How to Start a Mailing List and Easily Add Opt-in Forms to Your Blog

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start a mailing list

Starting a mailing list and collecting email subscribers is one of the most important things you can do if you want to be successful online.

And I’m always really surprised at how many bloggers ignore this step or wait weeks and months before getting started.

It’s a huge mistake.

Each week I get a bunch of emails from new bloggers asking how to start a mailing list, where to host the emails, how to add opt-in forms to their blogs, etc. and so I thought I’d do a quick and dirty tutorial on how I’m set up.

Shall we?

NOTE: This post contains an affiliate link which means that I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you if you sign up after clicking. Thanks for your support!

What you’ll learn in this tutorial

Okay so this is a pretty basic level tutorial. Many of you will already have email lists set up and running. Today we’re covering:

  • Where to host your email subscribers
    Emails subscribers need to be stored somewhere. I’ll go over some options.
  • How to set up a mailing list
    Once you’ve chosen your mailing list provider you’ll need to set up different lists for different things.
  • How to add an opt-in form to your blog
    There are many different ways to design and add your opt-in forms to your blog so people can subscribe with ease. I’ll show you my best ones.
  • Some tips and tricks for success
    I’ll finish off the post with some tips that you can use to get the most out of your new mailing list and ensure it performs well.

As always, if any Tyrant Troops have stories, resources or anything else that might help out a newcomer, please leave a comment at the end of the post.

How to start a mailing list: step by step instructions

Okay so there are many different platforms and methods for doing this. I’m going to focus on the way I have mine set up and then mention a few alternatives as we go along.

1. Sign up to a mailing list/email marketing provider

These are websites that do various functions like storing your email subscribers, letting you send out emails or automatic follow ups, tracking stats on open rates and sign ups, and building opt-in forms.

I user AWeber for my own email marketing but I have also dabbled with Mail Chimp and Get Response which also have their own advantages. It’s best to have a look around at all of them and see which one suits your needs.

AWeber has a free trial for 30 days which is a good way to get a feel for all of their features and whether or not you like the system.

free trial

Just head on over, click the free trial button and then follow through the prompts. You’ll need to fill out all your details. Please note that you have to use your real name and have a proper address in order to comply with anti-spam laws.

TIP: Here’s a post on why I switched to AWeber. It’s a good idea to play around with a few of the providers to see which one meets your needs best in the short and long term.

2. Create a mailing list with AWeber for your first newsletter/list

Once you’ve signed up for your account, you’ll then need to create a new mailing list.

Remember, you can have different lists for different things. For example, you might have one called My Blog Updates which sends all your posts to your subscribers, and then another called Christmas Special which only gets used for people who sign up to a Christmas time offer. This second one might only appear on an individual landing page for a few weeks.

Click Manage Lists > Create a New List and then follow the prompts.

This stage is pretty straight forward and AWeber has default settings for you to select as you follow along filling out the fields like list name, etc.

TIP: Before you complete this stage think about exactly what you’ll be sending this particular mailing list and where the opt-in forms will appear. I suggest starting with a general Blog Updates mailing list where people can just subscribe to your posts and an occasional mail out.

3. Design your first opt-in form

Now we need to add the forms to your blog where people can enter their email address and subscribe for your updates.

There are many different kinds of opt-in forms and they go in various places. For the purposes of this post we are going to add a simple pop up form that appears on your blog after a reader has been visiting for around 10 seconds.

Pop up forms work exceptionally well and if you make one in a nice, unobtrusive way you’ll find you get a lot more email subscribers than with your sidebar form, for example.

AWeber makes this part extremely easy because they have an inbuilt drag and drop designer that lets you build and edit forms without needing to do any coding.

form maker

Click Sign Up Forms > Create New Sign Up Form and you’ll be taken to the builder that you see above.

Arrow 1: In this area you click to add text, photos, divider lines, etc.

Arrow 2: Click the advanced tab to see more options like setting the width, border color, etc.

Arrow 3: Click inside the preview to edit the text or make it bigger.

Arrow 4: Make sure you save any changes that you make.

Now, to make this form appear as a popup/lightbox you need to click Form Type and then select lighbox as you can see below.


As you can see, this means that you can make any of these designs a pop up, sidebar or whatever based on the settings that you give it.

TIP: You want to make sure this pop up looks like it is part of your brand. Use the same fonts, colors and images. Make sure it is the right sizing for mobile devices as sometimes they can appear a little bit cramped.

4. Add the newly design form to your blog or website

Once you hit save you get taken to this screen:

confirmation page

Here you have to save your form by giving it a name (perhaps add “pop up” so you know which one it is in your stats) and entering a confirmation page.

The confirmation page is what people see after they’ve entered their email address but still need to click the confirmation link that AWeber automatically emails them to join your list. This step is done to help prevent spam.

