How to get 2,239 email subscribers from scratch

Bonus Material: Free 7-Day List Building Master Class


This is a case study from Robbie Richards.

Building an email list should be your number one priority. Period.

The question is, how do you quickly build a list without giving away burritos to every reader?

And in this post, I’m going to show you step-by-step how I collected 2,262 email subscribers in 117 days on the cheap.

The best part, I’m going to show you how I did it with…

Zero budget.

Zero connections.

And a tiny social media following.

Let’s do this!

Tactic 1: Collecting Thousands of Emails with a Dead-Simple Popup

List builder is the quickest and easiest way to get started collecting email addresses on your site.

It’s a breeze to use, and in less than 120 days I collected 1,531 email addresses with the List Builder app

Screenshot showing results for a Sumo campaign

And achieved a 5.64% conversion rate

Screenshot showing the conversion rates for different dates with Sumo

Awesome, right? Here’s how you can get the same results.

Click here if you have Sumo installed already. Otherwise, log into Wordpress and select “Add New” from the “Plugins” section in the left navigation menu -

Screenshot showing the plugins tab on a wordpress site

Next, search for the Sumo plugin -

Screenshot showing how you can easily install Sumo on your Wordpress site

Click “Install Now”.

Note: If you don’t use Wordpress you’ll need to copy the HTML code found here and add it to the section of the website. If you’re not tech-savy consult a developer.

Screenshot showing the final step to installing Sumo

Now, when you visit your website you’ll see the Sumo crown displaying on the right side of the screen –

Screenshot showing how you can access the Sumo dashboard on your site

Click the crown icon and enter your name and email address to create a free account.

Once the account is created you’ll be able to enter the “Sumo Store” and select which apps you want to install –

Screenshot showing how you can access the Sumo Store

Select the “List Builder” app –

Screenshot showing the List Builder app on Sumo

Once you’ve installed the app, click “open”. If you’re using the free version you’ll see a screen that looks like this -

Screenshot showing the settings for List Builder on the Sumo dashboard

Click here to turn on List Builder Pro. You'll need to go List Builder Pro which is only $20 bucks a month for what I'm going to show you. If you are using the free version click here" to skip to the “behavior” section.

Instead of going straight to the design tab, you’ll navigate to the “campaigns” tab and click “Add New Campaign”.

Screenshot showing different campaigns in Sumo

Once the campaign is created click the “Popups & A/B Tests” tab –

Screenshot of a graph in the Sumo dashboard, showing conversions and the "add new popup" button

Click “Add New Popup”.

Next, hit the “Design” tab and choose:

  • Template
  • Form size
  • Headline copy (make it attention-grabbing)
  • Set font, background and button colors

I used the “Graph” template…

Screenshot showing different templates for list builder popups in the sumo dashboard

...to create this popup form in two minutes -

Screenshot showing a content upgrade created with Sumo

It has collected over 200 emails in 2 weeks and reached a 14.63% conversion rate on May 16th –

Screenshot showing a graph of an AB test in Sumo

Pro Tip: I found offering a free eBook with a concrete result gets the highest opt-in rate.

Next, customize the “Success” message on the design section. This is the message people see once they submit their email address -

A great thing to leverage at this moment:

Ask people to connect with you on social media. People are much more likely to take action right after they convert the first time. Here's mine:

Screenshot showing a post-signup success page with Sumo

Next, click on the “behavior” tab. This interface will look identical within both the free and paid versions of List builder.

You’ll be able to customize the following:

  1. Time trigger (how long after page load until the form displays)
  2. Frequency
  3. Display mode
  4. Subscriber redirects


Screenshot of the behaviort tab for a Sumo popup

I’ve tested a number of different time-based triggers and found popups displaying at 10 seconds have the highest conversion rates.

You’ll also notice I have display frequency set to “0 minutes”.

So, the opt-in form will trigger every time a reader loads a page. This is super aggressive, but it works. You don't have to be as aggressive.

As with everything, be sure to test these settings for yourself.

Screenshot showing how you can select smart or manual modes in the Sumo dashboard

The List Builder also lets you choose a “Smart Mode”. This setting gives your popup "exit intent"; readers only see it when they are about to leave the site.

Finally, connect List Builder to your email service provider of choice on the "Services" tab. Sumo provides one-click API integration with all the major email service providers, including MailChimp, AWeber, Constant Contact, GetResponse, Infusionsoft and more.

Screenshot showing different integrations for Sumo

Tactic 2: Triple Your Conversion Rate with Content Upgrades

What’s the best way to accelerate the growth of your email list?

