Putting Together your Mailing List

There are many good reasons to consider email marketing for your business or non profit group, and some great tools available for implementation (topics which I’ll discuss in future posts). But I want to start out talking about the mailing list itself.

There are two kinds of mailing lists: opt-in and opt-out.

Opt-in mailing lists are lists consisting only of people who have explicitly agreed (“opted in”) to receive mail from you. Opt-out mailing lists are lists that contain people who have not explicitly agreed to receive mail from you, but which give recipients the option of being removed from your mailing list (“opting out”).

All kinds of national and international laws come into play when you look at sending out emails to a list of people. But in practice, I’ve found that the rules that are most likely to impact you, the sender, are the strict rules enforced by the companies that offer mailout services. And those rules require that you have an opt-in mailing list.

This means that you cannot “scrape” or “harvest” your mailing list off the Internet. For example, say your product is ideal for physiotherapists. You might find a web site with listings of all the registered physiotherapists in your geographic area, and create a mailing list of all their email addresses. (This is scraping or harvesting.)

You may plan to send an introductory mailout to them, describing your product. If you take a quick check into the most popular mailout services offered, everything might look good to proceed. You pay your subscription fee or buy credits to send out 10,000 emails. But as soon as you go to upload that mailing list, you will be asked to confirm that everyone one on the mailing has agreed to receive mail from you.

No problem, you think, who’s going to know? But these companies do follow up if they think your mailing list is not acceptable, and you can end up being blacklisted from their services and losing the credits you purchased or having your subscription cancelled without refund.

What about spammers? How do they get away with it? I’m no expert on this, but I expect they use ‘throw-away’ domain names and hosting to send out their mailouts. If that IP address or domain name gets blacklisted by spam-prevention software, they just move on and set up another domain on another host. But this isn’t an option for a legitimate business; you don’t want to have your web site or your email address blacklisted.

So, how do you get an opt-in mailing list? Here are some possibilities:

  • Post a mailing list signup form on your web site.
  • Use paid search (such as Google Adwords) to rank better in the search and include a link to the signup form in the ad or on your landing page.
  • Include a link to this signup form in every customer support email you send out.
  • Create partnerships with similar or complementary businesses, where each business promotes the partner’s business and mailing list.
  • Offer an incentive (such as a discount), available only to mailing list members, to encourage them to sign up.
  • Ask for email addresses from everyone who visits your business on-site and at trade shows.
  • When on the telephone with a client or potential client, ask for their permisson to add them to your mailing list.
  • Publish the link to your signup form on all promotional material (flyers, signs, registration and customer feedback forms, surveys, ads, catalogs etc).

You do have the option to buy or rent a mailing list that has been created specially for your market. However, take care to ensure that the mailing list is an opt-in mailing list where members have explicity given permission to receive email from a third party. Otherwise, you will be violating the terms of the mailout provider, and in many cases the law.

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