Email marketing – why legal isn’t good enough

4 minute read

The law relating to email marketing is pretty clear cut (we’ve a quick overview of the UK rules here), but sticking to the letter of the law isn’t good enough to keep you out of trouble.

Why you need to go beyond your legal obligations

Email is a unique medium; the cost for the sender is tiny in comparison to that of the receiver (reader) and their ISP. For the reader, the cost is the time they invest in reading (or deleting) the email. For the ISP it’s the cost of receipt and storage of the email – that cost may be small, but the volume they deal with is enormous.

With many other marketing communication channels this position is reversed – it’s really expensive to reach a reader and cheap for them to ignore you. As an example, just think how many billboards you pass on your journey to work without a second glance.

While the law protects the privacy of individual readers, it doesn’t address the time and cost aspects. This is why legitimate senders can still get in trouble even if they’re obeying the law.

When I say ‘get in trouble’, what I’m referring to is getting annoyed recipients, spam complaints, your messages filtered or even blocked completely. All things which ultimately stop you being able to communicate with your readers.

The root cause of all of these things is failing to meet your readers’ expectations. Just because they’ve opted in to hear from you doesn’t mean they’ve chosen to accept anything you send to them. Time is precious, you need to be relevant.

ISPs act as a proxy here. Their filters and block lists do their best to prevent email that’s likely to annoy their users from ever reaching them. It’s in ISPs’ interests to do this as it keeps users happy and can lower their operational costs.

It’s important to understand that ISPs are under absolutely no obligation to deliver your email. Filters and blocklists exist to help make email manageable for them and their users, not to serve marketers.

Automated filters don’t always get things right, but they’re heavily influenced by how people respond to your emails. As well as looking for direct feedback like spam complaints, many ISPs look at how readers engage with your emails – are they opening them and clicking on links, or just deleting them?

To keep your emails in the inbox, you need to go beyond your legal obligations and strive to really engage and delight your readers. Find out what appeals to them, identify the key triggers for interacting with them and make sure you build this into your email strategy.

The delivery cost of email is small, but the investment in the relationship with your readers should be substantial.

Find out more about using to get excellent delivery rates with your email marketing in our coffee break guide to email delivery.