How to Grow Your Email List Like a SaaS Company

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Watching paint dry, watching grass grow, watching water boil…. all of these are familiar to most people as phrases used to describe something that’s a) not fast and b) never exciting. So when we hear stories about email lists of 5k in the first month of business or tales of YouTube sensations who build lists well above 400,000 subscribers with what seems like no effort, we can get discouraged about our own lists and start to consider an afternoon of watching grass growing as a new hobby.

This, my friend, is not one of those stories.

As someone who spent years growing my own email list for my blog, I always wondered how bigger companies managed to amass email lists with 20,000, 60,000, 150,000 and more happy subscribers. While I’m all for the value in looking around you and learning from within your own sector, I’ve often found the biggest lessons are found when we look a bit outside the box.

SaaS businesses were outside of the “service-based business” box for sure. Software inherently brings a larger amount of traffic to a website and they must just grow their email list without even looking, right?

Boy was I wrong.

As it turns out, not every SaaS business can grow an email list quickly (or at all). But those that do grow an impressive email list have three things in common:

  1. Great content
  2. A clear call to action
  3. Top-notch incentives

In fact, here at ConvertKit, in the last 6 months we took our email list from 8k to over 34,000 subscribers on our own email list following these 3 guiding principles.

Let’s do a deep dive into how SaaS companies Helpscout (60k subscribers), Edgar (80k subscribers), and Unbounce (100k subscribers!) use those 3 principles and also discover how you can grow your email list just like the big kids.

Great Content

There’s a new name for “writing” or “blogging” and it’s “content marketing”. Actually, content marketing itself has been around arguably since the dawn of mankind, but content marketing as a way to grow a blog is still a new concept to some.

To define it a bit more, content marketing is any marketing that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire and retain customers. Sound familiar? Yeah, that’s your blog.

But content marketing isn’t just any blog. It’s a blog with focus, it’s a blog with a clear customer in mind, it’s a blog that brings people back over and over again.

It’s a blog like Helpscout’s blog:


how to build your email list like a SaaS company

Helpscout has one of the industry’s top blogs and it’s for good reason. Every single article they produce is highly shareable, well-researched, and contains a unique position you won’t find anywhere else.

As content master Andy Crestodina says, “The world is not waiting for another medium-quality blog post.” And Helpscout takes that battle cry seriously.

Since they’re a customer support software company, the Helpscout blog leans heavily into that topic. Their most popular posts show that 3 out of 4 in the list are of the customer support vein:


how to grow your email list

But “customer support” is a pretty broad category. And we’re talking about Great Content here, right? Gregory Ciotti, content strategist at Helpscout, said this:

People hire us for email support, and they want specific advice around being more awesome at that: phrases, tone, data, styling, and even talking to angry customers. There’s a lot to learn in support, and I’ve always built our topics along what our customers want to learn most.

The clarity around their content marketing has led to Helpscout getting over 250k visits to their blog each month (and growing).

What can you learn from Helpscout?

  • Get narrow: Too many blogs are all over the place with their content. Inforgraphics here and there, interviews with no clear point, current events posts that drive the wrong readers to the blog… the list goes on. Be generous with your editing sword and focus your blog to the key topics that relate back to your products or services AND that your potential customers are searching for right now.
  • Talk to your audience: As Gregory Ciotti says: “ ‘I wonder if…’ conversations should go the way of the dinosaur. Talk to customers! Don’t research topics, research the people you’re serving.”
  • Be original: Re-writing the same listicle you’ve seen on 10 other blogs does you (and the Internet) no good. Come up with unique content ideas that serve your audience and write with the reader in mind. State your position, use the blog to show your personality, and back it up with the research and data you need to position yourself as a leader in your industry.

A Clear Call To Action

Meet Edgar. He’s a (slightly cheeky) octopus who wears a party hat from time to time and also manages your social media scheduling like a boss.

Edgar also happens to have over 80,000 subscribers on their email list and it’s all thanks to two incredibly clear calls to action.

#1 – Exclusive Invites

clear call to action to grow your email list

We all deal with our varying levels of FOMO and Edgar knows it (I told you he was cheeky). In 5 places on the homepage, Edgar encourages you to ask for your invitation to join him in rescuing your social media schedule.

And when you offer your email address up to Edgar, two things happen:

  • He rewards you with an invite to try the software (with a money-back guarantee)
  • You join the email list for The Dash, the weekly social media marketing to-do list

By showing Edgar that you are interested enough to want to try the software out, you’re also expressing an interest in social media marketing in general so Edgar rewards you with an easy-to-digest weekly email to keep you on track.