You might like to customize what page people see at this stage. You can just create a page in your blog and then give the link to AWeber when it asks for your custom confirmation page URL.

Here’s a story about how I edited mine to include some cat pictures to try and getter a better confirmation rate.

The next page show you some code:


We’re going to copy this and then head on over to WordPress (assuming you’re on a WordPress blog) where we click Appearance > Editor and find the Sidebar.php file. Simple paste that code underneath the first line of opening code. If you’re doing a form that appears somewhere on the blog (like a sidebar or post) you just paste the code where you want it to appear.

TIP: Always make sure you copy any WordPress files into a separate doc in case something goes wrong. That way you can just paste the original back in.

Extra tips for starting a mailing list

I’d like to end this quick tutorial by giving you a few simple tips and tricks that will help you start your mailing list or newsletter and get the most out of it. Don’t feel like you have to do it all at once, just scan and select.

  • Have different lists for different things
    Don’t assume that everyone who wants your blog updates will also want your latest 15-part email course. Create different lists for different purposes.
  • Think about who is subscribing
    Make sure you have a vague idea about who is going to be subscribing and what they are expecting.
  • Reduce friction and add social proof
    It can be a good idea to tell people that their email address will remain private and that X other people have already subscribed. Don’t do this if you have less than 500 subscribers.
  • Consider offering a free giveaway
    Free giveaways (or lead magnets) are still a popular way to get people to sign up to your list. You can automate the whole process.
  • Have an opt-in design custom made
    People often ask me about my homepage opt-in form and how to get one. I custom designed it myself in Photoshop and then had CrazyXHTML code it for me. Some more complicated ones need a designer.
  • Use a plugin like OptinSkin for better designs
    OptinSkin is a really cool plugin that allows you to add your email forms to your blog straight from your WordPress dashboard. Lots of cool design options and features.
  • Subscribe to your own list
    Make sure you subscribe to your own mailing list to see if everything works well and emails are going out correctly.
  • Learn how to split test
    Split testing can give you good insights into what is working. You can, for example, use AWeber to test two different forms with different colors to see which converts better.
  • Pass some instant value
    Pat Flynn recommends that you give one quick tip that subscribers can implement right away. This is a great idea and you can keep giving this kind of value as subscribers go on.
  • Subscribe to big sites temporarily
    It’s a good idea to subscribe to a few big blogs, even for a week, to see how they do it and the way it flows. It’s a good way to get ideas.

Do you have tips for starting a mailing list?

Please leave a comment below if you have any tips or resources that you think might help someone who is just starting out with their mailing list or newsletter. I know everyone does them differently and am always very curious to learn from your guys about things I might be able to improve as well.

Photo credit: Florian Klauer.


Hi, I'm Ramsay. If you enjoyed this post you might like to check out:

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35 Comments. Join in. *Closed after 30 days*

  • Diana Marinova

    Ha! I am surprised you recommend having different lists for different things – do you handle it this way, Ramsay?

    While I get that not everyone interested in your blog updates would also want to get your 15-day email course, in this case – I think it’s better if you have one list and add different groups or segments to the same list (different tools call it differently). This way you can track stats for the specific list and how different groups measure against the total of the specific list. You still target your emails in a better way (interest groups get different things) but you manage the same list.

    Having different lists is good for other cases though – e.g. if you have a paid email course which you have set up as an autoresponder series – then those people should have a dedicated list for that premium email course. They paid for it so they should be the only ones to get it; and they may or may not be interested in your regular email updates (blog updates, monthly newsletters, or something else) – so they shouldn’t get those updates, unless they opt-in to that list.

    Oh, I am not sure if I communicated well my point – bottom line: targeting is good and helps you maintain a healthy list. Having different lists is an option but in some cases, it might be better to have different groups on segments for the same list. Make sure you look into your options and decide which is better in the specific case.

    Thanks for a great post, Ramsay – as usual πŸ™‚

    1. chris

      Groups and lists is another difference between Aweber and MailChimp. They each have a different foundation form which they created their email service and a big part of that is in what defines a List. MC is list-centric so it’s better to create a different list for each optin topic but then you have a bit harder time dealing with mailing everything the same thing and duplicate emails to people on the same list. You can work around it with MC but if it’s definitely something you intend to do for the life of your business, go with Aweber.

      1. Diana Marinova

        I am not sure I understand your recommendation, Chris – I am using MailChimp and I am super happy with their groups and segmenting features (they have both). Why should I go with Aweber? Thanks in advance for elaborating πŸ™‚

        1. chris

          Diana, if you’ve found a way to do it, then great. I just dug into it a few weeks ago. I think the problem I found was having a person join more than one segment. For example, they opted in for one thing so since they are already in the list, they can’t opt-in on another form because they get the “already subscribed message.” Did you find a way around this?

