Email Ethics: The Basics of Permission Marketing

Our spam-ridden online world has spurred a lot of talk about permission-based email lists or opt-in email lists. What does the term “ permission-based ” really mean? How can you build a permission-based email list? How do you use email to communicate with your subscribers respectfully?

What is a Permission-Based Email List?

The answer to this question might sound obvious. You might even be able to guess what it means. A permission-based email list is a list of email addresses that has been compiled by receiving permission from the recipients. The subscribers opt-in by completing a form or by sending an email to the list manager. In one of these ways, they make a request to receive offers, information or updates.

Getting Permission

Permission-based may be easy to define, but the part many people are confused about is, “What is permission?”

If I send an email to one million individuals and they do not ask to be removed from my list, does that constitute permission? No.

If a customer overlooks the teeny-tiny lettering at the very bottom of a form with a pre-checked box that says, “Please subscribe me to 100 different email lists so I can be spammed and brutalized by marketers for the rest of my life,” is that opt-in? No.

Yet every day there are marketers and list brokers that will tell you they have opt-in or permission-based email lists. In fact, if you read the spam you receive, you might be surprised – and appalled – to learn how many of those spammers claim they have your permission and are sending you the messages because you “opted-in.”

To get valid permission from a subscriber, there can be no trickery involved. It must be explicit. The language must be clear so your recipients know what they are subscribing to.

A permission system powers legitimate marketing on the Internet, sending personalized messages from companies to their customers. The transmission of unsolicited commercial email is expressly forbidden through this system.

How can you avoid being called a “spammer”?

As an online marketer, there’s nothing worse than being called a Spammer. Here are some tips to avoid this:

• Only email people or companies that you have an existing relationship with. These may include customers, people who request information, people who contact you, vendors and companies for whom you are a customer, and individuals who have expressly shared their address for the purpose of receiving offers and information in the future (opt-in/permission-based lists).
• Personalize your email communication with information that indicates the recipient already has an existing relationship with you or your firm.
• If you use an external source for email list data, require those companies to supply the source of their customer data in case recipients complain about receiving unsolicited email from you.
• Respect your subscriber’s time and attention by controlling the frequency of mailings to individual email addresses.
• If a subscriber asks to be removed, remove them quickly and permanently from your email list.
• Include easy-to-follow instructions for opt-out at the bottom of each mailing you send.
• Include a short explanation at the beginning of each message you send telling your subscribers how they became a part of your list. Did they opt-in? Are they receiving info because they are customers? Be sure to explain.
• Include a link to your privacy policy any time you ask for an email address.

What is a Privacy Policy?

A privacy policy is something you usually see as a link at the bottom of a web page or near the submit button on a form that asks for some personal info. There is no secret formula for the perfect privacy policy. The purpose of this policy is usually to tell customers that you will not share or abuse their information. People want to know what your plans are for their data and why you are asking for it. That’s it.

How Do I Write a Privacy Policy?

I’ve read many privacy policies. Actually, no I haven’t. I’ve only read a few and that was because they were short. Your legal department might have a different take on this, but for most purposes you can keep it short and sweet. One of the best privacy policies that I’ve read said this:

“We will not sell or share your information with anyone! Your information is being collected for the sole purpose of sending you our monthly email newsletter. At any time, you can remove yourself from our email list by following the instructions included at the bottom of each issue.”

It’s short and sweet. And it works.

If you’d like to get a bit more elaborate you can include any of the following items in your privacy policy.
• How you will protect their privacy (security hardware/software)
• Who will be given access to their information at your company
• How they can stop you from sending them email
• An email address they can contact if they have privacy questions or concerns
• The nature of the mailings you will be sending to them
• Your processes for gaining permission from subscribers

You can also find samples at and .

Guard your permission policy and make sure to keep it up to date your subscribers will appreciate it.

Tips and Techniques for Publishing Email Surveys

Why send out a survey? You could learn about your current customers. Or you might find out what’s most important to your potential customers. One sentence here about why you should survey, something to the effect of: They offer a way to keep in touch with your audience or collect information, even when you’re not pitching a sale.

