To Capture Or Not Capture Email Addresses; That Is The Question

For 10 years I wrote a newsletter on leadership topics. For 8 of those years I also wrote a newsletter on health care finance, though it was a lot more sporadic. I stopped writing both because after so many years I not only could never get the list to grow all that much, but I never got any business out of either of them and almost never got any feedback on them. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure anyone was even reading them.


In my online life, that’s the only time I ever tried capturing email addresses, and it always felt, well, a bit smarmy to me. I told myself that everyone who was on the list voluntarily gave me their email addresses, which meant they really wanted to see what I had for them, and it’s possible that might be true, but when you don’t get feedback or hear from anyone… well, it just makes you wonder whether you’re bothering people or if they’re just ignoring you.

For years so many internet marketers have said that “the money is in the list”. I’ve even had specific people like Lynn Terry and Carrie Wilkerson tell me directly that I should be capturing email addresses and creating a mailing list, and yet when I’ve asked the question “but what if I don’t have anything to sell” I’ve never gotten a good answer for that. I mean, someone saying “maybe one day you will” hasn’t ever quite cut it with me.

Actually, there is a small list right now, though I’m not the one whose captured them. Because I still use Feedburner (Google hasn’t shut it down yet) and it allows people to subscribe to my feed via RSS or email, there are some subscribers who receive an email for every blog post. I appreciate anyone who’s subscribed to the feed in either way, but I’ve never wanted to bombard any of them with products or advertisements.

That and I don’t have a true product that quite fits this blog. True, the first two products at the top left of this blog could fit some of what I talk about here, but neither was created with this blog in mind. The leadership book… well, I’ve never generated any sales for it from here; then again, any sales of the other items have never been generated from here either. Goodness, people don’t even want to download the free ebook to the left about the synergy between business and blogging. If I can’t even give away a free ebook, what makes me think I can generate sales in any other way, and then again, what use would capturing email addresses be? How would I even do it?

Graphic Recording: Jour Fixe Medien und Entwicklung (2)

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The part about how to do it isn’t the issue; I could figure that out. My problem is “why”. When I came home for my two week vacation from traveling my friend Kelvin, who picks me up & takes me back to the airport each time, was saying that I should think about capturing email addresses after I told him that one of my goals for the year was to increase my online income, since I now have to pay for health insurance. Once again I said I didn’t have anything to sell to anyone, and… well, I don’t fully remember his response but it wasn’t much different than what the two ladies above told me, though he did say if Lynn recommended it then I should give it more thought.

I’ve given it more thought and I still haven’t come to any real conclusion. I’ve decided to ask those of you who are capturing email addresses two questions. One, what made you decide to start doing it and two, are you really making any “real” money off it. Yeah, I know there are some big time marketers making money off their list but I want to hear from y’all, folks like me who either understand the concept but find making money difficult or those of you who don’t fully get the concept because, like me, you don’t have a product.

Please don’t say “capturing email addresses is good because you can make money from your list” if you’re not making any money; to me, that’s a spam answer that you read off someone else’s blog but have no experience at, and I see enough of that sort of thing.

By the way, I only subscribe to 2 newsletters, one from Paul Myers of Talkbiz News (yes, that’s an affiliate link), which I’ve subscribed to since 2003, and my friend Kelvin, which I linked to above (not an affiliate link). All other newsletters I receive are because someone added me to their list without my permission, which is kind of irksome but if I know the people I’ll at least check it out. That’s smarmy as well but truthfully I’m not sure if someone else added them without permission; people can be sneaky like that.

So, what say you? Help me out with this one, and maybe you’ll be getting some help as well.

38 thoughts on “To Capture Or Not Capture Email Addresses; That Is The Question”

  1. I hear ya Mitch. The “Money is in the list” is over-rated and mostly hype. I Have a small IM email list but they are mostly un-responsive.

    My gardening niche email list is sizeable and I only send about 2-3 emails per month where I give them tips on gardening.

