Proper Email List Etiquette (Don’t Spam People)

Written by Nick Leffler | Comments Off on Proper Email List Etiquette (Don’t Spam People) | 7 min read

Sending an email that’s seen as spam could have a cost for your business. Learning proper email list etiquette is easy and your business will look good for practicing it.

Every day billions of emails are sent all over the globe. Most of those emails are spam. If you aren’t careful and learn the basics of email etiquette, you could be sending spam too not even know it.

I had a discussion with a client a while back who after talking to it became clear didn’t understand good email list etiquette. I was talking to him about how important email marketing is to stay in contact with his clients. That’s great, but he had one misunderstanding about what it meant to grow an email list.

He made one big mistake that didn’t officially make him a spammer but put him in a category that customers don’t look at in a positive way. He was under the impression that it was OK to put contacts in his email list that he had collected business cards from. I’ll explain later why this was a huge error and how you can be careful not to fall into the same trap.

Another discussion I had was a rental car company marketing associate. The company collected customers email addresses when they rented a car and put it into their database. He was asking if it was OK to send those customers a mass email.

You’ll learn why this type of behavior works against email list etiquette even though it’s legal if approached right.

Legal doesn’t always mean good.

It’s easy to know if your emails are in the legal zone or if they’re spam. For the United States, the CAN-SPAM act page has some simple guidelines that help determine what your email needs. I want to go beyond this legal zone though.

Just because your emails are legal doesn't mean they make you look good to your customer. Share on X

If you give recipients a way to unsubscribe and location information, you’re almost completely covered legally. Just because you’re covered legally doesn’t mean you’ll look good in your customer’s eyes though. That’s why email list etiquette is more important than any law.

Benefits of Going Beyond the Law

There are many benefits to going beyond the law and following email list etiquette closely. The law only requires you to provide certain information when sending email out to your email list. That isn’t good enough, though. Even if you follow the law customer may get the impression you are spamming them.

How your business looks in your customer’s eyes is important to your brand. Without a clean brand that presents itself professionally, honest, and knowledgeable, you risk alienating customers. By going beyond laws and treating customers with respect, your business will prove that you care about your customers.

Here are some of the benefits you’ll receive by going beyond the law and following email list etiquette:

  • Your domain won’t get blacklisted.
  • Look good to customers.
  • Save money on email list subscribers.

The list of benefits could go on, but these are enough to make it worth following email list etiquette beyond the laws.

Benefits of going beyond the law are plentiful, but you also need to know how to do that. Looking at what is OK will help you be on the right path to helping your customers, not hurting them.

What Is OK

There’s a fine line between growing your email list properly and growing it improperly.

The one rule to keep in mind when asking yourself if it’s OK to put someone in your email is this:

Did the person explicitly opt into your email list?

It’s OK to send emails to customers which are personalized and helpful to them. It’s also OK for you to ask if you can add them to your newsletter. You’ll probably want to tell them the benefits and then ask. If they say it’s okay then you’re in the clear to look good to the customer and be clear legally.


I want to elaborate on the question of whether or not a person explicitly opted in or not. A customer should be expecting your newsletter. I don’t know how many times I’ve received an email from a company but never opted into their list. They got my email address from something I filled out yet I never explicitly opted in.

Filling out a form is NOT explicitly opting in unless it’s clear in one simple line of text and not buried in legal speak.

If a customer didn’t explicitly opt in by saying “yes it’s OK for you to add me to your email list” then it’s not OK to add them. In that case, you can email them individually but under no circumstance should they receive a newsletter.

If a customer doesn't explicitly opt into your email list, you can not add them. Share on X

The one exception to this rule is for a customer to download something of value. If you offer an opt-in form in order for a customer to receive your eBook and the exchange of email for eBook is clearly stated, you’re in the clear.

Not all email list sign-ups come online, though. Sometimes email sign ups come from being out and about meeting people and gathering business cards.

Business Cards Email

Almost every business card you received today probably has an email address on it. Email is the most used contact method I have with clients and myself. I sometimes text or use tools such as Slack, but email still reigns king.

You collect business cards at networking events and you’re meeting people every day. It’s OK to add those contacts to your newsletter, right?


If you haven’t asked if you can add them to your email list, you shouldn’t do it. This goes back to the explicit opt-in from your customers. You’re free to ask if they’re interested in your email newsletter, though. In fact, they may be so happy you actually asked that they’ll gladly oblige and let you add them.

The rule of thumb when following email list etiquette is to always ask, always seek permission and never assume. That’s especially true on your website forms.

Form Signups

In past posts, I’ve mentioned the importance of including an opt-in option on all forms on your website. While it’s important to put your email list sign up in front of people, it’s even more important not to force them into it.

Pre-selecting an opt-in selection box is another form of forcing someone into signing up. It tricks users because many people are in a hurry and aren’t reading the details of your form. Don’t take advantage of your visitor’s situation. Your website should be clear and understandable at a glance, so should your email list opt-in selection.

Email list opt-ins on your forms should not be pre-selected. Visitors should select it themselves. Share on X

All email opt-in options on your website forms should not be pre-selected. Visitors who are filling out a form should have to select the option to subscribe, not the other way around.

Don’t automatically select the option to subscribe to your email list for your visitors.

Mass Email Spam

Going back to the stories at the start of this post, it should be clear how important email list etiquette is. Taking email addresses for one purpose then using them for something else isn’t okay. It may be legal to do this if you follow all the rules but it won’t make you look good to your customers.

If you send an email blast out to all your customers, they had better have opted into it. If they haven’t opted in, your best bet is to contact them one on one, directly, and with a personalized email.

If you send unwanted email to customers, you won't look good and your domain could get blacklisted. Share on X

My client should be asking if people would like to opt-in when he meets people and gets business cards. The marketing associate who was asking about using customers email addresses from their account to send a newsletter or mass emails shouldn’t be doing that.

Going against these may not be illegal but they won’t make you look good to your customer. They also could have the negative impact of getting your domain blacklisted. If your domain gets blacklisted, your emails will go straight to the spam folder and all your work will be in vain.

Now you need some great ways to grow your email list. There are many email marketing options and luckily I wrote an article that gives you 8 great ways to grow yours.

Go get signups but get them the right way.

This is posted in and tagged
Scroll to Top