How to Build an Email List with WordPress

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Want to send new post notifications?

Or maybe you need to promote a product launch?

There are tons of reasons to create an email list, and here’s a little secret…

Every website should be building an email list.

Regardless of how you’ve monetized your website, gaining subscribers with email marketing will amplify your results.

Even if you haven’t monetized your site yet, growing your email list now will make any business ventures you pursue in the future more successful.

In this post, you’ll learn how to build an email list from scratch with WordPress. You don’t need any prior knowledge or tools to get started.

Let’s begin with a quick overview of how this all works.

Here’s how it fits together

In order to build an email list with WordPress, you need two things:

  1. Form plugin
  2. Email service provider

The form plugin will allow you to create beautiful, customizable optin forms and display them on your website. In this tutorial, you’ll be creating an optin form like this:

Example Optin Form

Using an API key, you’ll connect the form to your email service provider (takes less than one minute). Then every time someone submits the form, they’ll be added automatically to your email list.

As always, I’ll be recommending premium tools and free alternatives for every step.

Now let’s get started with that optin form!

Create an optin form

The plugin I use and recommend is MailOptin.

MailOptin Plugin

The pro version is $79 and includes more optin types, but the free version works great too. I’m using the free plugin in all of the screenshots you see in this tutorial.

I have other email form plugin recommendations if you’d like to see some alternatives too.

Start by installing and activating MailOptin via the Plugins menu in your dashboard. You can search for it by name:

Install Mailoptin

Once activated, you’ll see a new MailOptin menu appear in your admin sidebar. Hover over the MailOptin menu and click on Optin Campaigns.

Mailoptin Campaigns

In the Optin Campaigns menu, you’ll get an overview of how well your forms/campaigns are performing.

To create a new form, click the Add New button at the top of the page and this will take you to the campaign creation page.

Mailoptin Create Campaign

Start by giving the campaign a title. Next, with the free version of MailOptin, you can choose between the following optin types:

  • Lightbox
  • In-post
  • Sidebar/widget

The notification bar and slide-in optin types are only available in MailOptin Pro.

In my example, I’ll be using the widget option, but you can deviate here if you want. To begin creating the form, click on the Sidebar/widget section and then click the Select Theme button on the first design.

Mailoptin Select Theme

This will take you to the optin form customizer where you can quickly change the content and style of the form.

Email Form Customizer

When editing the form, start with the copy. You can click on any element to open its section in the customizer right away.

Edit Headline
You can change the headline text, color, font, and size easily

The headline should be used to capture attention and then the subheading is used to clarify the offer. That’s exactly what the MailOptin team has done with their example.

Once you’re satisfied with your copy, open the Design section in the customizer to change the border and background colors of the form.

Form Colors

MailOptin also allows you to choose which pages the form displays on using the Display Rules section.

Form Display Rules

This option is especially handy if you’re creating offers based on specific posts/pages on your site. We’re going to keep things simple in this tutorial and display the form globally.

When you’re finished customizing, save your changes and exit without activating the form. You’re not quite ready to display it publicly yet. You need to integrate with an email service provider first.

Get an email service provider

You need an email service provider for a few reasons.

Mainly, they’ll store your email list and reliably deliver emails to your subscribers for you. On top of that, they’ll let you send automated email marketing campaigns, deliver stylish and personalized emails to your subscribers, and much more.

ConvertKit is my absolute favorite email service provider, but if you need a free solution to get started with then sign up for MailChimp instead.

I find ConvertKit to be the easiest and most intuitive email marketing app, but they don’t have a free tier while MailChimp gives you up to 2,000 subscribers for free.

You can read my full review of ConvertKit here.

Once you’ve signed up for either one, the next step is to create an email list.

Create a list with ConvertKit

With ConvertKit, all of your subscribers are stored in a single list that you can further segment when needed.

ConvertKit uses “forms” as an entry point for new subscribers. In order to add subscribers with MailOptin, you need to create a form in ConvertKit to connect to.

