Resources Hub » Blog » How to Successfully Grow Engaged Email Lists

This post was has been updated as of July 2019, originally published in August 2017

Back in the day, marketers were all trying to grow large lists: After all, the bigger the mailing list, the more people who would see and engage with your messaging. Or so the thinking went. These days, email marketing is more than just how big your list is.

Savvy marketers know that a smaller but more engaged list is far more important than a whole bunch of addresses, especially if the people attached to those addresses never open their emails.

The people on your list who are interested and engaged in your emails and business are far more likely to become loyal and engaged customers. But email list attrition is real, so list growth is still critical to email marketing success.

In this post, we’ll take a look at how to balance email list growth and engagement and why it’s so important to your email marketing success.

What is email list building?

No matter what industry you’re in, your email list is one of the most important elements of any successful marketing strategy, especially if you want to communicate and engage with customers regularly. To do this, you need to start building your email list.

Email list building is the strategy that builds your distribution list with subscribers who actually want to hear from you. This can be done from using website opt-in forms, creating an online community, writing blogs, offering promotions, and more.

Inbox delivery

1 in 5 emails doesn’t reach the inbox

, according to a recent Return Path study. Most major email inbox providers pay attention to how people interact with their emails and use it to determine placement. The more your subscribers read your emails, click links, move emails to folders to save for later, or reply, the more likely your email will be delivered to the inbox in the future. All of these behaviors are considered positive email engagements that ISPs and inbox providers are looking for, and what you need to keep your subscribers excited about your emails and business.

58% of marketers said that increasing customer engagement is their number one priority.

Customer engagement is not only important for getting your emails delivered to inboxes but also vital for building long-lasting relationships. Your customers are more likely to remain loyal and engaged with your company if they have trust in your brand. As you gain an understanding of your customers and what they’re interested in, you can create a plan that includes the types of content are most relevant to their needs.

Understanding engagement

You know getting your email to the inbox improves engagement, and the more engaged your list is, the better. So, it’s helpful to understand how it works.

Email inbox providers determine engagement by the positive, and occasionally negative, actions that readers take with their emails. They look at things like read rate, replies, and forwards to see that readers are interacting and sharing your content, showing that the content is valuable. Even emails that are marked “this is not spam” are a plus, since the reader took the time to find the email in the spam folder.

Things like complaints and deleting before reading are considered negative engagement.  Complaints are when an email is marked as spam, showing that the email and content are unwanted. 
These positive and negative engagements with email messages play an important part in getting your emails in front of your readers.

Engagement metrics

The metrics you can track for engagement are KPIs that you may already keep an eye on—opens, clicks, bounces, and unsubscribes.

Create your benchmark by taking an average of each of these numbers from campaigns over a period of time. This way you’ll know what your average open rate is, and can see how each campaign compares to that standard.

You can then know how interested and engaged your readers are. Be sure you’re comparing the same email types though, so only average newsletters with newsletters or promotional with promotional.

Using Insights from Campaign Monitor, you can easily dig into the metrics from your email campaigns and find exactly the information you need to understand engagement. In addition to the usual email stats, you’ll find the 5 top campaigns, Journeys, and even delivery rates.

screenshot of the campaign monitor insights dashboard

One other metric to keep in mind is the click to open rate or CTOR. The CTOR measures the effectiveness of the content of your email and is a great indicator of email engagement. It’s calculated by the number of unique clicks divided by the number of unique opens. We have a helpful post that explains CTOR in detail.

Email strategy

Creating an email strategy is key to keeping your readers engaged, and accomplishing your marketing goals. Starting with a welcome email is a good beginning, but you’ll need to follow up with more content relevant to each subscriber to keep them engaged over time. Here are some ideas to help keep your readers engaged.


There are a variety of different segments you can create to provide more relevant content to your email subscribers. Using segmentation, you can target the right people in your lists with the right information. You can use things like geographic location, demographics, email activity, purchase activity, or even a buyer persona to set up your segments.

Welcome email/automation

When it comes to automation, it’s good to use it as a complement to existing email efforts. It doesn’t replace a weekly or monthly newsletter, or emails that promote particular products or campaigns.

Setting up a welcome email is a great way to get started with automation. It allows you to send an email to new subscribers right away, allowing them to interact with your business quickly.

Once people have been welcomed, set up a series of automated emails that will take them down a path, whether it’s to make a purchase, sign up for something, or get onboard with a new software system.


Subscribers are more likely to open and engage with messaging that feels personal.

In fact, emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened. Many marketers already use the reader’s name in the subject line and body of the email.

Some marketers have upped their game and are using dynamic content to personalize emails even more, as Adidas has done in this example.

Instead of sending the same email to every subscriber, you can use buying behavior, gender, geography, and other factors to create personalized messages.

adidas email example showing the same message but with personalized content based on gender

Create compelling content

Content is key to keeping your readers coming back for more. Blogs and guides make for great email content and are easy for your readers to consume and fairly low calorie for you to produce. For more content ideas, check out 50 content ideas for your next email newsletter.