Offer a Reward

Follow the copy writing tools and always make an incentive for your audience to complete the survey.
In any kind of marketing where you are working to get a specific result, you need to offer a reward. In some cases with short forms, the reward can be a look at the survey results. runs short surveys quite frequently. For longer forms, you will want to up the ante a bit with a more valuable reward that is likely to be enticing to the potential respondent. Registrants can be entered to win a Palm Pilot or a new car (depending on your budget).

Keep It Short

The “perceived-length” is a key factor when respondents evaluate a form. You want to make a form that looks short and easy to complete. Many online surveys do this by breaking the form up into steps. On some forms you only have one question per page. The last thing you want to do is have your audience arrive at a form that looks long and scary. They’ll back away intimidated.

Once a respondent is involved in the form and has completed the first few questions they will be invested in the process and more likely to complete the survey.

Tell Visitors How Long It Takes to Complete!

When you are asking for someone’s time, they typically want to know, “How long will this take me?” If it seems like it will take too long, forget it. The longer the time required, the fewer participants you will have.

To give respondents an idea of how long the form is, each page of a multi-page form should indicate how much of the form is remaining. Do this only after the first page of the form is complete. You’ll want them to invest some time in the form’s completion before telling them there are four or five pages. If they know that at the beginning they may not start it. But if you show this on page two, they’re more likely to push forward and complete the form.

I’ve seen this done by writing the current page number over the total number of form pages. I’ve also seen this indicated as a percent of the total.

Keep It Simple

An email survey is really just an HTML survey. The difference is, you are sending it as an HTML email format or you are sending your subscribers a link to go complete the survey. There are a couple of secrets to a good online survey.

Keep it clean and simple. A clean and simple page design for your form will keep your respondents focused. You should not include navigation on the form pages that lead to other areas of your site. If you do, your respondents will click away and wander off.

Don’t Set a Default for Form Answers

I’ve seen cases where the data received from an online form is very skewed to certain answers, only to find out that the form creator had set those answers as the default. For example: If you have someone completing a form for a prize, they might not treat it seriously and give bogus information just to complete it as quickly as possible. In these cases, the defaults will be untouched, which looks to you like many people selected those as their answers.

Subject Lines

For an email survey you want the subject line to be very compelling and state an obvious benefit to ensure the recipient takes the time to complete it.

Here are a couple of examples…

Subject: Share Your Thoughts – Get a Free Gift [90 Seconds]

Subject: Complete Our Survey – You Could Win a New DELL PC

Notice how the first example also indicates the amount of time required? It helps subscribers to realize the survey will not take long. You can also indicate this by showing the number of questions. If you are afraid to show the number of questions, make sure the reward provides enough motivation.

Typical Form Objectives:

There are many reasons to send out a survey. You could:

• Learn about your current customers
• Find out what’s most important to your potential customers
• Discover buying habits
• Identify new needs that you can fill
• Discover trends that will help you find more customers
• Gauge satisfaction and learn areas to improve your business
• Research topics of interest for your audience
• Collect demographic info to show potential advertisers

How Can I Get Form Help?

Most web masters and web design firms can help you to create forms and HTML surveys. Let them know that it’s something you wish to email or drive traffic to via email.

There are a variety of services that can help you create forms that you can then send via email. A site that can help you with form creation is It makes form creation easy by performing the form action on its servers. The most complex part of creating forms is getting the form action to work, because it requires the proper referencing of files and working with scripts. If you are creating surveys you can also check out Survey Monkey at . This site provides a tool to help you design surveys, collect responses and analyze the results.

Offer a Privacy Statement

Give a link within the form that pops up a window showing how you plan to respect their privacy. Many people are careful about identity theft and companies who may abuse or sell their private information. Clearly state in the form text or in your privacy policy how the information will be used.

Make it Easy to Complete

I can’t stress this enough. The form candidate is doing you a favor by offering the information. The form should be as quick and easy to complete as possible. Do not clutter the form with questions that will generate information you won’t use. The more questions, the fewer completions you will receive.

How to Pick a Winning Email List

Your email campaign will fly or die based largely on the audience you select. In most email campaign endeavors the search for the right list is where the quest for results begins. To find the perfect list you will need to do some research. You can start with the information in the Resources section of this book.

