Email List Building

This is not a blog post. It is a 5016 word Master Guide that will show you step by step how to get your first 10,000 email subscribers.

It is based on:

  • proven strategies from Derek Halpern’s Social Triggers;
  • proprietary techniques developed by Derek and his network of experts; and
  • academic research from the world’s top scholars

In case you are skeptical about the whole 10,000 subscribers thing, let’s start with the credentials…


Derek Halpern & Social Triggers

Derek’s business advice has been featured on Fast Company, Huffington Post, CreativeLIVE, and most recently in a 52 minute 27 second video series on

His blog, Social Triggers, is ranked 6,474 on Alexa worldwide, 2,294 in the US, and in the top 8,000 most visited sites in 8+ other countries. It is read by over 300,000 people each month, has 125,000 subscribers, and 33,556 Twitter followers. Derek also has a raving fan base on Facebook, with his average post getting hundreds of shares, likes, and comments. In a blog post, a Forbes writer called him an “expert on consumer psychology.”

The Social Trigger’s podcast recently hit #1 in the business section on iTunes (ahead of Motley Fool, Oprah, Ted Talks, Harvard Business Review, and the Wall Street Journal).

Derek’s premium training course, Blog That Converts, has 1000+ students. The most impressive part? He started Social Triggers just 2.5 years ago.

Before founding ST, Derek built up his expertise bringing millions of visitors to a variety of websites – one site attracted more than 67 million visits. He is also the former marketing guy for DIYthemes Thesis.

Okay, dude is an expert, let’s take a closer look at his master strategies for getting tonnes of email subscribers.

Table of Contents: Derek Halpern’s Guide to Getting 10,000 Email Subscribers

    • The Foundation
      • a surprisingly simple formula for getting 10,000 subscribers
      • the critical truth about expertise
      • 6 ways to position yourself as an expert
      • specific examples of what to do (and what not to do!)
    • The Preparation
      • optimization tips to turn you into a list-building powerhouse
      • the 7 spots you should have a sign-up form
      • “resource pages” & 8 experts that use them
    • The Tactics
      • 10 list boosting tactics from top experts: Derek, Ramit Sethi, Neil Patel, Jim Wang, etc.
    • The Promotion
      • do you know this 80/20 rule?
      • 3 detailed techniques for creating traffic “landslides”
      • 23 tactics from 7 well-known experts
  • The Conclusion

Foundation: a simple formula for getting 10,000 subscribers

The formula for getting 10,000 subscribers is:

[conversion rate] x [# of visitors] = 10,000

That’s it!

The first variable, conversion rate is the # of subscribers to your blog per 100 visitors to your site.

# of visitors is obvious.

Here are a couple of examples that show how powerful it is to increase both of these numbers…

Example 1: Beginner Bob gets 50 visitors per day, and has a 1% conversion rate:

Currently he gets 50 * 0.01 = 0.5 subscribers per day (1 every 2 days, 15 per month, 183 per year)

If he just focuses on traffic generation and doubles his visitors, this becomes 100 * 0.01 = 1 subscriber per day (1 per day, 30 per month, 365 per year)

If he doubles his traffic and optimizes his website for conversions (double), this becomes 100 * 0.02 = 2 subscribers per day (60 per month, 730 per year)

These numbers aren’t super impressive, but they are actually high for beginners — most blogs get less than 1,000 visitors per month.

Here’s an example for someone already performing a little better.

Example 2: Intermediate Ian’s blog gets 500 visitors per day, and has a 1% conversion rate:

Currently he gets 500 * 0.01 = 5 subscribers per day (150 per month, 1825 per year)

When he doubles traffic, 1000 * 0.01 = 10 subscribers per day (300 per month, 3,650 per year)

And when he optimizes for conversions, 1000, * 0.02 = 20 per day (600 per month, 7,300 per year)


And you can even calculate how long it will take to reach 10,000 — approx. 1.5 years.

The first half of this article focuses on doubling your conversion rate, and the second half on increasing visitors through hard-hitting promotion strategies.

Let’s get started…

Positioning yourself as an expert

Before you become a highly-paid expert, you must first BE an expert.
— Derek Halpern, on the simple truth of expertise

Scammy internet gurus love to shout out random tactics for upping your subscription numbers.

