4 shady list-building tactics to avoid

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In these times, when every e-mail signup counts, it might be tempting to take shortcuts to build your list. In fact, you may have already engaged in so-called “gray hat” tactics—practices that aren’t illegal, but certainly won’t win you any fans or new customers, and may even affect your deliverability. Here are four shady list-building approaches that Dave McCue, marketing manager for e-mail marketing service provider SubscriberMail, and Loren T. McDonald, VP-industry relations for Silverpop, said could seriously harm your marketing program. 1) Prechecking an opt-in box. Your potential customer clicks through to an e-mail preference center to sign up for your messaging and what do they see: lots of little prechecked boxes. Or maybe they signed up for a white paper download and you, via small print at the bottom of the form, signed them up to receive marketing e-mails. Both strategies, McCue said, take the decision-making process out of the recipient’s hands, potentially angering him or her. “Never make assumptions for someone,” he said. “Let them choose which communications they want rather than strong-arming them into getting more e-mails than they actually may want or need.” 2) Adding old customers or prospects to your active mailing list. You may feel pressured to begin mailing to old customers and prospects—for example, people who filled out request forms at trade shows you exhibited at in 2007. But be careful, McDonald said. “A large percentage of these people may not remember your company, and many of them will hit the spam complaint button upon suddenly receiving an e-mail from you, likely causing deliverability problems to the rest of your subscribers,” he said. “If you use an e-mail service provider, work closely with their deliverability team to create a workable solution to this challenge. A common approach is to create and test a message that explains when and how you obtained the prospect’s information and then ask them to opt in, as opposed to opt out, of future mailings.” 3) Underplaying co-marketing. Your preference center may have a disclosure about co-marketing and your list members may have given their permission, but unless that permission came about because of a highly visible message and an explicit opt-in, you’re headed for trouble, McCue said. Likewise, if, at the point of signup, a list member gave permission for co-marketing but you’ve waited even a few months to follow through, you may have a problem, too. 4) Adding customers who haven’t officially opted-in. Your salespeople or customer service team may have e-mail addresses that aren’t in your marketing database. While it’s perfectly legal to reach out to those people, take care in the way you do so, McCue said. “Sending a single e-mail that says, ‘Here are some of the newsletters and options we have. Would you like to opt in?’ is very different than, ‘Welcome to our list. Unless you opt out, you’ll be receiving these from us regularly.’ ‘Don’t worry, we’ve already opted you in’ is an intrusion and will alienate recipients,” McCue said.
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