How to set up an email list (the basics)

Today I'm going to cover the basics of setting up an email list, it's essential reading for anyone who has a website but isn't yet collecting the email addresses of their visitors.

I'm even going to give you a free bonus checklist that lists all of the steps you need to go through to set up a brand new email list and get your email autoresponder working for your website.

Grab the Bonus Checklist

An “email list” is a list of email addresses that you collect from your customers as they visit your website

Once you build a list of visitors you are able to continue the conversation with them directly from within their email inbox, and you're also able to send them offers and sell them stuff.

Here's the process:autoresponder basics

  1. A new visitor comes to your website
  2. They enter their email address, usually in return for something that you’ve promised to send them.
  3. They receive what you’ve promised, together with other emails from you – these emails may include news about your website, updates, information or education, or sales messages.

It makes sense, therefore, that there are three main components to an email system:

autoresponder basics-1-1

  1. Your website – the place where everything happens
  2. The sign-up process – the process of collecting an email address from a visitor
  3. The email autoresponder – software that manages the list of email addresses that have been collected, and allows you to send emails to your list.

I’m going to assume that you already have a website that you are able to customise or add code to, because you’re going to need to add your email list sign-up forms to it.

To set the thing up, we need to work backwards. Until you choose which email autoresponder you are going to use, you aren't able to customise your sign-up process or add the forms to your site.

Step 1: Your Autoresponder

The first thing you need to decide is which email autoresponder program you’re going to use.

This is going to depend on two things:

  1. How you want (or need) to interact with your list
  2. How much money you are prepared to spend

Here’s a crash course in the standard ways you can interact with the people on your list:

types of email list interactionType 1: Broadcasts (one email sent to everyone)

types of email list interaction broadcastsThis is one email that gets sent to everyone on your list at the same time. It can be scheduled to go out at some time in the future, but it’s essentially like standing there with a loudhailer and giving everyone the same message at the same time.

As an example, my main list at the moment is for people going through separation and divorce. I release a new video each Tuesday and I let everyone on my email list know about it using a broadcast email.

Type 2: Automated sequences (an ordered, timed sequence of emails)

types of email list interaction sequences-1These are a series of pre-written emails that are timed to be sent to the people on your list at nominated intervals, based on the date that their email address was added to that particular list.

You can have multiple automated sequences operating at any one time, and you can set them up to move people from one sequence to another automatically when they finish receiving the emails in that sequence.

When someone signs up to my list by entering their email address on my website, I send them a series of emails that’s designed to help them solve their problem step-by-step. It starts the day after they sign up and sends them a total of 10 emails

Type 3: Segmented messages

types of email list interaction segmentingThis is a more sophisticated method, where you send emails based on the particular interests or attributes of the people on your list.

Over time, you collect additional information about what each person on your list is interested in, then you can tailor the groups that you send message to and send messages that are relevant. You can also exclude some people (like people who have already purchased a particular product) from your emails.

This type of system keeps one main list, and keeps track of the details of each individual person, including which sequences they have already received.

It can keep track of which people buy which product, what their interests are, whether they want to be involved in upcoming launches and events.

You can use this information to specifically tailor the emails you send – and only send that information to people who are interested in it.

When people join my list on my divorce website, I ask them questions to help me work out which particular stage they are at so that I can send them information they will find useful. Based on their answers, they automatically get information that has been tailored to them. That way, I don’t send information about online dating to someone who is wondering whether they should separate from their partner, and I don’t send information about finding a good lawyer to someone who is already divorced and doesn’t need one.

What are my options and how much does it cost?

The cost depends on the sophistication and features of the software and the option that you choose. There are heaps of different autoresponder solutions out there, but I’m going to talk about the companies that I have personal experience with using.

  1. Broadcast emails only

mailchimp freeMailChimp allows you to collect emails and send broadcasts and it’s totally free – but you can’t send a sequence of emails to new subscribers unless you upgrade to a paid plan.

