4 Common Email Marketing Malpractices You Know You Should Stop Doing

Photo by Marius Masalar on Unsplash

Email marketing is one of the most frequently used marketing tactics by organizations. Unfortunately, it is also abused by a lot of marketers.

In this article, I’ll share 4 email marketing malpractices (or frowned-upon tactics) that marketers often use.

It’s important to note that these are different from ineffective use of email marketing — which a lot of digital marketers are also doing.

4 Email Marketing Malpractices: Wrong Ways Marketers Use Email Marketing

Before anything else, these malpractices are using US laws regarding email marketing. And with the GDPR already in effect, using any one of these malpractices can lead to hefty fines.

1. Sending Mass Email via BCC Method

The BCC method is sending an email to multiple people at the same time, but instead of sending the email in the TO field, the sender enters the email in the BCC field.

As you might have noticed, this one doesn’t involve the use of any email marketing software. Most likely because they will get flagged if they do so.

Most email marketing software, at least the reputable ones, have built-in security controls that prevent this kind of behavior. For example, here’s what MailChimp does when they get these kinds of things.

This is malpractice because it violates at least two principles in the CAN-SPAM Act:

  1. The recipient must opt-in to receive emails from the organization (or a representative)
  2. The recipient must be able to opt-out / stop receiving the emails

This is a form of spamming because of the nature of the content (commercial) and lacks permission.

Sample Scenario

This method is often used by salespeople in order to announce a sale or promo happening.

Often, these are real estate agents who either (1) acquired the email addresses via an event like an open house, or (2) through one of their buddies in the industry (see buying lists).

They send from a Gmail or other free email accounts with a convention of name.real-estate@gmail.com.

Spam Email via BCC Method

In some cases, marketers also use this tactic. They are either (1) archaic/old, (2) young, or (3) cheap and don’t want to spend.

Rarely would these people use this tactic to game the system. Yes, those people exist. But most of the time, these people simply don’t know any better.

For example, fresh graduates (and those looking for internships) also use this kind of tactic to send their resumes and applications to multiple companies at the same time.

Discounting this terrible job application method, in the US, this kind of unsolicited email can cost the organization up to $40,654 per email.

What to Do Next

If you’re one of these marketers, as a fellow professional, I strongly recommend you stop doing this. Use appropriate email marketing software to handle your email marketing.

If you’re on the receiving end of this kind of email, I recommend approaching it at two levels:

  1. Inform the sender that that is a disgrace to the profession and must be stopped, and asked to be removed from the list. Then, mark the email as spam. This is important. Don’t just delete the email.
  2. If the sender ignores your request, and since you cannot opt-out, create a filter to put all incoming emails from that email address to your junk/spam folder.

2. Buying Email Lists

Buying email lists, as the name denotes, is acquiring an email list from a separate entity (person and/or organization) for a price. Other variations of this email marketing malpractice is a colleague sharing their email list with you. While there is no money involved in the latter, it still falls in the same category.

Buying email lists is not a “problem” by itself. It’s up to you how you spend your money.

It is the act of sending emails to the people on this list that makes it an email marketing malpractice. It violates the opt-in principle where people should not receive commercial emails without their permission.

Because list buying is so prevalent, internet service providers (ISPs) use a technique called spam traps. They are email addresses that never opted-in nor is used by any person, but is constantly monitored.

A spam trap looks like a real email address, but it doesn’t belong to a real person and can’t be used for any kind of communication.

- Campaign Monitor

If you send to these email addresses, your domain could be blacklisted. That means you can’t send from your domain anymore.

So, if your organization is using this tactic, just stop.

What to Do Next

Practice effective lead generation and you’ll avoid this issue.

Generating leads the right way is easy. All you need is a marketing offer and a way to capture information.

The offer can be anything from a discount coupon, a checklist, swipe file, case study or white paper download. For SaaS companies, this is usually a free trial and/or demo.

Most email marketing software today provide landing pages as well as opt-in forms. You can use this for your lead generation activities.

Sample Landing Pages from ConvertKit

Suggested reading:

3. Sending Emails to People Who Did Not Opt-in

Sending emails to people who did not opt-in to receive your messages is probably the most common among these malpractices.

There are two instances where this happens:

  1. They use a combination of other malpractices (like buying lists) then sending unsolicited marketing emails.
  2. The organization is collecting emails. But, they are not explicit as to what the emails will be used for nor what type of messages will be sent.

Regardless of where you fall under, it’s a quick fix. If you’re doing the first one, go back to my recommendations above. If you’re doing the second one, read on.

Sample Scenario

Every organization has different types of messages they use in their email marketing. Here are some of them:

  1. Blog updates
  2. Product/service updates
  3. Newsletter
  4. Promos
  5. Events

Depending on your organization, it’s best to be explicit as to what you will do with the emails upfront.