But the truth is that it doesn’t matter how many subscribers you get if you can’t keep them.

So it’s not the button text, the arrows, or even the popup (though, these might help).

Instead there is one strategy that is the foundation for 99% of successful blogs — positioning yourself as an expert (this is where Derek excels).

Expertise is so important because of what Derek calls the content credibility crisis. Basically, now that anyone can offer up their opinion online, readers need an easy mechanism for filtering the junk from the good stuff. You can provide that mechanism by positioning yourself as an expert.

Here are 6 ways to position yourself as an expert:

  1. “You have to be at least somewhat good at what you do.” Derek says this kind of tongue-in-cheek. But his point is that expertise is about both actual and perceived knowledge. A common mental barrier is “I’m not expert enough”, but if you niche down you may actually be the leading authority.
  2. Demonstrate proof. Instead of just giving your opinion or sharing someone else’s, provide proof of a statement’s truth. You can use academic research, your own tests (even if they aren’t perfect), personal case studies, etc.
  3. Quote experts. Similar to #2, Derek recommends quoting experts. “Make sure you’re not quoting them specifically, but instead something they worked on and the results they had.”
  4. Stop rounding your numbers. Getting really specific with your numbers shows people they are real — and that you care enough to provide them.
  5. Become omnipresent. Search out websites where you can post content, like video or slideshows, and upload relevant material. When readers Google you they will see you are everywhere.
  6. Actually be an expert. Derek says, “There’s one shortcut to becoming an expert that works. Read books, and lots of ‘em. When you consume, and digest the teachings from a book, you’re essentially spending 3-6 hours learning information that took MONTHS to compile. And in some cases, YEARS to experience.”

re: demonstrating proof, here is a simple example. Instead of saying, “write articles that resonate with your customers”, try something like this:

Write articles that resonate with your customers. One way to do that is to think about their problems and solve them. For example, [insert name] here developed a strategy for [insert company name]. Here’s what they did, here’s why it worked, and here’s how you can apply that same strategy to your business.

Note: the expanded version isn’t just “more complete”. It actually provides specific examples, and backs those examples into an action plan.

Expertise: Summing it up

Establishing expertise isn’t an overnight thing, and it isn’t simply tactical. It takes time and a whole lot of effort. But it’s supposed to be hard! Once you establish your expertise, you separate yourself from the legions of bloggers who struggle to get ANYONE to read their stuff.

But in addition to the “expert foundation” that will draw people to you, you also need to get your website ready to maximize email sign-ups. Learn Derek’s optimization techniques in the next section.

Preparation: Optimizing your website for more email sign-ups

This section includes the results of 5 statistical experiments Derek did on website optimization.

Quick tip: If you don’t know how to modify a website, hire someone. Investing $25 in your business shouldn’t be a roadblock to success. You can get good help on Craigslist or Fiverr.

Optimizer #1: Add a Halpern Header

Derek has a test he calls the Header Removal Test. If you removed your logo/headline/slogan/etc., would anybody know what your site is about?

Since most of us would fail this test, he suggests a simple solution — the Halpern Header.

The above subscription box is one of Derek’s most powerful tools for absorbing subscribers. There are a few reasons it works:

  • The sign-up is front-row center — you can’t miss it!
  • If the copy is compelling, people will sign up right away. So you capture swaths of readers that might not otherwise stick around.
  • Your value proposition is obvious. “This is what you will get here.”

There are 4 key elements to a successful Halpern Header. These are:

  1. First line hook. Derek’s is “Do You Know What Makes People “Tick” Online? By asking a question you engage the visitor and put them in “seek for the answer mode”.
  2. List of results your readers want and you can provide. Subscribers, sales, shares, lose weight, get more dates, etc.
  3. Credibility indicators. Use social proof like # of subscribers, or a “testimonial” from a well known authority in your niche. Social proof is one of the most powerful methods of persuasion.
  4. Distinctive image. This is for branding and guiding the visitor’s eyesight.

I scoured the web for a few more examples to inspire you (P.S: It’s one of those things — now that you know about these headers, you are going to start seeing them EVERYWHERE).

