How NOT to Build Your Email Marketing List

The fastest way to alienate potential clients with your marketing is by spamming them.

The estimated reading time for this post is 8 minutes

Email is not dead like some marketing prognosticators periodically have declared. You know that because we all get them, often as email solicitations. Some of them we welcome; some we do not. As statistics consistently show, email marketing is still an essential marketing strategy.

So, why wouldn’t small firms want to take advantage of this powerful marketing tool?

Because it takes time to build a robust email marketing list and it’s that strong list that leads to ROI. That doesn’t happen overnight. But, email marketing has such a high payoff, many business owners get tempted to take shortcuts to build an email marketing list quickly—and, sometimes, illegally. Doing that can kill your email marketing success faster than you built that bad list.

Illegal Email List-Building Tactics Have Serious Consequences

While you’d think with all of the spam that crosses the internet daily, there were no grievous consequences. But, you’d be wrong. If you build your email list illegitimately and then use it for an email marketing campaign, you may find yourself in serious legal trouble.

The enormous credibility issues it causes for you and the damage to your firm’s ability to market by email in the future would be the least of your problems. It also may violate your state’s marketing ethics rules if you’re a lawyer or financial advisor.

However, you might think the exception comes when you’re sending useful information to your list. But, under the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, when the recipient doesn’t deliberately opt-in to receive your commercial communication, it’s considered spam.

Besides most people hating having their email inboxes flooded with it, the consequences of these email campaigns based on ill-gotten lists are wide-ranging. At very least, they can include the loss of trust and goodwill, two highly valuable business assets which are not worth risking.

Even worse, in some professions, you could be brought up on ethics charges for spammy email marketing. Employing disreputable tactics to build your email list faster is not worth the cost.

Moreover, if you send such emails from your domain rather than using an email service provider’s, your firm’s domain name might be blacklisted on international spam tracking websites like Spamhaus.

Worst of all, you also may face criminal penalties for trying to get around the law by using your domain. The US Federal Trade Commission takes such a dim view of spam, in some cases, you can receive fines of up to $16,000 for each non-compliant email.

Email List-Building Tactics to Shun

Many business owners send other professionals unsolicited email newsletters to generate leads thinking it’s “just marketing.” But, it also may be considered spam to those recipients if you added their name to your email list illegitimately.

So, how should you not create your email list to avoid some real problems? Here are a few tips for avoiding trouble with email lists.

Refrain from adding emails from every business card you get.

I’ve read posts on professional marketing blogs that suggest business owners do this and have had others do this with me. I don’t agree with this list-building technique. You should ask before adding someone’s name to your email marketing list, no matter how you collected their names.

Not only is it plain discourteous, your email provider, whether it’s Gmail or a service like Constant Contact, Aweber or MailChimp, requires you to ask and will ask you to confirm you did. Lying is a violation of their terms of service and may cause other problems, too.

So, before adding names, you get from business cards to your email address list, ask. Most people will consent, and those who don’t, you shouldn’t want on your email list.

By not getting opt-in from people, you may alienate prospective clients or referral sources permanently. Moreover, they or your email or marketing service provider could report you for violating marketing ethics for your profession.

Don’t download the emails of your social media followers and add them to your email list.

This piggybacks the one above. People also feel like you’ve invaded their privacy when you do this, so it’s a poor idea. Similarly, avoid sending others unsolicited emails on social media platforms, especially if they never otherwise hear from you.

Even if they are among your connections, sending unsolicited private emails on Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn gets considered spam by most recipients. It also may be covered under CAN-SPAM, in some cases, as well as violate those platforms’ terms of service. That could get you banned from them.

Refrain from buying or obtain email marketing lists from any source, especially illegitimate ones.

If you’re like most people, you don’t like your email addresses sold to data aggregators who create lists they sell to marketers. Refrain from basing your email marketing campaigns on third-party records you bought from sources where the email owners did not explicitly request you send your marketing solicitations to them.
 
That includes those coming from some database meant to match users up with firms like yours. Often, those users weren’t expecting their email addresses to get sold for marketing purposes. Signing up for a service does not equate to providing permission to receive email marketing messages.

