Nobody likes spam emails.

They take up Internet bandwidth, waste your time (even if all you do is delete them) and some of them carry viruses, malware and other nasties that can ruin your computer and hijack your data.

But seriously, when was the last time you saw a genuine spam email? Can you remember the last time you got an email trying to sell you an ‘enlargement' product (unless you opted in…), cesspit chemicals or offering a way of earning millions on the Spanish Lottery?

I can honestly say, I haven't had any for years, they all get neatly sent to my spam folder which I never look at.

However, people still say spam is their biggest problem. So what's changed?

Our attitude to spam

When I speak to people about email marketing, they immediately think “spam”.

They believe that if they send an email out to their customers or their potential customers, they're spamming them, and they're likely to get into trouble. That's not true at all.

Here's the definition of spam email according to RubBox:

Spam email is a form of commercial advertising which is economically viable because email is a very cost-effective medium for the sender. If just a fraction of the recipients of a spam message purchase the advertised product, the spammers are making money, and the spam problem is perpetuated.

Typically, a spam email would be one that is sent out to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. They will be offering some kind of scam service or product, and they are designed to fool people into handing over money for something.

I'm not saying you should do that. I'm not saying you should send out thousands of emails to people with the aim of tricking them to click on a link and buy something. That's not what email marketing is about, and yet, people seem to think that a marketing email is spam.

Email marketing is, in fact, one of the most lucrative marketing methods available to us.

According to MailMunch, these are the click-through rates for email versus social media:

  • Email marketing 3.57%
  • Facebook 0.07%
  • Twitter 0.03%

Now, 3.57% might not sound much, but that's a 5000% better performance than Facebook.

You know, Facebook? The site with billions of users?

So, let's look at why people are scared to do it, and why it's irrational.

It's Spam

If you're sending spam emails trying to trick people into buying things, then yes, it's spam. But if you're sending people information that can help them, then it's not spam, not in the least.

Obviously, the emails that you're sending information to should be “opt-in”, i.e. they've given consent to receive marketing from you, but in many cases, existing customers are seen as fair game, as long as you give an easy way to opt-out from any more emails.

This is from the ICO:

Marketing emails can be sent without prior consent by organisations who obtained your email address when you bought something from them and are advertising similar products or services. However, these marketing emails must abide by strict rules regarding their content and provide you with the opportunity to opt out.

Of course, that's for individuals, and relates to business to consumer emails, for example sending emails to customers of your online shop. What about business?

Well, the law is a bit hazy here, but generally, cold emailing is OK if you're sending emails to other businesses that market products for that business.

If I were to send a ‘cold' email to a large bank and I was selling office supplies, that would be fine –as long as I give the option to opt out.

So what's spam and what's not?

  • It's spam if you're sending emails that are designed to trick, cajole or otherwise scam someone into buying something.
  • It's not spam if it's a genuine offer to a company, and you give the recipient the option of opting out of further emails. Of course, you need to respect their request, too.
  • It's spam if you send offers to consumers, and they haven't explicitly said they want to ‘opt-in' to receive emails.
  • It's not spam if they're existing customers, and you give them the option of opting out.

A fear people will unsubscribe

A friend of mine used to send out emails and then watch as people unsubscribed. It was painful to watch.

He had his email software notify him every time, and now and then, he'd contact the company to ask them why they'd done it. After an email was sent out, he wouldn't sleep that night, worried that he'd upset people, thinking that they were angry, banging the ‘opt out' button with force.

Seriously, don't be like that.

Ignore it. Send every email with the view that people will unsubscribe. Almost expect them too. Good, they've gone, they were never going to be customers.

If you send out emails to people every week, a few will opt out because you're not for them.

That's fine; there's absolutely no need to be sending emails to people who don't want, don't appreciate and don't benefit from them. It costs you money to send emails, so you'd rather be sending it to people who do appreciate it.

  • Embrace the fear. Send the emails and done with it. See unsubscribes as a way of refining your list to those good folk who see the benefit in your work.
  • Ignore unsubscribe notifications. They don't matter.

It will get you in trouble

Let's get this straight. Email is a pretty benign marketing method. It's not like an email is going to cause damage to someone just by reading it.

There's a whole regulation body that investigates email abuse, but they're not interested in the odd complaint. If you send out an email and someone doesn't like it, but you've given them an opt-out option, then that's fine.

If you give them the option and they click it but you don't honour it, then that's not fine, but even the best systems fail sometimes and if you do send another email by mistake, you're not going to get hauled over the coals for it.

Just make sure you give people the option of opting out and you'll be fine.

  • Always have an unsubscribe button and make sure it does just that. Don't have a system whereby people have to click it, then go through hoops to actually be released from your list.
  • Ensure they can't be added again by mistake. Most mailing software handles this and if someone opts out, they can't simply be added again by importing or being manually added, they must go through a proper opt-in process.

My list is tiny

It’s not the size, it’s what you do with it. (**cough**)

Even if you only have 50 people on your lists, you should still work that list.

What would happen if 25 of those people decided to sign up for your product? How about if they all bought from you? It'd be worth it then, wouldn't it?

The people on your list don't know how many others are receiving it, so you're not going to lose any kudos by only having a small list.

  • Grow your list through competitions and offers, but make it easy for people to sign up.
  • Offer value to people in return for their email address and your list will grow.

I don't want to be seen as ‘selling'

Well, don't sell then.

If your first email to your list is a straight-up “buy this off me now”, then you're looking for trouble. People will be turned off because they don't want to be sold to.

It's still not spam, but it's not a great thing to be doing, you should be informing and helping your recipients.

Of course, in time you can sell, but before you do, get them to know, like and trust you.

  • Don't go for the out-and-out sell on your first few emails. Get the people in your list to know you first. If you send them information that will help them do their job better, make their life easier or make them more money, they're likely to stick around and will react favourably to your emails when you do
  • Nurture your list and ask for feedback. Don't just send out a ton of emails and ignore any responses. Show that there's a human behind them, and you'll gain trust. People buy from people they trust.

So should you send emails?

Email is by far the best way to engage with your clients and potential clients. It delivers the most click-throughs, the best results and offers the greatest return for any type of marketing.

However, you should always use a recognised email system such as ActiveCampaign, MailChimp or Aweber to handle it, don't be tempted to send out thousands of emails from Outlook Express.

Not only does it look amateurish, but it doesn't offer the opting out process that is necessary for today's environment.

So, embrace email, use the correct tools and enjoy the sales that will come from it.