May 10, 2016

Email Marketing Basics #1: Why use a paid service

I always thought it was obvious that if you were going to send marketing emails you should use a paid email marketing platform.

We should consider however that there are ‘free’ alternatives.

In 2007 I started work in the marketing team for a small CRM company. Email was very much a part of the marketing plan. I forget the exact numbers but we had about 30,000 contacts in our house database with marketable email addresses.

We considered these people to be ‘prospects’. I imagine they considered us to be ‘a pest’.

Our emails were not sent to a well thought-out schedule; the schedule was more based around how many leads we had generated so far that month, and how close we were to presenting the lead count at the next company meeting.

The process for sending out an ‘eshot’, as we called it, was first I would export the list of contacts to an Excel file. I would then add the Excel file into a program called ‘World Merge’. I did a little digging around for World Merge and found it still actually exists.

(Question: does that look like a trustworthy platform to send email out with?)

World Merge was a basic program which allowed you to upload your contact list, upload your email HTML, and blast out your emails using your regular internet service provider.

This was long before the advent of Google Apps or Microsoft 365. Sending emails out in this manner was akin to somehow sending 30,000 emails in 20 minutes through Microsoft Outlook.

There was no way to include an automatic unsubscribe link in these emails. If someone wanted to opt-out of our ‘eshots’ they would have to reply, and tell us in sometimes colourful language to sod off.

Sending emails out in this way also meant no reporting. Beyond the number of leads and unsubscribe requests we had no idea how many people were receiving our email, opening our email or clicking on links.

One cloudy Tuesday morning S, the sales director, stormed in to our little marketing den.

“I sent an email to a prospect who is looking at placing a £40k order, and for some reason he never received it,” he said, exasperated.

After an hour on the phone with our competent but socially awkward technical department we established that our domain had been blacklisted.

So not only were our marketing emails not being delivered, but regular legitimate emails with important proposal information were also getting blocked too.


It took us about three months to get our domain un-black listed. I have no idea what the technical team did to achieve this.

If you still had any doubts about the value of investing in a monthly subscription-based email marketing platform then let me emphasise that sending broadcast emails out through your internet service provider is a really bad idea.

It might be ‘free’ to send emails out in this way, but you get no reporting and you run the gauntlet of having your domain blacklisted.

In hindsight using something like World Merge was the only way we could legitimately email the list we had accumulated at the time. A small proportion of the list had opted in through our website, but most of the addresses were old prospects or contact data that had been bought.

Bought data is a big no-no for all of the subscription based platforms.

When you upload a list to Mailchimp for the first time Mailchimp effectively take a gamble on you. As part of that gamble they will throttle your first broadcast, which means they send it a tiny bit at a time, and monitor the reports. If it turns out your list contains bought data they can shut down your account.

Some platforms, such as dotmailer, will scan your list on import and reject it if it looks like a bought list.

So I don’t want to completely dismiss the case for using things like World Merge. I had a client a few years ago who used a similar program called Send Blaster with a service called ‘turbo SMTP’ to avoid the ISP problem. They generated leads from cold data using Send Blaster then added the warm leads into Mail Chimp.

You should check local laws before doing this sort of thing (in Canada for example this would be illegal). It also isn’t something I can help with. Too ‘grey hat’ for my taste.

We’ll talk more about different email marketing platforms later in the series.

Rob Drummond

Rob Drummond runs the Maze Marketing Podcast and Maze Mastery. Rob specialises in content production, ad creation, storytelling and CRM systems. He has two published books, Magnetic Expertise and Simple Story Selling, affordable on Amazon.