Content upgrades.

A content upgrade a content-specific offering that provides instant value to the reader.

That means that when you create an awesome, detail-rich blog post, you take extra materials like :

  • a video walkthrough
  • step-by-step playbook
  • useful spreadsheet

or anything that will help the reader and offer it to them in return for their email address.


For example, I offer the “Ultimate SEMrush playbook” as a content upgrade on this SEMrush tutorial

Screenshot showing a content upgrade created with Sumo

The content upgrade has an average conversion rate of 7.61% (peaking at 16.67% on May 13th) –

Screenshot showing the conversion rate for a Sumo popup

And it has added 186 new subscribers to my email list.

Here's how to create one with Sumo in 20 seconds:

I simply took this post I wrote last year and converted it into a PDF in 10 seconds using the free Print Friendly and PDF chrome extension –

Screenshot showing a chrome extension

Open the post you want to convert to PDF and click the green chrome extension icon –

Screenshot showing an android button on chrome extensions

Next, click the PDF button to convert the post. All the links will pass from the post into the PDF. –

Screenshot showing an email about SEMrush, and a PDF button on top

First, navigate to the campaign you want to add a content upgrade on and select “Display Rules” from the left navigation –

Screenshot showing content-specific links in the Sumo dashboard

Next, choose "On URL Paths..." and put the URL of the page in there. For example I added this one on /competitor-research. You can add it to just 1 page or do it across many of them.

Pro Tip: Head over to Google Analytics and navigate to Behavior >> Site Content >> All Pages and look to see which posts are getting the most pageviews –

Screenshot showing google analytics stats for a blog

This will uncover popular posts on your site you can quickly turn into a PDF and add as a content upgrade. This should help you get at least 5% conversions to email signups on those pages.

Click here to add content upgrades with List Builder Pro

Tactic 3: Doubling your conversion rates with A/B testing

Having the ability to quickly deploy and target your opt-in forms is great, but what really matters is what converts.

Luckily, Sumo makes it easy to setup and test multiple form features, including different form designs and triggers.

Do you think adding an image helps improve email conversions? Let's see -

Screenshot showing a content upgrade created with Sumo

Or, this one –

Screenshot showing a content upgrade created with Sumo

Adding an ebook image to the form boosted the conversion rate 110.72% -

Screenshot showing conversion rates for two email collection boxes, AB tested

All I did was add a small piece of HTML to the form template and I doubled the conversion rate –

Screenshot showing the text section for a list builder popup in the Sumo Dashboard

Setting up an A/B test only takes a few minutes. You can do test anything you want, like:

  • button colors
  • timing of the popup
  • different templates
  • headline copy
  • and more...

Here's how to replicate the test from above:


Click on the plus green sign to duplicate your current popup on your current campaign. Then click on the name of your new popup and add this code to the text (HTML allowed) section on the "Design" section:

Enter your email below to download the ebook.
<img src="link to your image here" />

Hit save and you are done.


Screenshot showing + - buttons in the Sumo dashboard

Start with a simple test. Once you have a test with statistical significance over 95% choose a winner and test another form feature.

Screenshot showing the statistical significance section under Sumo stats

Rinse and repeat.

Click here to add A/B testing on List Builder Pro

Tactic 4: Adding an Unobtrusive Sign-up Reminder

If you find yourself in that camp and are looking for a less aggressive tactic, or if you want to try something new, there’s a solution called Scroll Box.

Scroll Box is List Builder’s more considerate younger brother. Instead of having a popup display after a certain period of time, you can use the Scroll Box app to display an email opt-in form only after a visitor has read through a specified amount of your post.

If you want to be more aggressive with your list building use a popup and a scroll box. Set the popup to display shortly after page load and the scroll box to slide in when the reader reaches the end of the post.

You can also turn on Yield Tech™ in the "settings" tab so List Builder and Scroll Box won't show on the same page.

Screenshot of a Sumo popup on the bottom right of the page

You can set the opt-in box to slide in from any corner of the website. It also has the option to slide in from up/down or left/right. You can run some A/B tests to see which slide movements convert best.