    But it’s rare that I ask them to purchase anything.

    They do purchase when I send them an affiliate link…thus making me a small income.

    I do think it is worth the time if it is done right.

    1. Maybe if it’s done right Paul, but I just can’t figure out what I’d do with it that wouldn’t be redundant to everything else I do right now. Not ready for all the work I suppose.

  2. Hi Mitch, I’ve slowly build a little list for my blog and sold a couple of eBooks off it but nothing to really write home about. I’m in the process of looking for a better plugin to get people to sign up for email but besides giving me older eBook away for FREE I feel I need more. I do hope to update it this year hopefully by May. I also have a bigger email list for my retail website and it’s only about a 1% sale on return from it over 3 years now. It’s over 1200 and probably a 10% open rate. They also must subscribe to it, I just don’t add them in. I’ve gotten more sales via Twitter than email.

    1. Thanks for sharing that Lisa. What’s your ebook about? I may be hard on myself but after all these years of not making a single sale of my book via my newsletter I’m thinking the list thing was a major waste of an idea, although I couldn’t send the newsletter without email addresses.

      1. Hi MItch, it’s about Twitter, Tweeting Like It’s Second Nature, you have haven’t seen it on my site? Guess I really need to get a pop up 🙂 Been exploring new ones for it.

  3. Irrespective of your experience Mitch, the fact still remains that email capture is still very relevant, whether you have something to sell or not. The money is still in the list. All that is needed now is to test different products to fit the blog.

    Sunday – contributor

    1. I have to call you out Sunday because you didn’t tell me what that really means, but only quoted what I’ve heard people say in the past, without explanation. That’s not the type of thing that would convince me to do anything different than I do now.

  4. Mitch,
    Yeah, I remember receiving your newsletters but haven’t seen any lately.

    I strongly believe that, going forward, email lists and social media are the ONLY ways to pull traffic to one’s content. The reason is those numerous Search Engine algorithmic updates that nobody understands usually screw up one’s rankings. Even if it didn’t, the competition is very very high there and one stands very little chance. Secondly, RSS is a bit passe now – it exists there more for the heck of it and it has nothing new to offer than replicating your content.

    Finally, there’s actually traffic and money in the list. I started my email lists only three months ago and transferred my RSS email readers to it once. There were mixed reactions initially but I made sure that I clean up 80% of my list and maintained only those people who are actually clicking and reading my content. It’s kind of okay now BUT I make sure that I don’t send more than one letter (at times 2) per month and very rarely I send out relevant offers.

    Since you are very active on Twitter, you may not directly feel the need to build a list but I can tell you that if done properly, you will see a significant difference in what you are trying to achieve (including cross-selling your skills and services)


    1. Interesting take Ajith. Hadn’t thought about the potential issues with RSS, and the possibility that’s still lingering that Feedburner might go away, though it hasn’t yet. I’m still not really convinced there’s money in a list unless one happens to have a list of tens of thousands, since it’s numbers that generate sales in all industries. But now you’re the first to give me something else to think about; thanks! 🙂

  5. When we were doing the Surviving the Blog challenge, I made a list for my Dad’s movie trivia on MailChimp. 40+ people signed up! That was more than the COMBINED lists I had had for years on AWeber.

    My conclusion? AWeber sucks. No, JUST kidding. My offers sucked. I had no traffic. On the other hand, people LOVE trivia, and there was a lot of traffic, due to the public nature of the challenge – and the fact that I promoted the heck out of it on social media.

    So, Mitch, my suggestion is to experiment. You may be pleasantly surprised.



    1. Hey Mitch! I could also be negatively depressed if almost no one signed up for it. Then again, when have I ever been the guy afraid to try something because others might not like it right? In a way, seeing that I have more than 300 people who subscribed to this blog in some fashion might mean that there’s something others might like. But autoresponders… never owned or used one. I wish there was a way we all could create our own without having to pay monthly for a service.