#2 – Post-Blog Signup Form

In a world of short attention spans, a person who makes it to the bottom of your blog post can be considered a dedicated reader. They’re also primed to hear more from you so missing out on a call to action at this crucial place is a list-building crime.

While this particular form doesn’t offer an incentive of any kind, it does push you back into that place of FOMO with the number of subscribers shown. “That many people get their emails? I want them too!” – you reading their opt in, probably


blog sign up form to grow your email list

What can you learn from Edgar?

  • Use multiple opt-in forms: Having forms in multiple places on your site will attract different eyes over time so it’s smart to find that prime real estate. Your homepage, your blog sidebar, and after each blog post work well to start.
  • Take advantage of exclusivity: You could give your weekly email a name, call it a “club” or “society”. Access to your gated resources could be exclusive and “by invite only”. Consider how joining your email list can go from something your readers can do without to something they feel like they can’t miss out on.
  • Show your personality: Edgar is a fun mascot for the craziness that is social media marketing. He makes you feel like he’s got it under control for you. Everything about Edgar’s calls to action point to that feeling and remind you who he is along the way. Embed your own Edgar into your blog! You don’t need an actual mascot to do it either. Use your own signature brand of personality to attract your ideal readers and customers through your calls to action and watch as the results speak for themselves.

Top Notch Incentives

You’ve likely heard the (very sound) advice to give something away for free in exchange for an email address. These goodies are often called “lead magnets” or “pink spoons” or “freebies” but it’s all the same: they’re incentives to get you to sign up!

With alllllll of the choices we have in this world, putting a little incentive behind a decision makes it easier to move forward with a YES.

Unbounce, the home for landing pages that convert, takes their incentives seriously. In fact, they have an entire library of ‘em.


top notch incentives to grow your email list

And by the looks of it, these resources are free, right? Check out that header. “Resources” is right there in the main navigation of their site and when you click over to the page, you see a button to sign up for updates, but then you’re given all of the options of resources right there.

This is the magic of Unbounce: almost every one of these resources requires your email address to deliver it to you.

Take The Conversion Marketer’s Guide to Landing Page Copywriting (um, yes please). Click on that button and you’ll see this landing page:


top notch incentives to grow your email list

Unbounce then asks for your name, email, and a few more details before they can send you the guide. Clever, huh? Since Unbounce rules in the landing page world, they clearly make good use of their own product here.

But not every resource is behind an opt in form, and this is where things get interesting.

Check out that first one, the video with their founder, Oli Gardner. When I clicked to watch, I expected there to be an opt in form to access the video…. but there wasn’t! Those videos are free to access, no email address required.

It wasn’t until I went to leave the video page that I was presented with a pop up form to subscribe and get access to the full library of videos. By then, I was hooked and ready to sign up.


top notch incentives to grow your email list

Unbounce’s incentive game in on point, and highly converting (remember, they have 100k+ subscribers on their email list!)

What can you learn from Unbounce?

  • Offer multiple incentive types: Unbounce has a library full of incentives, but they also have a team to pull off that level of content. If you’re a team of just one, you can still create multiple incentives over time and eventually pull them together into a library. It’s as easy as a password-protected page on your website or as complicated as a full membership site – whatever makes the most sense for you!
  • Give some things away for free: On the video series, Unbounce gives their content away for free and then asks if you want to signup as you’re exiting the page. Play around with pop ups and sliders to see what works best for your audience as they check out some free content that whets their appetite for more.
  • Build an email course: We’ve mentioned this one before and Unbounce offers an email course too (The 7-Day Lead Gen Landing Page Course). By building out a multi-day email course, you are positioning yourself as an expert AND getting in front of your prospective clients and customers daily for a set period of time. They get to know you, what you teach, and they get hooked. Pssst – ConvertKit makes it easy to build email courses, just sayin’.

Your Turn

 Now that you’re armed with the knowledge of how to build a massively successful and thriving email list, what will you tackle first? Don’t forget to put all three principles in place: great content, a clear call to action, and top notch incentives to make the full puzzle come together.

And when you’re ready, our free eBook, The Complete Guide to Email Marketing, is here to take you the rest of the way. Sign up below to grab it and grow your email list today.

Val Geisler

Val is a yogi, mom, military wife, and avid podcast fan. She is ridiculously obsessed with sharing and creating content that actually makes a difference in the world, connecting with her fellow bloggers, and doing more with less effort. Val is based on Columbus, Ohio (O-H!) and can often be found oversharing on Instagram at @lovevalgeisler.

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