2. Broadcasts AND Automated Sequences

MailChimp also have different paid options available, but for $10 per month you can send your sequence as well as broadcast emails

mailchimp and aweber

Another company that sends broadcasts AND automated sequences that I used between 2010 and 2016 is Aweber – I used to pay for an annual plan – but you can sign up for your first month free, then its $19 a month for lists of less than 500 people. They are great for sending automated sequences and are an industry leader in deliverability (which means that emails they send out on your behalf get through the spam filters pretty well and actually reach the recipients)…

…but as you may have realised- I’m not with them any more.

I wanted a better experience for my readers, clients and customers.

3. Broadcasts, Automated Sequences AND Segmenting


Earlier this year I switched to ConvertKit -which does the lot including some pretty fancy automations and great sign-up forms.

I have found ConvertKit to be totally amazing to use, and well worth the small extra cost every month (it currently costs $29/month for lists under 1,000 people). Coincidentally, that's the same price you'll pay at Aweber once your new list reaches 500 subscribers – but you get a heap of extra functionality.

If you want to know what a ConvertKit experience feels like from a user’s perspective, make sure you grab the bonus checklist below – and if you’re considering signing up with ConvertKit – make sure you check out the amazing bonuses I give to everyone who chooses to sign up with them using my affiliate link – my bonuses will help you transfer your list and get your segmenting and automations set up faster than anything else out there.

The Sign-Up Process

Now we’re going to talk about the sign up process, which was stage 2 in our email list process.

autoresponder basics-1-1

After you have decided which autoresponder you are going to use, you need to work out which sign up process you are going to use on your website.

Just like with the autoresponders, there are a range of different options out there.

  1. Each autoresponder company (Mailchimp, Aweber, ConvertKit) offers their own suite of customisable sign-up forms that you can install on your website (free, with the account you have arranged)
  2. A company called SumoMe offer a range of free and paid products (the free ones are amazing) that include bars that go across the top of your site, a welcome mat and popups.
  3. Another company called Leadpages offer some very pretty sign up forms and squeeze pages – their plans currently start at $25/month (paid annually) – but I’m not currently using them and I find that SumoMe‘s free tools do the job well enough for me.

What combination of tools should you choose?

The good news is that all of the sign-up tools that I’ve mentioned integrate seamlessly with each of the autoresponders I’ve shown you, so it doesn’t matter which combination you choose for your website.

If I was starting from scratch today and I couldn’t afford to spend ANYTHING, this is what I would do:


I would use the free tools from SumoMe to collect email addresses and I would use a free MailChimp account to store emails and send regular broadcasts to my whole list


Then, when I could afford $10 per month, I would pay to upgrade my MailChimp account so that I could set up automated sequences


Then, when I could afford to spend $29/month, I would open a ConvertKit account (make sure you sign up through my affiliate link to secure my amazing bonus offer), transfer my list of emails over and set up segmenting, tagging and automations.

And if I was running any sort of business, I would:

Open a ConvertKit account today (make sure you sign up through my affiliate link to secure my amazing bonus offer) and use SumoMe’s free tools for email collection.

[Hint: This is the combination I’m currently using on this site and for my other websites – if you can possibly afford $29 a month, whether you’re running a business or not – I totally recommend you start with this combination]

How do you start setting it up?

So by this point, you have a good idea which tools you’ll use, but how do you actually set the whole thing up, and what order should you do things in?

You won’t be surprised to find out that there’s an easy way to get this all set up and a hard way, (involving lots of hair tearing, swearing at your computer and going in circles)

I’ve done this so many times for my own websites that I’ve developed my own quick-start checklist  – it’s a list of all of the steps you need to go through to set up a brand new email list and get your autoresponder working for your website.

It works for the totally free option, and it also works for my most recommended option – which is pretty obviously ConvertKit

I know you're going to love it!

It's easy, click the button and I'll send it to you!


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