Are You Violating The First Rule Of Email Marketing?

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the number 1 rule of email marketing

It never ceases to surprise me how many reputable companies straight-up spam my email inbox.

So this article is an attempt to teach the most basic principle of email marketing.

The First Rule of Email Marketing

Rule number 1, numero uno, the golden rule, the rule of rules is…


You’re not allowed to email people who haven’t given you permission. Not only is this often illegal, it’s bad form and a terribly expensive mistake. Therefore, don’t use any of the following back-door methods to add an email address to your list:

1. Just because we’ve exchanged emails doesn’t mean you can put me on your newsletter list.

Often I’ll be in an email conversation with a person from my industry, and the next thing I know, I’m getting their daily newsletter.

Not only is this spamming, it’s a professional faux pas.

You must realize that for most people, email is work. My goal throughout the day is to chip away at my inbox counter. When you sneak a promotion into my inbox, you’re making that counter number go back up!

Why would you want to add to my workload? :(::::

I know it takes only a second to delete an email, but you are giving me a tiny unnecessary stress I don’t need; and really, you’re planting a little seed in my head making me:

  • Not want to do business with you
  • Not want to recommend your business
  • Not want to recommend you

Think about how damaging that is.

2. Just because I’ve signed up for your service doesn’t mean you can email me your newsletter and promotions.

Ah ha! They signed up for our service so now we have their email, which means we can re-market to them through email! Bam! Two birds with one stone! Yeehaw!

Now before I get into why this is a bad idea, it is O.K. to send new customers relevant emails right after some sort of online registration, signup, or purchase. Things like:

  • Electronic receipts
  • Account creation confirmations
  • Necessary instructions
  • Onboarding documentation

…are all relevant to those flows and are completely acceptable.

What’s not acceptable are additional marketing emails. So unless the user checked that they wanted to receive a newsletter or promotional emails during your business process, don’t spam them!

And when I say checked, that doesn’t mean you sneakily pre-checked the opt-in box for them. You must keep it unchecked, and they must knowingly click any opt-in box.

3. Just because I’m an industry head doesn’t mean I want to be on your email list.

“It’s cool, we’re all in the same gang.”

No, it’s not cool. There is either a list going around or people are just scraping email addresses and blasting everyone in the Internet marketing and tech space.

If your conference, software, or promotion is important enough, I will probably find out about it (if you do decent marketing). However, if you spam me, I’ll probably mark you as spam and hope to never hear from you again.

Reasons Not to Violate the First Rule of Email Marketing

Let’s get into why you should be careful to obtain permission before sending email newsletters and promotions.

1. Email marketing is expensive and time consuming.

Anyone who has a big email marketing list knows it’s not cheap to send out a lot of emails. The bigger your list gets the more expensive it is.

Let’s say you run a decent email marketing list and have 50,000 emails. Here’s what you’re paying for MailChimp:

mailchimp pricing

Here’s what you’re paying for AWeber:

aweber pricing

Here’s what you’re paying for Constant Contact:

constant contact pricing

So why would you ever want additional emails on your list that aren’t going to be opened? Why do you want to waste money?

2. Your open rates affect your email deliverability.

If you have thousands of email addresses on your list that are “dead” or “bounce,” you’re sending a signal to the email service providers and email providers that you’re a spammy email marketer. Why would you ever want to get flagged for that?

The word on the street is that if more than two people complain about your list to MailChimp, you’ll get banned from their service.* Talk about a costly mistake!

According to Oracle, “high hard bounce (invalid) rates are the fastest way to trigger filtering and blocking on your new IP.” I recommend reading this post on email deliverability.

But most important, companies that carefully nurture and prune their list have higher email deliverability. That means more emails get through to inboxes.

Why would you not want this?

3. You don’t want to market to people who don’t want to hear what you have to say.

A lot of spamming tendencies come from the old-school thinking of “shotgun marketing.” If you cast a wider net, you’ll hit bigger numbers.

But think about it this way: wouldn’t you rather target the people who are eagerly waiting to hear what you have to say than thousands of people who don’t care?

In sales, do you want to reach out to 1,000 prospects that may or may not be warm leads, or do you want to reach out to 10 people who are dying to sign up for your offer?

When you consider the damage of spamming too many of the wrong people and the cost of over-emailing, it becomes easy to see why you want to focus on your “eagerly waiting list.”

4. You’ve got to send email that people want to read.

This is the toughest part.

Your boss wants you to send out emails. You’re busy, but orders are orders. So you keep sending out that boring email hoping that something will happen.

But what your company should really be focusing on is sending out an email that people want to read, and email that is in demand.

You have to be different. You have to be creative. Email marketing is getting tougher and tougher as the years go by. We’re getting spammed to death and we want to read less and less email. So how can your email, be the one email I want to read?

Personally, there is usually only one email I want to read every day. It’s the email from Seth Godin’s blog. And some days, I’m even too busy to open that.

Email is such an important marketing channel that I highly recommend your company hire one person to do email marketing exclusively. Not only is email marketing a logistical nightmare when you start getting bigger, it’s really a full-time job. Managing lists, pruning lists, writing emails, responding to emails (how many of you perform that super-important task?), dealing with automation issues… It’s a beast.

If you’re going to hire an email marketing person, make sure they are a remarkable copywriter, insanely creative, and a blast to have around. It’s worth it.

Read This Once In Your Life

This PDF was written by the Federal Trade Commission for consumers. It’s an easy-to-understand version of how the CAN SPAM Act works. Click on the image below to view the PDF.


*This was told me by the growth hacker extraordinaire, Lars Lofgren.

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