Email is a cost-effective marketing tool. However, it’s also easy to get wrong and any marketing communications need to comply with the law. I recently received an email from someone who:-
- failed to identify themselves (email@example.com is not identification);
- I did not have an existing contact with – I was not a customer, they were not a friend and they failed to explain how they’d got hold of my email address;
- failed to give information on how to unsubscribe.
I queried it. I was told the email “didn’t break the law” because the sender (who still hadn’t identified themselves) “was merely passing on an invitation” to some email addresses they had taken from a website. However, there was no link provided and the website named does not have my email address on it. Clearly the email sender did not intend me to trust them.
Merely passing on an invitation to friends or subscribers is fine, but this email wasn’t sent to friends or subscribers. It was an unsolicited marketing email and in breach of email marketing laws. Under English law, ignorance is no defence.
So how can writers use email marketing without falling foul of the law or gaining a reputation for being a spammer?
Collecting Email Addresses
Essentially any personal email addresses collected for the purposes of marketing should be collected on the basis of opt-in consent, eg:-
- through a website contact form or web subscriber service where users send an email address on the understanding they are subscribing to an email marketing list or newsletter;
- through a competition where entrants give consent to further mailings;
- where an email contact is an existing customer (although it’s better from a customer relations viewpoint to check the customer is happy to receive newsletters and/or marketing material).
Corporate or commercial email address holders do not need to give consent.
- Check you have news to send – don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need to send an email newsletter according to a fixed timescale or that you will lose subscribers if you don’t keep in touch;
- Ensure your news is useful – a writer writing is book is no more news than a plumber fixing a leak: your subscribers need to know when and how to order the book;
- Check your email has unsubscribe information on (each email needs this information, not just emails to new subscribers);
- Check your email has a bricks-and-mortar address on – this can be a publisher’s or business address – if sending from within the European Union (not necessary if you use a web service based outside Europe);
- Don’t include unnecessary links – ‘click here to order’ is fine, summarising an article and including a link to the full article is fine if you’re including more than one, linking to your website or blog in the main body of your email because you’ve been told it’s “beneficial for search engine optimisation” is not (it’s not beneficial for search engine optimisation and although it may drive some extra traffic to your website or blog, it will increase your bounce rate if readers clicking through can’t find anything of interest, which will have a detrimental effect on your search engine optimisation.)
Maintenance of your Email Address List
- If someone on your address list unsubscribes, actually unsubscribe them. A confirmation is polite, but not necessary;
- If someone changes their email address and notifies you, change their details;
- Don’t take email addresses from websites of people whom you think might be interested in your news;
- Don’t automatically add email addresses from people who contact you – check they are happy to subscribe first;
- Don’t allow a publisher access to your email address list – take the information the publisher would like to send and include it in your own emails by all means, but the marketing mail must come from you, not your publisher as subscribers have signed up to your list;
- Don’t sell your list on – you may make a quick buck, but it will be at the expense of your longer term marketing strategy as people will unsubscribe and tell others not to subscribe.
A Brief Guide to Email Marketing for Writers Summarised:
- Have a strict opt-in only policy on collecting email addresses;
- Ensure your emails are useful and contain information subscribers need to know;
- Action updates and changes to email addresses or contact details as soon as possible;
- Ensure you include unsubscribe and clear identification on every email.
It’s not just about keeping within the law, but also showing your subscribers the courtesy you’d like from email lists to which you subscribe.