5 Ways Startups can Create More Email Leads

This is a guest post by Gregory Ciotti, the “marketing guy” at Help Scout.

Email is a fantastic way to build goodwill with current and prospective customers.

With more people using email than any social network, it is essential for all new startups to take list building very seriously.

The question is this: how can startups create more email leads without becoming overly aggressive (a big turnoff) in their tactics?

Below I discuss 5 tested (and proven!) ways that startups can capture more emails without losing customer goodwill.

1.) Integrate Email into Your Offering

Oftentimes, a startup’s homepage can be utilized to gather emails in a very natural way, such as taking the product or service for a test-drive.

One great example of this in action can be found over at BidSketch (proposal creation software), where founder Ruben Gamez collects emails on his homepage for test-proposals:

The key with these integrations is incentive and trust.

Whether you’re pitching potentially game-changing software or simply some LOLcats, you’re offering needs to speak to people’s needs enough that it warrants an email sign-up.

Additionally, you must be considered trustworthy (and actually be trustworthy!) with your potential sign-ups.

This means being completely honest and transparent about what handing over their email means for them.

If you plan to include them in your newsletter after the sign-up, notify them. Many people will not object to this at all, but if you try to “sneak” them into something when all they wanted was to sign-up, you’ll create a lot of discontent (not to mention kill your credibility).

2.) Resources, Resources, Resources!

My apologies for the overly trite headline, but providing informative resources for your readers is an absolutely essential strategy for startups (in fact, I’d say it’s one of the top list building strategies available).

What exactly is a “resource” though, and why are they needed?

A resource would be an informative guide of some sort that explains to customers some aspect about your business or your industry. This allows customers to become more familiar with your product, why they need your product, and just what headache your product can solve.

The medium is up to you, as I’ve seen resources in all of the following formats:

  • e-Books
  • Whitepapers
  • Slideshows & presentations
  • Videos & webinars
  • MP3s

Over at Help Scout, we’ve dedicated an entire page to resources, including guides, e-books, webinars, and more. They range from informative content on creating a better customer service experience to whitepapers that explain (in detail) how Help Scout works.

This page has easily been one of our most utilized and most successful in creating new email leads, and it’s also a great way to position what our offering is about to curious prospective customers.

3.) Promote Your Resources

This one is going to seem like a no-brainer, but when I dive in to exactly what I mean, I think you’ll start generating some great ideas.

The thing about resource-style content is that it was made for promotion: while blog posts and regular articles are a great way to reach out to people (“Hey, thought you might like this recent piece we did on…”), you can get a lot of mileage out of a good set of resources.

One way to do this is to take an already existing resource and transfer it to a new medium for promotional purposes. Slideshows are pretty much the perfect platform for this.

As an example, we took our 75 Customer Service Facts, Quotes, and Statistics e-book and created a set of slides for use on SlideShare:

You’ll notice that this slideshow has a majority of the content, but doesn’t include everything.

You’ll also notice the call-to-action (“call for more content”) at the end of the presentation leads to our resource page where visitors can download the e-book in exchange for their email.

This process is quite effective because you can work with content you already have and turn it into something that generates leads on an entirely different platform.

Additionally, there’s always the “old-fashioned way”: find fellow entrepreneurs, bloggers, or even journalists and shoot them a personal email with your latest resource attached (don?t make them opt-in!).

You provide them something for free, which starts the process of reciprocity, and in turn, they may write about your latest creation and drive new visitors to your site.

Remember to always respect people’s time and inboxes: aim to provide people with something they will likely enjoy, not to blast out your latest e-book at random.

4.) Guest Posting With a Purpose

A lot of startups don?t fully utilize guest posting.

Guest posting (or “guest blogging”) is the process of creating an outstanding article about an aspect in your niche or industry and then… letting someone else publish it.

Although it may seem foolhardy to do so, it’s essential for early-stage startups to engage in. The reason being is that other sites are going to have a much larger audience than you do, and you can create relationships with these companies and send traffic back to your own site with a well placed guest post.

Certain startups have taken this to heart and have used the strategy to acquire over 100,000 users, almost all of which were generated from guest blogging.

To optimize your guest posts, make sure you are posting on relevant sites (blogs within your industry) and don’t waste your time on sites that are too small. Also, always make sure that you end your guest posts with a compelling call-to-action. I consistently end our guest posts with a call to download one of our free e-books rather than promoting the Help Scout homepage.

