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When sending email, get permission first

Failure to respect audience could result in deliverability problems

(merznatalia /

(merznatalia /

Roughly 30 years ago, email transitioned from being used by a few nerdy types to something practical and the world changed, as did almost every digital marketing campaign on earth. For the first time, companies could reach untold numbers of users with a crafted message for free, email contact lists becoming invaluable in the process.

By the mid-90’s, the backlash against email marketing began, with the term “spam” being used to describe unwanted email advertisements. Software to battle the tide of unsolicited messaging began to appear. In 2003, America passed a law to specify how unsolicited messages could be sent. What had been an open field for marketers to play in was now becoming far more limited. Marketers would have to maneuver around these hurdles and make sure that as much of their customer base as possible had opted in before sending messages out.



A marketer’s goal should be to optimize inbox placement, said Chris Truitt, director of deliverability at WhatCounts, an email marketing software company.

“The best way to do this is to ensure that you are sending valuable content that customers want and have requested,” Truitt said.

Emily Keye, director of strategic services, said getting a user’s permission to email them is important.

“You should be asking for permission to add subscribers or customers to your promotional email lists and you should always allow them the ability to opt-out at any time,” Keye said. “If you are working with a third-party partner and doing some type of email append, co-registration, etc. you should have that third party send the email from their IP (address) and domain on your behalf and have a clear call to action to opt-in. Only add those addresses that proactively select the option to opt-in.”

There’s no universal set of policies about how internet service providers and software companies respond to commercial email messages. Legal requirements have surfaced in a number of European countries requiring permission-based marketing and legislation such as Canada’s anti-spam law have set strict requirements for marketing communications. Because opposition to unsolicited messages makes them harder to deliver, the best practice is to avoid sending your audience messages they don’t want.

“Maintain a clean, healthy email list to combat any potential deliverability problems,” Keye said. “Respect your subscriber’s inbox. Only send when you have something of value to that subscriber.”



Truitt said the company hasn’t yet drawn a line in sand on gray area content in respect to business models. “There are certainly some pieces of creative that have historically been regarded with some skepticism by internet service providers. After the financial and mortgage crisis of 2008, financial services marketers found it quite difficult to penetrate content filters. This has eased up in recent years. Ultimately, we require senders to adhere to best practices and send the content that people have opted in to receive.”

Play by the rules, make sure people have opted in, and your campaign will be most deliverable, Keye said.

“Nobody likes spam,” she said. “Permission based email marketing has been around for decades and those who have practiced don’t run into huge problems when new privacy laws across the globe roll out.

“Any smart marketer is going to understand the benefits of building a permission-based email list versus having some huge volume list that doesn’t engage and causes deliverability problems. Quality over quantity all day long!”

BOX: Best practices for email marketing

Chris Truitt, director of deliverability at WhatCounts, an email marketing software company, offers the following advice about best practices for email marketing:

  • We’ve established the importance of marketing on a permission basis at each touch point of list acquisition. From there thorough testing of email content is the next step. A/B testing is still a great way to grade different types of content and to see which piece outperforms the other.
  • General marketing best practices are always applicable, such as adding a call to action above the fold, creating clear and concise content and ensuring that the message serves a purpose and fulfills a need.
  • Well-targeted contact lists generally outperform mail sent to a much larger population of contacts. We recommend segmenting contact lists based on specific areas of interest or other factors like demography if applicable.
  • Keep a clean contact list. Engagement is now factored into the algorithms of many mailbox providers so senders must factor in engagement into their marketing strategies. If you continuously mail to non-openers in time you’ll find inbox rates will decline and spam folder placement to be a factor. We generally advise excluding contacts or at very least reducing sending cadence to addresses that have not opened or clicked in 6 -9 months or greater.


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