Email Marketing

Many people have questions on effective email campaigns and how to avoid running afoul of CAN-SPAM. The confusion around spam is understandable because the term spam doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with CAN-SPAM. Spam can be defined as unwanted or unsolicited contact, i.e., email. However, you can be “spammed” on your Facebook page, your Twitter account and even on your blog.

First, regarding CAN-SPAM, if you go to the FTC CAN-SPAM Guidelines for Business site where you will find their guidelines for business. CAN-SPAM is an acronym that stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003.

First a disclaimer. I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice. If you have legal questions regarding email, you may want to consult with an attorney. In the meantime, you read the FTC guidelines to see what the specific requirements are for sending commercial emails.

As I understand it, CAN-SPAM does not prohibit commercial email. The Act was originally conceived to combat unwanted pornography-related and other misleading emails as you can probably tell. That said, most web hosting and email hosting companies including the big email service providers have their own specific rules about spam and these have almost nothing to do with CAN-SPAM and have everything to do with keeping their company names and servers from being associated with unsolicited emails and subsequently ending up on the spam “blacklist”. So even though there is no law against commercial emails, you will need to check with the terms of service that your email host has to avoid running afoul of their rules.

So, back to CAN-SPAM. There are requirements that businesses must follow to comply with CAN-SPAM. In a nutshell you must:

Provide a legitimate mailing address
Identify the email as an advertisement
Provide a method to “Opt-Out”
Don’t use a false or misleading subject line
The email has to come from a legitimate company email address.

If you think about it, businesses freely advertise their websites and email addresses so it follows that they must expect to receive unsolicited emails. Even if this is the case, you must give them the option of receiving your message–ask them to Opt In.

So let’s talk about spam.
You are probably well aware that there are spam filters in place everywhere. Every major email service provider has them. Your email box has a spam box or junk box. Anti-spam programs look for key words and phrases in your subject line as well as in the body of your email. If something in your email triggers one of these filters, your email could end up in the spam or junk box.

To help legitimate marketers avoid spam triggers, there are a number of anti-spam content checking software programs available. These applications do a good job of identifying spam trigger words. Many spam words are very obvious while others are more discrete. Just go out and do a Google search for Spam Words and you’ll see what I mean.

Email Best Practices
This is by no means a comprehensive list of Email Best Practices, but it’s a good place to start. I will post additional Best Practices regularly so keep checking back.

Opt-In. You want your email recipients to Opt-In to your email list. This means that they are giving you permission to send them emails with the understanding that they can opt-out at any time. As an email marketer, you must promptly act on any opt-out request. To obtain opt-in, marketers provide forms like this for their prospects to complete. The form records their consent and the email address gets added to your opt-in email list.

If you are just starting out, you may not have many people on your email list. There are many ways to drive traffic to your website where you can obtain email opt-ins. The most effective way is to continually update your website with new content. The search engine crawlers love new content.

But, if you are looking to grow your list more quickly, you may consider purchasing an email list. Many list companies advertise their lists as being Opt-In. But unless you are mailing to your own list, the target prospects on any list that you buy or rent have not Opted-in with you. Many list companies do not sell their list, rather, you provide them with your email content and they’ll send it out for you. Your email content should provide a compelling offer that will encourage the recipient to opt-in to your list. Then, after the rented campaign, you are free to email to anyone who opts-in to your list.

A common mistake among email marketers who buy or rent an email list is that they don’t try to obtain an opt-in. They are under the erroneous impression that they bought an opt-in list and can email away until their heart’s content. This is the number one area where email marketers go wrong. The fact is that anytime you are starting a new campaign, it is a best practice to request a new Opt-in. In fact, requesting an Opt-in once or twice a year is a good rule of thumb to follow.

A common approach to obtaining an Opt-In from an email prospect is to create a “landing page” link or “Squeeze Page” link from within the first email that asks the prospect for their name and email address. The prospect completes the form and the information is captured by your Customer Relationship Management (“CRM”) program. Then you can begin your autoresponder sequence. A squeeze page that offers valuable, free content has the best chance for successfully converting an opt-in. You want something of value from the prospect–their contact information–so in exchange, you should offer them free content that is also valuable.

Another email best practice employs a “double” opt-in requirement. In other words, provide a compelling offer in exchange for the email address and name opt-in, then when you obtain the first opt-in, send an second email that requires the prospect to confirm their agreement to receive information from you–the second Opt-In. Upon receipt of the second Opt-In, you can then deliver whatever the promotion offer is and add them to the appropriate autoresponder sequence .

For purchased lists, you should be aware that most email sending companies do not allow the use of purchased lists. Additionally, many CRM programs that provide auto-responder functionality also closely monitor email activity for evidence of Spamming. Their expectation is that you only use a list that you’ve cultivated. We have seen instances where people have purchased an email list and have done a blast through their CRM only to get shut down. Don’t let this happen to you. As I mentioned above, you cannot buy an “Opt-In” list but you can buy a list and ask someone to Opt-In to receive your messages.

There are email campaign software products on the market that are reasonably priced. However, there may be some technical requirements that could be beyond your company’s capabilities. But if you plan on doing an extended email campaign–which any good marketer would, you might consider implementing one of these program.

Email marketing evokes strong emotions in some people. It really isn’t surprising that to find that we live in a world where more than 85% of contacts including email can be considered SPAM by somebody. I receive tons of spam everyday but from a marketer’s point of view, I consider each commercial email I receive as an opportunity to learn. Commercial email exposes me to new products, new opportunities, and new ideas.

Email is not dead. Far from it. Email will change, evolve, adapt. Social Media is hot right now and has the potential to replace commercial email as one of the top methods for reaching customers and community. Marketers will use email and blogs to drive prospects and customers to their social media channel. The concept of Opt-In is already embedded in sites like Twitter and Facebook where people are invited to follow or to be a friend. Be sure that you are employing best practices around email Opt-In for your business.