Permission-Based E-Mail Marketing

With millions of consumers and businesses online, using email is an attractive way to communicate with customers and prospects. But with the issues of spam in the online marketplace, you must be careful about how you use email, which is why this activity is called permission-based email marketing.

The best application of email is to send messages to people who have opted-in to your database. This is done at the time a user registers with you on your website and has indicated that they accept having messages sent from you. So, it's important that you offer a benefit for someone to provide their email address to you.

If you don't keep a large database, you are able to rent email lists. Be aware that email lists are typically expensive, and you will be required to use the owner of the email list to send your email due to privacy and security.

Should you rent a list, make sure it is from a reputable firm and the names are legitimate double opt-in. A double opt-in asks a consumer twice, often by responding to an email responding to the initial request, to be added to an email list. There are hundreds of email lists that you can rent, but they carry high price tags.

It's important you conduct your own due-diligence when researching permission-based email lists. Visit the websites used by email list providers and observe the language they specify to people who have provided their email address.

There are estimated to be upwards of 2,500 permission-based email lists on the market in several categories:

  • High end lists, mostly businesses, typically come from controlled circulation magazines who register their subscribers online. The list owner will "push," or send, your email message for you so you will not ever take control of the actual email addresses.
  • Some websites gather consumer and business email addresses and ask the respondent to answer a few questions about the types of email they want to receive. These lists are usually not as responsive, but are cheaper.
  • Sweepstakes and other acquisition methods are used for other lists, but these lists are mailed frequently with less than stellar response. You might consider negotiating a Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) where you pay only when someone purchases from you, or a Cost per Click (CPC) if the recipient clicks to your website.

You should know your prospective market to determine whether to use HTML or text. HTML messages tend to get a better response, but trigger spam filters, so they are often blocked. Text messages will get through more easily, but tend to have a weaker response rate. If you are looking for a reputable resource for permission-based email, one of the larger email list brokerages in the country is American List Counsel. They can be found online at

Email Marketing Terms

If you are planning to engage in email marketing, you should have a basic grasp of the following terms:

CTR(Click-through rate)
Number of times an email's link(or links) is clicked to drive recipients to the promotion's site. Example: If, out of 1,000 emails sent, 100 people clicked through, the CTR would then be 10 percent. Averages are generally 5 to 15 percent.

Clickable text
Clickable text doesn't contain images but is better than plain text because links in the message become "hyperlinks," meaning that when clicked the user will be taken directly to the promotion's site page. Many text-only email programs will convert plain text to clickable text when they see "hyperlinks" in the message body.

Conversion to Qualified Lead
Number of recipients who registered on the website. If 1,000 emails were sent and it yielded 100 CTRs, and 20 people registered, the conversion was 2 percent of total emails circulation, or 20 percent of CTRs.

Conversion to Sale
If you are selling a product, and of the 20 people who registered (above example), two actually purchased, you would have a 10 percent conversion to sale (of registrants), 2 percent conversion of CTRs, and 0.2 percent of your email circulation.

A cookie is a small file stored or embedded within your outbound HTML-based emails. It can track a recipient's click-through and buy rate, as well as whether or not he or she ended up forwarding the message. Cookies are very useful when it comes to reporting and measuring a campaign's overall success, but are controversial in the marketplace.

Dynamic Content or Segmentation
Special messages to a selected group of customers on your email list. For example, you may want to make a special offer to certain customer segments. Your content can be changed and presented based on a specific attribute of the customer.

HTML (Hyper-Text Markup Language)
An HTML email is one that is graphically rich with color, various type faces and styles, and images. It is emerging as the standard for email marketing. Some recipients do not want to receive their emails in HTML, due to low bandwidth or longer download times that HTML messages often require. However, HTML messages often pull a higher response than plain-text messages.

Landing page (a.k.a. "Jump" or "Splash" page)
A page on a website that is specific to an email promotion's offer. Rather than divert the user to the home page, adding unnecessary clicks for the user to get to their desired page, this technique more quickly gets the user to the information they are seeking.

