Permission-Based Email Marketing: What it is and How to Use It

Permission-Based Email Marketing: What it is and How to Use It
Charlene Boutin
Charlene Boutin Feb 11, 2021 — 9 min read
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Email marketing is here to stay – in fact, it’s only getting bigger and bigger.

Because so many businesses understand that email marketing can be so lucrative, consumers are receiving more and more emails in their inbox.

When these emails are not welcomed, it can get pretty annoying pretty fast.

Not the best way to gain a loyal customer for life 🤔

Here’s the great news – you don’t have to rely on shady (and sometimes illegal) tactics to grow your email list when you use permission-based email marketing.


What is permission-based email marketing?

As the name suggests, permission-based email marketing entails sending promotional emails only to people who have given you explicit permission to do so.

This does not include implicit permission.

Implicit permission happens when your new subscribers give you their email address in exchange for a freebie: an eBook, a free trial, a PDF, or a discount.

In this case, the permission is implicit because they are giving you permission to send them the freebie they want, and this implies they accept to receive other emails from you…

… But they haven’t explicitly given their permission yet.

(Unless you specified that on your email opt-in form like in the example below 👇)

Is sending emails without permission illegal?

There’s a reason adding people who didn’t opt into your email list is against the terms of service for most email marketing software.

It’s spammy and annoying.

These businesses don’t want their names attached to spam emails. They prefer that you use their tools to send emails only to people who opted into your list in the first place.

Now, whether you can send emails without permission, implicit or explicit, depends on who you’re sending it to, and how you got their email.

For example, in most states of the US, you can send cold emails if you provide a way for the recipient to opt out.

However, in GDPR-regulated countries, that is illegal. You need clear consent before you send marketing emails.

Other non-GDPR countries also have email marketing laws, even if they aren’t as strict as GDPR policies. For instance, in Canada, you can only send marketing emails if the email address is available publicly.

This means that if you purchased a lead list or scraped email addresses from a website, it’s illegal to send cold marketing emails to those addresses.

Why permission-based email marketing matters for your business (and your customers)

Even if your audience is located in a country where email marketing laws are a bit looser, your business can still benefit from using permission-based email marketing.

Why is that?

It’s pretty simple – people who want to hear from you and who gave you permission to receive marketing content will be more likely to open your emails. This means you’ll have higher open rates and lower chances of getting flagged as spam.

This increases your deliverability and ensures that the people who do want to hear from you… actually CAN hear from you, instead of missing your emails entirely when they land in the spam box.

But that’s not all. You can also expect higher conversion rates from a list made up of people who gave you explicit permission to email them.

List size is a vanity metric. What matters is that your list is engaged and generating profits for your business.

And a large list of subscribers – who didn’t give you permission to email them and aren’t interested in hearing from you – won’t be engaged and won’t generate sales either.

Permission-based email marketing can also help you establish your brand in a positive way. It shows that your brand respects customers and values them as people, not just as leads.

Finally, you will cut down your risk of getting reported and fined, no matter where your subscribers are based, because permission-based email marketing follows even the strictest guidelines worldwide.

7 ways to implement permission-based email marketing in your business

If permission-based email marketing principles sound complicated to follow, don’t worry. Here are 7 ways you can start implementing these principles in your business to do email marketing the ethical – and legal – way.

1. Add an opt-in box for your newsletter when offering lead magnets

In the past, marketers added a quick disclaimer at the bottom of a popup box to let people who downloaded their lead magnets know that they would receive marketing emails.

A text disclaimer at the bottom of an email popup might not be sufficient to collect explicit consent from subscribers

This is a perfect example of a grey area when it comes to implicit versus explicit permission. While this is legal in many places, this doesn’t follow GDPR guidelines – unless you require a double-opt-in, which we’ll cover later.

People can easily miss a disclaimer like this, so while you could argue that they should have read the entire popup box before signing up… it’s not the best way to start a trust-based relationship with your potential customers.

