The single, most important factor in the success of an email marketing program is permission. Permission is the foundation on which your entire email marketing program is based. It will impact everything else that you do.
Permission essentially is an established relationship between you and the subscriber. It indicates that your email subscribers have given you explicit consent to email them. If you don't have permission, or your level of permission is weak, the effectiveness of your email marketing program will suffer greatly.
When adding names to your email list, always ask yourself, "Do I have permission to email these subscribers?" If you cannot definitively answer yes, then it is time to re-evaluate how you are building your list.
"Email is permission-based," writes John Caldwell, an email marketing expert and author of Red Pill Email. "You cannot legitimately buy or sell someone else's permission, it comes directly from the recipient. Permission may be revoked by the recipient at any time for any reason."
The strongest form of email permissioning is "opt-in" permission, where subscribers voluntarily agree to become a member of your email marketing program. This can happen in many ways, but the best form is subscribers unequivocally intend to be sent emails by your organization. The key in opt-in permission is the establishment of a relationship between your organization and the subscriber. This relationship can also be established petitions, surveys, purchases, donations, etc. However, when using these techniques, the notification that the subscriber will be receiving subsequent emails should be conspicuous and straightforward.
Email marketing isn't about the number of subscribers on your list. It's about the quality of the relationship you have with your subscribers. "Tricky" or "sneaky" opt-in practices will undermine this relationship, and reduce the quality of your email list. Having a large quantity of people on your email list who either do not want to be on it, or do not know they are on it, will significantly impact your results, and could ultimately shut it down altogether.
The weaker form of permissioning is called "opt-out" permission. This is where a batch of email subscribers are sent an email stating that if they do not "opt-out," they will begin receiving email messages.
While many companies perform opt-out services, this type of permissioning is not accepted by the email marketing industry, and opt-out lists are disallowed by almost every email service provider (ESP).
While opt-out subscribers are technically legal to email, the lack of a solid foundation of permission can hurt your sender reputation due to complaints and reduced subscriber engagement.
This is part one in a series on email marketing.