Email-Based Courses: The Unpopular Strategy Experts Are Using To Build Their Email List Fast

Yemi PelumiCharlotte Evans

By Yemi & Charlotte

email marketing

EmailTooltester is supported by readers like yourself. We may earn a commission when you purchase through our links. Of course, this won't increase the cost for you.

Building an email list >>> growing a social media following.

Facebook banning accounts due to “suspicious” activities. Businesses losing their Instagram page for vague reasons. And now, TikTok possibly getting banned by the U.S. government.

This is why we, email marketers, are always advising businesses to build an email list.

Of course, an active social media following has great benefits. But, an email list is really the only list of your audience you really own.

The crucial question is, how can you build your email list fast?

If you’ve tried building your email list with discount codes, PDFs, and other freebies, but failed. Or, you’re looking for a fresh strategy to attract and capture more leads into your list. We’ve got you!

In this post, we’ll explore email-based courses – an “almost-secret” unpopular strategy experts are using to build email lists fast.

You’ll learn everything you need to know about email-based courses, including steps to create one and strategies to compel your target audience to sign up.

Ready? Let’s get into it!

What are Email-Based Courses?

Email-based courses are online courses delivered via email.

They’re drip email marketing campaigns, with each lesson sent daily to your subscribers’ inboxes. When done right, the email lessons help recipients solve a pain point or achieve a goal.

Email-based courses can either be free or paid. However, offering a free (or almost free) email course will help you build your email list fast.

Continue reading to learn why you should use free email-based courses over downloadable freebies to capture leads and prospects.

Free Email Courses vs. Downloadable Freebies

Downloadable freebies like ebooks and PDF guides have been used for years to grow email lists. Unfortunately, they don’t work as effectively as they used to. Here’s why a free email-based course will help you grow your list faster.

Higher opt-in rate

People are now wary of downloadable PDFs. And can you blame them? Many practical guides are actually regular blog posts designed in a pretty PDF package. And, free ebooks are often just a pitch-fest about the author’s history.

But free email-based courses? Those are more appealing because they are new and different. Plus, being a “course,” it promises to provide actionable and practical solutions to specific problems.

So, leads are more likely to opt-in to grab an email course than downloadable freebies. Imagine getting an opt-in rate as high as 70% like the Ship30for30 Start Writing Online course reportedly got. That means capturing 7 out of 10 people who land on your opt-in page.

Better engagement rate

Let's be real. Free PDFs are often just gathering digital dust on leads' computers; some are never opened, let alone read. On the other hand, email-based courses are delivered over a couple of days, which increases the likelihood of engagement.

The lessons are in bite-sized chunks that can be consumed easily. Plus, it's not a one-way resource like PDFs. Subscribers can hit reply, and chat back and forth with you about the lesson content, easily. Moreover, you can track engagement rates (and even attempt to re-engage disengaged subscribers).

An email-based course I created for a business got an average open rate of over 50%. And Nicolas Cole’s Premium Ghostwriting Blueprint email-based course got a CTR of 84.3%

Build a relationship

Leads who opt-in to your email list via a downloadable may never open your subsequent emails. Some may even unsubscribe immediately after downloading the free PDF guide or ebook.

But, with email-based courses, you're in your subscriber’s inbox, day after day. Every time you send a valuable lesson, you build rapport and nurture a strong relationship with them.

By the time the email lessons end, you will have built trust and gained confidence in your expertise. This creates a connection that will compel them to continue to engage with your subsequent emails and convert them to customers.

No extra effort required

Email-based courses don’t need extra effort to be created and delivered. This gives it an advantage over downloadables, which require a graphic designer to package and make it attractive; and then, need to be uploaded somewhere.

With email-based courses, you would only need your regular email marketing tools. All you have to do is create the email lessons and set them up on your ESP to be sent to subscribers automatically.

Now that you know why you should offer an email-based course, how do you create one? Follow the step-by-step guide below to get started!

How To Create A Captivating Email-Based Course To Build Your Email List Fast

If you’re interested in building your email list fast, here are the steps to create a captivating email-based course that will attract, capture, and engage leads and prospects.

Step #1: Select a topic

The right topic for your email-based course meets your target audiences’ needs.

These needs may be solving a problem, accomplishing a goal, learning something, or whatever else they might need. Hence, your topic isn’t something you just guess or decide on your own.

You have to conduct extensive research to determine exactly what your audience need. You can do this by asking your audience directly. Or, listen in on their conversations where they hang out on social media or forums like Reddit and Quora.

Also, make sure that the topic is specific. This means it should be about one thing, solve one problem, and target one audience.

A real-life example of a great topic is Jamie Brindle’s “Pricing for Freelancers” email mini-course. The course is specifically for helping freelancers price their services better.

Furthermore, your topic doesn’t have to be the name of your email-based course. You should give it a name that will make prospects perceive the incredible value of the course.

Let’s say, you’re a financial investment coach and your topic is helping newbies make profits investing in the stock market.