Here’s the bad news – there are no “perfect lists.” In most cases, despite best efforts you will have some element of the audience that you may not entirely want and can’t remove. This is OK. You will want to minimize this element through targeting, but just realize that no list is perfect and if you target too heavily, you will wind up with too few numbers to launch your campaign.

How Can I Determine a Quality List?

Companies with quality lists generally have a clear and easy to understand method for collecting their email records. Print publishers that have given their subscribers an opportunity to receive emails are general very targeted and high quality. Random companies that promise the world at a very low price with no cohesive explanation for how their data is collected are generally low quality and not worth the effort.

• Review testimonials
• Run a small test
• Contact other advertisers who have used the vendor (ask their open rate, response rate, etc.)
• Look for repeat advertisers
• Get data origin details (who, what, where, when)

Quality lists cost money. There is a real danger in purchasing a list because it has the lowest cost. In the world of data, you get what you pay for.

And if your email rental company says they have to send their mailings through a variety of servers to mask their identity – run! This is usually a result of being black listed by ISPs for spamming.

What Happens if I Select a Bad List?

Many companies decide to purchase based on price. When you purchase low quality or lower quality data here’s what you can expect.

• Little or no response
• Spam complaints
• Many clicks, but no buyers
• Very low open rate
• Your mail gets blocked by spam filters

It happens all the time. Next to your message, the proper list selection is key.

In procuring a list you really have just three basic options.

Option 1: Rent a List

List rental is very popular today. Quality companies that rent lists dedicate their efforts to managing the audience and ensuring that it remains receptive by not bombarding them with too many messages. A good list management company will also make sure the offers going to their list come from quality companies and are relevant to their audience. When you rent a list, all you do is specify your target audience and provide the message to be sent. The list company does the rest.

Option 2: Purchase a List (Caution: This is Generally Shady)

It’s tough to find companies willing to sell the names they’ve worked hard to acquire because of the potential to abuse the list and their need to maintain their users’ privacy. However, you can find some situations where the owner is willing to sell (or trade) email data. You can also find people willing to sell you lists acquired through questionable means on the web. During the Internet bust, there were several companies going out of business who were willing to sell their lists to the highest bidder.

Option 3: Build Your Own List

In Chapter XXX, we’ll discuss a variety of techniques for building your own email list. This is by far the least expensive way to go about email marketing because you can use it whenever you want without having to pay anyone. I also believe it’s the safest way to market because you can trust the source and build a stronger relationship with the subscriber base. Maintaining this properly does take some work.

Renting a List vs. Buying a List

As I stated earlier, when you rent a list you never take possession of the names. You are paying for the right to contact the audience with a message that the list management company sends out. Buying a list however, does give you possession of the email names and other data for you to mail at your discretion.

Of the two options, renting lists is more popular.

In my experience there are precious few high-quality lists available for purchase. The main reason being, that unless you are a partner with the company who owns the list and they are extremely selective about who they sell to. A responsive list that has been built through ethical means is a tremendous asset to the company that owns it.

Once a list “gets out” management of communication to that list is no longer controlled. Once a list has been sold 2 or 3 times the audience on the list could be receiving unsolicited messages on a daily basis. An irritated audience is not a receptive one. Not only can the publisher of the list risk a huge backlash from their audience for selling their trusted email addresses, but now his list and permission to email that list himself also starts to deteriorate.

Publishers often view selling their lists like selling the goose that lays the golden eggs. They can make more money over time and protect the list quality by renting it over and over vs. selling it once.

You might be asking, “What about all those lists I see for sale on the web that say 1,000,000 email names for just $59.95?”

Steer clear of these sources. They are generally old and have been sold so many times the audience is unresponsive. And you don’t have any permission to contact them, so they will probably resent you spamming them.

If you are primarily interested in saving money then you should consider building your own list. Ask your customers for their email addresses, set up a newsletter for your visitors to subscribe to, build a database of names and grow it.

Where Can You Find the Best Lists for Rent?

When you are launching a campaign that targets business professionals, the highest quality lists for professionals in targeted industries were published by industry publications.

• Industry Magazines
• Targeted Websites
• List Brokers
• Online Agencies
• Data Firms
• The Digital Harvest Directory

Trade magazines and targeted websites that reach the audience you are looking for are ideal sources. They are up-to-date and focus on the specific audience you want to reach. For most of these lists, you can further define your audience selections by demographics such as industry, job title, company revenue and geographic location. If you are in the information technology sector, many of the top lists that target these professionals further specify by the type of computer hardware and software used.