      1. Last time I created an autoresponder, my friend PeterZ convinced me to write it so it responded, “Wow, it’s a Z word!” every time it saw a “z” in text.

        That was amusing.

      2. Well, you can. I have the software collecting dust on my hard drive. Then again, that would be the equivalent of a hunting rifle on my wall, collecting dust. Because I prefer to go to the supermarket for my meat.

        AWeber = A Wegmans. LOL

        Seriously, do-it-yourself, like ANY endeavor, is for seaonsed pros. You’ll have enough to figure out without bothering with open rates, getting ISP approval to send bulk mail, etc.

        The closer you get to the end product, the more challenges are cleared away. AWeber, MailChimp, ConstantContact and others do the heavy lifting so you can focus on your messages.



      3. I have to admit that I like the point Ben makes in his comment about the expense of using an autoresponder like AWeber when you don’t have a lot of emails and no way to recover the expense of using it because you don’t have anything to market. I had always said that if my newsletter had gotten to 500 people that I would get an autoresponder, but as I stated here it never happened. But you’re right, spending the time to create one would be a headache.

  6. Seems to me that the only real ways to make money online are:

    (1) Build a list and sell it (the LIST is the product);
    (2) Have a product to sell – either one everybody wants, at the right price, or one you can convince them they NEED, right now, at any price;
    (3) Have a service to sell (how you do that online depends on how dependent it is on locale);
    (4) Sell ad space and provide content that’s interesting/useful/entertaining enough to suck in a TON of readers, all of whom will click on the ads;
    (5) Do something unethical, illegal, immoral, or shameful.

    WHY you’d want a list and how you’d go about building it varies for each scenario, I think, but the value is in building the right list.

    Me? I have a list. I just forget where I put it. (Seriously, the only “list” I have is my blog subscribers, and I don’t look at it often nor sell it. It’s for their convenience, not mine.)

    1. You’re so funny Holly. 🙂 You make a good point, which is something I’ve always thought about and that’s building the right list for the right reason. That RSS thing is now something to think about, but otherwise until I have real products I believe I can sell it just doesn’t seem prudent to spend a lot of time building an email list.

  7. You know me and what I think of lists Mitch. I have one now but I don’t use it to sell stuff. I only have it to let people know of new posts. It’s way over a hundred now which isn’t all that big. Even so less than 10% respond to my emails! These are the people who subscribed to me because they actually wanted to!

    I reckoned that the response from capturing emails would be even less. And if you were to start trying to sell them stuff all the time they would drop like flies.

    Why are some successful with lists? I believe they include people like Darren Rowse who has the sort of following who would purchase from him, not that I ever would.

    1. You kind of makes one of my points Sire, that being well known enough to be able to generate actual income or even an engagement because of a newsletter. Like I said with mine, if I heard from one person every five newsletters that I sent out that would be considered a high number. It’s probably one of the reasons I don’t subscribe to many newsletters because I know what my time is like and how rarely I respond to anything that I see in a newsletter.

  8. I can relate back, Mitch.

    I never invested much into lists (I did get close to setting up a list successfully with my previous blog, but ultimately, I lost my interest).

    I invested into list building because others told me it was important (money is in the list and so forth! Money wasn’t one of my blogging goals, so that purpose was lost to me….but, I still tried to start a list, wrote autoresponder emails, eBook etc. But, in the end, It didn’t work out).

    I have setup an email list with my new blog (I am planning to start writing eBooks and sell some of them). My mission is to build a separate community, apart from my own blog (so, I won’t be actively promoting my content on my newsletter..just a few mentions, here and there). Also planning to integrate affiliate marketing into my emails (Yes, money is one of my goals now).

