Email List Building the Lazy Way

Generate Theme

People seem to want to know about email list building, and how to get a big newsletter subscriber base. I have my ways. I’ll share what I know.

I sell premium WordPress themes (affiliate link) from StudioPress, because I’m a fan of the company, but also because I use them and they have served me very well. At present, I’m using the Generate theme (scroll down a little), which features a prominent email subscription link at the top of the page (see the above graphic or just click through to []).

This is perhaps the least customized version of a StudioPress theme I’ve ever used. Yes, Brian Gardner and team added my pretty head to my version, but beyond that, if you want what I’ve got on my site, it’ll work almost the same way out of the box. (Yes, it’s better to have a designer help you pretty it up a bit.)

But the look of the theme, while wonderful, isn’t what’s interesting. Want to see some numbers?

My Subscription Rate to My Email Newsletter

According to my stats, we’ve seen an increase of 35.41% in subscribers to my newsletter since turning on the Generate theme. Just park on that for a moment. 35 percent more people are getting my newsletter since I pushed that big graphical sign-up into the top of my site. This is huge.

If that’s not a reason to consider picking up the Generate theme, then I can’t help you.

A Bit More About My Methods

I have some other stats to share with you. My open rates.

Open Rates on Previous 4 Newsletters

35% – CB’s Next Big Deal
39% – Three Words
23% – Starting Moves Video
40% – Switch To Paper Lists

What are the industry averages? Silverpop says 22%. Epsilon says 23.8%. PR Daily says 17%.

I’m doing reasonably well, given the averages I’ve found elsewhere. How do I think I’m accomplishing this?

  1. Deliver value. Give even more than your readers would ever imagine.
  2. Encourage replies. Make your newsletter come from a real email address, not a “” type of address.
  3. Write in a personable tone. People respond to the sense they’re talking with a person.
  4. Share useful information, not ads. The more you can help others and extract value elsewhere, the better.
  5. Be clear when you’re selling.
  6. Connect with people outside of the email on social channels. (Secret gold.)

Email Marketing Isn’t Dead; BAD Email Marketing Is Dead

I called this email list building the lazy way because to me, it’s lazy that I don’t spend mountains of time figuring out A/B testing, and I don’t work exceptionally hard on copywriting or crafting the most amazing headline ever. I have very little in the way of automation. It just doesn’t suit the Human Business Works brand.

Instead, I invest in being as personable and responsive as possible. I invest in creating more value than I capture. I invest in delivering as much quality as I can manage. That’s how I act lazy.

Check Out Generate

If you want to take a shot at building your newsletter in 2012 and beyond, check out the Generate theme from StudioPress. I’m sold on it, for sure. runs on the Genesis Framework

Genesis Theme Framework

The Genesis Framework empowers you to quickly and easily build incredible websites with WordPress. Whether you're a novice or advanced developer, Genesis provides you with the secure and search-engine-optimized foundation that takes WordPress to places you never thought it could go.

With automatic theme updates and world-class support included, Genesis is the smart choice for your WordPress website or blog.

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  • James

    You should try PopUp Domination, it’ll add a zero to that 35%.

    • Kimberly

      You know, James, I have heard that over and over to the point it surely must be true, yet I can’t bring myself to use PopUp Domination.  Why?  Because while I’m a pretty Zen person, few things irritate me more than those bleeping PopUps!!  I HATE them.  I have used one ONCE, when I really *really* wanted the free information. (Gideon Shalwick’s Video Blogging report, which I highly recommend!).  Other than that, they make me click away faster than you can say “gone.”

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    • Marc L. Grubb

      Yeah. A zero in front. For me anyways. 

      If a popup interrupts me when I visit a site, I usually close the browser tab, leaving the site entirely. If I merely close the popup, I’m still very peeved and the site looses my respect.

      • Scott Watermasysk

        Agreed on not using the popup approach. However, considering the crap an average consumer will put up with, I am betting it would probably increase conversion rates if only because it feels like a required step to move on. 

        Then again, it is not all about the conversion rates. Quality still wins and long term I don’t see the value in ‘conversions’ based on trickery. 

    • Chris Brogan

      The truth is that services like popup domination actually DO yield results. I just haven’t yet accepted that I want to do that to my readership. 

