Email marketing can be a very effective tool for just about any industry—if you play by the rules. If you choose to play it fast and loose, email marketing can just as easily get your company’s email domain blacklisted, and could even subject you to stiff fines.
Thank the CAN-SPAM Act (http://bit.ly/canspam)—a federal law that outlines the rules for sending commercial email. Each separate email in violation of the act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000, so non-compliance can be costly. Simply put, spam is unsolicited email that’s sent without the recipient’s express permission. If the recipient didn’t specifically “opt in” to receive emails from you, then that email address is off-limits.
That’s a tough nut for many businesses to swallow, because it’s very different from the way that traditional (paper) direct mail works. Recently a client came to us with a list of ten thousand email addresses that they had assembled from a wide variety of sources over the past seven years—from trade shows, website contact form, sales efforts, purchased email lists, and so on. They wanted to start an aggressive email campaign to promote a new product. However, none of the people on their list had ever explicitly opted in to receive emails from this company, so we politely declined.
The client decided to act on their own, using a third-party email marketing solution. More than 60% of the addresses came back as undeliverable. The email distribution company suspended the account for spamming. Numerous spam complaints prompted a blacklisting of their email domain. And thus ended their email marketing.
Here are seven things to keep in mind for compliant email marketing.
1. Institute proper (and defensible) methods for gathering email addresses.
No matter how you gather email addresses—scanning a badge at a tradeshow, dropping business cards into a fishbowl, filling out a form on your website, buying something from your online store—the opt-in/opt-out for future marketing emails must be obvious. Include an easy and conspicuous way for the recipient to unsubscribe—opt out of getting email from you in the future.
2. Make it clear who’s really sending the emails.
If your company is aboveboard, there’s no reason to hide. Emails should include the company’s name and a valid physical street address to prove you are who you say you are.
3. Use accurate and honest subject lines.
The subject line should reflect the content of the message. Bait-and-switch is spamming.
4. Identify the message as an ad.
The law gives you a lot of leeway in how to do this, but you must disclose clearly and conspicuously that your message is an advertisement.
5. Reduce the number of “bounces.”
A bounce is an email that is returned because the address is incorrectly formatted or no longer valid. A high bounce rate is an indicator of an outdated list—and if you’re sending to an outdated list, you’re spamming, as far as CAN-SPAM is concerned. If you have a high bounce rate, most commercial email marketing services will shut you down. Scrubbing out the bounces beforehand is a grueling task, so if you’re dead set on using your existing list, consider outsourcing the hygiene to an email list cleaning service.
6. Ask permission.
Once you’ve cleaned the existing list of bounces, it’s time to run an “opt-in campaign” to get the ball rolling. Send an email explaining that you’re starting up (or reviving) a newsletter, and ask them to subscribe. Provide an incentive to sweeten the pot. Make the process simple by providing a link to confirm the subscription. It’s better to have a smaller list of people who really want to hear from you than a large list of people who think of you as a spammer.
7. Keep your list fresh.
Now that you’ve removed bounces, regained permission, and instituted proper policies for gathering new emails—don’t let it happen again. Treat your costumers like VIPs. Make them feel important (which they are) and stay in touch. Provide them with usable content that gives real value. Run a reactivation campaign every nine to 12 months to keep email addresses up to date. Giving people the opportunity to renew their subscription will keep them involved.