Building an Email list – Ethics & Best Practices

Building an Email list is one of the key marketing ingredients not just for email marketing purposes but also to keep your customers and patrons informed about business updates. An email list represents your customers and prospects database that can sustain way beyond other forms of campaigns such as advertisements – either offline or online – and certain modes of social campaigns.

As for blogs, mailing lists are of even more importance because the number of updates or frequency may be quite high as compared to other businesses. This being the case, it is crucial that you as an online entrepreneur keep certain ethics in mind while building a list, maintaining and using it effectively.

Types of Email lists

Based on how the email addresses are collected, you may categorize mailing lists into three:

Opt-in Email list

An Opt-in e-mail list is a collection of email addresses collected by the system or tool with the consent of the subscriber either directly or indirectly. Most bloggers use a direct approach of requesting the reader to sign up for updates where as certain other people acquire it indirectly via providing certain services or freebies (e.g. Ebooks, downloads).

Opt-out Email list

Opt-out emails are usually collected, purchased or sourced indirectly from group sites, service companies (e.g. Telephone companies), Email list brokers or even Email harvest software). The main problem here is that the person whos email address is going placed, don’t even have a clue about him/her being a marketing target until the first email hits his inbox. (S)he then has to opt out of subscription if further emails are not to be received. Needless to say, Opt-out lists are not as good as Opt-in lists from recepient point of view because it sends around at least one unsolicited email or spam.

Double Opt-in or Confirmed Opt-in List

This is a variation of the Opt-in list whereby after collecting the email address, the subscriber is asked to confirm his subscription via the first mail (and opt-out option in subsequent mails). This is the most ethical way of building a list and good for both the parties – i.e. the business and subscriber.

I can think of a fourth category of totally unsolicited spam mails without any opt-out or unsubscription option but that’s not a thing to be discussed nor encouraged.

Mailing list building & usage ethics

Now let us talk about the methods of list building and usage of the same from the best practices point of view.

List building ethics

The following are some of the ethical aspects that I can think of.

  • If you are going to collect the user’s email address for further communication purpose, you must inform the user about the same
  • Tell the user how are you going to use the email address as in what kind of mails at what typical frequency
  • As much as possible avoid throwing popups and permanent subscription windows that follows the users while scrolling
  • If you have offered any freebies (e.g. eBook, themes, templates, software) for opting in, make sure that you deliver those freebies. Cheating the subscribers on their first encounter is the worst thing to happen in marketing
  • As much as possible, provide the user with category based subscription option. I am not sure how many modern email marketing softwares and list building tools provide that option
  • If you are collecting an email address for non-marketing purpose, state that you are not a spammer and stick to that word
  • Avoid buying email lists. You may never ever get the right recipients via such quick methods
  • Always use double opt-in mechanism to collect email addresses, just in case somebody furnished others’ email addresses
While using the email list

Now, when it comes to the usage of the email database that you built, the most important point is to stick to the purpose for which the email addresses are collected. Next, you shouldn’t resell the email addresses to someone else unless that has been part of the signup agreement with the subscriber and he was well informed about the same. Respecting the right frequency of communication would be another point.

In addition, every email marketing communication must have the unsubscribe option that really works. When the users unsubscribe for something, they are usually in a frustrated mood and hence the process should be real quick and easy.

In the case email lists with blogs, the unsubscription rate for emails may be quite high as most bloggers do not have interesting services to offer to all types of subscribers. This is mainly because, the demographics of the subscribers are not really collected by most list building software. It’s, hence, important not to do overmarketing with your valuable subscribers.

That is pretty much what I wanted to talk about in email list building ethics. Let me know what you think of this article and pitch in with your comments.

Happy list buiding!


  1. Rohan :

    I would like to know which services you would recommend for opt-out email marketing ? Basically want to know a few services which allow sending of mails to purchased leads…

  2. I am finding this post very helpful. I created a mailing list a couple of months ago but I haven’t used it yet. Thee one thing I don’t want to do is send out too many emails for fear of being branded a spammer.

  3. Praveen :

    Ajith – I was looking at your archives, and i was really impressed by the page layout. Can you give me some tips to create something similar. Thanks in advance.

  4. Nihar :

    Again great article. I collect the emails from the email subscribers and have send some updates in the past.

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