4 Common Email Marketing Malpractices

Email marketing is one of the most frequently used marketing tactic 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 People Use Email Marketing

  1. BCC method
  2. Buying lists
  3. Sending emails to people who have not explicitly opted in
  4. Not including an unsubscribe option

Before anything else, these malpractices are using US laws regarding email marketing. The reason for this is the Philippines doesn’t have such law existing nor have any legislative body that can effectively implement violations.

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

  1. Recipient must opt in to receiving emails from the organization (or a representative)
  2. 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 [email protected].

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 the job application example, in the US, this kind of unsolicited email can cost the organization up to $40,654 per email. That’s over PhP 2M per email!

Just imagine the penalty you could be facing if you send unsolicited email if the same laws apply here to the Philippines.

What to Do Next

As I mentioned above, there are no laws regarding this form of spamming in the Philippines. That is why a lot of marketers are still using this tactic.

If you’re one of these marketers, as a fellow professional, I strongly recommend you stop doing this. Use an 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.
  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. You can choose how to 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 to called spam traps. They are basically email addresses that never opted-in nor is used by any person, but is constantly monitored.

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

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. And, it is the easiest to solve!

This particular scenario is worth highlighting because 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.

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 as the same. However, 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 are irrelevant. And that is the biggest reason for unsubscription.

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 segments. 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

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 in other areas of your website, say your about us, you have a form that has a newsletter subscription.

Application 2

If multiple forms are too difficult to comprehend right now, then use this option. (I’d argue that that is the best way to do this since the more forms you have, the better chances of conversion you have)

Here, you simply highlight the email preferences section in your emails.

All email marketing softwares include 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

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 softwares follow the CAN-SPAM Act. Therefore, the unsubscribe button is one of the requirements when sending an email.

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.

So if you’re not using an email marketing software, please sign up for one today.

How About You?

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?

Ariel Lim

Ariel Lim

Management consultant / MBA / Inbound marketer who helps startups generate leads, create and execute strategies.

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