Transcript: Untapped Strategies to Grow Your Email List and Your Business, with Neil Patel

June 22, 2020

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NEIL PATEL: “The biggest mistake that I'm seeing right now is everyone focuses on the number. How big is your list? How many people are subscribed? Everyone’s like, oh, I’ve got a 100,000 people; I’ve got a 1,000; I’ve got 500; I’ve got a million. If your list isn’t engaging, it doesn't matter. Most people believe if you send out an email to 100 people and if twenty open it, you're good. That's a good open rate. But if the other eighty don't keep opening it, and no one's marking your email as spam and no one's unsubscribing, what most people don't know is all your emails will slowly start going into the spam box or other inbox because you're sending emails to people who are never opening it, and it sends bad signals to Gmail, Outlook, and a lot of the providers, and it actually taints your score. So that's one important thing. And so don't focus on the list; focus on quality. And what I mean by that is you need to scrub your list.”

INTRO: I’m Amy Porterfield, ex-corporate girl turned CEO of a multi-million-dollar business. But it wasn't all that long ago that I lacked the confidence, money, and time to focus on growing my small-but-mighty business. Fast forward past many failed attempts and lessons learned, and you'll see the business I have today, one that changes lives and gives me more freedom than I ever thought possible, one that used to only exist as a daydream. I created the Online Marketing Made Easy podcast to give you simple, actionable, step-by-step strategies to help you do the same. If you're an ambitious entrepreneur, or one in the making, who's looking to create a business that makes an impact and helps you create a life you love, you're in the right place. Let's get started.

AMY PORTERFIELD: I've got a question for you. As an entrepreneur, do you ever feel like you're just supposed to know everything about being a business owner, all the time? I personally have experienced that feeling before, especially in the early years of my business. That's when I started to turn to other successful entrepreneurs who had real experience and could teach me what I might not be doing quite right and what I could improve on. In fact, I still do this today. Leaning on other entrepreneurs is one of the smartest things you can do as a business owner, because we all make mistakes, especially when we're trying new things within our business. I have a feeling we all can relate to this as we're navigating our new normal of COVID-19. So where am I going with all of this? Well, one mistake that I've made in the past had to do with email marketing. Specifically, I was guilty of loving and leaving them. Basically, I would love them up for a week or two, and then I wouldn't talk to my email subscribers for months. And then I made the fatal mistake of promoting to them, where I had no relationship with them because I wasn't nurturing. And when I promoted, it was crickets. So I know what it feels like to get the email-marketing thing wrong. And that's why I've always looked to other experts to learn what I need to learn and to fix the mistakes I've made.

So today my guest is going to share three mistakes that online marketers and entrepreneurs often make when it comes to attracting new email-list subscribers. Now, this is someone that I've looked to for email-marketing guidance for a long time. His name is Neil Patel, and this isn't the first time that he's been hanging out with me on the Online Marketing Made Easy podcast. Neil is a top online marketer and entrepreneur, best-selling author, and creator and co-founder of NP Digital, Subscribers, and Ubersuggest.

Now, I have to tell you, I got to talk to him for about thirty minutes before we hit Record, and we were just talking about life and changes and everything with the pandemic and how his business is doing and how my business is doing, and we just got to have a really great conversation. And what I learned about Neil is he has a huge heart, and he's not driven by money. He's driven by impact and helping others, and he really cares about this stuff. And I know that should be a given for all entrepreneurs, but we also know that is not true. And so I just wanted to give you a little glimpse behind the scenes. Neil's the real deal, with a really big heart. So I'm excited that he's on the show again.

Now, not only is Neil going to reveal these three common mistakes, but he's also going to talk about the importance of your email capture system, and don't worry, he's going to explain what that is. And he's also going to share some specific strategies for giving your email capture system a makeover. Essentially, what are some things you can do to grow your email list more easily? So I won't make you wait any longer. Let's get to it.

Hey there, Neil. Thanks so much for coming back on the show.

NEIL: Thanks for having me.

AMY: I'm so excited that you're here because last time that you were here, you were a huge hit. We talked about SEO. This time we are talking about list building, which is a hot, hot topic with my audience. But before we get into all of that, tell me how you’ve been. What have you been up to? What's been going on?