      • SL Clark

        My mail service has an option called appropriately enough “evil pop-up mode”. I hate them and would rather have less conversions. Trust is key and if it takes a year to build, then so be it.

  • Raul Colon

    You slowly convinced me to move over to WordPress and Genesis. Now I think you very quickly convinced me to move over to the Generate Theme.. 

    Will have that on my To do’s in the next few days! 

    • Chris Brogan


  • Ryan Biddulph

    Hi CB,

    Serious numbers here. 

    Make it as easy as possible for someone to describe. I also think the clarity and simplicity of your theme helps your list building efforts. Less busyness, cluttering, more calls to action taken.

    Thanks for sharing!


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  • Kimberly

    I’ve been looking for a theme for my new site and this one may be the right fit.  Do you happen to know if the colors are changeable? (even though the red looks great, I need to communicate a more serene vibe with color choices.)

    • Chris Brogan

      You can change the colors for sure. : ) 

    • Sparky

      Hi Kimberly,
      In addition to red, Generate comes in blue, green, and orange. These three are all a little more subdued than the vibrant default red. It’s also fairly easy to create additional colors schemes by editing the CSS and the graphic elements. If you want to be able to select your new color scheme in the Genesis control panel, you will need to make a fairly straightforward edit the the functions.php file included with the theme. StudioPress has help on all of this in their forum.

      I hope this helps.

  • Kent Weber

    Thanks for this post Chris. There’s alot here.  The verbiage you use to invite that email sign-up was worth the read alone. I’m hoping that is almost as good as offering something for free in exchange for the sign-up.  Have you tested that?  I know you test everything, but was encouraged by the fact that you’re recruiting sign-ups but not always necessarily giving away an instant gratification freebie.     I am looking forward to implementing this advice, AND reading your new Google+ book.  Cheers!

    • Chris Brogan

      I give lots of freebies to the list so I don’t do offers to get signups. Maybe some day I’ll test that, Kent. Thanks for reminding me to think about it. : ) 

  • Tim Bucciarelli

    Does it make sense that if you have a big jump in new subscribers (that 35% you mention) that that fresh audience is more likely to open your emails than the existing audience? I know when I first sign up, I’m likely to open the first few emails I get and then, once I get the gist, I become more selective as I understand the posts / emails that are most relevant to me (of course ALL of yours are relevant!).

    • Chris Brogan

      That does indeed make sense. Maybe I’ll have to measure it over time. 

  • Ryan Hanley

    This is deal, ”
    Email Marketing Isn’t Dead; BAD Email Marketing Is Dead”
    That is the problem.  Having a newsletter or email marketing campaign just to Sell Something or just because you feel you need one.

    Deliver Value First!!

    Thanks for always livin’ CB.

    Ryan H.

    • Chris Brogan

      Thanks, Ryan! : ) 

  • Craig Jarrow


    I was setting up a new site over the holidays, and you finally got me to try Genesis.

    Overall, I am very pleased. In fact, I may ultimately migrate my main site to it.


    • Chris Brogan

      I am *so * happy to hear it! : ) 

  • Kathy

    Hi Chris,
    Could you tell me which Google+ widget you’re using? 

    If it isn’t a widget, can you tell me where you created the code?

    • Chris Brogan

      Absolutely :

      • Kathy

        Dude! You rock! 
        Thanks! :D

  • Ashley

    Looking forward to doing even more email marketing this year!

  • Lorraine Ball

    We use many of the Studio Press Themes, but haven’t had a chance to use this one yet.   I think it looks awesome.

    • Chris Brogan

      I’m loving it. : ) 

  • Mila Araujo

    Dear Chris,
    Its funny you should write this post because just yesterday I was thinking about how there are few blogs I read consistently. By this I mean, few blogs I email subscribe to – therefore read all the time as part of a routine. Yours is one of them.

    This being said, I gave some thought to why, and the reasons I came to were basically exactly what you outlined in your 6 points, and how you *are* accomplishing this. I think its also fair to say you do this by being genuine, and I think it comes naturally.