This one is from Gregory Ciotti’s Sparring Mind:

From Deacon Bradley, over at LifeStoked:

And Gabriela Pereira of DIYMFA:

Optimizer #2: 6 More High Converting Places to Include Sign-up Forms

After you’ve installed your Halpern Header, there are 6 other places to include signup forms.

Note: Not all of these will be high converting for you. Instead, use a testing approach to find what works for your niche and audience. Also, the goal here is converting visitors to email subscribers. If you have another goal, e.g., getting people to download an app, you may choose to use these high profile locations for that instead.

  • Spot One: Put a signup form at the very top of your sidebar. Above your most popular content/ads/etc.
  • Spot Two: Below single posts. Once a visitor finishes reading your article, they should be feeling pretty great about your content. This is the perfect time to give them the option to opt-in. Derek: “The people who get to the bottom of your post may not convert a ton of people, but the people it did convert, would be high quality.”
  • Spot Three: In the footer. Similar to #2. The assumption is that someone that bothered to make it to the bottom of your site cares enough to want more. “
  • Spot Four: Put a sign-up box on your about page. The “About” page is actually a pretty high traffic place — and by including an email opt-in you can convert some of this traffic. Derek provides a template to maximize your about page conversions.
  • Spot Five: In a little bar at the top of your site. Use a tool like HelloBar.
  • Spot Six: Use a lightbox popup. Warning from Derek: test this one carefully — in some industries it will actually kill your conversions by annoying visitors. But it can work. Tip: hire a programmer to code you the popup instead of using a standard plugin. And don’t tell readers to sign up for a “newsletter”, instead promise them specific things like “an article that shows you how to save $250 per year on 6 common household items.”

re: popups, YOU might think they are spammy, but like Derek says, “you are not your audience, so it doesn’t matter if you care for them. It matters if your audience does.”

And once you have sign-up boxes in all the right places, there are a few other ways to optimize your site.

Optimizer #3: Apply the “Search Box Rule”

Search boxes are something that can either help or hurt your blog.

If the reader finds what they are looking for — it helps.

If they don’t find what they want — it hurts.

So whether or not you should use a search box depends on the type of content you provide.

Derek has a simple rule:

If you have less than 200 articles, don’t use a search box.

After 200+, test.

Once you have a database of that size, chances are better that the searcher will find what they are looking for.

BTW: one of the common complaints about this rule is, “I read X on your site and now I can’t find it”. Google it! I’m pretty sure your WordPress search plugin is going to be inferior to Google anyways.

Optimizer #4: Keep readers around with your best font

It’s fun to get creative with fonts, but “fun” isn’t the goal — readers (and subscribers) are.

There is one overwhelming characteristic of what makes a font “the best”.


So use a simple font, and try size 14 or 16.

Optimizer #5: Build resource pages

Once a new visitor finishes the first article, they are looking for what to read next.

A natural place might be your blog feed — which will show your most recent work.

In a perfect world your recent work would also be your best, but that’s not always the case.

By building a “resource page”, you can hijack a visitors attention and show them your best stuff.

A good resource page will:

  • focus on a specific topic/solution, e.g, a collection of your articles about overcoming the psychological barriers to becoming a vegetarian
  • include your best content, and provide narrative between each link (i.e., don’t just slam out a long list of headlines, by providing 1 or 2 sentence introductions you can tell people why they are worth reading.
  • be featured clearly in header or sidebar navigation (tip: try using a simple link, a banner can look like an ad/product for sale, and be ignored)
  • include an email sign-up form :- )

Here are some great examples from around the web:

  • Derek has a proven template for resource pages, intro + narrative, check out List Building 101.
  • On James Clear’s Passive Panda, he uses sales copy to sell FREE resources. Like this one on getting started Freelancing.
  • Marie Forleo uses a very similar format as Derek. e.g. How to Overcome Fear and Self Doubt. Also, notice that many of these bloggers remove navigation, etc. from the resource pages — this focuses readers on the content and gives them one logical next step, “subscribe”.

