Everything You Need to Know about Permission-Based E-Mail Marketing Everything You Need to Know about Permission-Based E-Mail Marketing

With millions of consumers and businesses online, email is an attractive way to communicate with customers and prospects. With spam issues in the online marketplace, you must be careful about email use. Permission-based email marketing is the practice of only sending marketing emails to people who have consented.

The best application of email is to send messages to people who have opted into your database. This is done when a user registers with you on your website and has indicated that they accept having messages sent from you. So, you must offer a benefit for someone to provide their email address to you.

You can rent email lists if you don’t keep an extensive database. Be aware that email lists are typically expensive. You won’t have access to the email addresses. Only the email list owner can access them 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 to be added to an email list.

It’s essential 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 use for people who have provided their email addresses.

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

  • High-end lists: These lists typically come from controlled circulation magazines that register their subscribers online. The list owner will "push" or send your email message for you, so you will never take control of the email addresses.
  • Some websites gather consumer and business email addresses and ask the respondents 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 lists. These lists receive frequent mailings and generate less-than-stellar responses. 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 on 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, American List Counsel is one of the largest email list brokerages in the country. They can be found online at www.alc.com.

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 be 10 percent. Averages are generally 5 to 15 percent.

Clickable text

The clickable text doesn’t contain images but is better than plain text because links in the message become "hyperlinks;” When the links are 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 email 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 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 useful for reporting and measuring a campaign’s overall success but are controversial in the marketplace.

Dynamic Content or Segmentation

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

HTML (Hyper-Text Markup Language)

An HTML email is graphically rich with color, various typefaces and styles, and images. It is emerging as the standard for email marketing. Some recipients want to refrain from receiving 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)

This is a page on a website specific to an email promotion’s offer. Rather than diverting the user to the home page and adding unnecessary clicks to get to the desired page, this technique more quickly gets the user to the information they seek.


Subscribers on that list want to receive promotional messages from designated sites or 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 yet to give his or her permission on the front end, a promotion is sent containing a statement that allows members not to receive such emails in the future. Recipients are essentially told, "Here’s a promotion on ___. Please click here if you don’t want to receive more of these." "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 for forwarding 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 essential 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. Place multiple forms on your site to track where visitors sign up 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 window 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 that 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. 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. This relatively small window lets the recipient immediately see the first part and scroll through the email without opening the full page. If they don’t get your message from what is displayed immediately in the preview pane, they 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, with a good overview of your key messages and 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, people are 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. Ensure the information and offers in your email or newsletter are relevant to your customers. Make it obvious – spell it out. Explain 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 customers should buy your product.

Include links to your site. This makes it easy for your customers to go directly to your site and the page that interests 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 it’s exclusive to the people who receive it, then give them a solid reason to act immediately. Let your subscribers know that this offer is only available to them and 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. It is important 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 must take an extra step to see, you may lose them immediately. 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. Allow your customers to "opt out" and stop receiving your emails. Even if they wish to refrain from receiving emails doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t remain loyal customers. Still, you may lose their business if they are constantly annoyed with unwanted emails. 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 benefits and drawbacks.

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

  • HTML email newsletters can accomplish a more compelling 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 less intrusive
  • Links can be shorter, avoiding the overly long link problem affecting many text-based mailings.

When it’s done well, HTML offers a greater opportunity for creative design, layout, color, visual appeal, and sophistication. Often, it isn’t done well. People complaining about HTML cited chaotic layout and color, missing graphics, and broken links.

Should you go with HTML email, keep it simple. Decide the most critical part of your message and design all the other elements around it. Ask someone to glance at your email and tell you which part of the email grabs their attention. If it’s not the most important part, try again.

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

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


You can create, send, and track your email campaign, but many small business owners lack time or expertise. Luckily, some companies specialize in helping you do it yourself or for you. This list contains companies for content creation and a description of what they offer:

  • Got Corporation
    GOT provides full technology, products, and consulting for creating, launching and evaluating your campaign initiatives.
  • Constant Contact
    With Constant Contact, a leading email tool provider, 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.
  • 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:

  • eMarketing Association
    The world’s largest international association of e-marketing professionals. The eMA provides marketing resources, services, research, certifications, educational programs, and events to its members.
  • Network Advertising Initiative
    A cooperative of online marketing, analytics, advertising, and email companies that are committed to addressing important privacy and consumer protection issues in emerging media.