Permission-Based E-Mail Marketing¹

Permission-Based E-Mail Marketing


With millions of consumers and businesses online, using permission-based e-mail is an attractive way to communicate with customers and prospects. But with the issues of spam in the e-mail marketplace, you must be careful about how you use e-mail, which is why we call this article "permission-based e-mail" marketing.

The best application of e-mail is to send e-mail messages to people who have "opted-in" to your database. This is done at the time a user registers with you on your Web site and has indicated that they accept having messages sent from you. So, it's important that you offer a benefit for someone to provide their e-mail address to you.

If you don't have a large database of e-mail users, you are able to rent e-mail lists. Be aware that e-mail lists are typically expensive, and you will be required to use the owner of the e-mail list to send your e-mail due to privacy as well as security. If you rent an e- mail list, make sure it is from a reputable firm and the names are legitimate double opt-in. A double opt-in asks a consumer twice, often by responding to an e-mail responding to the initial request, to be added to an e-mail list. There are hundreds of e-mail lists that you can rent, but they carry high price tags. The rental of a quality e-mail list will range from $75 to $500 per thousand names, about as much as you would pay to print, pay postage, and mail a direct mail list.

It's important that you conduct your own due-diligence when researching permission-based e-mail lists. It's best for you to visit the web sites used by e-mail list providers and read for yourself exactly the language they specify to people who have provided their e- mail address.

There are estimated to be 2,500 to 3,000 permission-based e-mail lists on the market and they range in three categories:

  1. High end lists, mostly of businesses, typically from controlled circulation magazines who register their subscribers online. Those lists typically will rent for $400 to $500 per thousand for one-time use. The list owner will "push," or send, your e- mail message for you so you will not ever take control of the actual e-mail addresses.
  2. Some web sites gather consumer and business e-mail addresses and ask the respondent to answer a few questions about the types of e-mail they want to receive. These lists are usually not as responsive, and rent from $75 to $250 per thousand for one-time use.
  3. Sweepstakes and other e-mail list acquisition methods are used for other lists, but these lists are mailed frequently and do not always respond as well. You might consider negotiating a Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) where you pay only when someone purchases from you, or a Cost per Click (CPC) if the recipient clicks to your web site. These lists can be rented starting at about $20 per thousand plus the CPA cost.

You should know your prospective market to determine whether to use HTML or text. HTML messages tend to get a better response, but trigger spam filters, so they are often blocked. Text messages will get through more easily, but tend to have a weaker response rate. If you are looking for a reputable resource for permission-based e-mail, one of the larger e-mail list brokerages in the country is American List Counsel. They can be found online at

E-mail Marketing Terms

If you are planning to engage in e-mail marketing, the following terms will be helpful for you to understand:

CTR (Click-through rate)

Number of times that an e-mail's link (or links) is clicked to drive recipients to the promotion's site. Example: If, out of 1,000 e-mails sent, 100 people clicked through, the CTR would then be ten percent. (Averages are generally five to 15 %.)

Clickable text

Clickable text doesn't contain images but is better than plain text because links in the message become "hyperlinks," meaning that when clicked the user will be taken directly to the promotion's site page. Many text-only e-mail programs will convert plain text to clickable text when they see "" in the message body.

Conversion to Qualified Lead

Number of recipients who registered on the Web site. If 1,000 e-mails were sent and it yielded 100 CTRs, and 20 people registered, the conversion was 2% of total e-mails circulation, or 20% of CTRs.

Conversion to Sale

If you are selling a product, and of the 20 people who registered (above example), two actually purchased, you would have a 10% conversion to sale (of registrants), 2% conversion of CTRs, and 0.2% of your e-mail circulation.


A cookie is a small file stored or embedded within your outbound HTML-based e-mails. It can track a recipient's click-through and buy rate, as well as whether or not he or she ended up forwarding the message. Cookies are very useful when it comes to reporting and measuring a campaign's overall success, but are controversial in the marketplace.

Dynamic Content or Segmentation

Special messages to a selected group of customers on your e-mail list. For example, you may want to make a special offer to certain customer segments. Your content can be changed and presented based on a specific attribute of the customer.

HTML (Hyper-Text Markup Language)

An HTML e-mail is one that is graphically rich with color, various type faces and styles, and images. It is emerging as the standard for e-mail marketing. Some recipients do not want to receive their e-mails in HTML, due to low bandwidth or longer download times that HTML messages often require. However, HTML messages often pull a higher response than plain-text messages.

Landing page (a.k.a. "Jump" or "Splash" page)

A page on a Web site that is specific to an e-mail promotion's offer. Rather than divert the user to the home page, adding unnecessary clicks for the user to get to their desired page, this technique more quickly gets the user to the information they are seeking.


Subscribers to that list have stated that they want to receive promotional messages from designated sites or on selected categories. The list has essentially said, "Yes, I'd like to receive messages on the following…" They've given their permission to receive unsolicited e-mails.