But there is more to life than just website optimization. I wanted to include something really special in this article. So instead of just a pile of examples that anyone can find on Google — I reached out to 10 experts for their “secret tactics” on list building. Check out the tips below…

10 Tactics for increasing email subscribers

Derek Halpern
Social Triggers
When you’re building your audience you have to stop looking at blogs that
write about the same thing as you do.You need to start looking at “What types of people do I want to read my
site?”Then GO GET THOSE PEOPLE.Going to related blogs is lazy. Figure out exactly who’s reading your blog
and find more people JUST LIKE THAT.
Pamela Wilson
Big Brand System
My most-successful strategy for growing my list so far has been to offer a targeted monthly webinar.

Brown Bag Webinars are educational events that happen on the same date and at the same time each month. They’re free, and I promote them in blog posts the week before and the day of the event; in my weekly email newsletter; and on social media.

These events cost me many hours of preparation, but are well worth it because they attract hundreds of new subscribers and build my relationship with existing ones.

Ramit Sethi
I Will Teach You To Be Rich
Instead of a generic give away, like a PDF book, you can earn a massive increase in conversions by matching the opt-in to your article. Here are some examples: when I write about The Pay Certainty Technique (a two-step framework for finding a profitable business idea), I’ll give away a 10 minute video on how to price your offering. Pricing is the logical next step. Or if a case study focuses on how my student earned 5 clients in 30 days with a tested email script, I give away that script. By getting inside your reader’s head you can 2x, 5x or even 10x conversions.
Neil Patel
Quick Sprout
What most people don’t know is that Quick Sprout actually costs me $250,000+ per year to run. If you want your blog to be a business, you should invest in it like a business. You can hire a consultant for $200 or $300. If it doubles your conversions that’s a pretty good deal!
Andrew Warner
I ask new users who come to my homepage to give me their email addresses or they can’t get access to anything. Yes, some people think I’m a jerk. I’m fine with that. I don’t want people who hit my site and run. I want to have a chance to build a long term relationship with readers or I don’t want them at all. Right now 1 in 5 people give me their email addresses, 20%. I can lose the other 80% if I have a chance to build a real relationship with the other 20% and introduce them to my work over time.
Jim Wang
Guest posting is a great way to get more publicity but instead of just linking back to your homepage, link back to a squeeze page with a specific call to action (“subscribe to my newsletter”). Then, do all the usual things you’d do to entice them to sign up but tailor the squeeze page to that audience like a big headline “Welcome [Sitename] Readers.” Think of the guest post as an advertisement and the page as your landing page.
Michael Alexis
My Homepage
I use a two step approach to building my email list. Step 1: I write extraordinarily detailed articles (like this one you are reading), so readers expect quality from me. Step 2: My homepage is super simple: just a promise of more great content, testimonials from well known people about my work, and exactly one call to action — the only options are sign up or leave. This page converts around 43%.
Gregory Ciotti
Help Scout
Obviously, the fundamentals of getting more email subscribers is to have a newsletter worth signing up for, and that starts with differentiating yourself and providing a valuable, consistent experience over email. As for specific strategies, the most effective tactic I’ve ever used is simply collaboration. Whenever I’ve contributed to a multiple person project, the return has always been exceptional. Here’s an example: I contributed research and a script to two animators for a collaborative video on The Science of Productivity. It currently sits as 1.2+ million views on YouTube, and brought in 7,000 new email subscribers for my blog Sparring Mind in the first 30 days, aided by features on Lifehacker, Brain Pickings, and even the Discovery Channel blog. I’ve pursued similar strategies for my startup with co-launches, distributed content, and collaborative newsletter projects. It seems in blogging, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” or in other words, attaching yourself to exceptional group projects brings in multiple audiences, instead of simply relying on your own. The key is finding the right people who already have your ideal audience, and crafting a situation that is clearly beneficial to them as well as you. For the video mentioned above, I told the animators that I would heavily promote the video, let them keep all ad revenue from YouTube, and allow them to retain full rights to the video on their channel. I basically offered to shoulder a huge amount of work for them, in return for an exceptionally animated video, which had returns far higher than a guest post, because of it’s creative nature (how many bloggers do you know creating animated videos?).
Selena Soo
S2 Groupe
In my guest post for Ramit Sethi called “How to Get the Attention of Your Favorite Expert,” I share stories about specific business experts that I know the people on his list love (i.e. Derek Halpern, Lewis Howes, Marie Forleo). Then in my opt-in page, I included testimonials about me from those same individuals. This helped establish my credibility to Ramit’s audience and led to higher conversions. An additional benefit was that some of these experts promoted the article to their audiences, in part because they were featured in it.
Laura Roeder
LKR Social Media
Bonus Tip: How to convert your subscribers to readers
Your email can have the most amazing, compelling sales copy but who cares if no one bothers to open it? You need a compelling subject line that will cut through the inbox noise. We write 10+ versions of a single subject line, focusing on intrigue, psychology and a whole lot of emotion.What’s the mathematical reason we spend so much time on subject lines? It’s simple: your email open rate determines the number of people who will click through to your offering. A small bump in your email rate can easily net thousands of dollars. If you’re getting a 3% conversion rate on a $2,000 product, an increase from 20% open rate to 25% open rate would raise your sales by $7,500 on a 50,000 person list.The formula is simple: write better subject lines, improve your open rates, make more money.