I used the Scroll Box for 27 days when I first started my blog and managed to collect an extra 70 email addresses-

Screenshot of conversions displayed on the Sumo dashboard

The conversion rate was 3.2% -

Screenshot of stats of conversions with Sumo

Click here to enable templates and A/B testing with Scroll Box Pro

Tactic 5: Stay front and center at all times

Hello Smart Bar. The Smart Bar is a handy Sumo app that places a bar on the top or bottom of your website that you can use to capture emails –

Screenshot showing a Sumo smart bar in action

I’ve managed to collect 293 email addresses in the last 100 days with the Smart Bar –

Screenshot showing how many emails Sumo helped collect

At a conversion rate of 0.64% -

Screenshot of stats of subscribers with Sumo

The Smart Bar allows you to configure the header bar a number of ways, including:

CTAs that link to targeted landings pages –

Screenshot of a smart bar created with Sumo

These could be product pages, giveaway contests or to your squeeze pages. This is a great way to direct traffic to your highest-converting pages.

It even doubles as a tool to grow your social audiences. In fact, this feature helped me get 1,048 new followers in 30 days -

Screenshot of the Facebook button by Sumo in action

Sales, social media fans, emails…configure the Smart Bar to meet your specific business goals.

Setting Up Your Smart Bar

Add the Smart Bar from the Sumo Store. Go to the “Design” section of the app –

Screenshot of the design tab in Sumo if Bar Mode is selected

In the “behavior” section I choose to show the Smart Bar at the top of the page at all times. This makes the header scroll with the page as people read the content.

Screenshot showing the behavior tab in the Sumo dashboard for a popup

I did this so I could give the reader an opportunity to opt-in at all times.

Pro Tip: Take advantage of the Smart Bar “Success” message and ask subscribers to follow you on a select social media channel –

Screenshot of what happens after you subscribe through a smart bar

Or, remind them to click the link in their confirmation email.

You can also set up A/B tests and target Smart Bars to specific content and device types just as you did with the other form types.

Click here to enable templates and A/B testing with Smart Bar Pro

Tactic 6: Get thousands of social media shares on autopilot

Now, you might be thinking, “Robbie! This is a post about email marketing, why are you talking about sharing?!”

But here’s the secret. The more people share your content, the more visitors you get to your site, and the more potentials for signups you get.

Easy sharing = more traffic = more opt-in exposure = more email subscribers.

Now WordPress and other sites will give you some default sharing buttons… but they’re ugly. No one wants to click those dinky little Tweet or Like buttons!

Instead, just open up Sumo and install the Share app. Since installing it on my blog, the social engagement has skyrocketed.

Two of my blog posts have combined for 10,100 social shares

Screenshot of social share buttons on a Sumo article

Screenshot showing a blog post by Sumo, along with social share buttons

This helped drive 19,128 social media referral visits to my site -

Screenshot of google analytics showing the amount of sessions directed by social

And you might be thinking “sure, but social traffic doesn’t convert.” Well think again!

In the last 30 days, Twitter traffic alone has added 68 new subscribers to my email list –

Screenshot showing conversions referred from social media websites

It’s a beautiful cycle!

Pro Tip: Share also provides valuable analytics.

You’ll be able to view which channels are generating the most social engagement…

Screenshot showing different social media platforms

And, track which specific posts are most popular among your readers –

Screenshot showing the top pages section in the sumo dashboard

Case studies and expert roundups are by far my most popular content when it comes to social engagement.

I think I’ll do more of that :)

Setting up Share

Once you have the Share app installed from the Sumo store, navigate over to the “Layout” tab and select the areas you want to show the share icons –

Screenshot showing how CTA buttons are positioned differently on PC and mobile

Pro Tip: In the settings tab set the browser width to 1440 pixels. This will make the social share icons display along the bottom of the screen when visiting your site on a web browser –

Screenshot showing sumo social share buttons in action horizontally

Next, select the different social accounts you want to feature on your Share bar –

Screenshot showing different services available in the sumo dashboard

To keep it clean, I only include maximum six channels. Those I’m actively engaged on.

I also enabled Smart Mode so the most popular social networks (based on share count) are always placed at the top –

Screenshot showing the sort options for social share buttons in Sumo

High visible share count = more social proof = more people will share it.

Finally, in the “Services” tab be sure to set your Twitter handle (do not include the ‘@’ symbol).

Screenshot showing settings for the sumo social share option

This will append your Twitter handle to the end of all the tweets generated by your Share bar –

Screenshot of a Twitter post about Robbie

Here's what you should do next:

Get started with our List Building Master Class!

I just walked you through the exact process I used to collect 2,239 email subscribers in 117 days, and how you can duplicate it using 5 Sumo apps.

Now I want you to login to your Sumo, make these changes in the less than 10 minutes and significantly grow your email list too. Click here to login to Sumo!

Thanks Brian Dean for reviewing this article.

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