A topic which surfaces periodically in the industry newsletters is the question of "ethical marketing", particularly related to email marketing or search engine optimization (SEO). Some people say that there are "black hat" SEO techniques, the "bad" techniques done by "bad" people, some say that anything which is done to a site to try to raise ranking is bad, others feel that anything goes in the rankings wars. Similarly, there are some who believe only "spam" (bulk) email is wrong, some who believe ALL email advertising is wrong, and some who feel that they can and should do anything they want via email.
As an internet marketing professional, I can't agree with the purists who feel that no marketing should be done via email. I also cannot agree that websites should not be thought of as marketing tools and manipulated accordingly. On the other hand, I soundly denounce those who feel that internet marketing is a free-for-all.
In this article, we'll discuss email marketing. Is it a legitimate marketing technique, the root of all internet evil, or somewhere in between? Is there any way for legitimate email marketing to continue, but shut down the spammers?
"GOOD" EMAIL VS. "BAD" EMAIL
Good and bad are subjective terms, and it's not really possible to lay down clear boundaries of what is good or bad for marketing purposes. However, I think that all parties could agree that it is "bad" marketing if the end effect is to annoy a lot of people to the point of doing damage to the advertising client. Spam email annoys people. A LOT. If a marketer repeatedly sends out spam email blasts for a particular client, then people who hate spam will associate it with that company. This, then, is "bad" marketing, by almost any standards. You've annoyed millions of people, your client has gotten a bad name, and nobody wins.
Spam is also "bad" marketing because it harms the marketing community, and their clients, as a whole. The technique is so hated that it has launched an entire new industry devoted to stamping it out. This has led to spam filters, anti-spam software, anti-spam legislation, and endless complaints to ISP's to get websites shut down. If it really is annoying and totally unsolicited email, that's one thing, but innocent victims often get caught in the net. Many legitimate emails get blocked by overzealous spam filters, and many email campaigns generated through validated opt in lists generate complaints or threats under new laws. Spammers could care less as long as some of their email gets through, but those of us who play by the rules are finding that legitimate advertising options are being taken away, through no fault of our own.
Validated opt in, or permission-based, email wears the white hat in this battle, but it too has some problems. For starters, some people get signed up on opt-in lists by other people, as a joke or for more malicious reasons. They are understandably angry at receiving unwanted email. Other problems arise if legitimate subscribers opt out of a list, and continue to receive email for weeks or even months.
For ethical, "good" email marketing, good list management is absolutely essential! All opt in subscribers should be verified by sending a confirmation email. Opt outs should be honored as promptly as possible. The list should not be over used, to the point where legitimate email becomes spam by sheer volume. If you have an opt-in list for your customers, don't sell that information unless you want to risk losing a customer. Never release any of their information without their consent.
If you're a business owner who is considering an email marketing campaign, think seriously before you go with a bulk email marketer. The prices might look attractive, but the fallout could be deadly. Odds are, most of your email won't even reach its intended target, since it will be filtered out first. That which does will probably be deleted without being read -- if you're lucky. If you're not, they could complain to your hosting service and get your website shut down. Your company's good name will suffer.
The more people try to block spam, the smarter the spammers become. The only way to put an end to spam email on a permanent basis is to make sure that no one can make any money doing it. Don't pay someone to run bulk email campaigns, and don't purchase anything through spam offers. If it doesn't pay, they'll stop playing. One final thing: If you receive an email which offers something illegal, then report that company IMMEDIATELY. Examples include promising prescription drugs without any kind of doctor validation, or promising to repair someone's damaged credit.