If you buy quality, you will be rewarded. My clients who have tried to buy cheap in this area tell me that – every time – they got what they paid for.

Opt-In and Double Opt-In

You need to ask if the list is opt-in or double opt-in. An opt-in list requires that the subscribers do something to add themselves to the list. You’ve likely seen these collection points on a site. They ask if you’d like to sign up for a newsletter or to receive offers periodically. Opt-in actions ensure the list is composed of those who have given permission to contact them.

A double opt-in list goes a step further. After the subscriber signs up to receive special offers they are sent a follow up message that basically asks them, “Are you sure you want to sign up for this email list? Click here!” These lists are extremely clean and targeted. The subscribers have taken two actions to become a part of the list and because the confirmation email is sent to the subscribing email there is no way a friend or someone else can add you to a list.

Tell Tale Signs of a Bad List

Here are some signs that should send up a red flag if you are purchasing a list.

• The list owner can’t tell you where the data comes from
• The names on the list don’t have date and source stamping
• The list rental company is black listed from most ISPs
• The company can not provide references from reputable companies
• The prices are super low. Managing an opt-in list responsibly takes resources and resources cost money.
• The rental company accepts CPA (Cost-Per-Action) campaigns. These campaigns can often burn out the best lists in a short period of time.

Test and Measure

Shopping and discovery questions are an important part of selecting a quality list. And eventually, you will have to take the plunge and choose a list. Limit your risk with a test run to see how things perform. The ability to analyze and identify good email lists for rent is a powerful skill that will be key in your email marketing success.

How to Turn Junk Mail Into Gold

Ready for a few profit-making ideas?

Great! Before we jump in, just let me quickly welcome to the first issue of the Digital Harvester presented by Digital Harvest Media with contributions from Hype Communications. I’m glad you’re here! Okay…

Today’s topic: “How To Turn Junk Mail Into Gold”

Everyday, millions of emails shoot accross the Internet promoting everything from Software to Seminars. Advertisers from a wide variety of companies collectively spend millions of dollars to get their message into your inbox.

After the blast happens, the very next thing that marketer wants to know is, did you open their message or did you delete it without reading it?

Let me ask you something…

Have you ever received an email solicitation that you decided to open and read to the very end? Did it start with a story or the promise of something that kept you interested? Did it get you to click and view a demo or click to the site and complete a form?

If it got you to act, chances a professional wrote it. And this is IMPORTANT. Why?

Because it’s a valuable golden nugget, and you should save it as an example of how to pattern your next mailing! That’s right, get in the habit of collecting “junk mail.”

Not all junk mail, of course. Just the pieces that grab your attention or get you to act.

Here’s the thing:

The Internet is still an “infant” and there’s s very little formal, results-producing-training available. But you pick up a huge amount of wisdom just by analyzing what works on you! (And it’s simple to do.)

Try this. Set up a folder in your inbox and start saving email offers that do a good job of capturing your interest and getting you to take action. As you build this list, you’ll notice some uncanny similarities and common denominators that you can then apply when you do your next campaign.

For example:

  • What in the subject line captures you?
  • Does “who” it’s from have an impact?
  • How does the email start?
  • Are the paragraphs short or long?
  • Do they use bullet points to help make it more readable?
  • Does the ad tell a story?
  • Start looking for ways you can borrow a few good ideas. A lot of savvy marketing
  • consists of copying others’ successful methods. Be alert and take note of what works.

Becoming an effective online marketer is a process. You can learn just as much from the bad email as you can from the good email. Keep your eyes on your inbox and watch for what works.

Viral Email Marketing – The Secret to Word-of-Mouth Advertising Online

Would you like to learn how to make your marketing message take on a life of its own and spread like wildfire… for free?

In this issue, as you may have guessed from the title, we will be discussing viral marketing. This is a unique breakthrough component that can be added to just about any online campaign to get it to spread far beyond the limits of traditional marketing messages. You can save money and increase your results and did I mention it can be done for free?

What is viral marketing?