Subscribers to that list have stated that they want to receive promotional messages from designated sites or on selected categories. The list has essentially said, "Yes, I'd like to receive messages on the following..." They've given their permission to receive unsolicited emails.

When an email recipient has not given his or her permission on the front end, and instead is sent a promotion containing a statement that gives members the option to not receive such emails in the future. Recipients’ are essentially being told, "Here's a promotion on ___. If you don't want to receive any more of these, please click here." "Opt-out" has the marketer speaking first, and demands a response if the recipient/customer does not want to hear from that marketer again.

Viral Marketing
In a viral marketing campaign, a promotion will generally reward a customer to forward an email to a friend with an incentive of contest prizes or a discount.

Strategies to Grow Your Permission Based Email Lists

One of the challenges email marketers face is building a mailing list that successfully targets their email efforts to responsive, willing prospects. Here are some tips from VerticalResponse to help you build your own robust list of qualified recipients.

Focus. It's important to identify your target audience and their interests as precisely as possible. If you cater to your members' concerns and make it clear what they can expect to gain from getting your email, you'll collect a lot more addresses and limit turnover.

Register. Make it easy for people to register by placing a signup form on your website homepage. You may want to place multiple forms on your site in order to track where visitors are signing up the most.

Don't Pry. Try not to interrogate visitors. Collect the information you need for registration and basic analysis and leave it at that until you've developed a relationship with your members.

Pop-Up Windows. Try a pop-up widow when someone prepares to leave your site as a last ditch effort to encourage signups.

Leverage Other Websites. Contact other sites that appeal to your target audience and discuss partnering with them. By working together, each party can include the other's signup form in its outgoing communications, so you can grow your newsletters collectively.

Ask for the Email Address. If you have an offline business, old ideas like placing a fishbowl on the counter for depositing business cards still work. Most business cards contain an email address that can be added to your list.

Designing & Writing Copy For Your Email

For most recipients, it is a split-second decision whether or not to delete your email, and that decision is almost entirely based on the "From" and "Subject" lines. What you say, how you say it, and where you put it can make a huge difference in whether your email is seen, read, and acted upon. Consider the following tips when creating your email messages.

Design for the Preview Pane. Most email clients use preview panes, a relatively small window that allows the recipient to immediately see the first part and scroll through the email without actually opening up the full page. If they don't get your message from what displays immediately in the preview pane, they probably won't invest the effort in reading your email or taking your desired action. Don't require that your recipients scroll through several screens within the preview pane to get your message.

Cut to the chase. The first paragraph should be very easy to scan, should be a good overview of your key messages, and should contain a link to your site.

The "From" Line. This is where your branding goes. Tell them who you are. If you're someone they know and trust, or you become someone they know and trust, they're more likely to open, read, and respond to your email.

The "Subject" Line. Decide the major point you want to get across and put it in the Subject line. Subject lines of 35 characters or less are best, because most email clients automatically cut off the subject line after 40 characters.

Be relevant. Make sure the information and offer in your email or newsletter is relevant to your customers. Make it obvious – spell it out. Explain in detail how your product can help them and why now is the time to buy. Provide information in your newsletter that is compelling and concise, establishes you as an expert in your field, and supports why your customer should buy your product.

Include links to your site. This makes it easy for your customers to go directly to your site and to the page that is of interest to them. It also lets you track their preferences and measure the effectiveness of your e-marketing campaign.

Make your offer exclusive. Tailor your promotion so that it's exclusive to the people who receive it, then give them a strong reason to act immediately. You should let your subscribers know that this offer is only being made available to them and that it will only be available for a limited time.

Less is More. Unlike direct mail, the longer the copy, the lower the response. The point of email copy is to motivate the recipient to click on the links that take them to your landing page, not to sell the product.

Keep It Simple. Limit pictures, stick to one or two fonts, and one overall style. The important thing is to tell your story and get them to visit your site. Remember that not all recipients' capabilities are created equal. Some email clients don't allow pictures to be immediately displayed on the screen.

If your message is contained solely in a picture your recipients can't see or have to take an extra step to see, you may lose them right off the bat. Any graphically rich email needs to have a message at the very top stating something like, "If you can't read this message, click here," which will take the recipient to a Web page containing a properly formatted version of the email.

