No matter what industry you’re in, email list building is still an important and high impact marketing activity.

Though you may see the occasional article proclaiming “email marketing is dead,” you can safely continue your campaigns, and know that “the money is in the list” (as they say).

Now, there are many ways to build an email list - tactics and tools beyond simple sidebar lead magnets and popup forms.

This article will cover 7 ways to capture email leads, and we’ll also outline 7 lead capture tools to help you do it.

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1. Ask, “what’s in it for me?”

While every company in every industry may have a different tactical implementation to capture email leads, at the core of every strategy is this formula:

The value of your offer -- the cost of giving you their email address = the probability of conversion

In other words, you need to make sure your offer is worth giving up in exchange for an email address (and for whatever information you’re asking). “What’s in it for me,” is such an underrated question in marketing.

In some cases, the value exchange is extremely straightforward. Take, for example, WaitButWhy. The blog’s author, Tim Urban, writes an incredibly comprehensive and interesting article (more like a book) every few months. The posts are amazing. The quality is unquestionable. So it’s enough of a benefit to simply be notified when these works of art are published:

However, most business blogs can’t compete on that standard (it’s wildly time consuming and expensive to produce content like that).

Therefore, most of us rely on “lead magnets” - exchanges of value for information. These are things like ebooks, free email courses, webinars, etc. Essentially, it’s a piece of premium content you can use to entice someone to sign up for your list.

Here’s a good example of a lead magnet from ConversionXL:


Or here’s an ecommerce-focused example from J Crew:

Both of these examples are great for their appropriate contexts. You can imagine the clear value given by offering a discount on a visitor’s first purchase in the case of J Crew, and with ConversionXL, that offer appeared on a blog post about conversion rate optimization. The value alignment is obvious.

2. Target the right segments of your audience

When first starting out, it’s probably okay to have one universal lead magnet or email subscription form for all of your visitors. This is particularly true if your traffic numbers are small and your visitors are relatively homogenous.

However, when you scale your content program and have many different articles with varying levels of intent and context, it becomes imperative to think about who you’re targeting.

For instance, our J Crew example above targets first time visitors, which makes a lot more sense than giving a 15% discount to a repeat buyer who was going to buy anyway.

Even simple, you can target visitors by which blog post they’re reading. If someone is reading a post on, say, writing case studies, a good offer might be “case study templates”:

You should also consider the device someone is using. One of the biggest mistakes with lead capture is using the exact same tactics and design for mobile that you’re using for desktop. The context and user experience is just completely different, so it makes sense to test different thing on different devices.

The point of this section isn’t to give you any specific, tactical suggestions for whom to target. It’s only to advise you to think about which portion of your audience sees which CTA. As a company and their content production capacity grows, it’s less and less effective to have a one-size-fits all approach.

3. Target your audience at the correct time

Who you target is very important, but when you target your audience is also important. For instance, with our J Crew first time visitors example, it certainly makes sense to deliver the discount as soon as possible (on arrival).

This person is probably comparison shopping, so you’re fighting for attention and want to hook them quickly. This is the case with many ecommerce lead capture messages, such as Ralph Lauren:

If you’re capturing emails on a blog post, however, you don’t want to interrupt the user experience before the reader even gets past the first paragraph.

That’s a good way to skyrocket your bounce rate. It’s also a common mistake I see with marketers who use “welcome mat” popups - those giant interstitials that completely take over your screen. Not a good way to entice a reader to continue with your content.

A better trigger for those pieces may be either a scroll-triggered popup or an exit intent popup. These are behaviorally triggered. The former shows up when someone scrolls past a certain point in the article, and the latter shows up when someone motions their mouse towards the corner of the screen, as if they were going to exit the window.

These are the types of popups I use on my own site, and we use them at HubSpot too. Here’s a great example of an exit intent popup from WaitButWhy (the copywriting is also great):

You can get creative with your time-based or behavior-based targeting as well. Does a behavioral event on your website imply intent or high interest in an offer? That’s a great time to trigger a CTA. An example is with templates. If you see someone is copying and pasting your templates, you can trigger a message that they’re also all available for download.

At a simpler level, you can leave a text link in your copy and use that as a signal of intent for trigger a form:

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4. Build a proper lead magnet (or several)

We’ve already discussed the need to answer the question, “what’s in it for me,” and to create some sort of value exchange. But let’s dive deeper into the idea of a “lead magnet,” since it’s usually crucial to get this write (especially for B2B cases).