The term viral marketing has come to refer to advertising campaigns that utilize their audience to spread the marketing message. It’s called viral marketing because it utilizes people as the “hosts” to carry the message in much the same way that a virus works. The idea (to carry the metaphor further) is to make your message “contagious” so it infects others that your company may not yet have come in direct contact with.

Time for an example…

I’m sure you are all familiar with Hotmail (now MSN Hotmail). Well, this company was an outstanding example of how viral marketing can work. They did hardly any marketing to start. Instead they gave away free email accounts to anyone who wished to sign up. The only catch was each email message they sent from their Hotmail account was accompanied with a little notice in the footer telling people how they could get their own free Hotmail account and a hyperlink to click on. That’s it!

It worked like magic. Their user base exploded as people who used this email system continued to spread the word whenever they would email a friend or business associate. The rest is history.

If you’re like me, you’re thinking, “Great for Hotmail, but how does that impact me? How can I utilize viral marketing to promote my business?”

Today you see many companies trying to give their campaigns a viral component, but somehow they fall short. People send out newsletters and ask, “If you like our newsletter please forward this to a friend or coworker who might also benefit.” It’s an attempt to go viral but it lacks a special ingredient…

Another marketing campaign to promote an industry event might ask registrants to “invite a friend” and include a box in which to enter their friend’s email. However, this ultimately never reaches it’s full viral potential. Why?

What’s the secret? Why don’t audiences typically respond to these benign requests? How can we get our audience to spread the word and promote us to those who are near and dear? How can we make our message “contagious?”

I had the privilege of working with a company that showed me the answer. They were selling a “viral marketing system.” Unfortunately since this is relatively easy for anyone to do on their own, once they know how, anyone can do this free on their own. This is why they ultimately went under. But the principals they followed for viral marketing work.

They recognized the key component to recruiting an active bunch of messengers was to — offer an incentive.

Hotmail’s genius was that the incentive was inherent in the product itself. It was a messaging system. People who used the service spread the word without even thinking about it. Their incentive was the ability to have a free private email account that was accessible from any Internet terminal.

What about your company? What incentive can you offer to get your audience to promote your services to their closest friends and business associates?

Here are the keys to getting your message to go viral and take on a life of its own.

4 Keys to Going Viral…

#1 You Must Reward The Messengers

People are interested in doing things that benefit them. Without a reward they will likely ignore your request. Offer a reward or “bounty” for spreading the message and helping to market your products and services to friends, family, and coworkers who might benefit.

#2 The Reward Must Be Immediate (Or Nearly Immediate)

People don’t like to wait. Offer something you can deliver on quickly. A free informational report that appeals to your target audience, a discount or a free upgrade of their service can work very well. The need for the reward to provide instant gratification is key.

That’s why reports, software and discounts work so well as incentives. They can be transmitted over the Internet with little waiting.

#3 Extend The Reward To Everyone — Even Those Referred

The true magic of viral marketing is when you receive a customer who was referred by a friend, who was referred by a friend, who was referred by a friend…

If the first person is the only one to be incentivized to pass the message along, invite friends, etc.. it will not go very far. You must extend the reward to those who were referred also.

#4 Make The Messenger’s Job Easy!

With Hotmail the action was very easy. In fact, the messenger didn’t need to do a thing! By simply using the service they spread the word. Most other services and messages will require a little more effort on behalf of the user to get the reward, but it can still work quite effectively.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples…

EXAMPLE ONE – Refer Some Friends, Get-A-Reward

In most cases when someone buys from you online or registers for your service or event, they will have to fill out a form. In the form you can say, “Do you know of a friend or coworker who could benefit from our services? Send them an email and we’ll send you this free report instantly!”

It’s easy to do. Just include a few fields in which the sender writes their email address and the email addresses of 3 friends. Include a small area for them to write a message or invite. Better yet, have a standard message already written for them! All they have to do is fill in their addresses and the addresses of a few friends and hit submit. Their message will get sent listing them as the sender. Seeing the message has come from a familiar source will help ensure it gets read.

The programming isn’t too difficult. If you need help contact the folks at They specialize in creating email referral systems.