Instead of naming your email-based course, “How To Make Profit Investing in The Stock Market As A Newbie,” give it a magnetic name like, “The Rookie Investor Course: How To Triple Your Capital Investing In Profitable Stocks With As Little As $100.”

Step #2: Outline the course

What exclusive insights do you want to share with subscribers? What do you want them to learn and in what order? What actions do you want them to take and when?

You need a curriculum for your course. Outline everything before writing the email lessons, and make sure you have a strategy in place for each lesson to flow naturally into the next.

You could create an outline for 5 to 7 email lessons. But, a 5-day email course is a perfect number, as it isn’t too long or too short. Adding a welcome email and closing pitch email would make it a total of 7 emails in the sequence.

Also, find ways to include interactive elements such as action tasks and quizzes. This will help keep subscribers engaged, make the lessons stick, and help them take action.

Here’s a basic outline for a 5-day free email-based course.

  1. Welcome Email: An email to introduce what to expect and how they can engage, and share the benefits of the course.
  2. Email Lesson 1: Course content for day 1. This sets the tone for the rest, so make sure it makes a great impression.
  3. Email Lesson 2 to 5: Course content for days 2 to 5 depending on your curriculum. Make sure they are valuable, engaging, and actionable.
  4. Closing Pitch: An email to wrap up the course and request feedback. Ask subscribers to share what they’ve benefited from it and what could be improved.

Step #3: Write the email course

All the rules about writing effective email campaigns also apply to email-based courses.

Your subject lines should be attractive, make sure the body copy is engaging, include an irresistible CTA (call to action), and so on.

However, there are a couple of extra tips to enhance your email course.

Your subject lines should include an indication of the chapter or lesson number. This could be in different formats, such as [Lesson 1] Subject Line, [Day 1] Subject Line, [1.0] Subject Line. This numbering will make it easier for them to navigate the course in the future.

Email courses are appealing because of the practical solutions they offer. So, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t be sales-y.

Create valuable body copy that addresses subscribers’ needs directly, and use relatable examples and stories to keep them engaged. Also, include actionable steps they can implement immediately to take them from point A to B.

Furthermore, you should have a foreshadowing paragraph to make subscribers look forward to the next lesson. You may also include a “pro-tip” and “did you know?” section like Irit Levi did in her “Simplify Your Workflow” email-based course.

Email-based course closing paragraph

Lastly, even though email-based courses are mainly for providing value and educating subscribers, you should always have a CTA.

This CTA may be as simple as asking them to reply to a question, take action to implement lessons, submit assignments, or click links to access exclusive resources. Although your CTA shouldn’t be to sell your services, you can include a soft-sell of your offer in the PS section.

Also, in the PS section, you might include a skip-forward link that lets subscribers receive the next day’s email immediately. If subscribers are gaining value from your course, they’ll be eager to access the next lesson. Nicolas Cole does this nicely in his “Premium Ghostwriting” free email-based course.

Email-based course skip-forward

Step #4: Setup the email course on an ESP (Email Service Provider)

You can’t possibly send each email lesson daily to each subscriber manually. So, after writing the email-based course content, you’ll need to set it up on your ESP to deliver it every day, automatically.

Most ESPs have automation features that allow you to do this effortlessly. Convertkit especially has a guide for setting up email course automation using their tool.

You can also set up triggers for specific actions your subscribers take. For instance, if they click on the skip forward link, your ESP can be triggered to send them the next day's lessons immediately.

Furthermore, segment the list from when they sign up for the course. That is, create a segmented list, e.g. named “email course title,” where everyone who signs up gets added. Then, set your ESP to send the email course sequence to contacts who get added to the list.

If you have different clusters of your target audience, you may also use the opportunity to add them to different segments so you can send them super-relevant content after the course. An example is this linked list I included in a client’s email-based course welcome email.

Email-based course segmentation

Also, you can easily track engagement rates with your ESP. This will help you identify how and where you can make improvements to the course, as well as re-engage course subscribers who stopped taking the course.

Step #5: Set up opt-in page(s)

You can’t have just a newsletter opt-in page that says, “Sign up for my email course.” You need a dedicated opt-in (landing) page where you can compel prospects to enter their email address to receive the course lessons.

To set this up, you need a captivating opt-in copy, convincing social proof, an actionable CTA, and an easy-to-complete sign-up form.

Your opt-in copy can be short and sweet or long and engaging. What’s important is to clearly tell your leads how your email-based course would help solve their problems or achieve their goals. Make sure to use power words, and outline the content and benefits of the course.

Social proof such as testimonials, reviews, and the number of people who have already signed up for the course will help make it more desirable. You may also include a strategic screenshot of valuable content in the email course.

For your opt-in page CTA, avoid bland ones like “Submit” or “Sign Up.” Instead use action-oriented language that will push leads to click on the CTA, such as “Send Me Lesson #1,” or “Get The Series.”