Instead, you can add a separate opt-in checkbox that allows them to opt-in to your regular marketing newsletter.

At this point, it’s your choice whether joining the email list is required in order to obtain the freebie or not. Below is an example of subscribers getting a choice:

According to permission-based email marketing, you should provide an option to receive marketing emails along with a lead magnet

However, if you don’t want to give them a choice, make sure that they are required to click on the checkbox. In doing so, they are taking action to show that they are giving you their permission.

At this point, you must be wondering: if I give them a choice, what do I do with people who didn’t opt-in?

Here’s a simple solution to attempt to convert these people into subscribers:

  1. Send them the content they agreed to receive in a welcome email.
  2. You may email them a few more times to provide some value and context about the content they received – NOT to sell them something (yet!)
  3. Once the sequence is over, let them know that they will now stop receiving emails from you because they did not give you permission – and provide an easily clickable button or link to allow them to opt-in if they want to.
  4. You may keep those who did not opt-in in your email marketing software, but you may no longer email them.
  5. If your subscribers ask you to delete all data you have about them, respect their privacy and do so promptly.

At this point, these people have been given two chances to join your newsletter, and they decided to skip on it twice.

It’s pretty obvious that you no longer have their permission to email them 🤷

2. Implement a double opt-in

Another popular way to implement permission-based marketing using explicit permission is by requiring a double opt-in before subscribers receive their lead magnet.

A double opt-in consists of two steps:

  • Step 1: Provide the email address via a form or popup
  • Step 2: Before adding the subscriber to your list or sending them their lead magnet or welcome email, send them a confirmation email

At this point, the subscriber needs to confirm that they indeed want to become a subscriber and receive your emails by clicking on your confirmation link.

Double opt-in is an alternative way to collect explicit consent from new subscribers

If they don’t, you can’t add them to your list.

While this may slow down your list growth, people who don’t confirm their subscription weren’t going to open your emails anyway.

They would have been dead weight in your list and would have been more likely to mark you as spam if you would have kept emailing them.

Having them confirm this step is a way to get explicit permission if you didn’t use a checkbox we discussed above.

If you do use the checkbox method, there is no need for a double opt-in. Both of these techniques ask for explicit permission to be added to your marketing or newsletter segment, so you can select just one.

3. Make sure your emails have an easy way to unsubscribe

Every marketing email should contain an ‘Unsubscribe’ link somewhere, usually at the bottom.

Permission-based email marketing means your subscribers can easily unsubscribe

Don’t make your subscribers scramble to find this link.

Yes, they may be less likely to unsubscribe if they can’t figure out how to do it.

But then they may be more likely to mark you as spam, and they won’t be engaged with your brand anyway at this point.

4. Set expectations right from the start

Start things off on the right foot: have a welcome email that introduces your brand, what types of emails they can expect, and how often you typically send emails.

When people expect your emails, they won’t automatically think it’s spam.

By creating clear expectations for both parties, you have a brand-to-audience relationship that is based on consent and respect.

Having a welcome email is a great way to set expectations from your newsletter

You can also give subscribers a way to segment themselves using links. This works well if you send emails about several different topics, or if your audience is composed of different types of people.

5. Provide an easy way out of specific promotions

Some buyers know right away that they want to hit the ‘buy’ button on your latest promotional sequence. Other buyers may wait until the very last minute – and the very last email – to buy.

Yet other subscribers won’t buy at all!

Some won’t mind receiving several emails in a row when you’re in a promotional period, and that’s okay. I’m one of these people, because I enjoy reading promo emails for inspiration and to see what other marketers are doing.

However, there are some who will mind, and they will either:

  • Stop opening your emails and tank your open rate
  • Unsubscribe from your entire list
  • Mark you as spam

None of these are good for your brand.

Every time you want to send more than one or two emails for the same promotion, provide an option for your subscribers to opt out of that promotion ONLY.

