8 Tips for Permission Based Email

Asking for permission to add someone to your email marketing list is not just a courtesy, it’s an important part of your email program’s long term success. If you fail to ask for permission, email recipients may end up marking your messages as “spam” – hurting your sender reputation with ISPs, which can hurt your delivery rates, meaning your messages may not beat spam filters for your other subscribers.

Permission Based Email Checklist

1. The Golden Rule: No pre-checked opt-in boxes in sign up forms

Though it is completely the web user’s fault for not reading your sign up form instructions word-for-word, it doesn’t matter. When someone receives email he or she does not expect, is not relevant to him or her, or is otherwise annoying, that email can be marked as “spam.” In fact, some folks believe marking a message as spam unsubscribes them from your list, which it does not. It only hurts your sender reputation – it also hurts your brand’s trust in consumers’ eyes.

2. Consider using a “double opt-in” system to confirm permission.

I say consider double opt-in, since it’s the topic of much heated debate in the email marketing world, and not as common in online retail.

Double opt-in means the subscriber must open your confirmation email and confirm subscription before being added to your mailing list. This protects you against “spam bots” that can subscribe with fake email addresses. Some fake email addresses are actually traps to identify spammers. If you send an email to a spam-trap email, you are flagged by ISPs and your email won’t get through. You also risk being added to blacklists that organizations use to detect spam (especially risky for B2B businesses). Also, some ESPs (email service providers) won’t take you on as a customer unless you use double opt-in.

Another advantage of double opt-in is you have “proof” of subscription intent if you are ever legally challenged for spamming. Remember, as mentioned above, many email subscribers use the “Report Spam” button incorrectly.

The tradeoff for these advantages is 20-50% of subscribers won’t bother to confirm, or won’t (ironically) see your message because of spam filters. If you can live with a smaller list in exchange for better deliverability, then consider double-opt in. Also consider that the subscribers who don’t confirm are less likely to be engaged in the rest of your email program, so double-opt in is a way to weed out inactives right away. This in theory should improve your performance stats – more opens, more click throughs, more ROI.

If you’d like to debate this tip or share your experiences, let’s get a discussion going in the comments.

3. Clearly state what the emails are generally about

Let customers know if your emails include sales, new products, special discounts or informative articles. Even better, link to a sample email.

4. Make it easy to unsubscribe

Clearly state that users can unsubscribe at any time upon sign up, and make your unsubscribe link very easy to find in email messages. It’s better a user unsubscribe than mark your message as spam.

5. Reassure customers you will not share or sell their information

Show this point-of-action assurance next to the email address field.

6. Send a welcome email

Send your triggered message within 24 hours of subscription confirmation, and don’t forget to ask customers to add your sender name and address to their “Safe List.”

7. Test your process to make sure that registrants who opt-out of promotional emails don’t receive them

Because it happens.

8. Ask if registrants wish to receive offers from your sister companies

If you have multiple brands, don’t mix your messages across lists. Ask if subscribers are interested in your sister brands before you add them to their lists. There is also a right way to introduce sister brands by email.

Sadly, following these tips does not ensure you won’t have subscribers hitting the “spam” button. As Q Interactive and Marketing Sherpa reported only 2 years ago, 56% of consumers feel email from known senders is spam if it’s “just not interesting to me.” 50% believe “too frequent emails from companies I know” is spam.” List cleaning, segmenting your campaigns and knowing “how much is too much” concerning email frequency are the next steps after the above for optimizing your email campaigns for deliverability.


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11 Responses to “8 Tips for Permission Based Email”

  1. Alvin Tan says:

    I find that many people I know use the “Mark as Spam” option as a lazy unsubscribe. What I often hear is that in-mail unsubscribe links are inconvenient to use. Personally, whenever I receive unsolicited newsletters/emails with an unsubscribe link, I wouldn’t click it for fear that clicking the unsubscribe link confirms that my email address is indeed a valid email (not sure if it’s an established black-hat email marketing technique, just my hypothesis). I may be paranoid but it pays to be paranoid if it keeps my inbox clear of junk.

  2. This is a great article with excellent visuals! Particularly when you write, “Though it is completely the web user’s fault for not reading your sign up form instructions word-for-word, it doesn’t matter.” This is so true. One should automatically assume permission, it’s just not worth it. Thanks!

  3. Great post Linda. Email marketing can be a hugely successful process if done right. Part of that process is definitely having a double optin. In today’s internet marketing world, there is just way too much spam and your prospects or customers will consider email promotion a form of spam if not completely clarified that they want to receive info.

    The best approach I’ve found to reduce your spam rating is to actually provide quality content in each email. Don’t just throw promotion after promotion. This is the quickest way for your subscribers to start ignoring your emails. Of course, we are using email marketing to get some extra sales.

    You have to build trust with your prospects for them to purchase. This is the same when emailing them. Provide quality and you will be surprised at how high a good email campaign can convert.

  4. Mark says:

    Great information Linda – I’ve got one to add – implementing an unsubscribe box at the TOP of your email newsletter – we’ve seen these results work time and time again – more info:

    http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=103837

    http://www.doubleplus.com/email-marketing-mistakes.html

    http://conversionvoodoo.com/blog/2010/04/unsub-links-at-the-top-of-your-emails-will-lead-to-higher-conversions/

  5. I agree that permission and trust should always be preserved with Email Marketing. I do however, disagree with your Golden Rule. An automatically clicked subscription box is plainly visible and combined with a double opt-in, preserves permission. It’s a simple matter of optimization. The fewer clicks to purchase- or in this case, subscription, the better. I’ve worked with companies that go from unchecked to checked by default. Their rates increased dramatically while unsubscribe rates remained unchanged.

  6. This is a fantastic article about social media.I really enjoyed reading your article and have subscribed to your feed.

  7. Please correct the title and wording of point number 2. Double opt-in is not the same as confirmed opt-in. You’re describing confirmed opt-in.

    See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opt_in_e-mail

    • Hi Andrew,

      From my understanding they are synonymous:

      “Confirmed opt-in (COI)
      A new subscriber asks to be subscribed to the mailing list, but unlike unconfirmed opt-in, a confirmation e-mail is sent to verify it was really them. Many believe the person must not be added to the mailing list unless an explicit step is taken, such as clicking a special web link or sending back a reply e-mail. This ensures that no person can subscribe someone else out of malice or error. Mail system administrators and non-spam mailing list operators refer to this as confirmed subscription or closed-loop opt-in.

      Some marketers call closed loop opt-in “double opt-in.”

      The term double opt-in was coined by marketers in the late 90s to differentiate it from what they call single opt-in, where a new subscriber to an e-mail list gets a confirmation e-mail telling them they will begin to receive e-mails if they take no action. This is compared to double opt-in where the new subscriber must respond to the confirmation e-mail to be added to the list.”

  8. How can I send emails from my business to potential clients without making them think that those are spam? Some people always think of an email as spam as soon as they see an offer or a business or those kind of keywords that lead to a business.

  9. Most email marketers should forget the legal definition of spam and instead use the one that most of their readers apply: “ANY email that is not worth reading is spam”.

  10. Merna Filsinger says:

    I think your last statement says it all, SEO adds value to a website if it is applied correctly, value because you can deliver traffic to the correct area of the website for example, this saves frustration. In my experience most of the industry gets visitors into the default url or homepage, its then that a site becomes self regulating for whether it delivered what the searcher was looking for adding value is when the content you are offering is matched perfectly to the search term. That is why longtail can convert so well.

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