When hitting your homepage, visitors are often left with many actions to take, and as such they may be likely to “bounce” away. If you link them to a landing page with a clear call-to-action or a free download, they are much more likely to sign-up for your mailing list.

5.) Use Blog Real Estate Wisely

In my previous post on AWeber, I covered the 5 best places to place your opt-in forms, and these lessons in site “real estate” are important to consider when optimizing email sign ups for startups.

In case you want a “quick and dirty” summary of that previous post, the 5 best spots (for your startup’s blog) are as follows:

1. Above the fold feature box (or a pop-up)
2. Top of the sidebar
3. End of each blog post
4. Your about us page
5. A dedicated newsletter page

These are the hot spots that eye-tracking studies have revealed to be the most consistently viewed places on your blog.

The other thing to look out for is general clutter on your blog. Having too many choices has been proven to be “demotivating” for web browsers: they are likely to choose nothing if you give them too many options!

Be sure to only keep widgets and sidebar sections that are necessary: define the main goals of your blog at the moment and what actions you want readers to take, and make sure that these outcomes are easily accessible and obvious.

Eliminate things that do nothing but distract your readers or that never get used (for instance, I’ve found that few people were utilizing my search bar, so I got rid of it and placed an image for my free e-book instead).

Now It’s Your Turn

Thanks for making it to the bottom of the post!

Now, I’d love to hear from you:

1. Which of these methods are you going to be trying first?
2. As a special thanks for reading all the way to the bottom, feel free to download Help Scout’s free e-book on 25 Ways to Thank Your Customers, trust us, they?ll thank you for it!

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the comments!

Gregory Ciotti
markets at Help Scout, a help desk service software that turns email support into a fast, pleasant and memorable experience for your customers. Get more from Greg on the Help Scout blog.


  1. Andrew Woo

    9/20/2012 1:45 pm

    Definitely going to try the Resource pages. Heard these are great for SEO too. Thx for the article Gregory.

  2. Sergio Felix

    9/20/2012 1:47 pm

    Hey Gregory, fantastic tips man.

    I never thought about using a dedicated newsletter page before even though I think I’ve seen it on a few sites and I was always curious if that would work.

    Curiosity killed the cat, right?

    Anyway, going to see if I implement a page like that on my menu bar and I actually have a LOT of work to do on my blog to include the sign up form on more places and make it more enticing.

    Thanks for the awesome reminder and the great tip on offering a sample through an e-mail broadcast, that was brilliant as well.


  3. Jen McGahan

    9/20/2012 1:48 pm

    Hey Gregory, love the Slideshare idea! May turn my current free opt in offer into a slide show. Thanks for the tips!!

  4. Eric

    9/20/2012 1:58 pm

    Great post, Gregory! I’ve set up several channels of collecting leads on our site, but haven’t implemented the bottom-of-posts one yet…I’ll jump on it! It was great to see how effective it was at the end of this post too. A freebie call-to-action seems well placed when people have just read something they enjoyed.

  5. Reuben Chng

    9/20/2012 2:02 pm

    Thank you. The emails have been really helpful. I love tip number one itself. As for me, I teach music production so I have free music tutorials on youtube and I give a free download.
    To get the download you’ll have to sign up for the newsletter though. 🙂

  6. Dr.Spencer Jones

    9/20/2012 2:57 pm

    Nice post, I am definitely convinced that guest posts can bring me results much quicker. So I am looking forward to trying out guest postings on some blogs in my niche. Also I need to work on my resource page, thanks for the reminder. I am ready have a resource page created where I need to add some content.

    P.S: The Help Scount resource link is leading to a “page not found” page.

    Dr.Spencer Jones

  7. Mary

    9/20/2012 3:33 pm

    Thanks for all the GREAT Start Up Ideas!

  8. Lawanna Bean

    9/20/2012 3:35 pm

    I think the most important thing in getting people to sign up for your email list is to provide excellent quality on a consistent basis. And using a call to action is important too.

  9. Alex

    9/20/2012 4:04 pm

    I loved this! Amazing can’t wait to insert an email form on my about us page. Please, please, please send me more fantastic content like this!!!!! 😀

  10. Tam Steele Daly

    9/20/2012 5:10 pm

    What a Fantastic 5! I reckon my first tip to try will be the 2&3 combined; I have a ton of resources that would have them begging for more 🙂
    Thank you for these great tips – keep ’em coming.