EXAMPLE TWO – Double Your Email Reach And Media ROI

We’ve all seen the request, “if you know someone who could benefit from this email (or newsletter) please forward this to them.” What’s this missing? Incentive.

Let’s spruce that up.

Are you emailing to promote an event or have a newsletter and would like to increase the subscriber base? Why not incentivize people to do so with a free report download?

Make any reports or information are of interest to your target audience and relates to your product or service.

This works great as a reward for them to tell others in their field about your event, service, software, newsletter or whatever!

What does it cost you?

Nothing! Just write a white paper or special report. You may have one already if you combine some past newsletters.

On the Internet, distributing reports and white papers is free. And if its done correctly it can help to brand your company and offer your company as a credible part of the solution!

Other incentives that work well include:

  • Free software downloads
  • Service upgrades
  • Discounts
  • Special reports

There are many other ways to employ viral marketing. Be creative. Promote your reward everywhere: on your home page, in your postal mailings, in your emails, at your tradeshow booth and in your newsletters. Your message will infect more people. The media dollars you spend will also stretch further as you allow people with industry friends and contacts to help you spread your message.

The Best Ad Busting Technology

Are you tired of annoying pop-ups? Are you sick of junk email? Has your computer been taken over by a spyware program that’s messing up your life?

Fear not, help is on the way.

(How’s that for cheesy openers?)

Do you find it ironic that a site devoted to web marketing would also have ad busting technology? It’s not really. I like to believe that ad busting technology gets rid of unwanted irrelevant ads.

We are advocates of targeted, relevant and responsible web advertising.

Just like you…

  • we hate spam and spammers
  • we hate pop-ups
  • we really don’t like programs installing themselves on our PCs!

The following tools and techniques for blocking spam and stopping pop ups work well. I’ve used them myself.

Stopping Pop Ups

Pop ups are everywhere these days. Yahoo! has them, MSN has them… You name it, if it’s got a huge audience, someone has installed a pop-up. Well you have rights.

The following program will disable the function of your browser that allows pop-ups to appear. It’s called Stop The Pop. It’s easy to install and it also allows you to allow for pop-up windows when you need to.

Spyware Eliminator

For the longest time I couldn’t figure it out. The second I’d go on the Internet I’d begin getting these pop up messages. It drove me crazy. What’s worse, I knew that it wasn’t from the sites I was on.

These Spyware programs will drive you nuts. They hog your resources and throw ads in your face at every turn. Lucky for us there is a solution.

My hacker friend turned me on to a program called Spyware Seek and Destroy.

Catchy title isn’t it?

This program runs a scan of your system looking for spyware. I was amazed at the garbage that had attached itself to my computer. I’m a clean surfer and I know many tricks to avoid, but still it found at least 20 of these programs on my machine.

After it finds them, Spyware Seek and Destroy will also eliminate the culprits.

To download your copy visit and search for “Spybot Seek and Destroy.” It’s easy to run and will clean out all the nasties.

Until Next Time…

Well, that’s all for now. Those two programs will take you a long way towards keeping your machine clean and improving your web surfing experience.

How to Format Your HTML Email for Maximum Results

Most email marketers seek a substantial return after just one blast. But do repeat advertisements to the same group have any benefits? Does frequency have any place in email marketing? Yes.

The term frequency refers to how many times you reach an audience with a message.

It’s strange, but many clients I work with run advertisements month after month in the same magazine, but wouldn’t think of emailing an offer to the same person twice.

You do need to be careful of how frequently you contact someone about something, to avoid being irritating, but frequency does have its place in email.

I’ve seen follow up messages that get three times the response rate as an initial message.

You have to be careful. Be sure to offer some new information. Use a slightly different approach. Do not just send the same message.

For newsletter publishers and those who offer information in their mailings you have a bit more leeway in how frequently you can mail to your list. If you publish currency exchange rates, you might send email out daily. However, if you publish a monthly column dealing with email marketing, it’s likely you will not be able to mail more than once every two weeks without overstepping your bounds.

It’s something that you need to keep an eye on. If you start mailing your audience too frequently you’ll find that un-subscribe rates start to climb. You might even send out a questionnaire to your audience asking them to indicate how frequently they’d like to hear from you. Like any other marketing variable you should keep a close eye on the interval between communication, and how it impacts the audience and their behavior.