The Ultimate Guide to Permission-Based Email Marketing

Permission based email marketing

Sending email newsletters is a great way to reach your customers. In order to build a trusting relationship with your audience, however, you have to make sure that you use permission email marketing in your strategy.

In this guide, we will discuss what permission-based email marketing is, why it’s important, and how you can incorporate it into your overall email strategy.

What is permission-based email marketing?

Permission-based email marketing, as the name suggests, is the practice of sending promotional emails only to those who have explicitly consented to it. Also called opt-in email marketing, this means that the recipient has given explicit consent to receive emails from the sender.

There are a few different ways that someone can give their consent, such as subscribing to a newsletter or providing their contact information on a website form. But before we dive into those steps, let’s discuss why you need to obtain permission in the first place.

The importance of permission marketing

Why does your subscribers’ permission matter in email marketing? Here are some compelling reasons why you should care about permission-based email marketing.

Lower risk of getting marked as spam

Using permission-based email marketing helps ensure that the people who receive your emails actually want to receive them. This can help reduce the number of complaints or spam reports you’ll receive, which could damage your sender reputation and lead to any future emails landing in the spam folder automatically.

High ROI

Did you know that email marketing has the highest return on investment (ROI)? For every $1 spent on your email marketing campaign, you can get an average ROI of $36

With permission marketing, you can make your email marketing more efficient by weeding out those subscribers who are not interested in your product or service and targeting only those who already are. In the process, you can increase conversion rates and shorten the sales cycle. 

Compliance with email regulations

Aside from helping your brand with the bottom line, permission-based marketing can help you comply with any data privacy laws in your region. By ensuring that you have your subscribers’ consent, you can keep your business from unwittingly violating any existing email regulations. 

In most markets, there are laws and regulations in place that email marketers have to follow, such as:

  • Canada’s CASL – implied consent is acceptable when sending email communications: that is, ​companies don’t need express consent to send an email as it’s business-related. Businesses that don’t comply risk incurring criminal charges, civil charges, and penalties of up to $10 million. 

When you make it your goal to obtain your audience’s consent before you send them email newsletters, you can spare yourself from the possible lawsuits – and headaches – that come with non-compliance.

Increased relevance

When you give your audience the choice of whether to receive marketing messages or not, it gives them the impression that your brand can be trusted to deliver only what they need, and not subject them to irrelevant promotions or messages.

By sending highly targeted content (i.e., relevant messages) to the right audience, you can get the following benefits:

Strengthened brand awareness

Earning your subscribers’ – your potential customers – trust is one of the reasons why we recommend pursuing a permission-based email marketing strategy. This kind of email marketing allows you to establish relationships with users, even before they actually make a purchase from you. 

As a result of gaining your audience’s trust, you can expect more referrals and higher brand equity. You can be more recognizable and memorable, and your products or services will be perceived to have a higher quality and reliability.

Types of permissions in email marketing

There are different ways to get permission from someone in order to add them to your email list. These permissions generally fall under two categories: implied and express permissions. 

Implied permission

Implied permission or consent is obtained when someone gives you their email address as part of a business transaction. They can be a client, a customer, a vendor, an employee, a partner, or a board member – anyone who expects to receive a business-related email from you. They can also be someone who has donated to your charity or a member of your online community, organization, or club.

Although they have given implied permission for you to contact them, it does not necessarily mean that they would want to receive any marketing emails from you. 

For instance, when someone fills out your contact form to inquire about your service or product, it won’t be accurate to say that they would automatically want to become a part of your email campaigns. They might be expecting to hear from you only to answer their query, and they might not appreciate the unwelcome mass emails.

Express permission

On the other hand, express permission or consent is given when someone explicitly agrees that they want to receive marketing messages from your brand. 

Here are a few ways you can ask your user to express their intention to subscribe to a mailing list:

  • Tick or check a box in a pop-up or contact form on your website
  • Fill out a paper or electronic sign-up form 
  • Click a link in a confirmation email that you sent after they gave you their email address

Understanding the difference between implied and express permissions makes it easier for you to meet your audience’s expectations. You’ll be able to send engaging content to the right audience who actually cares about what you have to say. It will be less likely for your subscribers to ignore your email or send it straight to the trash.

The danger of purchased email lists

Buying email lists runs counter to the idea of permission-based marketing. 

When you buy an email list, you get a number of contacts that might have never heard of your brand, are not interested in what you have to offer, or are simply uninterested in receiving unwelcome emails. 

Either way, sending marketing emails to addresses that have never given their express consent can do more harm than good. It’s spam, and people don’t like getting spam messages. Some email service providers like Selzy have an anti-spam policy that can prevent you from sending emails to people who have not explicitly agreed to receive emails from you.

Not only can this practice hurt your brand’s reputation, but it can also cause you to wind up on an email blacklist. Essentially, a subscriber’s permission is what sets email marketing apart from spam.

Permission-based email marketing best practices

Here are some best practices that you can employ in your email marketing activities in order to get it right.

Add an opt-in box for your newsletter

Include an opt-in form on your website where your site visitors can sign up to receive your emails. Another way is to include a subscription option on any newsletters or other correspondences that you send out.

Screenshot of Vox newsletter sign-up form
The news website Vox allows users to sign up for different news stories

Require a double opt-in

What’s a double opt-in? To give you an idea, we’ll explain the two ways to obtain a user’s email address for the purpose of marketing: single opt-in and double opt-in.

