I cannot tell you how many times over the last 10 years I’ve been talking to someone with a problem and had them tell me “but I’m a legitimate email marketer.” Most of them have at least one serious problem, from upstreams that are ready to terminate them for spamming through widespread blocking. In fact, the practices of most companies who proclaim “we’re legitimate email marketers” are so bad that the phrase has entered the lexicon as a sign that the company is attempting to surf the gray area between commercial email and spam as close to the spam side of that territory as possible.
What do I mean by that? I mean that the address collection practices and the mailing processes used by self-proclaimed legitimate email marketers are sloppy. They don’t really care about individual recipients, they just care about the numbers. They buy addresses, they use affiliates, they dip whole limbs in the co-reg pool; all told their subscription practices are very sloppy. Because they didn’t scrape or harvest the email address, they feel justified in claiming the recipient asked for it and that they are legitimate.
They don’t really care that they’re mailing people who don’t want their mail and really never asked to receive it. What kinds of practices am I talking about?
Arguing with subscribers. “But all those people who labeled my mail as spam actually subscribed!!!” Any time a mailer has to argue with a subscriber about the validity of the subscription, there is a problem with the subscription process. If the sender and the receiver disagree on whether there was really an opt-in, the senders are rarely given the benefit of the doubt.
Using affiliates to hide their involvement in spam. A number of companies use advertising agencies that outsource acquisition mailings that end up being sent by spammers. These acquisition mailings are sent by the same spammers sending enlargement spam. The advertiser gets all the benefits of spam without any of the consequences.
Knowing that their signup forms are abused but failing to stop the abuse. A few years back I was talking with a large political mailer. They were insisting they were legitimate email marketers but were finding a lot of mail blocked. I mentioned that they were a large target for people forging addresses in their signup form. I explained that mailing people who never asked for mail was probably the source of their delivery problems. They admitted they were probably mailing people who never signed up, but weren’t going to do anything about it as it was good for their bottom line to have so many subscribers.
Self described legitimate email marketers do the bare minimum possible to meet standards. They talk the talk to convince their customers they’re legitimate:
- We’re CAN SPAM compliant!!!
- We run the tightest ship in the industry! the second somebody unsubscribes, they are OFF THE LIST!
- We have the highest delivery rate in the industry.
- All our lists are fully opt-in!!
- We have connections at all the major ISPs.
But they sure don’t walk the walk. And their talk doesn’t convince anyone else that they’re legitimate, not even the ISPs that block their mail. They don’t really understand email marketing and how different it is from other forms of direct marketing. They think that eyeballs and mailboxes are commodities and they can slap a thin veneer of permission on their practices and get a pass. That’s not how email works. Recipients have a lot more control over their inboxes than they do over their mail boxes or their telephones and what works in the other areas does not work in email marketing.
There are a lot of marketers that are doing things right. They are, in fact, legitimate email marketers. These genuinely legitimate email marketers don’t need to advertise themselves as legitimate. The receiving ISPs know the mail is legitimate because the enduser recipients are engaged and want the mail. Mail performance mostly stands on its own merits, no talking necessary.