NEIL: I’ve been good. We've been just relaxing because the coronavirus, there's not much you can end up doing. And I've been working a lot on Ubersuggest, which is my SEO app. That's been fun. Today, funny enough, as we're recording this, I released a free Chrome extension, and that’s been fun. But, yeah, not much. Same old stuff.

AMY: You've been up to a lot. I recently did a podcast episode where I suggested some SEO strategies, and I told everybody to go check out Ubersuggest. It's a great tool.

NEIL: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

AMY: Yeah. Really cool. I'll make sure that people know all about it.

Okay, so, we are going to talk about these three common mistakes online marketers and entrepreneurs make when it comes to growing their email list. And you know a lot about what works and what doesn't work when it comes to email marketing. And a lot of my listeners, I'll tell you where they're at right now. Either, one, they do not have an email list, and they know they need to get one going, but there's all of these kind of mental blocks to do so. Or number two, they have an email list, but they've got, like, 100 people on their list, and they're just really struggling to get it up and running. Or three, they have an email list, but they're not really engaging with that email list—it's kind of dead in the water, and so they know they need to do something about that. So those who really are struggling with their email list usually are in one of those three camps. So with that, will you just go ahead, jump into it, and share with us these three mistakes that you see happen often with people growing their email list?

NEIL: The biggest mistake that I'm seeing right now is everyone focuses on the number. How big is your list? How many people are subscribed? Everyone’s like, oh, I’ve got a 100,000 people; I’ve got a 1,000; I’ve got 500; I’ve got a million. If your list isn’t engaging, it doesn't matter.

And the unique thing about me is we work with a lot of the platforms because we have an ad agency. So I get to see how engineers build these platforms. And I speak at conferences, like, where Message Systems—have you heard of Message Systems?

AMY: No.

NEIL: They’re now called  SparkPost, I think is what it's called.

AMY: No.

NEIL: They send out the majority of the emails for marketing. So from, like, Visa, Uber, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. They pretty much have all the big brands. So I learn a lot on how these platforms work, from an engineering and a code standpoint. And the biggest thing that I've learned is if you don't scrub your list, your engagement is going to go down.

And here's what I mean by this. Most people believe if you send out an email to 100 people and if twenty open it, you're good. That's a good open rate. But if the other eighty don't keep opening it, and no one's marking your email as spam and no one's unsubscribing, what most people don't know is all your emails will slowly start going into the spam box or other inbox because you're sending emails to people who are never opening it, and it sends bad signals to Gmail, Outlook, and a lot of the providers, and it actually taints your score. So that's one important thing. And so don't focus on the list; focus on quality.

And what I mean by that is you need to scrub your list. So if you scrub your list, if someone doesn't open up an email from you within two months—that's assuming you send at least one email a week—so if you sent eight emails and someone doesn't open up any, you should remove them from your list. A lot of people like doing re-engagement campaigns. I just say scrub them, move on, they're not interested, don't worry about it, go on to the next person. So that's the first thing you really have to be aware of, because if you're starting off great, no worries, you have a fresh ground to struggle. If you haven't sent out emails in a long time and your list is engaging and you're going to send out an email, but you know most people won’t open it up, you need to quickly remove those people off your list that aren't engaging because it’s just going to create problems for you in the future.

AMY: Okay, that makes sense, definitely.

NEIL: Okay. And then the second thing is it's about how can you grow your list, because most people realistically, they don't have millions of visitors or even thousands of visitors a month coming to their site. And they’re like, “I need to build a list. I don't have tons of money to spend on ads. What do I do?”

So here's one thing that we found that works super well, all right? I want you to go, and I want you to go and respond to comments on blogs and Facebook groups and threads in social sites. And when you respond, respond by helping. So if you teach how to create an online course, and let's say there's Kajabi, and Kajabi has all these comments on their blog posts and people engaging, I would start talking about how people can do things better, because in the blog post, people have questions, and most of the people who run these blogs don't answer the questions. So if you go in there and you answer them and then you point them to resources on your website, where they can get more information, and if those resources are e-books or landing pages but they put in their information, or even if it's a blog post and you have an exit pop-up, where you collect their name and email, you'll find that your list is going from the right audience, because it's not about the number; it's about having the right people on your list who are going to convert, who are truly interested in whatever you have to offer. So that’s the second thing.