Now onward to promotion…

Promotion: Getting visitors to your blog in the first place!

It’s on you to create [your best content], leverage proven psychological principles to make sure it spreads, and then PROMOTE THE HECK OUT OF IT.
-– Derek Halpern, on the 80/20 rule for building a blog audience

Promotion is the second part of the 10,000 subscriber equation — increasing the # of visitors to your blog.

And the key is to remember Derek’s 80/20 rule, i.e., you should spend just 20% of your efforts on content creation, and the other 80% on promotion. This is the secret of Social Trigger’s rocket fueled growth.

Here is Derek’s logic:

  • A lot of content (even great content) hardly gets read. If you write something that is useful for 10 people or 100 people, then chances are it is useful for 10,000 or even 1 million others.
  • It’s a better use of your time/effort to find more people to read your existing work instead of just creating more.

The 80/20 rule is important to keep in mind, but the question becomes “how do I spend that 80% of my time?”

Specific promotional techniques from Derek (and other experts) is up next.

Technique #1: Talk about your best material everywhere you go

I know for me I have this psychological quirk that goes something like this: “I’ve already said this before, so I need to say something new…”, but it’s not true — what matters is that the info is new for your audience.

Derek says if you’ve created something that resonates with a lot of people, keep talking about it!

Check this out:

  • Derek has spoken at 27 conferences since 2011 — he always mentions his 80/20 rule and the Drafting Technique.
  • Comedians like Chris Rock, Louis C.K., and Russell Peters reuse their best jokes — OF COURSE THEY DO!

Technique #2: The Drafting Technique

One of Derek’s most powerful promotion strategies is the Drafting Technique. It’s a 4-step process to get major press (local, national, even international) without connections or a PR Firm.

Drafting is about hopping into your competitor’s slipstream. If they get featured somewhere, you try to get featured there too.
— Derek Halpern, summing up the Drafting Technique

Getting major media attention can be difficult, but with the Drafting Technique you only target outlets that have already covered your competitor/theme. This means you are contributing to an existing conversation instead of trying to start a new one.

Here are the 4 steps:

Step 1: Make a list of competitors in your space. These can be direct competitors (e.g., another massage therapist in town), or indirect competitors (the acupuncture guy that offers an alternative to massage). A list of 10 or 15 is enough.

Step 2: Use Google for some preliminary research. If you write you can see all the websites that link to it. Do the same for each competitor on your list.

Step 3: Find the contact info for the blogger/reporter/journalist who wrote the article. Insider tip: in larger media outlets it might be two different people who generate leads/actually do the writing.

Step 4: Reach out to that person with a “value focused pitch” — an incentive to actually cover you. With media outlets this means giving them a story/angle that they haven’t had before. To find your angle, you can analyze the information provided by your competitor, identify any gaps or errors, and do a quick bullet list to send over.

re: the email, this is Derek’s template:

Hey Name,

I saw you wrote about [insert topic]. Well, I’ve got some [insert unique story angle] that answers the concerns you raised in your original article. Here’s the article:

[insert link to article here].

You’re busy but you’ll find this as the perfect answer to [insert the concern they raised].

– Derek

Do this multiple times and track your results. Once you start landing coverage it gives you traffic spikes and momentum to keep going.