Visit the Landing Pages & Forms menu in ConvertKit and then click the Create New button at the bottom.

Convertkit Create Form

On the next page, select the option to create a new form.

Create New Form

ConvertKit will then ask you to select a form type and a template. Select any of them – it doesn’t matter since you’re using MailOptin for the visual form.

On the next page, you’ll see the form editor. Change the name of the form so you know it’s using MailOptin, then save and exit.

Name Form
ConvertKit has a nice editor, but you can ignore the design you see here

Now that you have a form created, you have a new entry point for adding subscribers to ConvertKit.

Create a list with MailChimp

The process is a bit more straightforward with MailChimp. Your account can have multiple lists which they call “Audiences.”

Your account has one audience auto-created which you can edit to match your website’s info.

Mailchimp Audience Details

Once you have either a form created in ConvertKit or an Audience prepared in MailChimp, you’re ready to connect with MailOptin.

Add your API key to MailOptin

Every email marketing app will provide you with an API key to connect it with other applications.

The first step is simply finding it!

Where to find your API key

In ConvertKit, your API key is found in the general account settings page.

Convertkit Api Key
The API key in this screenshot is blurred for security reasons

To find your API key in MailChimp, click on your name in the menu and then select Account.

Mailchimp Visit Account

Then click on the Extras menu and select API Keys.

Mailchimp Api Keys

On the next page, you’ll find your API Keys and a button to create a new key if needed.

Once you’ve found your API key, copy it to your clipboard and return to your WP admin dashboard.

Enter your API key

Back inside your dashboard, click on the Integrations submenu in the MailOptin menu where you’ll find a list of all available service integrations.

Mailoptin Integrations

Select the email service you’re using, and then enter your API key into the input and hit Save Changes.

Api Key Saved

MailOptin can now speak with the email service you signed up with.

Now that you have MailOptin working with your email app, it’s time to connect the optin form with the right list.

Connect your form with your list

Return to the Optin Campaigns menu, and click on the form you previously created to edit it.

Edit Optin Campaign

Inside the customizer, click on the Integrations menu item. Then click the arrow icon in the New Integration box.

Add Form Integration

Select the email provider you connected and then choose the list/form you want to add subscribers to.

Select Optin Form

You now have an optin form that will add subscribers to the list in the email service provider you signed up with.

The very last step is to display the form on your site.

Display the form publicly

Inside the form customizer, you can click this switch at the top and save your changes to make your form live:

Activate Optin

If you created a lightbox or in-post campaign, your form is now showing on your site.

If you selected the widget option like I did then there’s just one more step.

Visit the Widgets menu and locate the MailOptin widget.

Mailoptin Widget

Add it to whichever widget area you’d like and you’ll see it has one simple option to select a form to display.

Mailoptin Widget Active

Select the form you created and you’re done!

In my case, I’m using the Apex theme and the MailOptin widget now displays at the top of the sidebar, like this:

Live Optin Widget

The best part about the MailOptin widget is that you can reuse it as many times as you want. You can include the same form in multiple widget areas, or use the widget to include different forms with new offers that add subscribers to different lists. It’s endlessly customizable.

This is a good time to enter your info into the contact form to test it out. You should see your name and email show up in your email service provider right away.

List building with WordPress

Most WordPress beginners get overwhelmed with the tech behind list building, so I hope this made things easy to understand.

With the products recommended here, you can create beautiful optin forms and send emails reliably with an email provider – and all for free!

If you find yourself wanting more customization options, MailOptin Pro is well worth the investment.

Check out MailOptin Pro →

As you get more comfortable with growing a list and sending email campaigns, you’ll discover a need for greater segmentation and customization. The tools recommended here are simple but also advanced enough to grow with you.

Setting up an email marketing funnel can be simple with the right approach. I hope you feel comfortable building an email list with WordPress now and ready to grow your subscriber count.

Ben Sibley
Ben Sibley
Ben Sibley is a WordPress theme designer & developer, and founder of Compete Themes.