Stop Spam: The Fine Line Between Legitimate E-Mail Marketing And Spam

Thoughts on how to stop spam without stopping legitimate email newsletters

The Fine Line Between Legitimate E-Mail Marketing And Spam

By Clifford Kurtzman
President, Tenagra Corp.

One of the most successful Internet marketing techniques that we often recommend to clients is to include a sign-up form on their Web site to allow their visitors to register for an email newsletter. Tenagra sends one out every two months or so and we find it to be both an extremely productive and inexpensive way to stay in the mindshare of current and potential clients along with other users of our Web site. This technique is often called “opt-in email marketing” because each person joining the mailing list “opts” to do so themselves. Mailing lists can be so successful that we sometimes suggest to our clients that they put at least as much attention into their newsletters as they do in their Web site.

But problems can develop when people cross the line from email marketing into “spamming.” There is no doubt that the spam situation is getting unmanageable, which requires that you must be extremely careful in how you build your emailing lists. I frequently receive 20-40 spam messages a day (among the 300 or so other emails I receive), and just sorting through it to read my real email is a significant annoyance.

Tenagra has a policy of never buying a product or service from companies that send out spam, and we urge you to use the same policy. An organization or individual that sends you spam demonstrates that they are not a reputable party to do business with.

People will often classify any of the following five categories as spam:

1) Unsolicited advertisements distributed via email (even if not mass emailed).

2) An unsolicited mass emailing (whether commercial or not).

3) An out-of-context mail list, newsgroup or forum posting. (For example, if we used this list to send you an ad for long distance phone service, you might call it spam because it is out of context, even though you signed up for this list.)

4) Using a mail list or newsgroup or forum in a manner that is outside of the volume or frequency that readers have signed up for. (For example, if we started sending you 100K of stuff through this newsletter distribution on a daily basis, you might consider that to be spam too.)

5) Putting someone on a mailing list without their consent and requiring them to “opt-out.”

Spam often seems even worse when it comes from someone you know and have given your trust. There are few things more annoying and disappointing than meeting someone or trading email correspondence with someone, only to find that they have decided to spam you by placing you on their mailing list without your request. It sends a message to you loud and clear that they do not have enough respect for you to let you decide yourself whether or not you want to be placed on their mailing list.

It doesn’t matter if the sender tells the recipient how to get off the list — it is still spam if sent in an opt-out manner. There are three main reasons why:

1) Many people feel uncomfortable responding to such unsubscribe instructions on a spam list, knowing that many spammers use unsubscribe requests simply as a signal to confirm that the recipient is reading the email and should therefore be sent even more spam.

2) Some recipients have many email aliases under different domain names, and won’t know which one they have been involuntarily subscribed to the list under.

3) It is unfair to the recipient, too, for them to have to spend their time removing themselves from a mailing list that they never wanted to be on in the first place. Many people and businesses bill for their time, and making these people waste their time trying to get off a list that they did not subscribe to is essentially the same as stealing from them.

Someone who adds others to their mailing list without first getting their permission may not quite be in the same category as the adult-oriented services and MLMers that are known for sending spam. However, each time they send out an email to their list, those recipients who were subscribed involuntarily will think of the sender as rude for not having first asked them whether or not they wanted to be on the list. The sender has transformed their newsletter from being an opportunity for them to reinforce their mindshare in a positive way, into a negative experience. All because they were too lazy to simply ask if the recipient wanted to get onto their list in the first place.

The bottom line is that if you want to add someone to your mailing list that has not subscribed themselves, you should always ask them first (with a polite message that is individually emailed) before adding them to your list. Most people that you have a business relationship with will say yes if you offer them something of interest. But if they say no or don’t reply, then leave them off your list and leave your reputation intact!

Clifford Kurtzman is president of the Tenagra Corporation. This column first appeared in the Tenagra Corporation’s Newsletter, which you can sign up for at

Reprinted with permission by Clifford Kurtzman. © Copyright 1998.

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