Otherwise, you subject yourself to receiving angry email responses from people demanding to know how you got their (usually private) email address. They might demand to know how what you’re offering applies to them. They might unsubscribe and indicate they never opted-in to get your email newsletter.

Even if they respond positively, depending on the targeting accuracy of those marketing lists, you waste time to disqualify bad leads.

There are two more common tactics I see businesses try. One is “borrowing” the lists of colleagues or others in who have extensive marketing lists and using those for their email marketing campaigns. The other is using lists created for some other purpose, like identifying who attended your networking function or another event.

Neither tactic is legit, and most email and marketing service providers prohibit you from using such lists. It would be a violation of their terms of service and international law if you tried. So, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with those TOS to avoid having problems.

Again, you also could get your domain blacklisted sending unwanted emails to those who are on lists onto which they didn’t opt.

Avoid buying lists of email addresses scraped from online sources or hiring marketers who use them.

Many sophisticated business owners know not use scraped email lists themselves. However, some solopreneurs or micro-enterprises who have limited resources hire inexpensive marketing help. Those consultants prey on small business owners like you and may not be entirely reputable or scrupulous.

They may use email lists scraped or harvested from blogs, websites, domain hosting records or anywhere else online. Those lists are cheap to purchase from easily found sources

Be wary of buying budget marketing tools to help you launch your email marketing campaign. Vendors may sell you the lists they culled online using automated tools, too.

Not only this tactic considered rude and tacky, but it also it’s illegal and could lead to fines and incarceration. Any marketing tactic that’s against international law violates your U.S. jurisdiction’s advertising rules depending on your profession.

So, be careful where you buy marketing tools and who you hire to conduct marketing activities for your firm. You’re responsible for the tactics marketers you contract with or vendors you purchase tools from use to provide their services.

Ask those you hire what list-building tactics they’re using. Make them show you the email lists they’re using and provide their source. Have them explain what you don’t understand. Keep yourself and your firm out of trouble by making sure you monitor for legitimacy the services your marketers and tool vendors provide.

Don’t use emails you copy from mass emails sent to you by others.

I’ve seen business owners do this more than once. Most think it’s innocent. It’s not, even if you’re sharing what you think is useful content. Most people hate this, and you will look like a desperate, smarmy online marketer if you use this tactic.

Similarly, don’t use “Reply All” as a backdoor way to market. When I owned my digital marketing firm, somebody used this tactic with an email I got from a state agency. There were multiple recipients on the list, and this vendor replied to everyone saying that he’d posted the content that we’d all received to his commercial website. Of course, he added a link to his site and invited the rest of us, who were in his target market, to visit his site to learn more.

I spoke to others I knew on the list, and the consensus was that this tactic appeared slick to us. We also resented it because we knew it was inappropriate. Moreover, what this vendor did is almost as bad as copying the names from a mass email to his email list and sending a separate solicitation to email owners who did not opt-in directly. Resist the urge to try this.

Take the Time and Build Your Email List Right

I’m sure there are more spammy email list-building tactics I could tell you to avoid, but I think you get the point. Build your email marketing list legitimately by learning how from experts like Derek Halpern, your email marketing service provider, respected marketing blogs or another legitimate source. Or, once you have the budget, hire a reputable professional email marketing consultant with a strong track record of email marketing success to do it for you.

But, don’t steal other people’s email addresses and begin marketing to them. You will lose business—and trust—for marketing that way. Spend the time building a list of people who’ve authorized you to send them commercial email solicitations.  This way, you’ll also generate strong leads you don’t have to disqualify later.

If you build real relationships with people that engender trust, they get to know and like you. Then, in due time you’ll have more work than you can handle and you’ll get there without becoming known as a shady spammer.

This post was adapted and updated from my 2014 LinkedIn Pulse post of a similar title. Please carefully review this website’s Content Disclaimer.

(c) 2014-2018. Dahna M. Chandler for Get Money Moxie, Inc., a division of Thrive Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in whole or in part without express written permission of the author.

I’m an award-winning finance journalist with marketing expertise and business acumen. I offer engagement-generating, personal finance and small business development content writing services to thriving—high growth or established—blogs and media outlets. My passion is to help your consumer readers make their dollars make sense and operate their business with growing wealth as their focus.

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