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Marketing through email has become a way of life.

But, like most everything else in life, there is a right and a wrong way to do it. Everyone has seen the results of the wrong way. Junk email, spam, whatever you want to call it, unsolicited email has become a major burden to individuals and businesses that use the Internet.

If you wish to use email marketing to your advantage, you need to distance your mailings as much as possible from those illegitimate, nuisance mailings. Because of the prevalence of spam filtering, failure to do so will cause your message not to get to it's recipients at all. Worse still, it can easily generate complaints against your business and your Internet provider, resulting in ill-will and probably disconnection of your service.

Below are a number of good practices to follow when sending marketing or other bulk email. If you adhere to these guidelines, it greatly reduces the possibility of running into problems and will keep your email marketing efforts productive and profitable.

1. All Mailing Lists Must be "Opt-In"

Every address that you send to needs to belong to someone that has explicitly authorized you to send marketing messages to them, and you need to be sure those addresses really belong to who you think they do.

The only practical way to do this is through a "Double Opt-In" list. This involves sending a confirmation email to anyone who has requested mail from you which must be responded to correctly before they are added to your list. These confirmation emails typically include a random token to ensure that only the true recipient of the message is able to respond correctly. There are many software packages available that implement "Double Opt-In" mailing list management.

If your mailing list has not been compiled through a "Double Opt-In" method, you cannot be sure that the addresses belong to the people who gave them to you.

2. Build Your Own Mailing List

Many email filtering providers widely circulate "honeypot" email addresses on the Internet. These are addresses that are never used for legitimate purposes and only exist to identify and trap spammers. If you buy a list of addresses, you have no way of knowing whether the list includes any "honeypot" addresses.

As little as a single message sent to a "honeypot" address can result in your inclusion on a list of spammers, which may be very difficult to get removed from. It is strongly recommended that you do not buy or trade mailing lists.

3. Protect Your Recipients' Privacy

When you send a bulk mailing, ensure that recipients cannot see other recipients' email addresses. The best way to do this is to use software specifically designed for sending bulk email. Alternatively, put your recipients' addresses in the "Bcc" field rather than "To" or "Cc"; this will prevent any recipient from seeing any other recipient's address.

Besides the compromise of privacy that results from your sharing your entire mailing list with each person on the list, one or more addresses you mail to may in fact be mailing lists that are archived on the Internet somewhere. Your mailing may thereby permanently publish your entire list for future harvesting by spammers.

Another risk of exposing your entire mailing list is that any one of your recipients might select "Reply To All" to email back to you, and thereby mail everyone on your list another message inappropriately.

4. Include an Unsubscribe Option

Provide an obvious way for users to remove themselves from your mailing list. You may wish to provide a web link for this purpose, but you should also provide an email address, as you cannot assume that a recipient has full access to the web.

Make sure that your unsubscribe processing allows a user to unsubscribe any email address, not just the one that the request was sent from. Your list may contain a receive-only address from which it is impossible for the recipient to reply.

5. Be Wary of Outside Content

Be careful accepting material, or especially web links, from other parties to include in your mailings. Material advertising products or links to products that are marketed heavily in spam may cause your mail to be classified as spam.

Any links you include to web sites can be changed by the owner of the website after you send your email to point to any kind of content at all. Remember that you have no control over these third-party web sites, which might suddenly publish content offensive to your subscribers.

6. Keep Your List Up-To-Date

If you get delivery status messages back from your mailing indicating addresses that could not be delivered to, remove them from your list. Persistently sending to non-existant addresses not only wastes time and resources, but will trigger spam filtering and possibly result in blacklisting.

7. Use a Working Return Address

You should always include a working return address in your emails to allow your subscribers to contact you, whether for list removal, or for further information on your product.

Additionally, many mail filtering programs check whether the return address is valid and will refuse email with addresses that are not.

8. Keep Your Message Small and Simple

Resist the urge to send large, complex emails with excessive graphics, or emails with large attachements. Only about half of the Internet users in the United States have high-speed connections, and the large amount of time that it takes user with low-speed connections to download your large message will alienate them and cause them to add your address to their "blacklist" and prevent future messages from reaching them.

It's best not to send attachments at all, as doing so makes the assumption that the recipient has the right program to view the attachment. It also requires extra steps from the recipient, and many will not bother and simply delete the message. With the large number of computer viruses in circulation today, many users justifiably delete any unexpected attachments.

9. Comply With Applicable Laws

There are Federal and State laws governing how and to whom email messages may be sent. Violation of these laws can expose you to civil and criminal penalties. There are actually people on the Internet who make significant income by sueing companies who send email to them in violation of law. Most of these claims are brought in small claims court, cost the accuser little more than a modest filing fee, and often result in summary judgements in favor of the accuser.

While it is difficult or impossible to keep abreast of applicable laws for every jurisdiction to which you might mail, be sure to be familiar with the Federal laws (particularly CAN-SPAM) and the laws of the state in which you are mailing from, as those represent the greatest legal exposure.

The Federal CAN-SPAM law and many state laws require, at a minimum, that bulk email be opt-in, that a working return address is provided, that opt-out instructions are provided, and that a physical address for your business is included. Many laws also provide for specific monetary damages per-message for violations, especially sending a second time to someone who has asked to be removed from your list.

10. Don't Go It Alone

If you are not Internet-saavy and familiar with the intricacies of sending bulk email, consult with someone who is first. There is a world of difference in the complexities and implications between sending email to a few friends or business contacts and sending to a hundred or a thousand people.

Likewise, keep your service provider informed about what you are doing. They are in a position to be a close ally and defend you against any illegitimate complaints, but only if they know what you are doing. Don't surprise them.

If you have further questions on email marketing or bulk mail, please feel free to contact us for more information and assistance.

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