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How These 6 Companies Grew Huge Email Lists

How These 6 Companies Grew Huge Email Lists

Growing your company means growing your list of email subscribers and potential customers. For any entrepreneur, getting started and gaining this kind of momentum in your marketing is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face in those early days. And since 95% of online consumers report using email, it’s a channel you can’t ignore.

Now, don’t panic! And don’t think you have to go out and buy email lists. We’ve rounded up some of the very best ways companies have achieved scale when building their subscriber base.

Check out these six companies and how they grew their email lists by thousands — and how you can too.

1. Harry’s Referral Campaign

Harry’s is a men’s grooming brand. Prior to their website launch, the team wanted to make a splash and optimize their efforts with a meaty list of subscribers.

In just one week, Harry’s successfully reached 100k subscribers.

Did we get your attention?

Harry’s team got word of mouth going a few months prior to launch and documented every person who expressed some sort of interest in the new brand. Now with a few hundred prospects in their list, they launched a referral campaign.

Here’s how it worked: Prospects referred friends with a unique, trackable URL via a two-page microsite. For every person who signed up for the newsletter through your personal tracking URL, you upped your chances of a nice, shiny prize. The more referrals, the better the prize.


Marketing Takeaway: Harry’s made these early subscribers feel special and made sharing fun and easy. Gamification played a critical role here too as Harry’s utilized their splash page to keep the users engaged and updated on how many people they have signed up and how close they are to getting that next-level prize. Everyone loves a little friendly competition, even if it’s with yourself.

2. LivingSocial’s Email Gate

Deal sites like LivingSocial have capitalized on our need for access to discounts.

By requiring an email address to even search or remain on their homepage, LivingSocial has captured more than 30 million email addresses. That’s 30 million people who now receive at least one, if not more, daily deal emails from LivingSocial.

The gated site experience is popular in the eCommerce world, too., Rue La La, and One Kings Lane all follow a similar strategy.

Surely, some people will be turned away by having to provide an email address to even experience a little bit of your site. But for the ones who are not turned away, they’re already emotionally invested in you because they made that commitment of signing up for your email list to just browse your site. It makes them that much more likely to convert.

Now, and crew are some pretty big time sites, but even emerging companies can do this. Some website themes come with built-in options for gated experiences. For our Shopify customers, you can use an app like Lockdown to create members-only areas of your website.


Marketing Takeaway: If you have something to offer and it is genuinely easier for the customer to receive said offer via email instead of having to come to your site, leverage this tactic. An email is a simple requirement for the chance to get 70% of something a customer wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise.

3. Groove’s Honest Content Strategy

Helpdesk software startup, Groove, had an email and content strategy that sucked according to CEO Alex Turnbull.

But in just five weeks, Groove grew their measly email list of 200 to a whopping 5,000 readers.

While we all want to hear the success stories and gain the tried and true, “5 Ways to Make Your Business Work” articles, sometimes, it’s even more valuable to gain insight into the chaotic reality that is growing a startup. Groove stopped pretending to know it all, and for this reason, people started to listen.

Why does this work? Well, the honesty breeds credibility. And plus, remember that there is a voyeuristic element at play here on the internet: We want to know what others are up to. (Instagram… hello!) Opening the kimono and sharing your story plays to this psychological trait.


Marketing Takeaway: Groove transformed their entire content strategy from trying to be the experts (ahem, just like everyone else) with articles on general customer support and startup advice to actually sharing their reality. The internet is already saturated with “7 Tips for Your Startup” articles and even the good ones come from software giants whose stats simply dwarf any real data Groove could provide in their early days anyway. They didn’t stand out. By speaking honestly from the trenches and opening the door to one of the company’s goals to reach $100k in revenue, Groove found its people and the numbers showed it.

4. CoSchedule’s Personalized Drip Campaign

CoSchedule, a social media editorial calendar app for WordPress, offers tons of advice every day on their site. So, why would anyone really need to join their mailing list if they’re going to find what they need right on the front page anyway?

The team got creative by putting some personalization into the hands of readers themselves. The “6 Free Quick Tips” email course allows readers to choose their own track and customize their email course by choosing their field of interest, their identity. With the new content offer, CoSchedule grew their list by more than 2,000 subscribers.


Marketing Takeaway: Instead of speculating on what their readers want, CoSchedule just asked people. By being up front and honest, and more importantly, by delivering something that had a finite expiration date (these email courses lasted six months), CoSchedule found something that worked.

5. AppSumo’s Giveaways

Noah Kagan of AppSumo found that the most cost effective way to gain both subscribers and revenue is through giveaways. When AppSumo launched in 2012, Kagan’s team grew their list to almost 150,000 subscribers in just 10 months.

AppSumo leveraged small groups for testing, made it easy to share the giveaway with others, and useda timer to create a sense of urgency to enter. Best of all, they found that more closely aligned offerings to their business (like five  days of one-on-one time with Kagan to get business advice) drove more profit than big flashy items like the MacBook Air.


Marketing Takeaway: Running giveaways can seem like a costly marketing tactic when you’re just starting out. But, as Kagan points out, you’re not giving something to everyone and if you make it fun enough and easy for your entrants to share, the giveaway could go viral and make your money back (plus some) in no time.

6. Social Media Examiner’s Pop-Over

When you arrive to a content site, you’re probably there to read the article. But, once you’re done, you’re likely to bounce even if you loved it. Social Media Examiner capitalizes on those first few moments of their readers’ experience with a pop-pver.

In just two years, the site’s email list grew 375 percent to over 190,000 readers, 70 percent of whom CEO Michael Stelzner says came through the pop-over. Now, the business boasts a list of more than 250,000.


Marketing Takeaway: Use best practices and only deliver these pop-ups once during a visitor’s time on site and be sure to delay the timing so it’s not the very first thing that happens once they arrive. Like Social Media Examiner, always offer the option to “x” out in lieu of making it near impossible to continue reading so you don’t turn away someone earlier than you need to.

Applying These Approaches To Your Business

Building great email lists take time and when it all comes down to it, you need to test and see what makes your customers or prospects tick. The above tactics, however, have proven to drive not just a few but thousands of subscribers so if you’re stuck, take a stab at one of these and see where it takes you.