Email changed the world. No longer did you need to send letters via snail mail. You could type up and fire off an electronic letter to anyone around the world instantly.

Since then, it has grown beyond personal electronic mail to become an integral part of business and marketing strategy, offering all sorts of features to improve communications over the internet.

One of these is the email distribution list — allowing you to send the same email to multiple people in one click.

In this article, we’ll discuss email distribution lists and what they’re used for. Then, we’ll walk you through creating them on Microsoft Outlook, Gmail, and Apple Mail and go over some list management best practices.

What is an Email Distribution List?

An email distribution list is a group of email contacts you can create to address as a single recipient. This allows you to contact several people with one email.

According to Statista, there were 4 billion daily email users in 2020. That number’s estimated to grow to 4.6 billion by 2025.

Total number of daily global email users

That’s a lot of email users, making something like an email distribution list a handy tool.

Also, unlike carbon copy, you don’t have to enter each recipient’s email address manually. Writing to the distribution list sends the email to everyone on it automatically.

For instance, imagine you wanted to send regular emails to 50 people. Instead of writing 50 emails or writing one email and entering all 50 email addresses, you could add their address to an email distribution list.

Every time you want to email these individuals, just write to the distribution list, and they’ll all get the message. It’s perfect for internal communications like emailing teams or entire departments at your company.

Benefits of Email Distribution Lists

Unlike many forms of marketing, email is inherently personal. You’re showing up in someone’s private inbox.

A distribution list helps you maximize these benefits. Here are some ways it does so:

Saves time

The most obvious benefit of email lists is the time you save. You don’t have to add recipients manually every time you need to send a specific group of people an email.

Just pick the distribution list, write up your email, and click send.

Easy solution for contacting multiple team members at once

Email distribution lists are best suited for internal communications. They make it easy to send email messages to a whole team or department at once.

But you can also use them to contact different groups of customers or clients — although this becomes difficult at scale.

Teaches you about your customers

At first, you do some initial customer research to put together a representative buyer persona that can guide your marketing messaging.

But once you’re actually marketing to your customers, you’ll quickly learn what they’re really like — especially through email.

Since email inboxes feel more personal and private, recipients may respond to your emails. Aside from helping your deliverability, these responses can be a gold mine for learning their problems and goals if you notice patterns in what they talk about.

Then, you can return to the drawing board and adjust your persona and messaging based on these responses.

Increases ROI

Email marketing offers some of the highest ROI of all marketing channels.

In 2020, email marketing firm Litmus’s State of Email survey found that email earned an average ROI of $36 per dollar spent. That’s even higher than the $32 per dollar spent that many had cited before 2020.

Average email marketing ROI

It makes perfect sense: email does not necessarily take a massive investment of time or money. Sending an email message is virtually free in 2022 (since you’re not paying for each kilobyte of traffic). Yet, the personal nature of the channel helps persuade your list members to take action on your emails and click through.

Builds a personal connection

As mentioned, people generally see their email inboxes as private. It is, after all, a virtual mailbox.

Therefore, email distribution lists allow you to build a personal connection with each recipient.

The key is to make your emails seem like they come “from a friend” and that you have their best interests at heart. You don’t have to know the person on the other end, but writing to them as if you’re talking to a friend feels less like a sales message and enables real human connection.

Oh, and if list members respond, that’s your chance to further an individual connection and secure their loyalty and satisfaction.

An asset you own

Your social media accounts may seem secure, but you don’t “own” them. Your followers actually belong to Facebook, Twitter, or whatever platforms you use.

You never know if the platform will change its algorithm and bury your social content — or worse, ban you from the platform for some reason.

Email’s different because, like your web content, you own your list. Your recipients are yours. As long as they opted in and you take action to avoid the spam box, you have far more control over your list than most other assets.

How to Make an Email Distribution List (in Outlook, Gmail, and Apple Mail)

The exact process for making an email distribution list differs depending on the platform you’re using. That said, every platform makes it relatively easy.

Here’s how to create email distribution lists with Microsoft Outlook, Gmail, and Apple Mail.

Microsoft Outlook

Email distribution lists are no longer called that in Microsoft Outlook. Instead, they’re called contact groups — but they work the same way.

Email Marketing ROI

To make a contact group, you’ll first navigate to the admin center and click on the People menu. Once there, you’ll go to My Contacts and choose the folder you’d like to save the contact group in. In most cases, you’ll want to choose the Contacts folder.

Next, you’ll create the contact group by clicking the New Contact Group button. Name the group, select Add Members, and choose the contacts you want in the group.

If you don’t have someone’s email registered in Outlook, just enter their email manually.

Finally, click Save & Close, and your list is ready to go.

Alternatively, if you email the same large group of people all the time, you can create a contract group the same way, but copy and paste all the email addresses instead of adding contacts.

If you keep your contacts in Excel, you can even import the spreadsheet into Outlook to create a group.


In Gmail, distribution lists are called contact groups — and you can create them using Gmail’s label system.