AMY: Okay. I love it.

NEIL: And then the third thing—and this is a really simple one, if you want to do really well in email marketing, and I learned this one from Ramit Sethi. And this was a big mistake of mine—learn to sell every once in a while—and you know how to sell better than I do—because I used to have such a huge email list and I never sold to people, and then when you start selling to them and they know you don't offer anything paid, it's really hard to convert them into paid because they expect everything for free.

AMY: Oh, yeah. Really great point. So you're saying that, of course you want to give away a lot of great stuff for free, but you've got to put out some offers in there or you're going to just train your audience to think it's always free all the time?

NEIL: Exactly. And I think if you do those three things, your list will stay clean, you're going to grow your list because you're responding to people on social sites and other blogs that are interested in your topics, and you're helping them out, and then you're sending them to your website, and then, the last one is you need to start selling. And people, when they have lists of, like, 100 or 200 or 1,000, they're like, oh, my list is small; I shouldn't start selling. Why can't you sell when you're small? because even if you get one or two sales, it adds up, and then you can use that money for ads and other things to grow your list even more.

AMY: So true. I'm so glad you brought this one up. I think a lot of my listeners are very hesitant to put out their offers online. They don't want to be sales-y or sleazy or too pushy or aggressive. But at the same time, I always remind them that if they do give it away for free for so long and never put anything out there, it's really hard for your audience to see you as the expert, the go-to source, the person that they go to if they're not getting that concrete data that you put into your digital courses or you offer in your coaching services. You need to extend it beyond just the free stuff. So I'm really glad that you brought this one up.

I do want to ask you about something I've heard you talk about a lot before, and that is this idea that one of the challenges list builders face is that the sign-up process is boring or problematic. Can you talk a little bit about that?

NEIL: Yeah. So you're seeing the center process for the list, right?

AMY: Yeah.

NEIL: So I've done a lot of tests on different ways to get people to sign up. So you have a newsletter opt in, just, like, slash news, like, join my newsletter. Then, you have the free e-book giveaway. Then, you have journeys. GrooveHQ does a good example of this. Like, “Follow our journey to $100,000 a month in revenue. We're learning a lot, and so will you.”

I tried doing something similar back in the day, from “oh, shit” to “oh, crap.” Sorry for my cursing.

AMY: Oh, I remember this one, though. It was good.

NEIL: “Follow the journey to 100,000 monthly visitors. I’m learning a lot, and so will you.” And journeys convert really well.

The other thing that I found that works better than anything is a free tool, and if you don’t have the money to create a tool, don't worry. Go to—you can find a lot of tools, like calculators and stuff—and ask people to put in their email to use it, and you'll get them to put in their email because tools just naturally get a lot of traffic, and they're easy to get popular. And Code Canyon, you can buy it for, like, ten, twenty dollars, literally.

AMY: Wow. That's a cool—I never even heard of that resource.

NEIL: So, from all the stuff that we've tested, journeys convert really well, tools convert the best, but number two would be journeys. And then it goes to e-books, and then it goes to just a general newsletter opt in.

Content upgrades used to do really well, like when someone used to read your blog post, and he’s like, hey, to get more, like to download the cheat sheet. Like, let's say if you have a blog post called Ten Ways to do Yoga, and then you put it towards the top—hey, there's a cheat sheet—and they can end up downloading the cheat sheet on the Ten Ways and putting in the email. That used to convert really well, not as much anymore.

But what does convert—and this is another tactic, and it converts extremely well—take a percentage of your content and block it off. Like, I may do a blog post on my eleven secrets to ranking number one on Google, and not releasing it unless you put in your email, so you have to put in your email first to read it. That converts really well. A site called does that a lot, and it converts extremely well.

AMY: Oh, my gosh. I love when you give all these great links. Guys, we’ll put them in the show notes at because these are some resources I've never even heard of that sound really good. So we'll make sure to get those into the hands of the people that need it most.