Proofread. Proofread your email or newsletter at least three times. Have a friend or co-worker check it out as well. If you send an email full of spelling mistakes, it will cost you sales and could permanently damage your credibility.

Don't get in over your head. If you do decide to use pictures or more elaborate formatting, be sure to use professional services. You'll only make yourself look bad if your email isn't formatted correctly.

Include an opt-out option. Give your customers an opportunity to "opt-out" and stop receiving your emails. Just because they don't wish to receive emails doesn't necessarily mean they won't remain loyal customers, but if they are constantly being annoyed with unwanted emails, you may lose their business. Avoid words or phrases like "unsubscribe" or "remove me," which are often spam filter triggers. Try something like "If you don't want to hear from us."

Should You Use HTML Or Text?

There is much debate about this subject, and surveys suggest that both formats have fans and foes.

Research shows that when people preferred HTML email marketing messages and newsletters, they preferred them because:

  • HTML email newsletters can accomplish a more effective layout
  • Color and images can be included
  • Ads can be more effective in HTML email than text email
  • Embedded links can be hidden behind the text and are therefore less intrusive
  • Links can be shorter avoiding the overly long link problem that affects many text-based mailings.

HTML offers a much greater opportunity for creative design, layout, color, visual appeal, and sophistication – when it's done well. Often, however, it isn't done well. Those who had complaints about HTML cited chaotic layout and color, missing graphics and broken links.

Should you go with HTML email, keep it simple. Decide what the single most important part of your message is and design all the other elements around it. Ask someone to look quickly at your email and tell you without thinking about it which part of the email grabs their attention first - if it’s not the most important part, go back and try again. Most importantly, test your HTML model.

This is especially true if you are embedding forms or if you are using other advanced HTML techniques. A recent study showed that almost half of the email messages sent did not display properly because they had missing graphics or broken code.

On the other hand, if you decide to stick with text emails, which are more straightforward, make them look good. Your layout options are limited; you can't change colors or fonts when you use text, but you can use interesting spacing and characters to create an illusion of a more sophisticated layout.


You can choose to create, send and track your email campaign yourself, but many small business owners just don't have the time or expertise. Luckily, there are companies that specialize in helping you do it yourself or in doing it for you.

  • Got Corporation
    GOT provides full technology, products and consulting for creating, launching and evaluating your campaign initiatives.
  • Constant Contact
  • A leading email tool provider, with Constant Contact, you can create email newsletters and announcements that get immediate and measurable results.
  • SubscriberMail
    SubscriberMail is the leading provider of email marketing tools and services, whose patented solution enables organizations to send permission-based email newsletters and email campaigns through an easy-to-use, cost-effective and sophisticated web-based system.
  • Revana Digital
    Formerly WebMetro, Revana Digital is able to create high performance Internet marketing campaigns, turn around underperforming ones and ensure that once successful, they remain successful.
  • Lyris
    Lyris' flagship product, Lyris ListManager, is one of the world's best-selling software solutions for email marketing and deliverability, while Lyris ListHosting offers the same powerful capabilities in a convenient, on-demand web-based solution.
  • QuadraMail
    Email marketing services from QuadraMail offer effective campaign management and a complete advertising solution with the ability to manage data, deploy messaging and track the results of your email marketing campaigns.
  • iContact
    Web-based email marketing and surveying software that makes it easy for organizations of all sizes to add a newsletter sign-up form to their website, send out personalized HTML or text emails, create unlimited lists, schedule messages, and view complete reporting metrics for each campaign including open and click-through tracking.
  • SilverPop
    Silverpop is an email services provider with unrivaled industry best practices, leading technology and services.
  • Charlwood Marketing
    A registered opt-in email list broker and online direct e-marketing agency experienced in B2B lead generation and opt-in email list management.

The following organizations are excellent resources on permission based email and other online marketing strategies:

  • Network Advertising Initiative
    A cooperative of online marketing, analytics, advertising and email companies who are committed to addressing important privacy and consumer protection issues in emerging media.