  11. Gabe Johansson

    9/20/2012 6:32 pm

    Since I integrated a pop up form, my signups have literally tripled from my blog. My squeeze pages do much better than my blog, but it was a nice increase anyways.

    I still really need to get to guest posting! There are a lot of new subscribers I could reach by doing it properly.

    -Gabe Johansson

  12. Annie Sailo

    9/21/2012 1:40 am

    Good points offered to gather information about the best in the business which can be off immense help to find a solution. So every problem has a solution to it it just about how to stick to the basics under pressure. Email Marketing requires to brush up the basics and that is how we clear them in a set pattern and growth.

  13. Rob Stafford

    9/21/2012 2:43 am

    I’d also like to add that solo ads are a GREAT way to generate leads for your business

  14. Gregory Ciotti

    9/21/2012 10:51 am

    @Andrew – Thanks man, glad you liked this one!

    @Sergio – I’m a huge fan of dedicated newsletter pages brother, it gets right to the point and you can use the copy to give people a compelling reason to subscribe.

    @Jen – Great idea Jen! It’s a very underutilized platform, should be great for your e-book, I know it’s been awesome for us.

    @Eric – Well put Eric, I’ve always noticed that I’m looking for something to do whenever I end a great post, it just makes sense to give people an enticing option.

    @Reuben – Great way to do things Reuben, thanks for your thoughts.

    @Dr. Jones – Ah, thanks for the heads up, I’ll let the AWeber team know!

    @Mary – Thank ya!

  15. Gregory Ciotti

    9/21/2012 10:57 am

    @Lawanna – Very true, can’t forget the essentials.

    @Alex – Sincere thanks Alex, we’d love to make a return on the AWeber blog! 🙂

    @Tam – I can’t recommend resources enough, it’s a far more effective way to get engaged email readers than standard blog posts.

    @Gabe – I can’t argue with results, we’ve included a pop-up form on Help Scout too and it’s worked really well. I also recommend the feature box above the fold, as long as you are providing value, it’s okay to be a little more aggressive.

    @Annie – Very true, thanks Annie.

    @Rob – Good point, I think ad buys for resources specifically can work really well.

  16. Doug

    9/21/2012 1:44 pm

    I took an older e-book of mine still selling good and added some ad pages to my single page mini sites that use Aweber to gather addresses to get a free jump-start training. I also gave them permission to distribute it to up to 5 of their friends. Free advertising and my list doubled!

  17. Ayaz

    9/24/2012 2:01 am


    Generating Email Leads for me is the biggest challenge but you should know the ways of doing it and you have provided great ideas and certainly organizing the content and design some what does matters.

  18. Holger

    9/24/2012 10:38 am

    Hi, this will help us generating more Email leads, thanks. What we do is to put interesting content (eg presentation on tax issues) on our page and require a login which is provided in our newsletter – that is what you put under 2) and 3) and it really works for us. Best regards, Holger

  19. David

    9/24/2012 4:53 pm

    This biggest improvement in my site’s opt in rate was by improving the free lead magnet. I’ve found the upper right of the side bar to be the best place to put the opt-in box.

    Based upon this article, I’m am now thinking of improving the offer again.

  20. James

    9/29/2012 5:15 am

    An email sign up makes me really uncomfortable as I have had experiences wherein a supposed member was sent spam mails bad enough for her to change her current email. Although I did not do this, it is sometimes hard and it stains your reputation. I guess blogging is more effective.

  21. Randall Magwood

    10/20/2012 11:48 am

    I particularly like to generate customers on the backend and then do some backend email marketing to them. Typically this boosts my sales rather than free leads. But depending on the niche and industry, generating free leads can be a real money maker. Great post!

  22. Steve

    10/26/2012 8:27 pm

    I definitely need to offer something in exchange for an email address. This post gave me a nice idea I can integrate fairly quickly. Thanks!

  23. Doris

    12/24/2012 5:48 am

    Great ways…Thanks !!!

  24. Destiny

    1/15/2013 9:49 pm

    This is so helpful. I’ve owned a few different niche blogs now and the one area I always seemed to be challenged in, is getting and keeping a good subscriber base. I love these ideas and will definitely implement some of them.