Example #1

For example, if they downloaded a PDF (aka lead magnet/marketing offer) on your website, most organizations include the person in the newsletter blast. Here’s where the problem starts.

Most organizations treat any lead in their database the same way. But not all leads are created equal. The person who downloaded the PDF does not necessarily want to receive your newsletters.

In addition, newsletters sent by organizations are mostly promotional in nature. They are not what they used to be — a round-up of industry news, blog articles, and other announcements.

So, if you send these promotional emails to people who did not opt-in to receive these kinds of emails, to that person, your emails become irrelevant to that person. And irrelevance is the biggest reason why people unsubscribe or disengage.

If you want to maintain above-average scores on the most important email marketing metrics, you need to be explicit with your communications.

Example #2

Another situation is if you are collecting newsletter subscribers via your blog. Most organizations are doing this.

But the problem is that organizations use that as a way to send their promotional emails.

The people who signed up for your newsletter only receives promotional messages. They never receive any content from your blog. There is a huge disconnect in the offer (newsletter from the blog) with the actual emails (promotional).

Both examples are borderline deceitful. There is a mismatch in the recipient’s expectations vs the sender’s intent.

And it’s easy to fix.

You can do this using segmentation. In that post, I shared 35+ ways you can segment your email list plus different use cases.

In practice, there are four ways you can apply the segmentation. I’ll go over them briefly.

There are two ways you can achieve that: (1) by using a distinct signup form and (2) by asking them to update their email preferences.

First, determine what types of messages you want to send. Product updates, blog updates, promos, etc. Then, create the segments in your email database.

Application #1: Multiple Forms

You can create a separate form that goes into each of those segments.

For example, in your blog sidebar, you can place a blog subscription form that sends them into your “blog subscribers segment.” Then you have another form that leads them to an email series.

Application #2: Explicit Opt-in for Various Topics

Or let’s say you have multiple topics on your blog that you cover. Instead of sending basic SEO techniques to experts, you can place them on different groups.

Here’s how that might look like if you’re using ConvertKit.

Application #3: Self-Identify Using Clicks

If multiple forms are too difficult to comprehend right now, then use this option.

Sample Thank You Email to Help Readers Self-Select

After people signup to your list, they receive a thank you email. You can include a question to help them select the topics you want them to join. After they click on any one of the links, they will be “tagged” in your email software that they are interested in those topics.

It’s like the previous example but instead of showing them a longer form (which introduces friction) and is known to hurt your conversion rate, you do the self-segmentation within the email itself—after they joined your email list.

Application #4: Update Email Preferences

The last application is you simply highlight the email preferences section in your emails.

All email marketing software includes an unsubscribe link (see malpractice #4 below). But the great part is that instead of frustrating them with annoying emails, be proactive about it and tell them immediately that they can choose to receive which types of emails they’ll be getting.

That way, you have better control over their experience.

4. Not Including an Unsubscribe Option

Or not honoring an unsubscribe.

An unsubscribe option is a link in an email that allows the recipient to stop receiving from the sender.

Some email marketing software use this as a way to either (1) customize the types/frequency of email the recipient wants to receive and (2) to unsubscribe completely/stop receiving emails from the sender.

The CAN-SPAM Act tells explicitly that any commercial email must have a way to opt-out of receiving these promotional messages.

Not including an unsubscribe option can only happen if you are not using a modern email marketing software. All modern marketing software follow the CAN-SPAM Act. Therefore, the unsubscribe button is one of the requirements when sending an email. In fact, most providers don’t allow you to remove this option. It’s automatically added to every email you send out.

Most often, this scenario only happens if you are using the BCC method (aka manual email marketing). Since it is using your regular email client (e.g. Gmail), there won’t be any unsubscribe button.

But in some cases, there are insidious companies who, despite having an unsubscribe option, don’t honor it.

Here’s an annoying example.

I have unsubscribed from this email over a dozen times, but I still keep receiving emails from them. I clicked on that unsubscribe link at the button and reported this as spam, but to no avail.

In the end, I created a rule in my email to automatically move emails from this domain to my spam folder.

If you are doing this, please, just stop. You’re only bringing shame to the profession and industry.

These are the top 4 email marketing malpractices used by marketers today. As a marketing professional, you should not use any of these frowned-upon tactics.

If your organization is using these techniques, please stop gaming the system. It is not a good, long-term bet. You’re simply taking away from the future to benefit you now.

To be successful in email marketing, you have to invest in developing relationships with your list. And that starts with an effective email strategy.

Do you think I missed any malpractice?

Want to learn more about how you can use digital marketing to grow your business? Then you might enjoy being part of my email list.

Originally published at ariel-lim.com.

Marketer, freelancer, husband | The Startup, Better Marketing, The Ascent, PGSG | Find out how I grew my organic traffic by 110% in 5 mo: https://bit.ly/3fpilkW