How to build an email distribution list in Gmail

Once you log into your account and arrive at your inbox, click the Create Label plus sign button on the left of the screen. Give it a name, and click save.

Next, go to your contacts. Check the box next to each contact you want to add. Once you select the desired contacts, click Manage Labels at the top right and choose the label you want to add them to.

That’s it. From there, you can remove contacts or change the group name as needed.

Apple Mail

Apple Mail also calls distribution lists “groups.”

How to build an email distribution list in Apple Mail

To make one, open the Contacts app on your Mac, then select File and navigate to the New Group option. Name your new group.

Make sure your groups are visible by clicking View>Show Groups if you can’t see them, then click All Contacts to display all your contacts in alphabetical order.

Drag and drop the contacts you want in the new group. It’ll use the most recently used email address if they have several.

If you need to add new contacts in the future, simply create a contact in the address book for them, then drag it to your group.

Email Distribution List Best Practices

Email distribution lists offer plenty of convenience and help you save time. But you have to create and use them the right way.

Make sure you follow these best practices when building and writing to your email distribution list.

Check your list before you send a message

The larger your list grows, the more you have to check over it and make sure the right messages are going to the right people.

For example, you don’t want to send a “thanks for buying” message or an upselling email to a distribution list of customers who haven’t bought yet.

Likewise, you don’t want to send welcome emails to people who have been on your list for a year.

So make sure you check who you’re sending each message to before clicking “send.”

Follow the law

Data privacy is huge nowadays, and nowhere is this more apparent than data usage regulations.

For example, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation requires you to ask for an “affirmative opt-in.” There can’t be any pre-ticked opt-in boxes, and the user has to freely and clearly give consent, per the regulation.

Screenshot of a sign-up form with affirmative opt-in

It also requires you to offer an unsubscribe option in every email, and instructions for unsubscribing must be clear and easy.

Keep in mind that these laws can differ depending on jurisdiction.

Make it as easy as possible to leave your list

You should make leaving your list as simple as joining it. It sounds counterintuitive, but there are plenty of benefits.

First of all, as we’ve mentioned, there are legal ramifications if you mismanage personal data.

Beyond that, allowing an easy opt-out can build trust and satisfaction with recipients. You appear more honest and transparent because you’re letting them leave any time they please. You’re not pulling a “make it hard to unsubscribe” trick in the hopes they’ll give up on it.

Clean your list regularly

You can’t please everyone on your list. Some people go cold after signing up. Others respond to you with less-than-happy messages that you can’t rectify, no matter how hard you try. Dissatisfied or disengaged recipients can harm your opens, click-throughs, and other important stats. This can carry over to your deliverability.

That’s why regularly cleaning your email list is so important. This involves purging your list of inactive accounts and you may have to kick off the occasional angry person if you can’t resolve their problem and they continue to be rude.

Yes, shrinking your email list seems counterintuitive.

But the thing is, you want people on your list that’ll engage with your emails and take action. Anyone who’s not doing so is harming vital email metrics without helping your business in any way. Removing them can actually be helpful.

Even if it’s an in-house list of team emails, you need to remove employees that leave the team or company.

Avoid attachments

You might have the best intentions when sending attachments via email, but this can turn off many recipients if they don’t know you very well.

Attachments carry a perceived risk of a virus if the recipient were to download it. Email software is more likely to move it to the spam or trash folder or completely block your message.

Even if it gets through, the recipient is less likely to trust it unless they specifically asked for it — such as if they signed up for your list to grab a lead magnet you advertised.

Additionally, attached files increase the size of your message. Too large of a file can prevent you from sending the email at all.

With all that in mind, try to use links if possible to share information.

Use email marketing software instead where appropriate

If you have a small list, you may be able to get by just emailing them manually.

But if you plan on scaling your business and list, you need to take advantage of email marketing software.

Email software solutions contain all sorts of tools that make your life easier, such as:

  • Painless, legal, and automated opt-in and opt-out for all lists.
  • A/B testing: To split your list into a few segments and send different versions of the same campaign or email to each segment. This helps you see which version’s better.
  • Analytics: To see how well campaigns are performing.
  • Automations: To build email sequences that nurture leads and sell your products on autopilot.
  • Landing page tools: To build your email signup page and other relevant pages.
  • Templates and drag-and-drop email builders: To help you craft emails quickly, especially if you’re struggling with ideas.
  • Segmentation: To split your list up by buying behavior, pain points, and other information so you can more effectively target certain members.

Maximize Your Email ROI With a Distribution list

Email is one of your most valuable marketing and communications assets.

Distribution lists help you maintain communications with a large number of subscribers without having to write each one individually — saving you time without sacrificing the ROI of email.

The thing is, you need consistent lead flow to continue growing your list, especially if you’re purging inactive subscribers regularly.

SEO and PPC are two of the most powerful lead gen methods for email lists, and The HOTH can help you do them right. Book a free consultation today to learn how we can help you.