Drafting Tip #1: “Doesn’t matter who’s first. The trick is to find someone who was already covered, and draft behind them.” Remember, the fact that your competitor was already covered isn’t a barrier — it’s an enabler.

Drafting Tip #2: “With Drafting, you don’t have to write about what’s hot right now. Instead, you write about what reporters or bloggers have a history of writing about.” Instead of getting lost in the fast pace of the daily news, you can find more stable topics and contribute to the conversation.

Technique #3: Use Sound Bites

A sound bite is a short message (10 words or less) that includes a useful message.

Because it’s easy to remember and quote — bloggers and journalists quote (and link) to these all the time.

And the results can be pretty impressive. In one test, Derek used a sound bite to generate over 300 shares and 9,000 hits to a single post.


  • “size 14 is the new size 12” — Derek Halpern
  • “Write Epic Shit” — Corbett Barr
  • “If you try to sound smart, you’ll look stupid.” — Marcus Sheridan
  • “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” — Marshall Goldsmith
  • “I’ll be back.” — Schwarzenegger
  • “The public responds to precedents and superlatives.” — Elon Musk
  • “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” — JFK
  • “To be, or not to be?” — Hamlet/Shakespeare
  • “Keep calm and carry on.” — the British government
  • “I have a dream.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here are 3 ways you can craft sound bites:

  1. Contrast. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” By juxtaposing two different things you make your sound bite easy to remember.
  2. Rule of 3. “Veni, vidi, vici.” Our brain is hardwired to remember three items. “The first item creates tension, the second builds it up, and the third releases it.”
  3. Violate expectations. “Size 14 is the new size 12.” When you contradict a deeply held belief, “size 12 is the right font”, you give something to think about. Thinking = remembering.

23 more ways to promote your blog

A couple years back I interviewed a bunch of top bloggers about how they built their audience.

Here’s what they said:

Derek Halpern | Social Triggers

  1. do things nobody else is doing
  2. give your readers a result with every post
  3. take inspiration from real life events, e.g., Derek saw crowds of people gathering around SEO site reviews at a conference so he created videos doing SEO site reviews of popular sites

Neil Patel | Quicksprout

  1. help everybody, all the time, with everything
  2. make friends with power users on services like DIGG
  3. write when others are sleeping (on the plane, etc.)
  4. tell your story, be authentic

Ana Hoffman | Traffic Generation Cafe

  1. tweet in blocks of 3 or 4 to make your content “stand out” in twitter streams (I’ve experimented with this on other services, it works)
  2. lead people from Twitter to your site with bait (e.g., Ana has a page on her site where people can advertise their own websites for free)
  3. work to become an authority blogger

Ramit Sethi |I Will Teach You To Be Rich

  1. be persistent and use strategic guest posts (target an audience, make friends with the host blogger, offer incredible value)
  2. get coverage from major media (e.g., Ramit has written for the NYT, and was featured in Forbes)
  3. have a writing system & schedule
  4. focus on growth, not making money

David Cain | Raptitude

  1. overcome procrastination by getting on a writing schedule that fits your natural rhythm
  2. mix in intentionally viral content with your regular stuff
  3. write super-clickable headlines
  4. have a blogging group be your starter community (help share/promote/comment on each others work)

Marcus Sheridan | The Sales Lion

  1. don’t be afraid to be controversial, call people out, etc., but be authentic and respectful
  2. master inbound marketing, e.g., write a post answering the questions your readers have even if they seem really basic, write posts comparing things

Danny Iny | Firepole Marketing

  1. develop a system for writing quality content in less time
  2. write 80+ guest posts in a year
  3. target a “micro-network” of related sites with similar audience, so it seems like you are everywhere

Conclusion: Summing it all up

Building a big email list has two factors: driving traffic to your website and converting visitors into subscribers.

[conversion rate] x [# of visitors] = 10,000

When you use Derek’s 80/20 guide, you focus your time and energies on promotion. Use the Drafting Technique and sound bites to drive new visitors, and talk about your best material everywhere you go.

And make sure your site is optimized for conversions. Provide value with resource pages, make your site more readable, and maybe most important — put signup boxes in all the right places.

Thanks for reading!

P.S: What have you tried to promote your site? What worked? What didn’t? Tell us a story.

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