Single opt-in (SOI) – a one-step subscription process that involves capturing the user’s email address upon signup, regardless if the user confirmed that they willingly and knowingly opted into email communications.

Below is an example of a confirmation email that you can send when you only require an SOI. This email is from the tech website, TechCrunch.

Screenshot of an email from TechCrunch
In lieu of a double opt-in, TechCrunch sends a confirmation email at once

Double opt-in (DOI) – a two-step subscription process that involves sending a confirmation email right after the user gets added to your mailing list. The user has to confirm their interest in receiving email communications by ticking a box, filling out a form, or clicking a button.

Screenshot of a confirmation email from Ahrefs
Ahrefs provides enough context on what the button in their double opt-in email does

The downside of DOI is that it can be time-consuming and cumbersome for subscribers. The longer sign-up process may scare off potential contacts, and that’s a missed sale or lead. Some subscribers may also forget to click the confirmation link.

However, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. With a DOI, you can expect:

  A clean, high-quality list

  Higher engagement

  Emails with a lower risk of being marked as spam

In many markets with strong data privacy laws such as the GDPR, it may be necessary for you to obtain a double opt-in from your subscribers. 

But even if you’re doing business in a country that doesn’t require it, we still strongly recommend using double opt-ins in your forms. This will help ensure that your subscribers are fully aware of what they can expect to receive from you and that they have given you their informed consent.

Make it easy to unsubscribe

Always include a statement at the bottom of each email that allows your recipients to unsubscribe if they no longer wish to receive messages from you. 

In the example below, the publisher Penguin Random House LLC made sure to include an option on their footer for their users to unsubscribe. Even though it’s not as prominent as the call-to-action button, they made sure that the link is underlined so it is easy to spot.

Screenshot of a Penguin Random House email’s footer
Penguin Random House has an Unsubscribe link in its footer

Set clear expectations from the get-go

Tell your subscribers what’s in it for them if they sign up for your newsletter. What value will they get? 

Do they get the latest updates or exclusive discounts on your products or offerings? Do they get breaking news or upcoming events that are relevant to your audience? Include those on the page with your signup form.

You might also want to mention the frequency of your emails, the types of messages that you send out, and a brief description of your privacy policy with a link to your Privacy Policy page. You don’t have to include all of these at once; just include whatever’s necessary for your audience. 

Take a look at these examples from Adidas and G2:

A screenshot of Adidas’ email signup form
Adidas clearly lays out how they intend to use the user’s email address
Screenshot of G2’s email signup form
G2 tells its audience what they can expect to receive when they sign up for their newsletter

Give your subscribers options

Let your subscribers choose the frequency of your emails so that they can only receive updates when they want them. You can also send out a survey among your subscribers to find out how frequently they would want to receive emails. Use this information to segment your audience. 

It’s also a good practice to let your subscribers select the mailing lists they can subscribe to. When you let them sign up for topics and categories that interest them, you’ll have a more engaged audience. You can use this information to set up email automation campaigns to nurture your leads.

Take a look at the footer of this email from SaaS company Semrush:

A screenshot of a Semrush email’s footer
Semrush allows its users to update their email preferences

Here’s another example from TechCrunch. Similar to the above example from Vox, TechCrunch gives their subscribers the liberty to sign up for topics that they want to hear more about.

A screenshot of TechCrunch’s email signup form
TechCrunch gives their audience a choice on which newsletters to sign up for

Focus on quality over quantity

You don’t have to push an email to share every new blog article on your website or a milestone from your company. Only send important emails that will entertain, educate, inspire, or motivate your audience.

One example of a crucial email that you can send to a segment of your subscribers is cart abandonment reminders. These follow-up emails are sent when a website visitor leaves your e-commerce site without checking out an order they made. This is important because it can help you actually make money: in 2022, the average cart abandonment rate is 69.99%.  

Do not send emails too often

When you send too many emails, you might end up overwhelming your subscribers. They might lose interest, develop a negative perception of your brand, or even worse, consider your emails to be spammy – and report it to their email service.

Even though you’re sending important emails that you know are valuable to your audience, don’t discount the fact that they can get tired of you, too. Limit the number of emails you send regularly, and understand when’s the best time for you to send your emails by looking at your data from the previous email send-outs.

Here are some tips from our team on how you can find the best time and day to send emails:

  • ​​Consider the time zone of your subscribers.
  • Ask your subscribers when they prefer to get your emails.
  • Test your send-outs across the week. You can use this to do A/B tests and find out what times and dates your audience will be most responsive.

Best examples of permission-based email marketing

  1. Typeform
Screenshot of a confirmation email from Typeform
Typeform sends a confirmation email after the user signs up
  1. Refind
Screenshot of a confirmation email from Refind
Refind explains to its users the rationale behind the double opt-in. Source: Really Good Emails
  1. Penguin Random House
Screenshot of a welcome email from Penguin Random House
Penguin Random House’s welcome email
  1. Republic
Screenshot of a confirmation email from Republic
In addition to the double opt-in button, Republic adds CTAs to their confirmation email. Source: Really Good Emails

Final thoughts

Permission-based email marketing is a great way to reach out to customers and promote your products or services without running into any potential problems. 

Make sure that you are getting explicit consent from each recipient before adding them to your email list. Always provide an easy way for them to unsubscribe if they no longer wish to receive messages from you. 

By following these guidelines, you can use email marketing as a tool to help grow your business while maintaining a good relationship with your subscribers.

What opt-in forms are you using to build your email list?

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