Now, tell me this. So let's go back really fast to this idea of a journey. I've never done anything like that before for a lead magnet. And I want, whoever’s listening, who's thinking that could be really cool, to understand kind of how to make it work. So I remember seeing this on your website, where you took people through the journey that you mentioned earlier. But what does that look like once they opt in?

NEIL: Here's the cool part. Let's give a live example. What are you most known for?

AMY: I’m most known for teaching people how to create digital courses.

NEIL: All right. And you do a great job with that. So in your blog and in your podcasts, you give tidbits of information and tactics that teach you how to create a course, right? You also have a course that teaches you how to do it from nuts and bolts, but you also put out information and content online that teaches this, correct?

AMY: Yes.

NEIL: And different tactics. So you can have a journey, saying from aha to oh, shit, and you probably don't want to use the word oh, shit. I got that quite a bit in the beginning; apologize for using that word multiple times on this podcast.

AMY: It’s all good.

NEIL: And you can talk about, “Follow my journey on creating a course and be free, like, not having a job,” or whatever it may be, or “Follow my course on creating a brand-new course in a brand-new space that I'm not known for, and I'll show you the results,” because a lot of people would want to follow that. Instead of creating a drip sequence after, you don't to do anything. You can just share your content. Like, your blog post. I teach you how to collect more emails so that way when you have a course, you can promote it. Or teach you how to get more SEO traffic. Or you can talk about one lesson on how you create a course in a random niche just to show people that anyone can do it. And have them follow you along. And that kind of content does extremely well.

I remember with my older blog Quick Sprout, I did a whole concept on how anyone can generate $100,000 a month from blogging, and I didn’t charge for this. I said, “I’m going to do a 100K challenge, that I can make a business that makes 100 grand a month, without paid ads, without putting more than five figures into it, and I can get there within twelve months.” And my audience picked me to create a business on nutrition and create a nutrition blog. I don’t know anything, really, about nutrition. So I didn't use my face. And we went and created it from scratch. And eventually we did well, and we hit the mark in fewer than twelve months, selling supplements.

AMY: Wow. Okay, that’s cool.

NEIL: It did so well. It's still one of my most popular pieces to date, and I still get, literally, like, three, four emails a week on that, even though that was done years and years ago. You’re talking about like four or five years ago.

AMY: So, if people opt in to want to follow you on your journey, then are they getting an email a week with a new piece of content, and where does that content live? Is it a blog? But then everyone could get it, so why are they opting in? You see what I mean about, like, what does it look like on the back end of the content delivery to follow your journey?

NEIL: Nothing. See, that's the problem with emails. I think most people overthink it, and they're like, “What do I have to give them?”

See, your journey is your journey, and you achieving a goal, you're learning a lot and you're sharing your lessons. Whether you're sharing it through a blog post or a YouTube video or a Facebook post or a podcast episode, it doesn't matter. Once a week or once every two weeks or multiple times a week, whenever you release an update, you can share it with them. It's your journey you're sharing as you're learning more. You may not have update in a month. Ideally, you should have one at least once a week. But you just share whatever you have in wherever you post your content.

AMY: Got it. But they're opting in to say—so they're joining your list, saying, “Yeah, I want to be on this journey.” And they might get some emails from you about it, but you're also posting about it, whether it be on social or your blog or your podcast or whatever that might be.

NEIL: Yeah. But if I post on it on Facebook, like an update, I can send people an email, saying, “Hey, I just posted about my journey. Check it out here.”

AMY: Cool. Okay, that's what I wanted to make sure that we were on the same page. Yeah. So you can remind them, “Hey, it's out there.” It could be out there for free for everyone. But they're saying, “Hey, I really want to know, so don't let me miss anything.”

NEIL: Yeah, exactly. And that’s what works because everyone will just want to follow along and learn what you’re learning.

AMY: That’s a really cool concept, guys. I hope some of you, some light bulbs are going off, because I know many of you are experimenting with new things, and I encourage you to do so. And so if you're going to try something new, if you're going to create a new membership site based on x, y, z, whatever it might be, or create your digital course, letting people come on your journey with you is so cool.

