Opt-In Email Lists – A REALLY Bad Marketing Idea By Richard and Angela Hoy

The following question arrived in our email box last week:

Here’s a question that has arisen for me, which also may be of interest for readers of WritersWeekly.com: What is your take on e-mail ‘Opt-In Advertising?” I recently received an email solicitation from a large company, in which such advertising was touted as a good marketing tool, because it supposedly involves an audience that has agreed to receive ads (a concept that I find remarkable–I’d never agree to such a thing). Do you have any knowledge of such stuff and, if so, what is your perception of its potential value?

Kevin Murphy
Author: Degrees of Murder: https://www.booklocker.com/books/292.html
Something Bright and Alien: https://www.booklocker.com/books/85.html
Unfriendly Fire: based on the “1937 Memorial Day Massacre”
at Republic Steel Company, Chicago–available from author

Opt-in email advertising is riddled with pitfalls and we wouldn’t advise getting involved in that form of advertising unless you have extensive experience in it, or you hire someone with extensive experience.

There are legitimate companies that make a living selling access to lists of email addresses. Companies compile these lists in a variety of ways, but for it to be truly opt-in – which means the recipient has agreed to be on the list – the sign-up process, in our opinion, has to be clear. In fact, the best lists are known as “double opt-in” – meaning the recipients have signed up, then responded to an email sent to the address they provided in order to confirm they want to be on the list. If the confirmation doesn’t come, they aren’t added to the list. We use this type of system for WritersWeekly.com subscribers.

There is an entire industry of companies, however, that sell lists of email addresses under the moniker of “opt-in” when in fact these companies have done nothing more that harvest addresses, unbeknownst to the email address owners, from various online sources. A clear tip-off you are dealing with such a company is if they actually give all the email addresses to you, rather than taking your message and distributing it to their list for you. A reputable company would never hand over its list to a third party because there is a great deal of work involved in compiling a real “opt-in” list.

Another pitfall of which you should be aware is that the CAN-SPAM Act, passed in 2003, makes it a Federal offense to send out email solicitations unless its done in a certain way. If you buy one of these lists and blast your message out to thousands of people without following the rules of the CAN-SPAM Act, you will be violating Federal law and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) may take action against you.

But, even if you deal with a legitimate company and the list is really “opt-in”, there are several factors affecting the response you’ll get – such as: source of the list’s addresses, copy of the advertisement, time of day or week you pick to send the ad, and the number of advertisements preceding your ad. You really need to know what you are doing to optimize all these factors.

If you really want to get into email marketing, you are better off taking out an ad that’s placed within an established email newsletter, or starting your own email newsletter by having people sign up at your website.