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Avoid Becoming a Spammer

Beef up your subscriber list the right way by making sure your online newsletter only goes to people who really want it.

Before you hit "send," stop! Just because people gave you their contact information doesn't mean they've opted in to your online newsletter. However, you're halfway there. Turn prospects and customers into e-zine subscribers simply by getting their permission first. You'll grow your e-mail list without putting your business at risk.

First of all, subscribing people to your e-zine without their explicit consent isn't guerrilla marketing--it's spam. And those involuntary subscribers might retaliate. Just a few spam complaints could bring down your website. Or your company could be flamed on a blog that gets top search engine rankings for your company name. Therefore, you must resist the urge to sign people up to your online news-letter just because they have given you their business cards, bought something in your offline or online store, or contacted you through your website.

When done right, however, these are all very effective avenues to grow your e-mail list. If you speak at an event as a way to collect leads, for example, announce during your presentation that people who want to receive your free e-zine should give you their business cards. There. They've knowingly opted in. If you collect cards at an event, ask individuals if they want to subscribe to your e-zine, or send a follow-up e-mail and include a link to your e-zine.

When customers buy something from you offline or online, invite them to subscribe to your e-zine by giving you their e-mail addresses. The same goes for website visitors who fill out a contact form--invite them to check a box to receive your newsletter. Be sure to state how often your news-letter is sent, and clearly explain your privacy policy to assure potential subscribers that it's safe to give you permission to contact them.

Using double opt-in is a good idea. Once an e-mail address is submitted, an e-mail is automatically sent to the subscriber asking him or her to confirm their subscription. This helps protect your company against spam complaints, and it reminds recipients that they did indeed sign up.

Speaker and freelance writer Catherine Seda owns an internet marketing agencyand is author of Search Engine Advertising.

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This article was originally published in the May 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Rock-Solid Leads.

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