When an e-mail recipient has not given his or her permission on the front end, and instead is sent a promotion containing a statement that gives members the option to not receive such e-mails in the future. Recipients are essentially being told, "Here's a promotion on___. If you don't want to receive any more of these, please click here." "Opt-out" has the marketer speaking first, and demands a response if the recipient/customer does not want to hear from that marketer again.

Viral Marketing

In a viral marketing campaign, a promotion will generally reward a customer to forward an e-mail to a friend with an incentive of contest prizes or a discount.

Strategies To Grow Your Permission Based E-mail Lists

One of the challenges e-mail marketers face is building a mailing list that successfully targets their e-mail efforts to responsive, willing prospects. Here are some tips from Janine Popick, CEO of VerticalResponse, to help you build your own robust list of qualified recipients.

Focus. It's important to identify your target audience and their interests as precisely as possible. If you cater to your members' concerns and make it clear what they can expect to gain from getting your e-mail, you'll collect a lot more addresses and limit turnover.

Register. Make it easy for people to register by placing a signup form on your Web site homepage. You may want to place multiple forms on your site in order to track where visitors are signing up the most.

Don't Pry. Try not to interrogate visitors. Collect the information you need for registration and basic analysis and leave it at that until you've developed a relationship with your members.

Pop-Up Windows. Try a pop-up widow when someone prepares to leave your site as a last ditch effort to encourage signups.

Leverage Other Web Sites. Contact other sites that appeal to your target audience and discuss partnering with them. By working together, each party can include the other's signup form in its outgoing communications, so you can grow your newsletters collectively.

Ask for the E-mail Address. If you have an offline business, old ideas like placing a fishbowl on the counter for depositing business cards still work. Most business cards contain an e-mail address that can be added to your list.

Designing & Writing Copy For Your E-mail

Will your e-mail be read? For most recipients, it is a split-second decision whether or not to delete your e-mail, and that decision is almost entirely based on the "From" and "Subject" lines. What you say, how you say it, and where you put it can make a huge difference in whether your e-mail is seen, read, and acted upon. Consider the following tips when creating your e-mail messages.

Design for the Preview Pane. Most e-mail clients use preview panes, a relatively small window that allows the recipient to immediately see the first part and scroll through the e-mail without actually opening up the full page. If they don't get your message from what displays immediately in the preview pane, they probably won't invest the effort in reading your e-mail or taking your desired action. Don't require that your recipients scroll through several screens within the preview pane to get your message.

Cut to the Chase. The first paragraph should be very easy to scan, should be a good overview of your key messages, and should

contain a link to your site…

The "From" Line. This is where your branding goes. Tell them who you are. If you're someone they know and trust, or you become someone they know and trust, they're more likely to open, read, and respond to your e-mail.

The "Subject" Line. Decide the major point you want to get across and put it in the Subject line. Subject lines of 35 characters or less are best, because most e-mail clients automatically cut off the subject line after 40 characters.

Be relevant. Make sure the information and offer in your e-mail or newsletter is relevant to your customers. Make it obvious – spell it out. Explain in detail how your product can help them and why now is the time to buy. Provide information in your newsletter that is compelling and concise, establishes you as an expert in your field, and supports why your customer should buy your product.

Include links to your site. This makes it easy for your customers to go directly to your site and to the page that is of interest to them. It also lets you track their preferences and measure the effectiveness of your e-marketing campaign.

Make your offer exclusive. Tailor your promotion so that it's exclusive to the people who receive it, then give them a strong reason to act immediately. You should let your subscribers know that this offer is only being made available to them and that it will only be available for a limited time.

Less is More. Unlike direct mail, the longer the copy, the lower the response. The point of e-mail copy is to motivate the recipient to click on the links that take them to your landing page, not to sell the product.

Keep It Simple. Limit pictures, stick to one or two fonts, and one overall style. The important thing is to tell your story and get them to visit your site, not to show them how many different fonts or pictures you can fit on the page. Remember that not all recipients' capabilities are created equal. Some e-mail clients don't allow pictures to be immediately displayed on the screen. If your message is contained solely in a picture your recipients can't see or have to take an extra step to see, you may lose them right off the bat. Any graphically rich e-mail needs to have a message at the very top stating something like, "If you can't read this message, click here," which will take the recipient to a Web page containing a properly formatted version of the e-mail.

Proofread, Proofread, Proofread. Proofread your e-mail or newsletter at least three times. Have a friend or co-worker check it out as well. If you send an e-mail full of spelling mistakes, it will cost you sales and could permanently damage your credibility.

Don't get in over your head. If you do decide to use pictures or more elaborate formatting, be sure to use the services of a professional. You'll only make yourself look bad if your e-mail isn't formatted correctly.

