Why Express Consent is Essential to Email Marketing + How to Get it

Illustration by Mary Delaney illustration of padlocks

Express consent isn’t just what makes your email list the most valuable members of your audience; it’s essential to building a list at all. In this guide, I’ll share:

  • What express consent is
  • Why express consent is so important in email marketing
  • What counts as proof of consent
  • How to ensure consent 
  • How to retain consent when switching to MailPoet from another email marketing service

Let’s dive right into it!

What is express consent?

Express consent is given when a person actively agrees to do or receive something. In the case of email marketing, this most often occurs when someone signs up through one of your online signup forms. You might also have people opt-in by writing their information on physical sign up sheets at in-person event.

In both of these instances, the person has physically agreed to be on your list, and you retain proof of consent.

Why is express consent so important in email marketing?

There are several reasons to get express consent before adding someone to your list, but the most important is to stay compliant with the law. Many countries have anti-spam legislation requiring proof of consent for email lists; the most notable of these is the GDPR. Breaking these laws can lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

Legitimate email marketing services, including MailPoet, also require users to consent to become part of your list. If an email marketing service discovers that you’re using emails without consent from the user, they will shut down your list. If you don’t have proof of consent, don’t put an email on your list.

Consent is important from a purely marketing standpoint too. You’ll get the best results if you reach out to people who are actively interested in your content. Sending to users who haven’t opted into your list will also get you marked as spam more often, which means your emails won’t even reach people’s inboxes.

What counts as proof of consent?

To put someone on your list, you must have viable proof of consent. This is a document that contains the following information:

  • Who consented: this can be conveyed through their name, username, session ID, or even by the email address itself.
  • When they consented: signup forms provided by popular email marketing and lead generation tools automatically track when each person signs up. If you use paper forms, you’ll need to date them at the top and/or take time-stamped photos of them. 
  • What they agreed to: the consent statement on the form they signed up with. You’ll also want to have separate copies of any relevant privacy policies/statements.
  • How they consented: a copy of the relevant signup form, with the appropriate timestamp. 

This information is automatically recorded by MailPoet when you use one of our signup forms. If you use physical signup forms, you’ll need to scan these and/or take photos of a timestamp. In some instances, your email service provider may ask for this information.

How to ensure consent

Now that you understand the importance of express consent in email marketing, let’s talk about some best practices for getting consent:

  • Be specific about what people are signing up for. Explain what users can expect to receive, including email frequency and any opt-in bonuses.
  • Get clear about what information you’re gathering and why. Tell users exactly what their information will be used for. 
  • Be clear about the person or organization asking for consent. Make sure the name of your brand is included in your signup forms. To meet anti-spam laws, you must also include an address in all email communications. If you run a home-based business and are concerned about privacy, you’ll need to rent a PO box for this purpose.
  • Use language that is easy to understand. In the US, the average reading level is 7th-8th grade. In the UK, 12 million people only have the literacy skills of someone leaving primary school. If you want to make sure that the average person is able to understand what they’re agreeing to, you need to use simple language.
Signup form with simple language
Signup form with simple language
  • Never have auto-filled checkboxes. Your subscribers should manually provide consent for anything related to email marketing.
  • Remember that subscribers have the right to revoke consent at any time. Furthermore, you need to make it easy for people to unsubscribe at any time. This means including an easy-to-see unsubscribe link at the bottom of every email. Most email marketing tools, including MailPoet, will automatically add this information to the footer of your emails.
  • Have a system for storing proof of consent. Most email marketing tools handle this for you, but you may want to have this information backed up elsewhere.

All in all, be honest and respect your subscribers’ rights.

Pro tip: Never buy an email list. There’s no way to verify consent for purchased lists. These lists also often use inactive and low-quality email addresses to bolster their numbers. Building your list organically may be hard work, but it’s well worth the effort! Need help growing your list? Check out our guide to list building and management.

When to refresh consent

In some instances, you might want or even need to refresh consent. At MailPoet, we suggest you refresh consent in the following situations:

  • You want to put contacts on your newsletter for the first time, rather than sending communications via your personal email.
  • You want to email professional contacts via MailPoet instead of your business email.
  • You want to email your WooCommerce customers for the first time.
  • You haven’t emailed a certain list in over a year. 
  • Your business model or the type of content you plan to send via email is changing significantly.

If any of these situations apply to you, take a look at our guide to refreshing consent in MailPoet

How to retain consent when moving your list to MailPoet

What happens to consent when you switch email marketing providers? Can you just move your list over, or do you need to ask people to consent to the new list?

If everything else about your business model and email marketing communications will remain the same, you can use the same proof of consent. In fact, most email marketing services offer a simple option for exporting your subscriber data as a spreadsheet, which can be uploaded to your new email marketing tool.

Switching to MailPoet is even easier if you’re coming from Mailchimp. Our integration allows you to import a Mailchimp list with just a couple of clicks, no downloads required:

Import from MailChimp
Import from MailChimp

To switch to MailPoet from a different email marketing service, complete the following steps:

  • Export your contacts as a spreadsheet (.CSV). You may need to look at the documentation for your current email marketing tool to figure out where this is done.
  • Open your WordPress dashboard and go to the “Subscribers” area of MailPoet.
  • Click the “Import” button at the top of the screen. This will take you to a page recommending that you clean your list before adding it to MailPoet. For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume you’ve cleaned your list recently; if you haven’t, be sure to clean your list before moving it! Otherwise, click “Got it, proceed to import”.
Clearout recommendation
Clearout recommendation
  • Choose “Upload a file”, then find the appropriate spreadsheet in the File Explorer.
  • Once you’ve selected the proper file, click “Next Step”.
  • Confirm the list you want to add these subscribers to. You can also select the status new subscribers will receive, if existing subscribers’ information will be updated, and whether or not to update their information.
Import Settings
Import Settings
  • Review all of the data and click “Import”.

Once you’ve moved subscribers onto your MailPoet list, you may want to refresh consent, but this isn’t necessary if you’ve been regularly communicating with this list.

Final thoughts on the importance of consent in email marketing

Consent is an essential cornerstone of email marketing. You need it to market ethically, to stay within the terms and conditions of any legitimate email marketing service, and to comply with international anti-spam laws.

The good news is that email marketing tools like MailPoet collect all of the data you need for proof of consent. They also have tools in place to help you create easy-to-understand signup forms, export your list, and refresh consent at key intervals. 

You should also be sure to follow some best practices when creating your signup forms:

  • Be 100% clear about the data you’re asking for and how you intend to use it
  • Use easy-to-understand language
  • Make sure users know what company, person or organization they’re giving their email address to
  • Never auto-fill checkboxes on your signup forms
  • Make it easy for subscribers to opt out at any time
  • Have a system for storing proof of consent, especially if you also use paper signup forms at in-person events.

And remember, the value of your list is their consent.