And one thing that could be amazing for all of you is that if you took people on the journey of you creating a course around your expertise, when they get to go on that journey with you and when your course is done, they're more likely to be interested in the course you just created because they just went on the journey with you to see how you created it and what thought process went into it, where you stumbled, where you had your wins. So they feel more invested in it. And I'm just guessing here because I've never done this, but I would guess that they'd be more inclined to be interested in buying something from you when they saw you actually create it. Do you think that I'm crazy with that thought?

NEIL: No, it works really well. You're not crazy; you're spot on. Groove had everyone following their journey to 100K a month in revenue, and people are buying their product, and it helped them get to 100 grand. It worked really well.

AMY: Okay, good. So there's some magic in that one. I've never, ever even thought of it that way. But I am excited. I know there are going to be a few people in here that are going to try this and they'll let me know. So, Neil, I'll keep you updated because I love when I hear that they actually took action and they made it work. So I'll keep you updated.

All right. Let me switch gears just a little bit, because I follow your stuff, and I'm always intrigued with how you teach list building and the insights that you share. And you've talked about email and email capture system, which is actually a phrase I've never used, nor do I totally understand. However, when I started to dive into it a little bit, I thought my listeners would find this valuable. So can you talk about what you mean by an email capture system?

NEIL: Yeah. So the simplest way to think about it is it's like, what's your process to capturing the email? Most people, what they don't realize is if you capture an email one way through a newsletter or whatnot, just because you’re using a newsletter or e-book, there's multiple ways to get it an email.

So, like, on my website, I capture email through a tool, Ubersuggest. I capture it through a newsletter; I have I capture it through a quiz. Quizzes work really well., which is my exit pop up. And you don’t have to give me your real information. You can test it out with fake information if you want.

AMY: You're the only one in the universe that would say that. That shows total confidence in what you do. You can just give me a fake one.

NEIL: Yeah. So if you combine all of that, I'm using all these methods to track people. Think of capturing emails as sales, and there's multiple ways to capture email. And what you want to do is create a system on your end on how many different paths can I drive people to to collect their email? Because one person may not want to sign up to a newsletter, and they may want to do a quiz. Someone else may just want to use the software. Someone else just may say, “Hey, I would like your blog content. Let me just subscribe to a newsletter. I don't want to go to through getting an e-book or anything like that.” So you want to appeal to all the different personality types and natures of the people coming to your website.

AMY: Okay. And you have different strategies. You just ran through some different ways to do this. One of the things you've mentioned was that you add an opt-in form to every page. You mean every page on your website?

NEIL: Every page. Yes, almost every page. I don't have it—technically, it is every page because if you exit, you're going to get an opt in, whether it's through a quiz or something. But there are certain pages that I don't have. Like, if you're on a checkout page, I'm not showing you an opt in. If you're on a consulting page where I kind of get you to become a lead, I'm not going to try to put the opt in there because the lead makes me money. Any time it's a money page, where you can buy something directly from me, I try to avoid the opt ins or any of those messages because I want you to focus on buying. But any time it's an informational page, I push opt in, no matter what, on every page.

AMY: Do you think—so, that's cool. And you're saying in different ways. It might be a pop up box. It could be—are you saying, like, it could just be a link somewhere in the copy, or are these all pop-up boxes?

NEIL: I do a mixture of everything. So I'll do links. I'll do exit pop up, and I'll cookie you so after you leave, the first time you'll see it. The second time you'll never see it. I'll do things where I just have a box right then and there. I usually link to my newsletter in the navigation. I stopped doing that the other day because I don't monetize my emails like most people, because for us we only sell to large corporate brands. And my email bill is adding up. I know that sounds silly, but…

AMY: No. I get it, yeah.

NEIL: Because you have to pay to hold all these contacts, and we don’t really monetize them. So you can use any of those approaches, but I recommend doing more than one, because one might work better than others, but when you add them all up together, that's when you can collect a lot of emails.

