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Mass Mailing : what not to do

Mailing Lists

Mass mailing can be a useful way of contacting existing customers and reaching out to potential customers. If you do it properly, you will gain visitors to your website and possibly even potential customers. However, most mass mailing is not done properly. The proportion of emails that are spam (unsolicited advertising messages) has been estimated at between 50 per cent and 90 per cent. It is difficult to determine the proportion with complete accuracy, but even the most conservative estimates mean that half the emails in the average inbox are unwanted messages from strangers.


Unfortunately for customers, the CAN-SPAM Act (implemented in January 2004) has actually removed levels of customer protection previously built into many state laws. Customers no longer have any enforcement rights, and this means that it is difficult for spam recipients to take any legal action. So why should this be cause of concern for anyone planning mass mailing? Surely this law makes life easier for people who want to send out large numbers of marketing emails. The answer is that both legally and commercially, things are tougher for mass mailers than it might seem at first glance.

From a commercial perspective, when you send out a mass mailing you are doing it because you want it to be read. Unfortunately, the explosive growth of spam emails means that each mail is less and less likely to be read by its recipients. Most Internet users are now so accustomed to spam that they delete all messages from unknown addresses without even glancing at the subject headings. Some spam messages never even reach the inbox of the intended recipient, as increasingly sophisticated spam filters trap and delete dubious messages.

From a legal perspective, although the CAN-SPAM Act reduces consumer rights, Government agencies and internet service providers (ISPs) do have the right to take action, and there have been some high-profile prosecutions resulting in jail sentences for prolific spammers. You can avoid legal action by careful use of mass mailing. Many indiscriminate mass mailers use paid-for lists of email addresses, many of which are randomly harvested and may be invalid. Emailing hundreds or thousands of invalid email addresses results in bounce backs , which means receiving a "Could Not Deliver" message for every invalid address. A large number of bounce backs is a clear indication to your ISP that you are spamming, and it can cause you to be shut down. Some spammers try to avoid this with the use of email validation software. Others use anonymous proxy servers, which mean that their ISP doesn't receive the bounce backs. However, use of these third-party (proxy) servers is a direct contravention of the CAN-SPAM Act, and may result in prosecution.

There are many steps you can take to ensure that your mass mailing doesn't break the law. For example, you should always include a physical address in the email, and avoid falsifying email addresses. You should also ensure that the content of your message is truthful; see our page on composing a direct mailing for more information. Many spammers break the law by sending "deceptive solicitations" to buy non-existent products or join an illegal pyramid scheme.

You should also be aware that, by sending mass mails indiscriminately, you will damage the reputation of your company. Anti-spam experts think that the response rate to unsolicited emails is around 0.005 per cent. That means that for every million emails you send out, you will get 50 responses. Most of the other 999,950 recipients will either never see your message or ignore it completely, but those who do actually see your message will be irritated and associate your company with junk mail. So think very carefully about mass-mailing millions of people. Sending quality mailings to smaller, targeted mailing lists is a better way of building your customer base.