    Great topic, Mitch 🙂

    1. Thanks Jeevan. You’re setting up a strategy at the beginning of a new blog and you have some long term goals so deciding early on that you want to capture email addresses isn’t such a bad thing. I’ve never had it as much of a policy of mine except for my leadership newsletter, and of art he indicated how that worked out for me. But maybe had I created more products I might’ve had a better success rate with it all. I wish you the best the block and hope you track how it works out for you.

  9. Hi Mitch,

    One of my resolutions back in 2012 was to pay for Aweber and start running my own list. It did ok in terms of opens and clicks, but I had very few subscribers. My blog is still small and probably will be forever, as I don’t push it enough and it’s really just a hobby for me.

    The thing with Aweber is that while I think it’s a decent product, 99% of the posts I’ve read where people say “the money’s in the list” or they say ends with an affiliate link to Aweber. In theory, you could make quite a bit of cash if lots of people sign up for Aweber under you, and they all maintain an active list. However, Aweber costs quite a bit even on the cheapest plan, and I couldn’t justify the cost for a hobby blog. It’s a shame as I quite enjoyed making the newsletters look really nice (they were actually smarter than my blog).

    On a semi-related note, someone recently told me that my choice to step away from Google+ would be met with much satisfaction from my competitors, as they could step in and take customers from me. Well guess what – I don’t have a product or indeed anything I’m selling online, so I have no customers.

    Maybe it’s a little odd to blog about blogging if you don’t make money online, I don’t know, but I think there are a lot of people who think everybody has a product, a list, an online business – and if they don’t, they need one. My situation is different to yours, but not everybody needs a list.

    I’m getting off-topic, but I think we all have different needs. A list doesn’t work for everyone 🙂

    1. First, thanks for the comment Ben and for the validation about the price of paying for and I’ll respond or when you don’t have a lot of subscribers.

      Second, I think you can write about blogging without writing about making money blogging. I’ve been doing it on this blog since December 2007 and I have made almost nothing from this blog. Even though part of that was the original intention, I have found that I have a lot more fun being able to talk about blogging and pretty much anything else I want to talk about. I tend to think this blog is pretty successful, and I know what I’m talking about even when I’m talking about things I have tried to do to make money in different ways online. At least I can talk about my experiences, and that’s what you do. So just keep doing that and having fun and enjoying yourself. 😉

  10. ya i really can’t find a good, free plugin/service for getting people to sign up to and write newsletters on wordpress, kind of annoying.

  11. Depends on the business niche, but definitely the statement is corrent – money are in the list. Usually it leads to 20-40% increase of sales for particular period when newsletter is send. These are just my personal experience. Though I have to say that many companies just overdo mailshots and this looks like spam.

    1. Carl, there’s companies that keep sending me stuff multiple times a week even though I never subscribed to it. And I’m still remembering the old thing about not going in & unsubscribing because it just confirms that the email address works. I wonder if that’s still true. I think you’re right in saying it depends on niche, since I never made anything from my newsletter.

      1. There is always a lot of spam going. Again going back to the burning hot topic of online privacy. Emails get captured easily by spammers, even easier by big corporations.

        Consistency plays important role in newsletter, as well as timing for mailshot, but of course can’t send newsletter everyday, if you are in heavy industry and manufacturing business.

  12. Hey Mitch,

    Okay so my answer is I have a list, although it’s not that big, and I do have a lot of interaction with my list and I do make money from my list.

    Just like my blog I don’t openly sale a lot of things as you very well know. But I do promote affiliate products from time to time, products that I use or think would benefit my readers. If they’re in need of them at that time then I usually make some sales. Some are recurring because they’re monthly subscriptions so those are definitely the best.

    I also use my blog for building relationships and I do consulting as well and I do get a lot of clients through my list as well.

    I think what you have to ask yourself is what will my readers want. I know you write about darn near anything on this blog so it would be difficult to promote products that are more financial related if that’s not who your audience is. Those are things to consider but am I saying you’ll be able to support yourself? Probably not but you can make some money but if you have a specific product or service to offer them then you’ll have a much better shot.

