How to create and maintain compliant email marketing lists

Not so long ago, one way business owners built up their email marketing lists was by collecting business cards at networking and other events and loading up the contact details into their email platforms. But did you know that, since the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018, this is a big no-no?

compliant email marketing lists

GDPR is designed to increase the level of protection that individuals have around how their personal data is collected, stored, processed and used. And that means you’re not allowed to send people marketing emails, or most other forms of unsolicited communication, without gaining their explicit consent first. Whilst anti-spam legislation pre-dates GDPR, the new rules have tightened things up considerably – and any company found to be in breach of the regulation faces a hefty fine of up to €20 million or 4% of annual turnover.

Legal issues aside, it’s always been best marketing practice to obtain someone’s consent before adding them to your email list. The main reason is that, otherwise, you risk annoying, alienating or upsetting the recipient by sending them communications they don’t want. In turn, this can create a bad impression of your company which could adversely affect your reputation in the longer term.

So, instead of adding people to your email marketing contact lists without their permission, you need to develop an active opt-in process for your marketing messages.

Luckily, business-grade email marketing platforms such as MailChimp and Constant Contact have built-in features that make it very easy for you to ask permission to add people to your email marketing lists, using compliant sign-up forms.

As well as asking for explicit consent to be contacted, these forms can also segment the types of information that people want to receive, so they only get the emails they’re interested in. For example, a networking company that runs events in Nottingham and Birmingham could ask people to tick one or more boxes to confirm which event location(s) they’d like to hear about.

Email marketing software also makes it easy for people to unsubscribe from your emails each time you contact them. You can track who’s unsubscribed using the reporting functions available with most email platforms.

Once your opt-in process is in place, you need to set about building your contact list. Here’s how to go about it compliantly.

  • Follow up meetings with personalised emails

If you’ve met someone at a networking event or conference, or had a first meeting with a potential client, you’ll naturally want to follow up with them afterwards. By sending them a personalised email with a link to your email newsletter sign-up form, you’re giving them the chance to decide whether they’d like to receive your marketing communications.

This approach is GDPR compliant because the recipient must actively give their consent by clicking on a link and entering their details in the sign-up form. If they later query why they’re receiving your emails, you’re protected because you’ll have proof of the time and date your contact opted in.

  • Connect on social media

This is an alternative approach to using email to follow up with new contacts and can also be used to connect with people you haven’t yet met with. LinkedIn is perhaps the best platform to use as you can send a personalised invitation to connect, explaining why’re you’re getting in touch. If your contact accepts the connection, you can then send them a link to your email marketing sign-up form when the time is right.

It’s also a good idea to include links to your sign-up form in your business social media profiles and posts, and in your blog articles. The onus is on the reader to actively sign up to receive your marketing messages, so again, you’re acting in line with GDPR legislation.

  • Use ‘Before you go’ (or ‘As you arrive’) website forms

You can display a pop-up message on your website – like the one here on the Imagine Blog that prompts visitors to sign up to receive our latest blog articles – either when they arrive at your site or before leaving it.

However, be aware that some people find pop-ups annoying and they can also be blocked by a web browser’s security settings. You might be better off including a sign-up box on each page of your website, perhaps in the footer, as well as including links or a form within each blog article you post.

  • Try out email trailers

These are messages you include at the end of each email you send out, often as part of your signature, that encourage people to follow your news. For example, you could include a snippet from your latest blog article with a link through to the post, which will have a sign-up form at the end.

Or you could just include a direct link to your opt-in page. Use a link that doesn’t explicitly say ‘Sign up to receive our news’. This approach is still compliant because the recipient will need to actively opt in to get your emails. (In fact, clothing your sign-up form in a way that adds value is a great tactic).

  • Add sign-up links to your newsletter templates

It’s always best practice to encourage people who receive your newsletter to forward it to other interested parties, either directly or using Social Share buttons you can embed within the email. Naturally, you want your new recipients to sign up for future emails, so make sure there’s a clear link to your sign-up form within each newsletter. It’s all about making it as quick and easy as possible for people to opt in.

  • Ask people to sign up, face to face

When you meet new or existing contacts for a coffee, why not mention that you send out regular email newsletters? If these offer added value such as free tips, discount vouchers or exclusive special offers, so much the better!

If your contact shows interest, explain they can find your sign-up form on your social media profiles, website, blog or email signature.

  • Proactively maintain your contact lists

Once your email marketing list is up and running, your work doesn’t end there. Monitor who’s engaging – and not engaging – with your emails by opening messages, clicking on links and revisiting the emails more than once. It’s also important to monitor bounce rates to check if email accounts are no longer active or addresses have been entered incorrectly.

Under GDPR, you have an obligation to delete personal data that’s no longer needed. So, if you notice email recipients that have never engaged with your emails, or haven’t done so for a long time, it’s a good idea to segment them and stop emailing them If, after a month or two, they don’t get in touch to ask why they’ve not heard from you, and you have no other contact with them, delete their information from your database.

In conclusion

It’s better to have a small pool of engaged contacts who want to hear from you than a huge list of random people who don’t read your communications. Just as you wouldn’t turn up to a networking event and expect every single person to have an interest in your business, so it goes with email marketing.

It’s far better to communicate successfully with a niche audience, and business-grade software such as MailChimp will help you do so effectively and compliantly.

Like to know more?

You can find out more about creating and managing successful email campaigns on my website. If you’re short on time, or not sure where to start, I can help – just give me a call on 01636 922 747 or contact me online for a chat about your email marketing requirements.