Building Your Email List with Solo Ads

The money is in the list. It’s something that was reiterated today by my friend John Chow in his article ‘7 Surefire Ways to Make Money from Your Email List‘. If you have a big list with loyal subscribers, you have so many ways to make money online available to you. There’s a lot of different ways to build a list but today I’d like to specifically talk about building an email list with Solo Ads.

Solo ads are a popular way to promote a product or build your email list. The concept is very simple. A marketer will allow you send an advertisement to their email subscribers for a set fee. The price will largely depend on the size of the list though there are a lot more important factors to consider.

If used right, it can be a really good way of building your email list. For example, I could pay for an advertisement in someone’s list promoting my free ebook. It can also be used to directly promote a product though in my opinion the real value comes from growing your list as then you can promote a product or service to subscribers at any time you want (i.e. you don’t have to pay anyone for the privilege).

Edward Glassman touched upon the subject a few days ago in his post ‘7 Sure Fire Ways to Build Your Email List‘ (he also talks about it in his free ebook ‘List Building Like a Boss’). He gives three suggestions for where you can purchase a solo ad: Solo Ad Directory, Warrior Forum Classified Section and Safe Swaps.

Solo Ad Directory lists a few dozen people who sell solo ads. The good thing about the directory is that the majority of advertisers have been tested and reviewed by Solo Ad Directory owner Reed Floren. Advertisers list prices by the volume of clicks they provide. For example, Colm Wynne’s sells a package at $950 that guarantees at least 3,000 clicks.

Quality Over Quantity

Clicks mean nothing if they don’t convert. Reed advertised on Colm Wynne’s list at a cost of $150 for 500 clicks ($0.30 per click). He ended up getting 548 unique visitors and 167 opt-ins (i.e. new subscribers). This works out at around $0.90 per subscriber. The cost per subscriber (opt-in) is the most important metric for any advertiser though it doesn’t paint the whole picture. All subscribers are not created equal.

Colm Wynne’s blog has not been updated in close to three years. This would concern me greatly if I was planning on purchasing a solo ad.

  • How did he build his list?
  • Does he only email subscribers with offers from other people?
  • How targeted is his list?

Perhaps he still has other websites that are active and just hasn’t updated that blog or maybe he has built up a solid relationship with his subscribers over the years. I can’t say however I’d be reluctant to advertise on the newsletter of any blog that has left their blog to die. Reed managed to get 167 opt-ins through his advertisement however it’s doubtful they will prove valuable. Are they people that only sign up to free offers, regardless of whether they are interested? Are they people who would be willing to buy a good product?

How someone has built their list is very important. Take John Chow for example. It’s clear that he has built up his email list over many years through his blog. If someone does not have an active blog or website, you need to ask how they built their list. Did they build it solely through advertising on other people’s lists?

Just as traffic figures can be manipulated, email list figures can too. You only need to do a quick search for the term ’email lists’ on Fiver to see this. One guy is offering a list of 50,000 emails for only $5. Whenever I see someone trying to sell a solo ad without a platform to promote themselves, I always think they’ve artificially inflated their list in order to mislead advertisers.

If you are considering purchasing a solo ad from someone, make sure you check out a review from someone else (for example, in the Warrior Forum Classified Section). At the very least you should ask the seller how he built their list. Many marketers are open about how they acquired subscribers however there is no guarantee that what they tell you is true. It pays to be sceptical.

Solo Ad Swaps

With many solo ad campsigns costing in excess of $300, purchasing solo ads is not popular with everyone, which is why swapping ads with another marketer is a route many people go down. Safe Swaps is a great website to do this. They verify all lists and ensure that members are using safe email broadcast services such as Aweber.

You can sign up with a very limited account for free. A premium account (prime member) costs $29.99 per month and offers:

  • Unlimited Ad Swaps
  • Multiple Swipes
  • Integration with all major Autoresponders
  • Verified list size
  • You can sell Solo Mailings
  • Able to rate other Partners
  • You can cancel accepted Ad Swaps
  • Post on Forums
  • Have your own unique Booking Calendar
  • Use of Op-tin Tracking
  • Use of Click Fraud Filtering Engine
  • Can send private messages to people who are not partners
  • Have a listing in an Ad Swap Partners Directory

They note that only 1% of prime members are accepting ad swaps with guests and only 0.02% of Prime members send ad swap requests to Guest members. Essentially, the free service is unusable.

Each member has three options: buy an ad, swap an ad and sell an ad. Members leave positive or negative reviews about other members after a transaction. It’s a great way of vetting other members.

Safe Swaps

You can search for swaps, ads and swipes using the search option at the top of the page (swipes are the name given to the email message you want to send). The great thing is that you can look for swaps by the size of the other persons list. Ads are also divided into how much people charge and the number of clicks they can provide.

Safe Swaps

You can’t do any swaps or buy ads until you create your own ‘swipe’. Some people accept the promotion of paid products though most only accept free offers. It makes sense as it’s easier to promote free products to subscribers and get clicks.

Add Swipe

It’s important to view the swipe of anyone you are going to swap ads with. You can browse other members swipes to see which offers suit you and your audience better.

Browse Swipes

If you accept any old advertisement for your list, you’re going to lose subscribers fast. The relationship between you and your subscribers is vital to your success with an email list so it’s not something you should abuse. I’ve read of people increasing their list from a few hundred to a few thousand in a matter of months by using ad swaps effectively. If you are selective about what people you swap ads with I think it can be an amazing way to build your list on the cheap. If you send any old crap to visitors, you’re bound to have a higher unsubscribe rate.

Before doing any ad swaps, it’s advisable to get your list to at least a few hundred subscribers. You can do this directly via your blog or purchase some solo ads to build up your list. Once you’ve established your list, it makes more sense to swap ads rather than buy them. There are members with lists of tens of thousands of subscribers so your list should grow exponentially if you manage everything correctly.

One thing I have noticed is that members aren’t shy in looking for people to swap or sell ads. After signing up I got messages from three different members asking to help me and get to know me. I imagine most people check the new member list in order to try and make new partners. It wasn’t an inconvenience though and the community doesn’t seem to have people that spam you.

Safe Swaps also has an active discussion forum. It’s a great place to talk list building tactics with other marketers.

Safe Swaps Forum

I decided to take the plunge and try Safe Swaps out. I’ll probably only use it for buying ads at the start but I may try ad swaps once my list has been established. I’ll let you know how I get on.


If you’re looking to build your email list, you really need to offer something for free to subscribers. It sounds like a tactic that shouldn’t work any more but it does. People need to be baited into signing up to a newsletter. Then once they are on your list, you can build up a solid relationship with them.

I’ve had lists of a few thousand in the past but I never really monetized them well. Not really. I know a lot more about internet marketing and developing products now so I’m sure I can make a profit through my list. The relationship I have with subscribers will be vital. I don’t want to blast people with ads all the time. I only want to promote my own products or products I use myself.

In addition to Solo Ad Directory, Warrior Forum Classified Section and Safe Swaps, you should also check out the following websites if you are looking for some ad swaps:

Have you used solo ads before? I’d love to hear what tactics you are all using to build your list.


I am an experienced blogger who has been working on the internet since 2000. On this blog, I talk about WordPress, internet marketing, YouTube, technology and travelling.
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