    Just my thoughts on that subject but you definitely have to do what’s best for you.

    Here’s to moving forward in 2014 my friend and have a great year.


    1. Interesting stuff Adrienne. I think everyone looks at this blog without remembering that I have a business blog and I wrote a newsletter for 10 years, where I did capture email addresses and did market my own products to that group that were specifically for that group. Thing is, the newsletter offered something different than the blog, which was basically a long form article, and it was totally opt in. I guess the question is “how much money is worth capturing email addresses”. If I was getting even a nibble for consulting of some kind, or had sold one book in those 10 years, maybe…

  13. I’m behind on this post but here goes my impressive opinion. 😉 First, selling is not a negative act. I know you didn’t say it was but a lot of us need to get past that fear of selling. If it’s not fear then it’s a lack of confidence. The best solution for that is to offer a product we believe in and can feel proud to stand behind. I made a conscious, and public, decision years ago to never promote something I haven’t used and found useful. I think any business, or business people, should sell unapologetically if they’ve found the perfect solution to other people’s problems. Anything less, in my opinion, is actually a disservice.

    Okay, I did good there I think; I didn’t even go on my usual “consumer thinking” rant. Now with all of that said, I’m very happy with the direction of the VIP list but I’m not approaching it as a campaign, a marketing list, or even a traditional newsletter. I look at it as another method of conveying a message, building influence and interaction. This is the first list that I’ve actually enjoyed real interaction from. If I ask a question, and we all should, I’m blessed with a ton of thoughtful responses. I try to offer actionable tips and resources while proving to subscribers that I’m in it for them and they can trust I’m not there to just take, take, take.

    You have the same high ethics I do Mitch and if you recommended a product, I believe most people that know you would take a serious look at it. To me, a list seems like the next obvious step for you. Just my opinion but I would be right there to subscribe.

    1. Hey Brian,

      Glad you said I didn’t mention a problem with selling, because that’s certainly not it.

      Let’s be truthful about the VIP list for a minute. The biggest problem was that people weren’t opening it. Even after ending my articles being on it, you showed an increase but not all that much. Also, you’re a guy willing to pay a lot of money to try things and such, and you’ve probably made back your money over the years, but you also know how much work it takes and it makes me ask you if you think that’s the type of recommendation you’d make for everyone to do, or if you believe everyone could do it?

      I’m not totally against a list; I just need more reasons to even start. I might be a bit jaded at this point, having the one I did for 10 years and getting nothing out of it.

      1. Open rates have doubled since I changed to the VIP list but much of that is because I delete those that don’t open the emails and try hard to keep those that do. What I end up with is true interaction. I asked a single question last month, just casually, and over 30 people hit the reply button. I get a handful of responses without asking a question. To me, that makes it worth the effort.

        You’re right, it takes a lot of work and I have a lot of work ahead of me. Some people seem to be a natural at that type of thing but I have to bang my head on the wall for a few years. Can anyone do it? I’m not so sure I can but I’m not giving up.

        Should you start another list? If you need a reason, it can’t come from any of us. I started Hot Blog Tips Newsletter because I thought the blog needed a newsletter. Now I look back and can’t believe how little thought I put into it, starting with the why. Six months from now I might have another epiphany and wonder what in the world I was thinking back in January.

      2. That’s an honest response if I ever saw one Brian. I am putting a lot of thought into it, which is why I wrote the post. I don’t want to capture email addresses just for the sake of capturing them and capturing them just to send something weekly to point out blog posts I’ve written… not sure about that one either unless I make it a combined list, since I have more than one blog. But overall I’m thinking, good or bad, and it may be a while before I make a real decision.

  14. mitch i think the capturing of emails is needed for records or routine information collection as it is said by one of my senior bloggers that building an email list really helps lot..

    1. Himanshu, I need you to explain that one further. Records for who, for what? Information collection, as in doing surveys with the intention of collecting email addresses? Not sure what you mean.

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