How to build an email list

How to Build an Email List — Full Email List Size Doesn’t Matter

“How do you build an email list?”

There’s a belief that’s stuck around since the start of email marketing…

The bigger your email list, the better.

For example, there’s a marketing influencer I know with a full email list of ~120,000 subscribers.

In the old days, your full list size was all that mattered. If you wanted to build a great email list, you’d just stockpile subscribers for years.

But nowadays, your total email list DOESN’T matter.

I know because I’ve seen multiple brands with email lists in the 100,000 to 1,000,000+ range that have been around for 10+ years.

And they all run into similar issues.

Today, what matters MOST is the size of your ACTIVE email list.

Looking at large email lists, the data shows Google owns the inbox.

From large lists I’ve seen, 70%+ of email subscribers have a Gmail or G Suite address.

And lots of subscribers using Google inboxes mean you play by Google’s rules.

Last year, I was able to talk to one of the members of Google’s Anti-Spam team. It was like talking to a celebrity.

This small Anti-Spam team at Google are the gatekeepers to decide if your email gets delivered to the inbox… or if goes into spam. They hold an unbelievable amount of power.

I shared the lessons I learned from the Google employee in a workshop I’ve done a few times (you can see the presentation here).

Here’s the main takeaways…

How to build an email list? Focus on engagement with those active subscribers!
Lessons from the Gmail team member.

Every bullet point I listed comes down to one thing…

Make sure the people you’re emailing still want to receive your emails.

When you email your full email list, there are subscribers who mistakenly signed up. Or, got added to your list in a way they don’t remember. Or, just lost interest in your content.

Here’s a clear, data-backed example.

A couple months ago, a marketing influencer emailed his full list of 120,606 email subscribers.

He broke down the email into two segments:

  • Subscribers who had joined the list, or opened an email, or clicked an email in the past 6 months.
  • Subscribers who were inactive — aka they had not engaged at all in at least 6 months.

The 6-month active send had an open rate of 41%, a click rate of 3%, a bounce rate of 0.24%, and an unsubscribe rate of 0.38%.

The inactive send had an open rate of 10%, a click rate of 0.29%, a bounce rate of 0.95%, and an unsubscribe rate of 0.13%.

The click rate is what sticks out the most.

The point of an email is for subscribers to take action, and the inactive subscribers didn’t take any action.

I’ve seen this data repeated, too. Check out the screenshot below for a million-dollar ecommerce company I help with their email marketing.

Notice the low open rate (and also notice how 70% of subscribers are Gmail).

A recent ecommerce customer shows how to really build an email list.
A low open rate for an inactive email send.

So how do you build an email list? Focus on your active subscribers.

Email your subscribers who have opened, clicked, or joined in the past 3-6 months.

Do re-engagement emails with your full list once every quarter — for a big sale or an amazing piece of content — to grab any loose subscribers who forgot about you, but don’t obsess over emailing your full list size regularly.

The data shows that your active subscribers are all who really matter.


  1. Omg! I am literally binge-reading your post, and dang are they so good! Wow! I’ve learned a lot in the shortest time, and I now have clarity on the business Idea I need to work on.

    Thanks for putting this out there.

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