Marketing July 24, 2020 Last updated July 24th, 2020 1,118 Reads share

3 Ways to Drive Mailing List Subscriptions Without Using Paywalls

Image Credit: DepositPhotos

We’ve all been there. 

You’re browsing the website of a business you’re interested in working with, and you decide to download one of their white papers. Before you can, however, you’re asked to submit a bit of information – including your email—gated content. Of course. 

At this point, maybe you do the math in your head and conclude that you can afford another mailing list vying for your attention in your inbox. Or perhaps, overwhelmed with emails as most of us are, you decide to opt-out.

Either way, it’s not a mailing list you’re interested in – it’s the content walled off behind it.

Mailing lists are important. They’re an incredibly valuable tool for targeted engagement, allowing you to reach, engage with, and understand your prospects on a far deeper level.

What I will contest is the idea that using gated content and paywalls to collect subscribers is a flawed tactic. 

The problem is that in most cases, there’s a disconnect at the core of this approach. While you might attract some subscribers through a content wall, a good portion of people are more interested in what’s behind that wall.

In other words, they don’t care about your mailing list, so they aren’t likely to be subscribers. If they do subscribe, there’s a high chance that they won’t actually read and engage with your content…even worse, they might just unsubscribe right after accessing your gated content. 

As such, instead of trying to grow your mailing list through paywalls, consider these alternative tactics. 

Make Your Subscriptions Valuable

Instead of passively trying to collect contact information, make it worth your audience’s time to subscribe. Consider putting yourself in a prospective customer’s shoes.

It can seem a bit spammy to have a pop-up asking for your email so consider what you would want to be given in exchange for providing your email? 

One option involves providing tangible value. You might give subscribers access to exclusive discount codes, sales, and deals on a regular basis. Or notifying them of upcoming webinars and conferences (and giving them access to said events). 

The other option is to make your newsletter as valuable, streamlined, and interesting as possible.  A multi-part educational course that pertains to their area of expertise. Weekly tips and tricks. Exclusive infographics. 

The difference between this and a paywall is that this content is part of the mailing list. People are signing up for your newsletter, rather than agreeing to a newsletter subscription to access unrelated content. 

Once you’ve got your mailing list’s value prop nailed down, make sure your website content reflects that. More importantly, double-check to make sure the subscription process is streamlined.

It should be easy for people to sign up, control their subscription (frequency, types of emails, etc.), and unsubscribe. 

Include contact forms at the bottom of all relevant pages, and occasional prompts that emphasize the value of signing up. The less obtrusive these calls to action are, the better.

Again, you’re not trying to force things. You want the people who sign up for your mailing list to actually be interested in the list. 

Thank New Subscribers, and Encourage Them to Share

A simple thank you can go a long way and is one of the 5 common email marketing mistakes. When someone first signs up for your mailing list, they should be directed to a confirmation page thanking them for their subscription. 

This could take the form of a simple, warm letter, or one of the incentives mentioned in the previous entry on this list.

Regardless, show them you appreciate their decision to sign up. This not only is it the polite thing to do, but this also helps build a connection with your subscribers.

From there, I’d suggest doing something few people ever seem to consider: ask them to share your mailing list with friends and colleagues. They’ve already gone so far as to fill out your form and share their email, why not have them do one extra step and think about people who might be interested in a referral.

Look for widgets that will make this easy for them to do in just a couple of clicks for the highest success rates.

If you try this route out and aren’t seeing results as quickly as you’d like to, you can choose to incentivize this in a similar way to the initial sign-up, but it’s not strictly necessary. 

Share on Social Media

You might be surprised at how well social media works for driving mailing list subscriptions. An occasional post teasing an ongoing email campaign or a link to your signup page in your social bio serves as an excellent means of getting more eyes on your newsletter – and more contacts in your mailing list.

People who are already following you on social media have already bought into your message in one form so they’re that much more likely to engage in another. 

As with any promotional message on social, it’s important that you don’t overdo it. Keep it subtle and understated.

A post or two here, a link there, and so on. Just like any other marketing tactic, there’s a way to make sure your voice is heard while staying tasteful. Enough that people who are interested can still find a way to subscribe, but not so much that everyone else feels alienated. 


Gated content and paywalls simply don’t work the way they should, especially where email newsletters are concerned. If you want people to subscribe to your newsletter and stay subscribed, you must make your newsletter worth subscribing to.

Go the extra mile and be sure to thank your subscribers for signing up. It’s a small detail but will make a large difference in terms of feeling welcomed to the brand.

Lastly, be sure to have your signup accessible via other ways than your site. Get it in front of some extra eyes by utilizing your audience on social media.

Go even further and use paid ads to reach your target audiences. You need to find other ways to call attention to it beyond blocking off other content that people want to see.

Do you have additional email marketing tips? Leave them in the comments below!

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Terry Cane

Terry Cane

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