How to Stop Email Marketing From Becoming a Four-Letter Word

Learn how to not get indicted by a federal grand jury like Alan Ralsky and to differentiate legitimate marketing from spam.

Spam: A Brief History

A husband and wife walk into a local café and sit down next to some Vikings. The man and wife inquire about what’s available for breakfast, and madness ensues. “Well, there’s egg and bacon; egg sausage and bacon; egg and Spam; egg bacon and Spam; egg bacon sausage and Spam; Spam bacon sausage and Spam; Spam egg Spam Spam bacon and Spam; Spam sausage Spam Spam bacon Spam tomato and Spam…” says a waitress who is interrupted by Viking chants of “Spam Spam Spam Spam!” “…or Lobster Thermidor a Crevette with a mornay sauce served in a Provencale manner with shallots and aubergines garnished with truffle pate, brandy and with a fried egg on top—and Spam,” recommends the waitress.

Once upon a time, Spam was recognized as a debatably harmless Hormel pork product—until the above Monty Python sketch heaped on it associations with grating repetitiveness. The grating repetitiveness of the word “Spam” in this sketch mirrored that of unsolicited bulk email. Thus, the term Email (or Internet) spam was born.

Spam vs. Email Marketing

Though the Monty Python sketch has a purely comedic aim, it also serves to remind us of the ways that Internet spam, or simply “spam”, differs from the term “email marketing.” Today, spammers have merged with an underworld realm populated by pornographers and drug lords (60-70% of spam is pornography and illegal prescription drug offers). Theirs is a world of global crime rings on off-shore servers, of spam gangs and illicit Internet transactions.

Essentially, spam is associated with repeatedly violating consumer trust through non consensual, mass mailings—to most, an underhanded and despicable way of doing business and a loathsome little word. According to The Spamhaus Project, “[a] message is Spam only if it is both Unsolicited and Bulk. Unsolicited means that the Recipient has not granted verifiable permission for the message to be sent. Bulk means that the message is sent as part of a larger collection of messages, all having substantively identical content.”

Email marketing, however, is now beginning to differentiate itself from the world of spam. Many of the leading email marketing service providers employ consumer security methods such as opt-in (sign-up) forms, double opt-in (usually in the form of a verification email), and clearly marked Subscribe and Unsubscribe links (either in the email or on the site itself). But even with these essential email marketing solutions in place,, messages sent with email marketing software to can still turn into spam, and marketers with the most benign intentions could wind up on spammer blacklists—or worse, slapped with a million dollar lawsuit. This problem most likely happens more than people assume. And more small business owners need to be made aware of their responsibility to guard against spam threats.

How to Avoid Being Marked as Spam

In addition to choosing a reputable service provider , email marketers should observe these guidelines:

1. Do not assume that your email marketing software provider will take care of spam for you

2. Make sure that your provider is CAN-SPAM compliant.

3. Make sure that the provider will immediately shut down spamming domains, even if they aren’t yours. Your site could get terminated if another marketer on your server is spamming.

4. Make sure there are multiple means to opt in.

5. Know that you are still responsible for spam when switching servers/service providers. The only person who can shut down the site is the registrar/where the domain was registered.

6. Do not purchase mailing lists. Some email marketing companies , such as Constant Contact andiContact will terminate your service if you do this.

7. Help educate people on the differences/ how to eliminate spam.

Like the Vikings in the Monty Python sketch, brainless bots repeatedly spam. Like the waitress who offers Lobster Thermidor a Crevette, spammers can shroud the diabolical intentions (the spam) behind an innocuous subject line. The best action businesses can take to protect their email efforts against spam threats is to strive to humanize the Net. Personalize emails and show creativity. And after all, use humor to appeal to clients. Remember, bots can’t laugh.

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