Can I legally send marketing emails to a list of prospects that I purchased?
That’s a question I got recently from a client – and a question that a lot of companies ask as they consider new ways to generate leads and sell more software.
There’s plenty of confusion around what you can and can’t do under the CAN-SPAM Requirements for sending commercial email.
So I’m going to clear things up … and also help you understand the risk of sending email to people who didn’t specifically opt in.
Yes, You CAN (
Spam) Send Unsolicited Email
CAN-SPAM is an acronym for “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing.”
Yup, you read that right. A law that lumps marketing together with porn!!
In a nutshell, CAN-SPAM establishes a set of requirements that says your email must:
- Include your physical postal address in every email you send
- Include a very clear and obvious way to opt out with every email you send
- Use very clear “from” “to” and “reply to” language that accurately reflects who you are. In short, don’t try and deceive recipients about who the email is coming from.
There are a lot of companies that interpret CAN-SPAM as a law that prevents you from sending ANY marketing/promotional email.
But the truth is you can send email to prospects (including purchased lists) as long as your email is in compliance with CAN-SPAM requirements.
You can get the full CAN-SPAM compliance guide and details on the FTC website.
The easiest way to ensure compliance is to use an email service like MailChimp, AWeber, or Constant Contact – they automatically add an unsubscribe link and other compliance requirements to every email you send.
Now let me point out the obvious ….
I’m not a lawyer. Don’t go spamming your purchased list, get fined by the FTC, and then say “But I read this blog post on the Juice Marketing website that said it was ok.”
NOTE: If you’re doing business in Canada, it’s a good idea to take a look at the new Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation that went into effect in 2014 – it’s more restrictive than U.S. requirements.
The Risks of Emailing a Purchased List
Now that we know it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. There are risks that should be considered before you hit “send” on that next email newsletter, product promo, or webcast invitation.
1. Getting Fined
We’ll start with the most significant risk … and maybe the only thing you need to consider. If you slip up and happen to overlook CAN-SPAM requirements, you can be fined $16,000 for every single email that violates the law. If you send to even a small list of 500 names, you can do the math – it adds up quick!
2. Getting Blacklisted
If enough people on your list mark your message as spam (that likelihood is higher since they don’t know you), you run the risk of damaging your sender reputation and possibly get your IP address blacklisted.
When your IP address is blacklisted, you can run into real problems getting even basic/legitimate messages delivered to people you email regularly (customers, partners, etc). The likelihood of having every message you send (promotional or not) go straight to your recipients junk mail folder or bounce back undelivered increases significantly when you’re blacklisted.
Think you might already be blacklisted? Here’s a handy tool to check: http://mxtoolbox.com/blacklists.aspx
3. Spam Traps and Honeypots
Honeypot, trap, bait, call it what you like – but plenty of purchased lists contain email address that are designed to lure spammers. Any messages sent to these purposefully “planted” email addresses are automatically flagged as unsolicited spam and expose you to the risks mentioned above (fines, blacklists). And it’s impossible to find and single out these spam traps because it’s just another email address buried somewhere in your list.
4. That List is Tired and Beaten Down
You think that list you purchased hasn’t also been sold to 50 other companies just like yours?
Those companies are pitching the same software, the same support, and the same consulting you are. The list is tired and abused. That means your open and click rates are going to be very low – and the ROI on your list purchase and that email you designed (or paid someone like us to design) will be even lower.
Oh and by the way, the data is NEVER as accurate as the list provider says it is. So you’ll also see a really high bounce rate – if it’s high enough, many email providers (MailChimp, Hubspot, etc.) will warn you and/or put your account on hold.
So How Do You Build a Good List?
That’s a topic for a whole other article. But as a quick tip, the best thing to do is leverage your website as a lead capture tool through calls to action, landing pages, contact forms, newsletter sign up, and other effective inbound marketing techniques.
Instead of forcing your message on thousands of unsuspecting inboxes, inbound marketing focuses on attracting people who are searching for and interested in the products and services you offer. It’s not a quick solution. It takes time to build a good reliable list. But over time, you’re creating a valuable asset and competitive advantage.
What’s your take? How much success have you had emailing to a purchased list?