Stepping back, what’s a lead magnet anyway? A lead magnet is the free offer you deliver in exchange for a visitor’s information. This could be many things, but it usually looks like a long-form piece of content - an ebook, a webinar, a gated email course, a free tool, etc.

Here are several different lead magnet ideas and formats:

The ebook

The ebook is probably the most common form of a lead magnet, perhaps because it’s relatively easy to repurpose multiple blog posts into a giant ebook and get someone on Upwork to design it. Depending on the execution, though, they can be incredibly effective.

I find ebooks to be best suited for a few cases:

  • The topic is complex and requires a lot of education
  • The buyer is inquisitive and loves doing their own research into the topic
  • It’s a sufficiently text-driven topic to form an engaging ebook

Topics like conversion rate optimization, user experience, or search engine optimization all make great ebooks because they fit the above criteria. Take, for example, this ebook from UserTesting on how to do proper user research:

The webinar

Webinars are probably the second most common lead magnet I see in the wild. They’re largely used by B2B businesses, and it’s especially a popular marketing tactic for SaaS companies.

Webinars tends to work well in a few environments:

  • The topic is technical or needs to get quite granular
  • You or your guest is charismatic on camera or well-known
  • Your webinar topics can still be useful for those not using your product

For example, Unbounce reported wonderful results from their webinars (35% increase in free trial signups). At CXL Institute, we hosted webinars with our course instructors (well-known and super experts in their fields), and regularly got thousands of signups (as well as many directly attributable conversions).


In my opinion, webinars are one of the highest potential lead magnets, but they’re usually the worst executed in reality. If you can get people to sign up for a webinar, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The webinar needs to be entertaining as well as useful, which I can’t say about most webinars I’ve attended.

If you can do this and do this well (and at scale), you’ll surely be able to build an inbound lead generation machine with it.

The email course

The email course is one of my favorite underutilized tactics. It’s essentially an ebook, but split into chapters and delivered via email. The best part is that you can normally get experts to write individual chapters, which not only distributes the effort required to produce the content, but if you choose your experts correctly, it also adds to the value for the subscriber.

This is another lead magnet we used at CXL Institute:


Invision also runs campaigns of this type:


In these lead magnets, your setup is the same: you’re promising informational value in exchange for an email address. The difference here is that you’re using email to deliver the core value, which perhaps leads to an increase in open rates and engagement with the actual email marketing.

It’s easy to set up on your side, as well. You just build an autoresponder for those enrolled in your email course. Simple, and in the long run, quite automated.

The free tool

Free tools are also underrated, though tougher to create. Obviously, it requires resources to engineer a tool. However, if done right, it can really break through the noise. The best of example of this, of course, is HubSpot’s Website Grader:

The template/resource bundle

If the topic is the bait, then the lead magnet is the hook. If your topic interests someone, helping them accomplish what you talk about in the article can be a tremendously powerful hook.

Normally, this is done with additional resources, templates, or tools designed to help the visitor implement whatever it is you’re talking about. A clear-cut example of this is with our feedback survey templates on posts related to feedback surveys:

The checklist

Similar to this is to offer a checklist. This is most appropriate for topics that are technically complex or at least require a lot of time and organization to accomplish.

Something like A/B testing is the perfect topic to offer a checklist. That’s what I do in a post I wrote on A/B testing guidelines:

There are many more formats of lead magnets, but the above are some of my favorite types.

5. Reduce friction where possible

This is a good rule of thumb for all of marketing (nay, all of business): reduce friction.

Basically, if a visitors wants to sign up for your list, make it as easy as possible for them to do that. This is part of the premise behind the flywheel, but it makes a lot of sense when designing and optimizing web forms.

When designing forms, ask yourself questions such as:

  • Do I need this piece of information I’m asking for? If so, can I ask for it later (a la progressive profiling) or enrich our data somehow?
  • What form fields are causing the highest drop-off?
  • Can we run some user tests to see where people are struggling with our forms?
  • Do we have any basic usability or accessibility problems with our forms?
  • Do our forms work on all browsers and devices?

You’d be surprised how much low hanging fruit you can find with a quick CRO audit on your forms.

6. Match the intent of a blog post with the correct offer

I’ve insinuating this above when talking about who you’re targeting, but a quick win for lead capture is to align the messaging on your lead magnet offer with the blog post it appears on.

You’d be surprised how often I see drastic mismatches. If your blog post is about “top marketing books of 2019,” it may not be prudent to offer an ebook on “The Ultimate Guide to Digital Analytics.” There’s a mismatch there. Some visitors may still convert, but it’s certainly not fully optimized.

