I am an inbox asshole. It’s like my house: you have to be invited in. It’s why I use Feedburner for my blog subscriptions (they have a snazzy double opt-in process). It’s why I have email addresses set up: one for work, one for blog subscriptions and news, one for shopping, one for my bookkeeper…While we won’t talk about te 3,246 unfiled emails in my own account, I do want to talk about some etiquette for email marketing.
Many of us have blogs and newsletters we want to share with our audience. It’s marketing. We want to build those lists. But there are a few things you need to keep in mind on your quest for the golden email marketing pony:
- How you obtain your email addresses for your lists
- How you let your subscribers opt in or out of your content
- Proper messaging per FTC regulations (a pony just died – I hope you’re happy)
Building Your Email Lists
Subscribe boxes are good. If you’re using a website widget from Constant Contact, MailChimp, or another email marketing service provider, they’ll collect all of your email addresses in a database for you (I have one on the top right side of this page). More importantly, they’ll take your subscribers through a double opt-in process (WTF). You know those emails you get asking you to click a link to confirm your subscription to Bass Fishing Daily News? Yeah. That’s a double opt-in. (Double: initial email entry, confirmation following – 2 points of contact). No, you shouldn’t just enter the email addresses out of your Outlook address book. That’s a pretty asshole move and while it’s not illegal in the US, it is in the UK (more information here).
Don’t pee on perfectly good relationships by not asking people if they actually want to be on one. Many of us have seen this with the Facebook Groups function (I didn’t ASK to be on your list vomit!). An idea: send an email with all recipients BCC’d to your Outlook/email contacts. Simply state you’re launching your newsletter/blog and you’d love to send it to them (and mention the frequency with which you’ll be bombing their inbox). Ask them to please reply to you if they’d prefer to NOT receive your emails. See? That was easy.
Now, a bit on double opt-in. This is important if you want to bring your email marketing list INTO a third party app like MailChip or Emma. Most (if not all) email marketing service providers forbid the use of purchased lists and will ask you for the source of your emails if you import a list over a certain size. They’ll also ask you how you got those emails (and some will request to be walked through the process…MailChimp, I’m talkin’ about you, Willis). If you can show that all of your email addresses were obtained through a compliant double opt-in protocol, you’re on easy street. It’s also good business.
I Have to be Able to %^*@&(# Unsubscribe!
This morning, I got an email in my inbox from some list that a conference I attended sold or gave my contact information. Nowhere on the email is an unsubscribe option. This pisses me off. Not only did I not ask for your email, but now I can’t stop getting it. Per CAN-SPAM, “Your message must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting email from you in the future.” It’s like dating: I don’t want to have to change my phone number just because I want to break up with you. Be a friend to your readers. Sometimes we ALL get inbox overload and something’s gotta go. And sometimes, it might be my blog. Or yours. Make unsubscribing easy: easy to do and easy to find on the email. If I have to hunt for it like a lick of sense in Sarah Palin’s brain, you’re doing it wrong.
Are you making one? You probably are if you’re not using a credible email marketing program like MailChimp, Emma or the sort (yes, I know there are others). There’s a thing called the CAN – SPAM Act (and it’s a #$%&^*(* LAW), and it applies to most of you out there if you’re selling goods or services (that makes you a commercial website in most cases). For blog owners, most services you use to burn your feed handle all of this for you. However, if you’re in doubt, here’s the exact text:
The law defines commercial messages as “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service,” including email that promotes content on commercial websites.
Want to find out if your messages have to comply to CAN-SPAM guidelines? This site has the qualification criteria. (Yeah, that’s the FTC website.) There are plenty of emails that don’t have to comply with CAN-SPAM guidelines, but honestly, why wouldn’t you? Here are the basics:
- Say who the email is from. This means a valid name for the sender, no hinky-dinky switcheroos.
- Say what the email is about. No misleading subject lines.
- Selling something? You must say it’s an advertisement.
- Say where you’re located. That means an actual mailing address. Yep.
- Opt-out options. People must be able to fire you – and easily.
- Opt-out compliance. You have to respond to opt-out request within 10 days of a request being made. (Most email marketing service providers offer instantaneous, one-click unsubscribes…so nice. I wanna pet it and buy it a dog toy.)
- Oversight. Just because you hire someone to do your email marketing doesn’t make you not responsible if they eff it up straight to H.
The Bottom Line
If people didn’t ask for your email, you’re going on their shit list when they get it. Be a friend and a good business person and, while it might take more time, build your email marketing lists the right way. If people want to break up, let them. Unsubscribing should be easy. If you’re selling something in your email, you have to comply to CAN-SPAM. Ask permission to use someone’s email address. Tell them HOW you’re going to use it if you’re lucky enough to get that sonofabitch (it’s the modern equivalent to the inside line from telemarketing/inside sales days of yore).
Relationships are difficult enough to build as it is without pissing on the ones you’ve already built. Respect your relationships – and that means their affiliated inboxes as well.