          1. Diana Marinova

            But that’s exactly what I love about this groups feature – the person has only one profile as a list member and he or she can update their profile. E.g. you subscribe to my newsletter and check some of the group interests (e.g. books, email courses, etc.) However, as time passes, you are no longer interested in say, email courses but you still want to get my newsletter for whatever reason. So you can simply update your profile by unchecking the group “email courses”. You stop getting news about email courses and continue getting monthly newsletter plus other groups that you are interested in (e.g. books). And all of this without worrying about duplicate emails because the person is only on 1 list – just different groups.

            It is not ideal user experience with the error message you mention but right there, where it says “you are already subscribed”, there is a link to go and update your profile…

            If you log in to your mailchimp account and search the help section for groups hep, it will guide you through it – I think MailChimp is really good with list management and segmentation.

            Hope this helps.

  • alan

    need tutorial on optimizing wordpress site for seo, user friendliness

    1. Ramsay

      Thanks Alan.

    2. saurabh

      Yeah Ramsay, I have done the same mistakes of not making email lists initially. When i started my blog i was thinking, collecting mail id is a time consuming useless stuff. I just started writing and writing like a man in a blind alley, but after 8 months realised how important it is. It is your continuous guidelines and influence, i started this belated email collecting decision.

  • Kurt Frankenberg

    Yeah Ramsay, I have a request for fundamental topic we’d all like to see your take on…

    …how to craft email titles that are irresistible to click and open.

    This ties in to today’s post neatly; sure it’s nice to build a list but if they aren’t regularly opening your brilliance… what’s the point?

    I currently am getting just shy of 26% opens. I’m really not sure if that’s good but I want better. Coincidentally, in an effort to figure out what gets clicked a lot I scrolled through my own email account and the first one that jumped out at me was YOURS.

    So here I am asking. How does Ramsay go about to make an email that people want to open?

    I recently did a post on choosing one’s USP: Unique Selling proposition. I imagine that the process is very similar. You’re SELLING your subscriber on taking the time to open your particular communique, touting the benefits of what may be inside.

    Anyhoo, I’d love to get your tips on email titles. Then after that, possibly crafting the email itself for response.

    Thanks for another sample of your brilliance Ramsay.

    Keep Stepping,


    1. chris

      Kurt I do a split-test with my newsletter titles and that can make a huge difference. The only thing you have to decide is what to split test. Is it the number of email opens or the number of clicks to links within the email. I’ve seen arguments for both.

      As far as the split test, it goes to 20% of my subscribers. I usually run it early in the morning for a two hour period. I’ve seen notes that a 4 hour window is better but I also think the day and time play heavily into it.

  • chris

    The biggest difference between Aweber and Mailchimp is the confirmation count display. I’ve used both services and happen to currently use Mailchimp. With Aweber, you can see how many people subscribed and from there, how many confirmed that day and how many did not. Where this is useful is in split-testing. A test might show that twice as many people subscribe using your new form but if you discover they aren’t confirming the subscription, then it’s the first form that is the real winner.

    I have used three plug-ins for opt-in split testing; OptinSkin, HybridConnect, and ThriveLeads. I left OptinSkin for HybridConnect because I found OptinSkin to be a little flakey and a HUGE increase to my site load time. I run sub 2 seconds for a load time and OptinSkin was putting me near 4 seconds.

    I only recently switched from HybridConnect to Thriveleads because it’s made by the same company and it’s the next step, though I wouldn’t encourage people to grab it just yet because Thriveleads is still in beta testing.


    As far as tips, if you have a long content page that takes dedicated readers more than a minute to read, display a pop-up after 60 seconds. At this point, you have already identified them as people who trust you because they are still reading. Split-test the time period. I’m trying another test myself but I do know this one does well.

    Man-up to the psychological side of having a newsletter because people will UNSUBSCRIBE. Don’t take it personally. I have a very small handful of people unsubscribe from my newsletter after each mailing. These are people who have grown out of the area where they need the content (teaching) I am providing. Or maybe they are happy bookmarking my site and visiting on occasion because they already get too much email.

    What you should do with your unsubscribe count is trend it over time. If it seems a lot of people unsubscribe after the first email then your opt-in message does not align with your newsletter content and you need to make some changes.

    There will be people who opt-in, grab the freebie, then unsubscribe. Ignore them.


    Newsletter opens might not be counted if your email client doesn’t show images, like with Gmail, because it’s showing that image that goes as a sign of an open.

    Get around this by including a different image in each email and referencing it. For example, “Here is the blue widget and you can see in this photo how it’s different in shape than last year’s model.” This way, people will opt to view images in the email and you get the open count.


    As for a tutorial I’d like to see…something along the lines of evaluating long copy sales pages. I’ve read enough about “how to write one” but once it’s done, I wish I could evaluate it against a checklist or something. What seems good in my eyes isn’t necessarily right for my reader. And while split testing can help, I would rather start as best as possible.

