An Incredibly Easy Way to Ruin Your Marketing and Lose Trust

Listen up: what I’m about to say should scare you. I’m not trying to be a bully or create a panic, but I want to save you from ruining the hard work you’ve already put in, and any work you plan to do in the future.

Here’s the deal: If you’re not managing your marketing list, you could be getting blocked from major email hosts.

What do I mean by that? If you’re sending emails to any major mail carriers, like Gmail or Yahoo! accounts, and the recipients file a complaint with their email host, every single email you try to send to these carriers could be blocked. Don’t freak out! There are steps you can take to avoid this, and although they’re not the most exciting tasks, they’re totally critical. You’ve spent years building up your list. Don’t ruin everything you’ve worked towards by ignoring a few key opt-in practices!

Follow these guidelines to ensure your emails are being received by the right people, and to ensure they’re not seen as spam.

Opt-in Best Practices

The core principle is this: contacts must agree to receive email from you, an agreement called "opting in." The default arrangement is "opting out"—without explicit permission, each contact must be treated as if he has denied your right to email him. Dire things can happen if you fail to respect your contacts' privacy.

Just because you have a “list” does not mean the customers, clients, or patients on that list agreed to receive your marketing materials. Did you ask them? Did they sign anything saying it was okay? If not, then they are not opted-in and you should not be marketing to them. This can be a costly issue—your ability to do any e-marketing or e-mailing to anyone can be shut down. Emailing someone without his or her permission is considered spam!

Marketing versus communicating. The rules in this document apply to marketing. Other, non-marketing communications to your client aren't being considered. If you're in doubt about the email you're sending, follow the rules for marketing materials!


  • Have each contact sign a document that requests his email address and asks for consent to send him information via email to that address.
  • Manage your contacts. If someone requests to be removed from your mailing list via an offline conversation, make sure you do it immediately.


  • Make sure your privacy policy is linked to every form.
  • Check out the wording of your privacy policy and make sure it applies to your business. Review this policy regularly.
  • If someone asks to be removed from your mailing list via email, conversation, or any other means, remove him immediately. Contacts have the ability to unsubscribe by using a link in the email, but if they respond via email, make sure you check. Sometimes they click on the unsubscribe button and they email you; just check. If they are classed as “Inactive” in DSS, that means the unsubscribe button was clicked.
  • Make sure you do not have contacts tagged in multiple campaigns where they are getting tons of email. Don’t burn them out!
  • Don’t waste your contacts' time: give them good, quality information in your email and link back to even more information on your website. Don’t try to say all the things in the email!

General Considerations

  • Do not purchase, scrape, or rent contact lists…even if the seller says the contacts have opted in to receive marketing messages. This is a really bad practice that will land you in trouble.
  • If you have a personal contact list you want to market to, ask for permission first! Provide a link for those contacts to sign up; if they do not, do not market to them!
  • Occasionally ask the people on your list if they still want to receive your emails. Lists go stale.

List Management

  • Clean up your list by deactivating contacts when messages bounce back as undeliverable.
  • Ensure that if someone asks to be removed, he is. Have a protocol in place to make manual changes in a timely manner. Unsubscribing is easy in DSS.
  • Maintain one list! If you have multiple lists, it can get confusing as to who opted in and who did not.
  • Use tags to market appropriately to the right contacts. Do not send all emails to all contacts.
  • Don’t delete contacts; just set them to “Inactive” in DSS.


  • Make sure you update the “From” field in DSS to include a relevant email address for your company; don’t keep the default “Do-Not-Reply” email!
  • Do not use deceptive subject lines.
  • Send relevant content! If the person signed up for your car accident book, he is not interested in your “Take Your Dog to Work” day at the office.
  • Make sure your contact information is in your emails: your email address, phone number, and website. Make it easy to contact you to be removed from the list. The emails in DSS all have the mandatory Unsubscribe link, so you do not need to provide that.
  • Ask readers to whitelist you by adding you to their address book to ensure they receive your emails.
  • Do not send to your list too often. Staying in touch too much creates email fatigue!
  • Check the content of your email to ensure it does not go into spam folders.
    1. Avoid using salesy terms. Search “email spam terms” for ideas (there is no definitive list, but see below for some suggestions).
    2. Avoid tons of graphics and links. Keep it simple (and let it load quickly).
    3. Include a text version of the email. Not everyone has their email set up to receive HTML versions.
  • Set expectations for the reader. Let your contact know what will be in the emails, how often will they receive them, and how to opt out.

Writing Emails That Really Communicate

To help your emails reach your intended contacts, don’t write emails that look like spam, so that spam filters filter them out! Here is a list of things NOT to do when writing emails:

  • Don't excessively use exclamation points!!!!!!!!!
  • Don’t use HTML e-mail if you can at all avoid it; send messages as text and link to a landing page with the HTML version.
  • Don’t use bright red or green colored fonts.
  • Don’t use bad content. This one’s broad, but important. Email delivery expert Laura Atkins details content-based filtering in an informative online article.
  • Don’t use sloppy HTML code—which can be produced from converting a Microsoft Word file to HTML.
  • Don’t create an HTML email that’s nothing but one big image, with little or no text. Spam filters can’t read images, so they assume you’re a spammer trying to trick them.
  • Don’t use the word “test” in the subject line. Agencies can run into this issue when sending drafts to clients for approval.
  • Don’t send a test to multiple recipients within the same company. That company’s email firewall often assumes it’s a spam attack.
  • Don’t send to inactive lists. These are lists which have not engaged in the campaign by opening emails and by clicks.
  • Because subscriber engagement is a huge part of getting emails into the inbox, when an ISP sees low engagement rates it will often begin deliver campaign emails to the spam folder. Then it will block the domain and IP addresses used to deliver the campaigns.
  • Don’t send to stale lists. Permission generally goes stale within about six months, so if your subscribers haven’t heard from you within that timeframe, you’ll need to reconfirm your list.
  • Don’t use lots of graphics or images.
  • Don’t include very many URL links; limit the use of links. 

And finally, here is a suggested list of words to avoid to prevent your email from being targeted by spam filters:

Affordable, Click Here, Apply Now, Additional Income/Extra Income, Dear Friend, Free, Home Based/Work from Home, Mortgage Rates, Opportunity, Remove, Save $, Weight Loss, Advertisement, Business, Cash, Cheap, Commodity, Congratulations, Credit, Deal, Debt, Degree, Disclaimer, Discount, Free, Gimmick, Guarantee, Income, Ink, Investment, Joke, Load, Marketing, Merchant, Money, Obligation, Offer, Opt, Opportunity, Outstanding, Payoff, Price, Profit, Promo, Promotion, Rate, Refund, Rich, Sales, Save, Shop, Spam, Spree, Stock, Subscribe, Trading, Wealth, Win, Winner, Winning, and Won.

I get it: I hate to receive a big, fat list of things I can’t do, but I’m really looking out for YOU. These are your prospective patients and clients, and if you can’t communicate with them, they will forget who you are!

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