcome email.
- Segment your list to deliver relevant information that
- Be personal in your automated email funnels.
- Find out how often you should email your list by testing
- Coordinate your email campaigns so that they feel like a
- Promote your evergreen content to your subscribers.
To help you nurture your email list further, I created a
free bonus that includes 15 lead magnet ideas,
7 smart ways you can segment your list, and a video tutorial
for how to clean your email list.
Click below to download all the goodness.
About the author: Kasey Luck runs Bold &
Zesty, a free newsletter about email marketing &
productivity. Previously she did marketing at the most active
venture fund in the world, 500 Startups, where she grew email
list by 25,000 subscribers in 1 year. Download the the free bonus here.