Email-based course opt-in page

Tips To Attract and Compel More Leads To Sign Up For Your Email-Based Course

1. Add a price anchor microcopy

When a price tag is attached to a product or service, it’s perceived to be valuable. You can use this psychology to get more of your target audience to sign up for your email-based course. How?

Simply add a price microcopy at the bottom of the opt-in CTA. The offer is that “leads who can’t wait to receive the lessons each day can grab the entire course instantly for $X.”

Of course, the primary goal isn’t to make money selling the course. So, the price should be as cheap as $5 to $10. Irit Levi does this pretty well with her offer for her audience to grab her “Simplify Your Workflow” course as a PDF for $7.

email-based course with price anchor microcopy

Note that you’re not pitching the sale of your email-based course. Rather, you’re offering complete instant access for a token. That is, your offer is that they either pay for the course in time or cash.

With the price tag, curiosity will set in and many will enter their email address to grab your email course for free. Some may go ahead and pay for instant full access. Either way, you’ll collect their email address and maybe some change for coffee.

2. Offer a pay-what-you-want deal

Your email-based course doesn’t have to be completely free. Again, people value things that are priced more than freebies. So, use a pay-what-you-want (PWYW) offer to elevate the value of your email-based course, and attract and capture more leads.

A PWYW offer involves setting a price value for your course. Then, allowing your target audience to get the course for whatever price they want. The goal isn’t to make 6-figures selling your email-based course. But, to increase its perceived value.

For instance, you may set the value of the course to $100 and then ask leads to pay whatever amount, with a minimum of $5 (or even a dollar). This will trigger FOMO in your audience and compel them to sign up.

Also, the PWYW offer will help you weed out freeloaders from your list. You’ll be sure that many of those who signed up are committed to solving their pain points and will pay to get a solution.

3. Limit the number of students per time

Sure, your goal is to capture as many leads as possible. Nevertheless, scarcity is a valuable tool you can leverage to grow your list quickly.

You can limit the number of students that can join per week and add a countdown of the number of spots left. This will push your target audience to join before the available spots run out.

However, be sure to give a reason for the limit. For instance, you may say only 50 students can join per week, so you’ll be able to engage with each of them and respond to their questions or need for clarification.

You could also combine this strategy with a pay-what-you-want offer. For instance, allowing only the first 500 or 1000 subscribers to pay any amount for your email-based course.

4. Promote it on other businesses' email lists

Collaboration is one of the fastest ways to get more eyeballs on your email-based course offer and capture more leads.

You can collaborate with complementary businesses to cross-promote your offers on each other’s list. Or, you can pay to be promoted on email lists your audience is already subscribed to and reading daily.

For instance, the Ship30for30 email course is promoted on a freelance opportunities email newsletter. Since his target audience is copywriters who want to make more money, it’s the perfect list to promote the course on.

Email-based course promoted on newsletter

5. Share it on your social media platforms

You don’t have to run paid social media marketing campaigns to promote your email-based course. If you share it on your social media pages effectively, you’ll attract and capture many leads.

Sharing goes beyond posting about the course (once in a while). Regardless of the platform, there are different ways to make your course more visible and in the face of your target audience.

For instance, you could pin a tweet or post about the email course at the top of your X, Facebook, or Instagram profile, or add it to your featured section on LinkedIn. You could also promote it on your profile banner on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

LinkedIn featured email-based course

Additionally, you can add a link to the course in your bio on all platforms. And, promote it in the comment section of your posts whenever you publish something related.


Businesses need to do things differently to build their email list. Top creators and experts are leveraging email-based courses to grow their email list fast, and the strategy can work for many businesses, too.

Creating a value-packed, actionable email-based course and offering it for free will attract and capture leads into your email list. What’s more, it’ll help you engage and build a rapport that will convert them to customers.

Make sure to follow the step-by-step guide and implement the tips we’ve shared in this post. Take the time to select a topic, create the course content, and set up your opt-in page. And remember to use FOMO and scarcity to compel signups.

If you would like to experience a real-life example of how email-based courses work (and you want to be less dependent on Google for traffic), check out our New 5-Day Email Marketing Course for SEOs.

You can also reach out if you need additional help with creating an email-based course, or let us know how well it worked in the comments when you give it a try.

The authors

Learn more about us

Yemi Pelumi

Hi, I'm Yemi! I drink tea every day, and I've written almost every day since I started writing in 2017. Now, I help coaches, course creators, and online business owners capture and convert leads with email marketing. Plus, I love sharing my knowledge and experiences at EmailTooltester to help businesses like yours.

Charlotte Evans

Content Manager

Hey, I'm Charlotte! I've always been enthusiastic about helping others. After working for various tech startups and eCommerce businesses, I developed a strong passion for email marketing. Now, at EmailTooltester, I'm putting this knowledge to good use by recommending the very best digital tools for your business.

Learn more about us

Our Methodology

This article has been written and researched following our EmailTooltester methodology.

Our Methodology