How to Build An Email List the Right Way

I’ve seen a lot of lists – good lists, bad lists, and everything in between – so I can usually tell when a company’s email list is going to cause deliverability problems.

When someone says, “yeah, I’ve got about ten million people on my list. I bought it off the internet a few years ago from a guy named Joe, and…” that raises some red flags.

That sounds more sketchy than a free candy van

Look, I know list collection is a way less sexy topic than growing your list and getting more customers. But no matter how big your list is, unless your contacts gave you consent to email them, you won’t see great results. Plus your ESP will get mad at you.

It’s All About Consent

Consent is a requirement based on our AUP. And you’ll find that every ESP worth their salt requires it as well.

By consent, I mean that the people on your list gave you permission to contact them in a specific way about specific things.

So, how do you get permission during your list collection process? Give your visitors and customers a way to opt into your list.

There are three main types of opting in.

1. Single Opt-In

Single opt-in means the user simply submits their email address through a signup form, and they’re immediately added to the list.

2. Single Opt-In with Email

With this option, a user opts in through the signup form and then receives an email that confirms they’ve been added to the list.

3. Double Opt-In

Double opt-in requires an additional step. Once the user has signed up through a form, they receive an email with a link. The user must open the email and click the link in order to verify their email address and confirm that they want emails from you.

At Mailgun, we highly recommend double opt-in because it’ll give you the highest quality list possible. Yes, it’s a pain, but it means you’ve got a list full of engaged users at actual email addresses.

Best Practices for List Collection

Beyond opt-in, there are a few other list collection techniques that will ensure you have a great email list of real people who really want to hear from you.

Validating Your Emails

Validating email addresses during the signup process keeps you from having a lot of nonexistent or spammy addresses on your list, plus it can catch users who may have misspelled “gmail” while signing up. Mailgun’s email validation API can easily be implemented into forms to prevent typos, disposable addresses, role-based email addresses, and more. You can learn more about it and sign up here.

Being Transparent

Make it clear to the user what exactly it is that they’re signing up for. If submitting their email address will subscribe them to your blog, make sure that’s obvious. For even more transparency and happier users, indicate the frequency of your sending so they know what to expect. (And, by the way, you can subscribe to our blog for weekly updates.)

Giving Your Customers Options

Have you ever been on a list that emails you all the time? You like them, but you don’t like them that much. By giving the user the ability to choose the frequency and types of messages they receive from you, you’ll retain more users and reduce unsubscribes.

Keeping Incentives to a Minimum

If you say you’ll give someone something for free, you expose yourself to bad email addresses or throw away addresses. A lot of people will sign up and then unsubscribe just to get your free stuff. Your goal is to build a highly engaged user base that wants to receive the messages they get. Incentives just muddy this.

Bad Practices for List Collection

These are some of the things you don’t want to do. I won’t spend too much time here, but if you’re doing any of these, stop it.

Purchasing or Renting Lists

When you buy or rent a list, you end up with a huge list of people who never gave you permission to contact them. If you email this list, you usually end up with an extremely high number of bounces, unsubscribes and spam complaints, which will damage your reputation. You also run the risk of ending up on a blacklist (since a lot of these lists contain spam traps.)

Email Appending

Email appending involves taking the customer data you do know and using it to get that person’s email address from a database. So, if you had Mary’s name and mailing address, you could find out Mary’s email address by using an email appending service. This is pretty creepy. The bottom line is that Mary didn’t give you her consent, so you definitely shouldn’t email her.

Scraping Your List

It’s a fast way to build a list but it’s bad. Very bad. Basically, harvesting bots spider different websites, forum posts, and other online sources to obtain lists of email addresses. Again, these people never gave you consent. In fact, they probably have no idea who you are, so don’t send to them.

Only Getting Implied Consent

Implied consent is when a customer provides an email address at the point of sale or on a form but they never explicitly opt into receiving marketing messages. To solve for this, you can add a checkbox to the form that gives people the chance to sign up, and leave the box unchecked by default. This isn’t as shady as some of these other bad practices, but it’s definitely not transparent and can lead to more abuse complaints.

Wrapping Up

So, there you have it. When you don’t follow the best practices for collecting emails or, worse, you use one or more of the bad practices I mentioned, you open yourself up to low engagement, spam traps, blacklists, complaints, and delivery problems.

Again, our biggest recommendation is to go with confirmed opt-in. It’s a fail-safe way to ensure you are getting the best addresses possible to build a highly engaged list. We also highly recommend email validation. (Enough to build a whole email validation service.)

If delivery problems have been a recurring issue for you, talk to us about our Managed Service. It gives you a dedicated technical account manager to proactively monitor your account and help you achieve better deliverability.

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