Leveraging Giveaways to Grow Your Email List

Customer Stories Build Your Audience
10 min read

Growing a massive email list takes time and effort, as I’m sure you’re already aware. Create amazing content, provide an incentive in exchange for an email address, and deliver value to them once they sign up. This is a proven formula that works, and just about everyone with an email list is using this tactic as a base.

However, what if there was another method of growing your list that you could use in addition to your base strategy?

What if you could grow your list by thousands of subscribers in just a few days (without paying for advertising)?

One of the most impressive stories of someone growing their email list quickly is that of Josh Earl. By giving away a single copy of a text editor called Sublime Text, Josh grew his email list from 5,500 to nearly 200,000 in just 11 days (a 3,418% increase).

Was this software super-expensive to purchase? Nope, you can use it for free if you want, or pay $70 to remove the occasional nag to purchase it.

Was this software unique or hard to get? Nope, it was a text editor, most operating systems come with one pre-installed.

So why was this contest so successful?

Elements of a Successful Giveaway

Elements of a Successful Giveaway

Here’s is where giveaways become an art, because if they can simply be broken down to a formula that works every time, then every marketer in the world would use this tactic to spend $70 to grow their list by the hundreds of thousands.

In Josh’s case, I’m betting that his success boiled down to a few factors:

  • Sublime Text was a hot item in the programming community, and interest in it was growing. Many people liked it during the free trial, but a $70 price tag may have been prohibitive for some. In short, it was the right product at the right time for a giveaway.
  • The giveaway had a targeted audience who are online all day, and share a lot of content via social networks. This was a ripe audience for marketing a giveaway.
  • He provided an incentive for sharing the contest. The more people shared the contest, the more chances they had to win the giveaway.
  • He followed up with an automatic email, encouraging the entrants to take advantage of the sharing bonus.

Fortunately, while Josh’s level of success is astounding, many others have been able to grow their lists with similar tactics. The key is you need to nail down the giveaway item, the target audience, and the promotion methods for your contest. Once you have all these in place, then you’ll actually need some software to manage this giveaway for you…and fortunately, ConvertKit fits the bill quite nicely.

Setting up a Giveaway with ConvertKit

One of the great features of ConvertKit is that you are able to create both a landing page and a form for gathering subscribers. For a successful giveaway, you’re going to want to create both.


Setting up a Giveaway with ConvertKit
For the company I co-founded, Harpoon, we use this approach to give away an attractive messenger bag that is crafted by a local company here in Columbus, OH (where both co-founders are from). Our target audience is freelancers and small agency owners, for many of which carrying around a laptop is a part of life. This is our first giveaway trial, and it has been going well so far. Of course, we will be testing other giveaways in the near future, since it is so easy to do with ConvertKit.

Here is a screenshot of the landing page I created with ConvertKit to promote the giveaway.

Setting up a ConvertKit landing page for a giveaway
For the settings on this form, we chose to redirect them to a thank-you page, and entered them into a special sequence for this particular giveaway.

Form Settings Inside ConvertKit
In the autoresponder emails for our giveaway, we use a 7-day sequence where each day provides an in-depth tactic for being a more successful freelancer. We begin each of these emails with an explanation of how they signed up for our list, and provide an easy unsubscribe link before we even get into the body of the email.


Hi {% if subscriber.first_name != blank %}{{ subscriber.first_name }},{% else %}there,{% endif %}

You’re receiving this email because you just signed up for the Robert Mason Bag Giveaway from Harpoon, the financial planning and billing app for freelancers. Over the next five days we'd like to share with you how to avoid the most common mistakes freelancers typically make running their business. Not interested? Click here to stop receiving these tips. And to unsubscribe from all Harpoon updates please use the link at the bottom of this email. Thanks!
I almost snuck something past you here… did you notice that the link in the header simply removed you from those tips, but not our list as a whole? This is possible thanks to ConvertKit’s automation rules. We set that link to go to a “goodbye” page for that email sequence, but didn’t remove them from our list.

Unsubscribe thank you page
Our automation rule is set to “unsubscribe from a sequence”, the “Robert Mason Bag” sequence. They will still receive product updates as we release new features (which, consequently, are the emails that give us the highest signup rates after sending).
Link Triggers in ConvertKit

Why do we care so much about getting people off of our lists or sequences? Simply put, if they don’t want to receive the emails, we don’t want to be sending them. This helps us with our email reputation, and keeps people from hitting the dreaded “Mark as Spam” button in Gmail (which then makes Gmail less likely to deliver our messages).