    Whats even more interesting to me is that normally people who are “trying” to sell something all the time immediately turn me off. So in general, if I saw that big link on the top of 90% of most peoples blogs, my first reaction would be annoyance. I immediately cringe at the idea of another email in my inbox…Annoyance that the first thing I see is a request to sign up for the email..I might even skip the whole blog (given short attention spans, and in my case lack of time to read all the posts I want) HOWEVER, this being said, it doesn’t bother me when *you* do this. The reason is your points #1, 3, 4, 5 

     Now 6 , of course is gold, but that’s not the specific reason in my case.

     You genuinely do all the things you listed, and so when you sell something, its like, yeah – no problem. Today Chris is selling something, but even when you do this, you give value.

    What you have accomplished is truly admirable. So I read your blog gladly for all the reasons above, and when you recommend something (declaring its an affiliate link) I trust you . You’ve built the trust, so I read – sometimes I buy, but *all the time* I always learn.

    So, once again, thanks for putting this post out there. being able to accomplish points 1 through 6 is a gift. Putting this out there for people to understand is fantastic.

    thanks as well for sharing your stats. The nicest thing is that when you put something out there you give more than you have to, and its appreciated.

    So, from now on when I see the email link at the top of a page, well Ill give it more thought and read the post before i skip through because you laid it out here, you made a good argument, and it makes sense.

    for reasons 1-6, thats influence.
    have a great evening/day!

  • Becky Carroll

    Thanks for sharing this; it is very encouraging. One of my goals in 2012 is to do more regular (and of course, relevant) email marketing. It looks like this is worth my time!

    I will have to check out this theme and see if it makes sense for me.

    As always, you rock!

  • JCB Workwear

    Thanks Chris – inspired us to add a Newsletter signup on our website and Facebook page.

    Still at early stages yet but we’ve made the first step!

  • Mattias Gronborg

    Thanks Chris! You are really pumping out great content for your readers and inspiring open rates on your list. :) I’m a big fan of Studiopress too and I’m looking forward to see how their other themes will work when they make them mobile responsive like Generate. 

  • Sachin Kundu

    Thanks Chris, I have used genesis before and it rocks !

    I think what people really miss is that “email is personal” . Landing pages you control but email they control and you gotta respect that.

    And what really drives email open rates is your reputation.

    Not subject line but reputation.

    So good content delivered regularly is the key to high open rates.

    However marketing efforts are tuned towards measurement and there is a short term view to drive the sales. Hence marketers are compelled to make sale-sy emails and that is a slippery slope…only way is down

  • Henry Louis

    Thanks Chris for sharing this information. I like this post.

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  • Mitch Lapides

    Hey Chris–Great post! Given that I live in the world of email marketing, I read this post with a special level of focus. Your subhead “Email Marketing Isn’t Dead; BAD Email Marketing Is Dead” is perfect! We explain to prospects and customers frequently that if you do email well, you will exceed, often well beyond your expectations. Do it poorly, and you will be of the thousands of emails and email newsletters that are discarded, unsubscribed, and ignored. By consistently delivering true value, always understanding your readership, and building trust will help you and other email marketers reach your goals–quantitatively and qualitatively. 

    Keep up the great work, and congratulations on all of your personal victories!


  • Mitch Lapides

    Hey Chris–Great post! Given that I live in the world of email marketing, I read this post with a special level of focus. Your subhead “Email Marketing Isn’t Dead; BAD Email Marketing Is Dead” is perfect! We explain to prospects and customers frequently that if you do email well, you will exceed, often well beyond your expectations. Do it poorly, and you will be of the thousands of emails and email newsletters that are discarded, unsubscribed, and ignored. By consistently delivering true value, always understanding your readership, and building trust will help you and other email marketers reach your goals–quantitatively and qualitatively. 

    Keep up the great work, and congratulations on all of your personal victories!

  • Owen Marcus


    Thanks. I’m sold – I plan to convert my nonprofit site Men Corps to your theme. It’s a new site so I want to build our list.

    I appreciate how you sell things – it’s direct and not apologetic. 

    • Chris Brogan

      No need to apologize if I believe in it. : ) 

  • Joseph Manna

    Love this post, Chris. You nailed it when you said, “bad email marketing is dead.” It always saddens me when I see crappy email marketing when there is such a great opportunity to deliver truly personalized value within each email. 

