Let's Talk About the Rules

Over on Word to the Wise, Laura Atkins blogs about THE RULES. As I keep complaining about, a lot of "not so great" senders keep saying JUST TELL US WHAT THE RULES ARE. Okay, she'll lay out the rules for you. Thank you, Laura!

I've been thinking about this, and I've got a few rules of my own. Here are my top five:

Rule #1: Stop Buying Leads.

There is a 90% chance that anybody asking me about "the rules" is buying email addresses. You're talking to me because you have deliverability issues. You have deliverability issues because you're buying email addresses. In this case, correlation does indeed STRONGLY IMPLY causation.

Rule #2: Don't mail people who didn't ask for it.

Next up on the "people always ask" list is this one: Let's talk about what actually constitutes permission. Third-party data sharing means that recipients had no idea they were going to get mail from you when they handed over their email address. Is that permission? No. "But we explain it in the Terms & Conditions." Still not permission. Permission is: Unchecked box, clearly written, plain language average-size text next to the checkbox explaining EXACTLY what you're signing up for. No asterisks and no "…and also valuable emails from our partners!" either.

Rule #3: You need to do better than "but what I'm doing is legal."

Whenever somebody plays the "but this is legal" card, I am invariably confused. I made no mention of whether or not what they're doing. Spam is legal in the US. Legal compliance has VERY VERY LITTLE to do with getting your mail delivered. Telling me your emails comply with the law is like telling me that your car has four wheels. Well, duh. Now that we've established the BLAZINGLY OBVIOUS, can we move on to what really matters?

Rule #4: Lose that death grip on those old email addresses.

But we have to send this notice to all of our valuable customers going back for the past 15 years. 15 years ago? What was your permission process fifteen years ago? I once had somebody tell me, when I took issue with their permission practices, that they have been doing things the same way since 1954. Um, OK. Did typewriters even have at-signs in 1954? But seriously, addresses churn at somewhere between 20%-35% yearly. Any list older than a few years is going to be full of addresses that have since been converted to spamtraps, and continuing to mail to them is going to get you blocked. If you don't want to get blocked, kiss that old stuff goodbye.

Rule #5: Nobody cares about your business model.

Can I get Yahoo on the phone? Sure. Can I tell my friend there about your business model? Sure. Will it get your mail delivered? No. Let me explain Yahoo's business model to you: Ad revenue through eyeballs owned by people who are happy about what lands in their inbox. If Yahoo allows the unwanted stuff through, they drive the eyeballs away. ISPs like Yahoo and Hotmail and AOL and Gmail (and etc.) are very smart. They have a ton of data that tells them what their users want and don't want. The overwhelming majority of their users don't want third party emails -- stuff that they're not sure if they signed up for. Stuff that they didn't sign up for. The complaint rates on that kind of mail are very high; practically off the charts. It's so blazingly obvious to an ISP that this mail is unwanted that over the past year, it seems to have become a "block on sight" criteria. The world has changed. ISPs have spoken. They know about your business model, and it is not compatible with their business model.


  1. Al - Well said. You're right on the money! Sometimes the C-Suite refuses to hear these rules, thinking only of short-term gain (if possible) rather than long-term success.

  2. Thanks, Al. Love this. Would suggest that it be pointed out that these "rules" apply even for first party mail, too.

    I'm always sort of dumbfounded when marketers tell me that they are emailing people without permission "because they are customers."

    Uhm. They are CUSTOMERS?! Then don't you want to respect them and treat them well so they remain customers and tell others, too?!


    PS - "Al is always right."


Comments policy: Al is always right. Kidding, mostly. Be polite, and you're welcome to join in, even if it's a differing viewpoint.