Include an opt-out option. Give your customers an opportunity to "opt-out" and stop receiving your e-mails. Just because they don't wish to receive e-mails doesn't necessarily mean they won't remain loyal customers, but if they are constantly being annoyed with unwanted e-mails, you may lose their business. Avoid words or phrases like "unsubscribe" or "remove me," which are often spam filter triggers. Try something like "If you don't want to hear from us."

Should You Use Html Or Text?

There is much debate about this subject, and surveys suggest that both formats have fans and foes.

The results of a recent survey showed that when people preferred HTML email marketing messages and newsletters, they preferred

them because…

  • HTML email newsletters can accomplish a more effective layout
  • Color can be used in the email newsletter
  • Images can be included in the email newsletter
  • Ads can be more effective in HTML e-mail than text e-mail
  • Embedded links can be hidden behind the text and are therefore less intrusive
  • links can be shorter avoiding the "zillions of characters long" link problem that affects many text-based mailings.

HTML offers a much greater opportunity for creative design, layout, color, visual appeal, and sophistication – when it's done well. Often, however, it isn't done well. Those who had complaints about HTML sited:

  • Distracting, chaotic layout and color
  • Missing graphics
  • Broken links

The survey showed no clear winner; the results were split almost right down the middle. This sends a clear message:

Offer both. Create one version of your e-mail in HTML and another in Text and allow your customers to specify the version they want.

Keep HTML e-mails simple. More color and images are not necessarily better. Decide what the single most important part of your message is and design all the other elements around it, but make sure the main message stands out. Ask someone to look quickly at your email and tell you without thinking about it which part of the email grabs their attention first - if its not the most important part, go back and try again.

Test. HTML is not yet a truly universal format. Your layout may look perfect on your own reader, but less than perfect on others. At the very least get a few free e-mail accounts set up and test your campaign before sending it. This is especially true if you are embedding forms or if you are using other advanced HTML techniques. A recent study showed that almost half of the e-mail messages sent did not display properly because they had missing graphics or broken code.

Make your text e-mails look good. The more people you have who choose Text emails, the more time you should spend on your Text version. If a significant percentage of your audience is choosing Text, take the time to do it well. Your layout options are limited; you can't change colors or fonts when you use text, but you can use interesting spacing and characters to create an illusion of a more sophisticated layout.

Opt-In News


You can choose to create, send, and track your e-mail campaign yourself, but many small business owners just don't have the time or expertise. Luckily, there are companies that specialize in helping you do it yourself or in doing it for you. Check out the companies below to see which suits your needs.

Got Corporation

GOT provides full technology, products and consulting for creating, launching and evaluating your campaign initiatives.


Topica is the leading provider of complete Online Marketing and Sales Solutions for businesses of all sizes.

Constant Contact

The leading web-based email marketing service used by over 50,000 small businesses and associations. With Constant Contact, you can create email newsletters and announcements that get immediate and measurable results.


SubscriberMail is the leading provider of email marketing tools and services, whose patented solution enables organizations to send permission-based email newsletters and email campaigns through an easy-to-use, cost-effective, and sophisticated Web-based system.


By combining the power of Internet savvy strategists, best in class technology and a proprietary Internet marketing system, WebMetro is able to create high performance Internet marketing campaigns, turn around underperforming ones, and ensure that once successful, they remain successful.

Blue Tent Marketing

Execute effective outbound email marketing campaigns to increase business with current clients and develop new business opportunities.


Lyris' flagship product, Lyris ListManager, is one of the world's best-selling software solutions for email marketing and deliverability, while Lyris ListHosting offers the same powerful capabilities in a convenient, on-demand web-based solution.


Email marketing services from QuadraMail offer effective campaign management and a complete advertising solution with the ability to manage data, deploy messaging, and track the results of your email marketing campaigns.

Internet Mail Manager

The self-service e-mail marketing solution you need to build your opt-in mailing lists, publish your online newsletters and send email campaigns, right from your browser.


Web-based email marketing and surveying software that makes it easy for organizations of all sizes to add a newsletter sign-up form to their web site, send out personalized HTML or text emails, create unlimited lists, schedule messages, and view complete reporting metrics for each campaign including open and click-through tracking.


Silverpop is an email services provider with unrivaled industry best practices, leading technology and services.

Stream Send

The Stream Send e-mail marketing system from EZ Publishing offers your business the opportunity to expand your client base and create and deliver the highest quality e-newsletters, even with limited resources.

Charlwood Marketing

A registered opt-in email list broker and online direct e-marketing agency experienced in B2B lead generation and opt-in email list management.


eMarketing Association

The world’s largest international association of e-marketing professionals. The eMA provides marketing resources, services, research, certifications, educational programs and events to its members.


An independent, nonprofit enabling trust based on privacy for personal information on the internet. We certify and monitor web site privacy and email policies, monitor practices, and resolve thousands of consumer privacy problems every year.

Network Advertising Initiative

A cooperative of online marketing, analytics, advertising and email companies who are committed to addressing important privacy and consumer protection issues in emerging media.