Avoiding Email Marketing Boobie Traps

Email marketing can be a great way to increase marketing ROI. Email marketers must fist be aware of relevant regulations governing the use of commercial email, while focusing on permission based, double-opt lists for distribution.

A practical HowTo on Avoiding Email Marketing Boobie Traps

Avoiding Email Marketing Boobie Traps
Avoiding Email Marketing Boobie Traps is key to Internet marketing success

In times of economic downturns, where marketing budgets are being squeezed like never before, it’s tempting to buy-into unsolicited solicitations from email data providers to enticing you to purchase their b2b (business to business) or b2c (business to consumer) “opt-in, targeted, permission-based” email lists. The reason is simple. These lists brokers temp us with offers that appear to be a cost effective distribution platform to get our marketing message out to a large and targeted audience for a fraction of what it would cost to do a direct mail campaign or to use a reputable ESP (Email Service Provider). There is no doubt that a number of businesses use bulk email successfully to achieve high ROI or otherwise we would stop receiving the loads of unwanted emails that we all continue to receive on a daily basis.

That said, email marketing can be a great Internet marketing tool and when done properly, can increase your marketing ROI significantly. If done improperly, email marketing can damage a company brand for the long term, driving away existing and potential customers. Worse yet, done improperly, email marketing, in rare circumstances, can result in government imposed financial and criminal penalties. Therefore, using email marketing to promote a business, brand, product and/or service requires some basic knowledge of the relevant FTC (Federal Trade Commission) regulations on email marketing and using best practices applied with common sense to avoid email marketing boobie traps.

Email Marketing is Regulated with Severe Penalties for Violations

The first email marketing boobie trap to avoid is to having your marketing masterpiece become content for a SPAM submitted complaint against your business that gets submitted to the FTC online or possibly worse yet, to the Better Business Bureau. To avoid your email marketing communications from being labeled SPAM, it is important to first understand the legal FTC definition of SPAM since email marketing is regulated by the FTC through the CAN-SPAM Act. The acronym CAN-SPAM derives from the bill’s full name “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003” which was signed into law by then President George Bush on December 16, 2003. CAN-SPAM establishes rules for sending commercial email, establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them, and spells out tough penalties for violations. For more information, see the
CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business


While enforcement of the CAN-SPAM Act by the FTC, in practice, appears to be sporadic, the FTC does provide the easily found FTC Complaint Assistant Form which enables anyone with an Internet connection and the desire to lodge a formal complaint based on a SPAM email received. Connected users can do so, in either English or Spanish I might add, making it easy for recipients of unwanted email solicitations to report those solicitations as SPAM. Penalties for violating CAN-SPAM regulations can be severe with each separate email in violation subject to penalties of up to $16,000 each.

Be Careful with 3rd Party Email List Providers Promoted Through SPAM

Be Careful using 3rd Party Email List Providers Promoted Through SPAM
Be Careful using 3rd Party Email List Providers Promoted Through SPAM

It seems like everyday SPAM email solicitations for targeted email lists end up in email inboxes. What’s interesting to note is that many of these email solicitations violate multiple aspects of CAN-SPAM regulations including failing to provide the physical postal address of the company or to provide information about how recipients can unsubscribe from receiving future emails. The question you have to ask yourself is how much are you going to trust the claims of an email data provider that does not follow the regulations of the industry they are in (i.e. email marketing)? SPAM offers should raise a huge red flag of email marketing boobie trap ahead.

SPAMMERS rely on widespread user complacency to avoid enforcement of any FTC imposed penalties. By sending huge numbers of bulk emails, even with a relatively small conversion rate, SPAMMERS will find enough buyers to justify sending SPAM email. Admit it, how many times have you taken the time to report an instance of SPAM you received to the FTC? The point is that the list owners claim that their targeted email lists are opt in (i.e. permission based), but the fact that they have your email and presumably you did not provide them permission to send you email, then how much faith do you have in their emails address lists that they are representing as opt-in (permission based) yet they are trying to sell through SPAM? Any offer received in SPAM email, email marketing lists or otherwise, should be ignored.

Do it right with Double-Opt in to Protect the User and the Brand

Now let’s take it a step further and look at the large brands that you interact with via email such as national retailers like Wal-Mart, Radio Shack and Best Buy. These companies, like any large, reputable, national brand, will only add your email address to their email marketing list if you double opt-in. Can you ever remember receiving SPAM from a large, reputable, national brand? Usually double opt-in works by providing an email address on a branded website while signing up for a newsletter or to receive special offers by email. This first user-initiated action is what is referred to as opt-in. This first action of providing an email address then triggers an email to be sent to the email address provided in the web form submission during sign-up. The email triggered to the subscriber typically states the reader must click a link in the email body to activate the requested email subscription. This second action is designed to ensure that the actual owner of that email address is the one who provided the address, to provide proof by the marketer of user intent demonstrated through a second action, your intent to receive marketing communications from that specific brand. This protects the consumer and the brand. There are many great email service providers who can manage the double opt-in process and unsubscribe processing to ensure that your business can remain CAN-SPAM compliant.

Is Email Marketing Worth the Effort?

Without question, email marketing done correct (roughly translated CAN-SPAM compliant with email marketing best practices applied) is definitely worth the effort. The key to successful email marketing campaigns is to provide quality content that is of value to the recipients. Send to only those who have requested that information and provided you explicit permission to send them email marketing on your offers. Email marketing is a great way to move prospects through a sales funnel while staying engaged with your current and future prospective customers. The beauty of email marketing is its scalability and low cost of delivery when compared with offline direct mailing. Saving a tree or two along the way is just icing on the cake. Email marketing has the added benefit of being integrated with websites through landing pages and other mechanisms which can be tracked and measured against marketing investments. While done wrong, email marketing can tarnish your brand through SPAM association. Why not begin developing your Email marketing strategy today to grow top line revenue while increasing marketing ROI?


Rick Noel is an experienced digital marketer enabling businesses and organizations to grow through the Internet, while maximizing marketing ROI (Return On Investment). Rick is the CEO and Co-Founder of eBiz ROI, Inc., a full-service digital marketing agency located in Ballston Lake, NY.

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