This means that those who still want to hear from you but who aren’t interested in your current promotion can remain subscribed and enjoy your usual content without getting spammed.

Allowing your subscribers to unsubscribe from a particular promo content is a permission-based marketing practice

The opposite is true: you can decide to send an offer only to people who showed interest for it. This is what waitlists are for.

Waitlists, technically speaking, do the opposite of an unsubscribe link – they add your subscribers to a specific sequence.

You can provide incentives to join a waitlist, such as an early bird discount or an extra bonus.

Waitlists are a proven way to create excitement and get people to join your newsletter

Just make sure that you follow up on any promises you make. For example, I received Sage’s waitlist-only offer exactly when she said she would send it.

The promised promo campaign should always be delivered exactly on the promised day

You can take a blended approach as well by sending a higher quantity of emails to people who subscribed to the waitlist, while still including those who didn’t in a more subdued version of the promotion.

Just make sure that if you promised a special bonus or sale to those who joined the waitlist, you don’t offer it to people outside of the waitlist.

6. Customize frequency of newsletters

Some subscribers may want to hear from you, but they may not be as excited to receive emails every single day (if that’s how often you email your list).

This does require a bit more work, but you can opt to give your subscribers control over how often you email them.

Why? Because they may be excited about your content while still trying to maintain a clutter-free email inbox.

Newsletter frequency customization example

By allowing them to manage how often you email them, you’re not just getting their permission to send emails – you’re getting explicit permission for when to email them.

The more personalized the experience, the more likely they are to:

  • Open your emails
  • Remain subscribed to your list
  • Gain trust in your brand (and become a buyer)
  • Not mark you as spam

If you send daily emails to someone who would rather hear from you weekly, or weekly emails to someone who would rather hear from you monthly, your business can suffer. Even if they don’t mark you as spam – they are less likely to open your emails, which eventually will tank your open rate.

7. Check in with your cold subscribers

Haven’t emailed your list in 6 months? Before you start off your email marketing endeavors again, consider checking in with your subscribers first.

Subscribers who haven’t opened an email in 6 months are considered cold, so if you haven’t emailed them at all… they’ll all be cold.

By that point, they may no longer be interested in hearing from you, which means you need to get their permission again.

Consider doing a re-engagement sequence, or a list scrub.

What’s the difference?

A re-engagement sequence can be made up of one or more emails in which you re-introduce your brand, provide value, and restate what your subscribers can expect.

On the other hand, a scrub sequence is a call to action to all cold subscribers.

In a scrub sequence, you’ll ask your subscribers to click on a link to confirm they want to remain subscribed (thus updating their permission for you to email them), or click on another link to unsubscribe.

By the end of the sequence, you can let them know that if they don’t take action, they will get removed from your list.

You can send 3 emails over a period of 1 to 2 weeks to give them the opportunity to choose.

Make sure you remove anyone who hasn’t clicked on the link that confirms their subscription once the sequence ends.

Quick tip: if you want to avoid getting too many cold subscribers, keep up what you set up with your expectations. If your subscribers expect to hear from you every week, make sure you email them every week.

Create a trust-based relationship with your subscribers using permission-based email marketing

There you have it – 7 permission-based email marketing tips to help you approach email marketing in a new way while not only respecting the law, but also gaining the trust and respect of your subscribers.

Want to grow your list using these tactics? You can start by adding GDPR-friendly email popups to your website.

If you don’t have one yet, feel free to grab this Getsitecontrol template and adjust it for your website. Getsitecontrol requires no coding or design skills, and if you add an opt-in form today, you’re likely to see list growth by the end of the first week.

Charlene Boutin is a B2B writer for hire specialized in creating compelling case studies, blog posts, and converting copy for digital entrepreneurs and SaaS businesses. When not writing, she can be found prototyping weird games in Unity or playing on her Nintendo Switch.

You're reading Getsitecontrol blog where marketing experts share proven tactics to grow your online business. This article is a part of Customer engagement section.

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