Promoting Your Giveaway

Start your promotion efforts by emailing your existing list to let them know about the giveaway. Of course, this won’t do much to gain new subscribers, except the fact that your existing list are likely to share the contest with others, especially if there is an added incentive for doing so.

After promoting to your own email list, consider some of the following tactics:

  • Email some friends in the industry and ask them to help you promote the giveaway.
  • Write a guest blog post where the call to action at the end of the post is to enter the giveaway.
  • Pay a small amount for advertising with Google Adwords, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, or other social networks.
  • Create a graphic for your contest and post to Instagram.
  • Reach out to someone with a similar-sized list and ask them to cross promote the giveaway, and you’ll do the same for them.
  • Reach out to podcasters and ask to be a guest on the show, mentioning the giveaway.
  • Contact the creator of the item you are giving away (the company that makes the software, the author of the book, etc.) and let them know you are doing a giveaway and ask if they would share it. You may even be able to get the item donated to your cause since it is also a marketing opportunity for them.

The more creative you can be with getting the message out, the more effective your giveaway is going to be.

Choosing a Winner

So, you’ve launched and promoted your giveaway, and now it’s time to chose a winner! This requires a few steps, but don’t worry, will only take a few minutes.

Let’s pretend that your giveaway lasts during the month of September. The first thing you want to do is create a segment within ConvertKit that includes everyone who signed up on your giveaway forms, between the dates of Sept. 1st and Oct 1st, midnight.


Segments in ConvertKit


With the segment setup, you can click on the name of the segment in the right-hand sidebar of ConvertKit to bring up the official list of contestants. Next, follow these steps:

  1. Check the box next to “Subscriber” that will select everyone in the list on that page.
  2. This will only select those on the page, so click the “Select all X subscribers…” link that just appeared.
  3. Finally, click the Bulk Actions dropdown and select “Export”. This will generate a CSV of all of the subscribers.

Okay, now you have a CSV, let’s use an impartial randomizer to shuffle them:

  1. Either Google “List Randomizer”, or go directly to this site: https://www.random.org/lists/
  2. Paste in the text content from that CSV file
  3. Click “Randomize”
  4. The top result is your winner.

Contact your winner, and let them know what they’ve won!

Bonus: Adding in Social Share Incentive

If you recall from our earlier example of Joshua Earl, one of the factors to his success was that he rewarded social shares as well as list sign-ups. There really is no limit here to how many incentives you can track, such as following you on Instagram, or tweeting out a particular hashtag. There are a slew of services out there that allow you to track these tasks (ConvertKit uses Gleam), and even some that will pick a random winner for you.

The Competition Agency has provided a free tool that allows you to pick a winner by searching for a hashtag, but in reality you can search for anything on Twitter, including a link, or a username, and they will return a random result.

It’s up to you and how you run your contest if you even want to include these social sharers into your randomized list. Either you can give away two prizes (one to a sign-up winner, and one to a social media sharer), or just enter the winners of each of those brackets into a randomizer and see who comes up on top. Just be sure that your methods are fair, random, and don’t show favoritism.

Now Go, Set Up Your First Giveaway

Don’t be like everyone else who reads articles like this and files it away to “maybe someday I’ll try that.” Starting a giveaway with ConvertKit is easy, and you can do it within the next 20 minutes. Just follow these steps:

  1. Brainstorm your first giveaway. If you don’t have anything in mind, find a book on Amazon that you’ll give away in Kindle format that appeals to your target audience. You won’t even need to ship it, just send it to them via email within Amazon once they’ve won.
  2. Create a landing page for that giveaway on ConvertKit.
  3. Create a sequence for people who sign up for the giveaway, with just 1 email that asks them to share the contest on social media for more chances to win. You can build on this later.
  4. Share the contest landing page with your existing list and social networks.
  5. Ask your friends to share the contest.

Boom. You’re done. The rest is just improving on that process and making it more effective. Sometimes the hardest part is getting some inertia going, and following those steps will allow you to launch a contest very quickly.

I would be lying to you if I said that every online giveaway is an instant success. It does require picking an effective incentive, solid technology to back-up the process, and a marketing plan to spread the word. However, if you can hone in on these requirements and get them right, a giveaway is a proven way to increase your current list many times over. The best part about it all is, you can do this in addition to your other list growth strategies, so you really have little downside for a potentially huge upside.

Ryan Battles

Ryan Battles is a web developer & co-founder of Harpoon (Financial goal-setting, time-tracking, and invoicing for freelancers) who is determined to grow a palm tree in Ohio. You can find him at @ryanbattles or ryan@harpoonapp.com.

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