Here’s a trick I like to use to align messaging properly. Go into Ahrefs and plug your blog post URL in the site explorer feature. Look at all the keywords it ranks for:

Your goal here is to understand broadly what your post ranks for, but also to try to find some “voice of customer” insights to steal for copywriting. For instance, this keyword “what to do in Austin this weekend,” might actually make a really good headline for an ebook or checklist I could offer.

7. Choose the best lead capture tools for the job

Finally, realize that you’re not stuck to only using web forms. You can use popups, surveys, live chat, and many more tools to capture leads.

Also realize that there’s no one tool that’s best for the job. We’ve seen all different kinds of successful approaches using different types of tools, different lead magnets, and different strategies in general. It’s only appropriate to choose the right tool for the job you want to accomplish, which is what the rest of this article is about.

1. Web Forms

Web forms are still the gold standard of online lead capture. They’ve also come a long way since their early roots on the internet. Now we can easily design custom forms that can directly connect your CRM or email tool of choice using free tools like HubSpot Forms:

2. Popup Forms

Popups, once annoying an ill-designed, are now common and, when done correctly, are wildly effective and not at all a user experience hindrance.

When you can properly time and target the right audience at the right time, you can win at this method. At the very least, an exit intent form helps capture some would-be bouncers from your site. HubSpot Popup Forms is free and easy to set up for this.

3. Surveys and Quizzes

Surveys are, in my opinion, way underutilized. They’re engaging and entertaining, but in reality, you can collect the same visitor information with far less friction than traditional forms.

A great tool for this is Survey Anyplace. Here’s a great example from a customer of theirs who created a survey to engage attendees of a cycling event (using an iPad survey):

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They put in their email and contact information to be entered into a contest at the end.

4. Live Chat

Live chat, sometimes viewed in the context of customer support and sometimes for sales, can also be used as a marketing tool.

Especially when you’re correctly targeting visitors, you can use live chat to engage heavy readers or people who have been to your site several times. CXL does this with visitors who come back frequently:

Though live chat is a less consistent way of collecting leads (it may be better at simply answering questions), you will find a few opportunities to engage visitors and collect their info.

5. Chatbots

Chatbots are probably a better way to collect lead information. The fact that they’re automated saves you a lot of support rep time (opposed to running a live chat all the time), and you can often do better targeting and filtering as long as you design your bot the right way.

Chatbots are a technique that, in my opinion, is still in its infancy. Too many companies are still designing terrible bots and angering potential customers in the process.

With the right touch, however, I’ve seen chatbots skyrocket lead conversion rates.

6. Giveaways and Contests

Giveaways were very popular a few years ago. Though they’ve faded a little bit, I still see them all the time, particularly in B2C companies (and ultra-specifically, in travel or experience related industries).

Normally, you and several companies partner up, offer some sort of giveaway that is related to what all of your businesses do, and then promote the giveaways to your respective audiences. Then you share the email leads (presuming you’ve gotten proper opt-in permissions to do so).

This, while a good way to gather a large quantity of emails, has a big drawback: the quality of the emails probably isn’t very good. For two reasons:

  • You’re sharing emails with a bunch of companies
  • You’re relying on commercial incentives to get the email (in other words, they’re not interested in your company, they’re interested in winning that trip to Denmark).



A good tool for this, if you want to try it, is KingSumo.

7. Content upgrades

Finally, we have content upgrades. This is really a popup form, but I wanted to add it separately, since it is a click-triggered and behaviorally contextual popup. Basically, when someone clicks a link that says “get the PDF of this” or “click here to get a checklist,” they can then opt-in with a very simple, dynamic form:

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When you click the link, this comes up:

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In terms of user experience, and all the strategies we went over above, content upgrades are some of the best ways to collect email leads. They’re relevant to the blog post, not a hindrance on user experience, and are only triggered to those who click on the link. I love content upgrades as lead capture method.

There are many ways and strategies to capture email leads.

This article gives a general outline as well as some ideas to do so; it also gives you some tools (most of them free) to accomplish the job.

As with anything, success requires some experimentation and tinkering. Try some of the above out, learn from it, and iterate to improve. Small wins compound and lead to greatness.

And if you want an easy way to implement some of these lead capture methods, check out HubSpot’s free lead generation tools.

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Originally published Mar 28, 2019 8:00:00 AM, updated June 10 2021


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