    If you don’t ask for the conversion and be direct about it, you seldom will see it. Glad to hear about your impressive results with using the opt-in on your homepage. Keep it up! :) 

    (I bet somewhere @DerekHalpern:disqus has a big grin seeing this lead generation focus on your site.)

  • DJ Waldow

    Chris – You know I love it when you blog about email marketing, right? One of the biggest ways to grow your list is (first) to make it easy for people to opt-in. I use your blog as an example often about how to do it right. You include many ways for your readers to subscribe to your emails. You even include in-post links and sign up forms. Jason Keath and Derek Halpern also do this quite well. That’s the key. Make it easy. Once you have the sign up, then your list of 6 is spot on. Deliver value, encourage replies, be personable, etc.

  • Scarlett

    Yes this sort of email marketing is very good. Appreciate it and thanks for doing all the good work.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Chris,

    Really appreciate the post.
    Will get straight on it.

  • Carolyn Wilson

    I moved over to Genesis from using a similar theme system about a year ago, and never looked back. It’s so clean and flexible to work with.

    The sign up area of the Generate theme looks pretty powerful. I’ll certainly be looking into that.

    Thanks, Chris.


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  • Jim Ducharme

    The funny thing is that the basics of good email marketing are, well, basic. It’s not rocket science, but I don’t think those of us in the industry have done as good a job as we can in clarifying things and making it simple common sense.

    I couldn’t agree more when you talk about keeping your writing style personable and casual. There’s an old radio rule which states that when you are on the air you should picture you are talking to a friend sitting across from you at the kitchen table. This also aplies to email and blogging IMHO.

    Jim Ducharme

  • Rafael Francisco

    Nice !

  • Hooker

    I struggle with the concept of building an email list. If email marketing isn’t dead, it certainly is dying. I suppose we need to be able to reach as many of our visitors as we can on a regular basis, but I’m not convinced email marketing is the best way to do it. I see that less than 20% of my list even opens my messages on average. Of course, that could just be specific to me and my effectiveness in the campaigne.

    I appreciate your insight as usual. I will be interested to see where this goes in the future.

  • Rooms Swindon

    An excellent idea and something we need to setup.

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  • Joakim Nilsson

    I need to find a lightbox popup where I can put my newsletter signup box, any one have a good WP plugin to recommend me?

    • Chris Brogan is what the kids use. 

      • Joakim Nilsson


  • Website Design

    The operative words being personable and responsive. A lot miss that.

  • John @ Virtual Server Hosting

    I should say I am lazier than you, Chris. Thank you for making be realize that.  :) 

  • Siddarth Rajsekar

    Awesome post!

  • Dirty Seagull

    Great Post, and I love being Lazy

  • Johanna

    I second the “great post” comments. I am new to the world of entrepreneurship and coaching so soaking up a lot on how to build list, generate leads etc. Thanks for the reminders and encouragement to continue to let my voice shine thru my writing.

    Keep it up!

  • ianbrodie

    Hi Chris – thanks for sharing – especially your openness with the stats.

    I shifted to an opt-in box atop my site on Derek H’s recommendation. I find it’s almost as effective as a popup but without sending the “I care more about my need to build a list than I do about your need to get to useful information” message that popups do.

    A quick question for you:

    Generate is a “responsive” theme – it’s designed to render well on iPhones, tablets etc.

    But you’re using the wp touch plugin to display the mobile version of your site. Any reason?

    When I manually switch off the wp touch display it looks much better – I can see the graphics, I get the optin box up top etc.


  • Justin Mazza

    Hi Chris,
    I like themes that allow for easy newsletter signups. 

     If I sign up for a newsletter and all I get are generic sales pitches for affiliate products then I am out of there. But, if the newsletter generally sends me valuable content with the occasional affiliate offer I will stick around.

  • Door Levers

    This is something I have been doing recently more and more often. I think this is a great means to saving a lot of time.

  • HotSpot Promotion

    Thanks, Chris.  As usual, something practical and somewhat inspiring at the same time.  The newsletter is my next point of emphasis.  You have some great ideas here, and I’m going to go check out that theme….

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