List growth

As we’ve seen, engagement is really important for email marketing, so creating an engaged list is essential. And similarly, growing your list is crucial due to ongoing attrition. You can’t go about casually building a list though there needs to be some strategy behind it.

One of the most important pieces to growing a list is data. What you plan to do with the data down the line, (i.e., personalization or dynamic content), will determine what information you need to collect in your forms.

Knowing what data you need for your emails will help determine what information you collect for your lists, and how you build the lists as well.

Growth metrics

The Insights tool can also help understand your list growth. You’ll easily find your total subscribers as well the number of new ones added. And very importantly, you can see where your most engaged subscribers are coming from. To learn more check out the Email Insights and Reporting guide.

screenshot of campaign monitor insights dash showing top new subscriber sources

Subscribe opportunities

Growing an email list is as simple as providing multiple opportunities for people to opt in. Here are a few popular ways to collect signups for your email list:

Sign-up form
Create up a sign-up form and ask for information that you can use now and later. Things like birth date or age, company info, or geographic area can come in handy down the line when you set up segments. And a sign-up form can be added to various spots on your site besides the homepage. Think about using it on the Contact Us page or on your blog to help get more sign ups. To get started using a subscribe form, follow these instructions.

The point of purchase is a perfect time to ask customers to sign up for your emails. After all, these are people who have a clear interest in what you offer. Using an integration tool like Zapier can ensure all captured email addresses are automatically added to your lists.

Your social channels
If you have built a following on social media, then it’s an excellent opportunity to get them to sign up for your email list. You can quickly add a subscribe form to your Facebook page using our Facebook Subscribe Application.

You can also build your email list using email addresses you already have by integrating your existing CRM, accounting package, or e-commerce platform with your Campaign Monitor account. Using one of our integrations can be an excellent way to automatically add new customer details to your email lists.

Always keep in mind what the end goal is with your lists. You want people who sign up to be interested in your business and updates about it. Good data is the cornerstone to creating an engaged email reader. Remember this as you build your email lists, and you’ll find success.

Tricks to increase engagement for better email list growth

Now that you understand how email list growth and engagement work in tandem to create successful emails, you need to increase the activity within your email content.

When you send your email, there’s a high chance your subscriber will at least see it sitting in the inbox. What makes them click it?

Do they take action in the email? How likely are they to open the next email? These are all valuable questions to ask yourself, not only to understand subscriber engagement, but also to better interpret their entire customer experience.

If you notice low open-rates and click-through rates—don’t panic just yet. Here are a few ways to boost your subscriber engagement and improve your subscriber’s journey:

Catchy subject lines

The email subject line is the first impression your brand has—and honestly, it makes or breaks the success of an entire email campaign. In fact, 33% of subscribers open their email based on the subject line alone. So, if you’re looking to increase engagement, start by writing a subject line that walks the line between intrigue and information.

Use great subject lines to get an engaged list, like the one here from Lole.

Takeaway: Your subject line should be short, but also create urgency and curiosity. It’s important to A/B test this text with a smaller segment of your email list to see what will spark the most engagement and lead generation.

Target lists with personalized content

Subscribers don’t want to feel like they’re just a number on your list, instead, they want highly personalized emails with relevant content that appeals to them specifically. To do this, utilize list segmentation to separate subscribers based on gender, location, employment, purchase history, and more. With personalization, you build brand loyalty and customer retention with your subscribers.

This email from Strava shows how to personalize emails for your growing, engaged list.

Source: Really Good Emails

Takeaway: Deliver content to your subscribers that is relevant to keep them engaged with your emails because you’re providing value to their inbox.

Discover the ideal frequency and timing

Once you start sending out emails, it’s important to monitor your email metrics to determine when and how often you should send emails. Within the Campaign Monitor dashboard, you can track opens and the geographical data behind them.

If notice you have higher opens in the afternoon vs in the morning, you can probably assume afternoon emails will perform better. Likewise, you’ll need to experiment with how many emails you send a month, which will depend on your audience’s preferences.

This is a screenshot from the Campaign Monitor dashboard, where it is easy to gauge metrics and grow engaged email lists.

Takeaway: Monitor your analytics and constantly test your email campaign’s timing and frequency to ensure a high engagement based on their own preferences.

Wrap up

As marketers, we know building an email list is one of the most important parts of a successful email marketing strategy.

But it’s important to be mindful about how that list is built and how our readers interact with the emails. Sending content pertinent to reader interests is easier if you’ve collected the right data in the first place.

This way, you can keep readers interested in what you send: After all, clicking links and sharing content are both important steps to email success.

Starting with a few essential pieces and building over time, you can create valuable email lists of very engaged readers. To continue to grow your email list, create an automated customer journey for your subscribers to ensure you deliver engaging content again and again.

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This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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