    1. Ramsay

      Incredible comment and a great suggestion. Thank you, as always.

  • Elizabeth

    Hi Ramsay. I’d like a tutorial on guest posts – how to select where would be good to post, and how to go about achieving that. I’m also really curious about accepting guest posts – I know you never do, but why not? I’d also like a tutorial on setting up an anonymous blog. Thanks.

    1. Ramsay

      Great ideas, Elizabeth. Thanks.

  • Mary Collings

    Hi Ramsay,

    Thanks for a great step by step post. I’ve just set my opt in up after putting it off and finding 100 excuses not to do it.

    It’s weird how intimidating setting up a list can be. I’ve happily set up every kind of social media and actually enjoyed the process but just the thought of tackling the email list made me hyperventilate.

    I’m going to save your post for the next time I have to do this. It’s the kind of process you think you’ll remember but never do…

    thanks again

    1. Ramsay

      No need to be stressed. The process is pretty simple in the end and the support staff are amazing.

  • Lauren

    This is an awesome post! And so helpful!! We’re using a seriously convoluted process right now. First we have people sign up through SumoMe widgets. SumoMe then transfers the email addresses over to our Mailchimp list. Then we use Zapier to grab those email addresses and pull them into

    And we didn’t stop there. I wanted to have a CTA at the bottom of our blog posts too. But SumoMe doesn’t have a way to just insert forms into your pages. So I created a separate form through Squarespace. Squarespace places the new email addresses into a Google spreadsheet. Then Zapier moves the email addresses over to

    Hahahaha!! And I was really proud of myself once I got this obstacle-course-style setup working! That being said. SumoMe is awesome! It’s done way better for us than just having a form field at the bottom of our blog posts. Our signup rate improved by 10X. Especially once we installed the SmartBar at the top (which is just like your HelloBar). Anyway, really nice post!!

    1. Ramsay

      Holy hell. That gave me a headache!

  • Leila Sheikh


  • Megan Cooper

    Ha! I’m one of those bloggers with no list but… I’m working on it. It’s really figuring out what autoresponder to use, if I should do a double-optin, what to offer as a ‘bribe’, etc. It does take a lot of thought and work. Thanks for the great list, which works for newbies, but it’s still a reminder for me to get on it.

    1. Ramsay

      Hope it helps.

  • Scott Kindred

    Hey Ramsay,

    Love this quick tutorial on Aweber. Although I favor MailChimp for my own purposes, I have a client who could benefit from seeing how to create a signup form with Aweber’s service. I’m sending her the link to this post.

    1. Ramsay

      Thanks Scott. Appreciate it mate. Hope you’re well.

  • Louie Sison

    Hi Ramsay,

    This is by far the most comprehensive article I read on how to start a mailing list. I am thinking now if I move from Mailchimp to Aweber. The drop designer looks easy to work on.

    Thanks for sharing,

    1. Ramsay

      Give it a test run before you move. Just make sure it’s right for your needs.

  • Sue Anne Dunlevie

    My biggest tip (and I tested this out) is to send a plain-Jane looking email out like Ramsay does. The fancier “pretty” emails with logos, etc. don’t get as high a click-through rate.


    1. Lauren

      That’s really interesting Sue. We just switched from the plain text email over to a prettier one. I expected the click through rates to go up. Or at the very least stay the same. I’ll definitely be watching this more closely though now!

      And, now that I think about it, a lot of these Blog Newsletter Updates come as plain text. Neil Patel’s emails are always unbranded too.

      Very interesting point! πŸ™‚

      1. Ramsay

        Please let me know how this goes. I always find it interesting.

  • Hamayon

    Ramsay Great tutorial but I think for newbies in email marketing Aweber is quite expensive there are a lot of other choices out there with most features. A good example is mailchimp, people can start with that in the beginning and then can shift to big names like aweber and getresponse but for newbies Aweber is quite expensive I think.
    – Hamayon

  • carly

    Great tips per usual! I love that mailchimp is free for the first 2000 subscribers. This is a huge benefit, for beginner bloggers trying to decide if their blog is sustainable.
    I have had 0 luck getting subscribers with a landing page and advertising but have found that giveaways that are featured in a post seem to work better.
    I definitely think getting sustainable blog traffic is a frustrating process.

  • Cathy Mayhue

    Hi Ramsay,

    This is not a dirty tutorial but quite detailed and extremely helpful. I was about to start with mailchimp but now will try out Aweber too.

  • Jonathan Foster

    Thanks for the great post!

    I’ve been working in web design for quite a while but am just now launching a blog (that I swear I’ll keep up with this time) and I’ve been looking for good ways to market it and build it up. Email lists make a lot of sense so I think this will be my first step. Thanks again for the great tips!