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Building an Email Marketing List Legally and Ethically

Your email marketing list should be one of your company’s most prized possessions. Awed and revered for its mythical powers of communication; a legend of lead generation, a colossus of click-through rates, and a rockstar of ROI like no other.

Why? Email marketing is the most dynamic way for your organization to communicate with its audience. “What about social media?” you say. Not even close. According to Marketing Sherpa, 72 percent of people prefer to receive promotional content through email, compared to just 17 percent who prefer social media.

What Makes Email Marketing so Effective?

Targeted audiences

By segmenting your audience by specific criteria, like location or sales history, you can send detailed content to a very specific group, ensuring that it will resonate well and maximize the impact of your marketing efforts.

Personalized content

Email is one of the few marketing vehicles that can be personalized to every recipient. This allows you to connect with potential customers on a deeper level and help you develop stronger relationships.

Nothing makes a marketer feel quite as good as watching a targeted email perform well. The click rate keeps going up and the conversions keep rolling in! So it’s no surprise that email marketing has an ROI of 3800 percent. Yeah, for every $1 your company spends on email marketing, it could make $38.

It’s everywhere, all the time

Everyone has email. And thanks to technology, they have access to that email no matter where they are. From their desk to their phone, at the office or at home, 81 percent of all emails are now opened on mobile devices. Few other marketing vehicles offer that kind of access to your audience.

How to Build Your Email List

Before you set out building your email list, make sure you familiarize yourself, and your marketing team, with CAN-SPAM. The CAN-SPAM Act was signed in 2003 to help protect consumers against deceptive or illegal email practices.

With that out of the way, let’s look at some of the best ways to build a quality email list.

Your website

Your website is your best employee. It works 24 hours a day, it knows everything about your company, and you have complete control over its content. Use that to your advantage.

Make it easy for visitors to sign up for your email list by including a sign up link on your homepage, in the local navigation, and on your blog. But make sure you highlight it as a way for customers to hear about new products/services as soon as they’re announced.

You can also gate desirable content, like case studies, research, recorded webinars, or ebooks behind an email lead-gen form. All this means is that in order for someone to access the content, they’ll need to sign up for your email list Bonus: this alerts your sales team that the user is interested in your products/services.

Social media

More employees that you don’t need to pay for overtime! Leverage your social media platforms to encourage email signups by teasing or slowly revealing content. For example, you could release one statistic from your latest research each week for a month, but with each post you could direct people to a landing page that will give them access to the full research. All they need to do is type in their email, and ta-da! Great content for the low, low price of their email address.

LinkedIn InMail can be an incredibly successful tactic for reaching a highly targeted audience, and it can be viewed in two ways:

  • As a supplement to your existing email list
    • With InMail, you don’t get access to LinkedIn users’ emails. Instead, LinkedIn is essentially sending an email on your behalf. The trade-off being that they can ensure 100 percent deliverability to your selected audience.
  • As an email recruitment tool
    • You can use InMail as a platform to encourage users to sign up for your email list. If done on a regular basis to different target audiences, you should be able to capture new prospects for a small investment.

Trade shows and conventions

In theory, everyone at these events is your target audience, so your table or booth should always encourage visitors to sign up for your email list. It’s never a bad idea to offer an incentive for signing up. Some companies offer free trials of their products, others prefer the SWAG (Stuff We All Get) route. Go with what works best for your company.

Most of these events will offer exhibitors a list of all the attendees’ contact information. While it’s common practice to add these folks to your email list, it’s good manners to send them an opt-in confirmation before you start trying to sell to them. An opt-in email simply asks for recipients to either confirm that they want to be kept on your list, or if they would like to be removed. By doing this, you’ll avoid getting flagged for SPAM and you can be confident that you’re maintaining the quality of your email list.

Never Buy an Email List

This is a solid rule of thumb for a lot of reasons, but here are the only four you need to know:

  • Good email lists are never for sale.
  • There is no way to be sure that any of the emails are even real.
  • The people on a purchased list have not expressed an interest in receiving emails from you. This is a CAN-SPAM no-no, and an express lane to getting your email IP address blacklisted. Once you get blacklisted, it’s not easy to fix.
  • They provide poor ROI. The high email marketing ROI mentioned above doesn’t translate to purchased lists. That number can only be realized when audiences opt in to your content.

If you’re starting your email list from scratch, it may be tempting to purchase lists from companies that specialize in collecting business information and contacts through legal means. You can pay a fee and instantly add targeted email addresses to your contacts list. We’re talking a significant amount of money for a list of strangers who likely have no idea who your company is and no interest in hearing from you. Further, resulting open rates, click rates, and conversion rates will likely be much lower than you hope. Purchasing cold email lists is simply not a cost-effective tactic, even if the lists are acquired legally.

There are no short cuts to building an email list, but that doesn’t mean it has to be hard. Use your resources wisely and be patient. Choose quality over quantity and let your content do the heavy lifting. Once you’ve established a list of receptive email recipients, take your email marketing to the next level with the help of our blog on the Anatomy of an Email.

Mike Waterston

Mike's career as a writer started in third grade when he discovered a love of creating and telling stories that have an impact on readers. As a Minneapolis-based copywriter and content strategist, he shares that passion with brands, helping them tell their stories in a way that resonates with their audiences.