Email marketing practices that will get you blacklisted.

Here’s how to stay in your clients’ good graces and out of spam.

Marketing your business is a tough and competitive job. It’s common for many companies, in their struggle to get ahead, to slip into gray areas in their email marketing practices. Some businesses fall into black hat email marketing tactics without realizing it—either because they don’t know better, or because someone convinced them it was sound strategy.

However, the bottom line with any marketing strategy is that you will only build a strong and reputable brand if you follow good marketing practices. Cutting corners to get ahead will backfire, and could even land you in legal trouble.

So, if you want to make sure you stay out of people’s spam folders, make sure you avoid these email marketing practices that could get you blacklisted.

1. Purchased Lists.

This is a tactic many marketers use. People like the idea of sending a big email blast out to thousands of people. Marketing is a numbers game after all, right? Get your business in front of enough people, and some percentage will convert, and then you’ll see growth!

Well, marketing is a numbers game. But the problem with purchased lists is that the people on those lists haven’t asked to hear from you. If you make it past their spam filters (which you may not), you will still have the monumental task not only of warming a cold lead, but doing so with a false start.

Why a false start? Because they haven’t asked to hear from you. And that annoys a lot of people. So if you want to start your marketing strategy by trying to convert a bunch of cold leads that you’ve already managed to irritate, be my guest. Let me know how those numbers work out for you.

2. Scraping Emails.

You’re trying to find emails to add to your marketing list. So you start looking. Maybe you check social networks and relevant business websites for anyone who’s left their contact info out in the open. It’s a bit tedious, but you collect a few hundred emails that way. Time to add them to your newsletter and start marketing, right?

Nope.

This may seem better than purchased lists because of the homework you did to vet the emails first. But even though your contacts might be slightly more relevant, they still haven’t opted in to your email list.

You might be able to reach out, one-on-one, with personally-targeted emails that acknowledge that your communication has been unsolicited but you still think that you have something valuable to offer. But that seems like a lot of work that you could put elsewhere. Just saying.

3. Unsubscribes.

Let’s say you go about your marketing the right way. You bring in a bunch of emails, and people seem happy! But what if they change their minds? Life gets busy and they can’t keep up, or they switch jobs and your emails aren’t relevant anymore, or your newsletter turns out to be not what they expected.

As it turns out, you can’t just treat consent as a one-time deal. Consent has to be ongoing if you’re going to maintain your customer relationship. And that means that if you let people opt-in, you also have to let them opt-out.

If you put customers on an email list, you have to include an unsubscribe link at the bottom. You should also make that unsubscribe option complete and painless. Does it take you a week to unsubscribe people from your list? Not good enough. Have you added them to other lists that they may not know about? Also not good enough.

Anyone who is on your email list needs to be able to remove their email from everything, instantly, with one click. When they go to unsubscribe, you should show them all the lists they’re on and let them decide which ones they no longer want to be a part of. And if you want to know why they’re unsubscribing, feel free to ask. But put that feedback form after the unsubscribe button.

4. Splitting Lists.

It’s a common (and smart!) marketing tactic to split your email lists so as to better target emails to your subscribers. You can do this for many reasons, and not all of them require permission. For instance, if you’ve created a separate list for administrative reasons, that’s not something your subscribers need to know about. But you should inform them if they’re about to be added to an entirely new kind of newsletter content that they didn’t ask to receive.

Some marketers will treat a subscription to one email as a subscription to whatever marketing communications they want to send out. Next thing the customer knows, they’re on a dozen lists they didn’t ask to be on, and even though they keep asking to unsubscribe, they’re still receiving emails.

It’s understandable if this happens by accident. But if you’re intentionally adding subscribers to more lists in order to thwart their efforts to unsubscribe, then you should stop.

5. Spam Emails.

It doesn’t matter if you have permission from someone to email them if you proceed to send them a lot of low-quality content they don’t like. I’ve had several cases where I’ve signed up for an email newsletter from an interesting brand only to unsubscribe by the end of the week because I was receiving daily emails. It was a disappointment, and really damaged a good first impression.

This tactic is essentially the result of misleading advertising. When you create an email list, you need to let your subscribers know what they’re signing up for. If you plan to send daily emails, fine. But make sure they know.

Email marketing is all about consent.

At the end of the day, sending emails without permission—which includes tricking people into giving you permission or using their permission in ways they did not intend—violates the relationship of trust you have with your clients. When you focus on putting your marketing needs ahead of their desire not to be contacted, you damage your credibility with them.

Messaging customers without their consent does not come without consequences. People who receive unwanted emails can punish you by marking your emails as spam.

If you think no one does this, trust me: they do. In fact, I’m pretty ruthless about it. I mark any unwanted emails I receive as spam, and if I unsubscribe and continue to receive emails, I mark those as spam, too. And when enough people do this, two things happen:

  1. Any reputable CRMs you use will stop allowing you to send emails through them for fear of repercussions.
  2. Email clients will begin to recognize your emails as spam, and will direct them to the spam folder where they will never see the light of day.

This is what’s known as blacklisting, and once it happens, it’s hard to get your record clean again.

So instead of following sketchy marketing tactics, keep your nose clean and start gathering emails the slow and steady way. Your customers will be happier, you’ll feel better about yourself, and you’ll see better results.

Published 09/28/17 by Laura Lynch