AMY: Okay, so this is so great for you all to hear because Neil is one of the least aggressive marketers I've ever met, meaning he's not in your face. He's not selling aggressively. He's not pushing you to things all the time that you're like, what, that was so irrelevant, or whatever. So the way he markets is exactly how I think many of you see yourselves as wanting to market. And he's here telling us, put these opt-in pages on every page of your site, with the exception of the ones he's mentioned, and have a few different opt ins and try a few different things. And so if it's working for him, it could definitely be working for you. So trying the pop-up boxes, the exit strategies, the links in the emails, all these different ways to have people opt in, and something I don't talk about a lot because a lot of my list builders are brand new, I'll say just focus on one lead magnet at a time. But once you have a few lead magnets, trying the quiz or the cheat sheet or the video or whatever it might be, having a few different options throughout your website is definitely a good idea.

You've talked a lot about a really good lead magnet. It's not enough to throw up a quick cheat sheet and kind of looks like a black and white, plain, nothing kind of lead magnet. You've talked about the fact that you want to put some effort into that, right?

NEIL: Exactly. So the more you put out there, the more value you provide, the more people are going to want to sign up. I’ll end up putting a ton of value in my content, and then when I do email blasts, I see a lot of people replying to me. Sometimes they’ll say like, “Amy, check this out.” And I'll tell them, “Oh, you may want to forward this to Amy. You accidentally hit Reply.”

AMY: I love that.

NEIL: I put a lot of value into it. And the same goes with your opt in. So think about your whole communication flow with the user, whether it's you sent a blog post or a social post. If I'm giving an e-book or I'm giving a cheat sheet, if I don’t feel that someone’s going to be like, “Wow, this is amazing. I’m so lucky to have got this for my email,” then I think I'm doing something wrong. I want them to feel that they got the better end of the deal by giving me their email address.

AMY: Okay, that's really cool, for sure.

Why do you think—this is kind of a big sweeping question—but why do you think a lot of people do struggle with growing their email list and might sit with 100 people on their email list that aren't really engaged? Why do you think that is? It's very normal with those of my students who are just getting started. It's almost like so many people have list shame. Like, I'll say, okay, so you need to email your list x, y, z. And they're like, I don't have a list. Like, we've been talking about growing your list for forever. What do you think stops people from really putting the effort here?

NEIL: The biggest thing is people feel it’s overwhelming not to do too many things. And what I always tell people is, when you're building a list, just do one thing. If you want to create a basic template that just says, “Put in your email to subscribe to my newsletter,” remember, almost all these email software providers will provide you a landing page to collect the email or a pop up or any code. It's okay if it's ugly, it's not perfect, doesn't provide the most value at the beginning. Over time, you can continue to improve and get that better.

AMY: I totally agree with you. Just getting started, just get something up, and then you can improve and take the suggestions specifically that you learn here to make it even better. But guys, we just got to get started. I promise, if you just take that leap, it will get easier as you go, and you'll get excited about new opportunities like you've heard here.

So, Neil, I can't thank you enough. You are definitely the expert of all experts when it comes to growing a list that is not only engaged, but definitely lucrative. So thank you so very much for taking the time. Where can my listeners go to learn more from you?


AMY: Perfect and easy. Thanks, again, and I can’t wait to have you back.

NEIL: Thank you.

AMY: So there you have it. Isn't he just a cool guy with such solid advice? And what's cool about learning from Neil is that these are tried-and-true strategies. Everything he teaches, he's actually doing, just like what I teach you. And so you know he's in the trenches, testing all of this out. I think my favorite part of this interview with Neil is this idea of creating a journey as a lead magnet. I think that that idea just really sparked some new insights and ideas for me, how I might use that. And hopefully, it did for you as well.

If you're thinking about doing a journey lead magnet, jump into the free Online Marketing Made Easy Facebook group and let us know about it. Like, maybe we can get a conversation going around this idea of a journey lead magnet and what that might look like. I think it's kind of exciting and would be really fun.

Okay, so with that, I hope you found some really valuable tips and tricks today as we learned from Neil. And really, I can guarantee that if you take these strategies and put them to work, you will see email list growth. Whether you're just starting out and you want to get to your first 250 subscribers, which is always my goal for my newbie list builders, or if you're looking for your next 1,000 people on your email list, I know there was something for you in this episode.

So thanks so much for joining us, and I can't wait to talk to you again same time, same place next week. Bye for now.

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