Advanced Email Marketing: Suppression Lists

One of the great ways to raise extra revenues from your list is by selling advertising sponsorships. The more responsive your list, the better rate (usually expressed as a CPM, cost per thousand, value) you can expect to get. Higher response rates tend to accompany focused, targeted audiences, so if your site is the industry leader in couponing or IT security or antique french flange sprockets, then you can get a high CPM from sponsors wanting to target your list.

There are several ways to monetize a list via advertising and sponsorships.  These are:

  • Ads in your mailings;
  • Sponsored posts;
  • Direct email blasts.

Ads in your mailings can be included via your email template or the copy of your post; that’s easy to understand. They’ll typically earn relatively low amounts for you on a CPM basis, but function a little like an ATM machine: they’re always working for you whenever you mail.

Sponsored posts are where you are paid a certain amount of money to review or promote a product or service. Again, fairly easy to understand (but don’t forget to disclose!). Sponsored posts are one-offs, but will probably make you more money on a per-mailing basis than passive ads alone.

Direct email blasts are where you send an exclusive mailing to your list with just the sponsor’s content. It’s obviously an ad, it will perform much better than any other form of email list advertising, and is often of the “20% off, free shipping” variety.

Direct emails, like sponsored posts, are one-offs, but they will earn you much better rates than a simple sponsored post or passive ad. This is especially true if you blog often enough that a sponsored post ends up being just one of several in any day’s mailing. By making the mailing dedicated to the sponsor, and it being much richer / up-front content-wise than a simple sponsored post, you ought to be able get 2x to 10x your standard sponsorship post rate on a CPM basis for a direct email broadcast. Direct mail on behalf of sponsors can be very lucrative!

Direct Broadcast Email Marketing Issues

Now direct emails come with a number of related issues. Most importantly, how will your audience react? They may object to your “using” them in this way. You can try mitigating that by warning them up front that there’s a sponsored mailing coming (and actually spin that as a “bonus” mention to your advertiser). If they’re forewarned they will be less likely to complain or unsubscribe, and instead stick around for your next content-related mailing.

Make sure that, if you’re typically a blogger / content marketer, your dedicated email blasts are the exception not the rule. The more your list feels “bombarded” or “taken advantage of” then the higher your unsubscribe and complaint rates will become, which will be an unwelcome step on multiple fronts.

Assuming, though, that you can manage all of this, and you’ve sold a great package to an advertiser that includes one or more dedicated email blasts, what every reputable email advertiser should then offer you is their suppression list. And, if they don’t, you should ask for it. Which begs the question…

What is a Suppression List?

A suppression list is basically all the people who have unsubscribed from your advertiser’s mailings. If a subscriber is active on your list but has unsubscribed from your sponsor’s mailings, then they should NOT receive an email blast from that sponsor via you. In other words, that particular email address is suppressed from your mailing. Your advertiser will provide you with a list of email addresses that you may not mail this way: the suppression list.

Now, you’re never going to email people on your list that have unsubscribed from your mailings. Your email app or service won’t let you do that; that’s standard stuff. What you need to do is have a mechanism to apply the suppression list to your one-off mailings, so that once the sponsored mailing is done, people who are active on your main list but who are also on your sponsor’s suppression list will continue to receive your regularly scheduled updates.

(Ab)Using Suppression Lists

Yes, as in many good things in life, there is also a dark side to suppression lists. Here’s the thing: They’re full of email addresses. It can be tempting to take a peek. For mailers that don’t have any scruples, it can be tempting to mail this list anyway, once the email blast is done.

Obviously, anyone who does this would have the ethics of a sewer rat, and that isn’t you, Gentle Reader. Equally obviously, though, the people providing suppression lists are aware of these risks because, would that it were different, there are in fact people with the moral values of sewer rats lurking on the Internet.

So you should know that the suppression list will contain emails that are owned by the sponsor, but won’t be obvious by their address. They’ll be buried in the list somewhere. Not only that, but these addresses will be unique to the suppression lists given to you (in other words, the same list given to somebody else will contain different traps). Bottom line: If any of those email addresses receives an email, they will know exactly where and whom it came from. These addresses are spam traps on steroids, in other words, and you will have no idea which addresses on your suppression lists are real and which ones are the gotchas. So you can’t risk mailing any of them, because doing so risks your entire ability to mail anyone in the future.

It’s really simple. Apply your suppression list to that sponsor’s mailing, and then forget about them. Don’t peek. And, for sure, never ever send email to an address that you took from a suppression list.

Suppression Lists – The Flip Side

The other side of suppression lists is when you are the sponsor, using a trusted third party to mail. Many industry journals and magazines have mailing lists that they open up to sponsors. In which case, you will be asked to provide your suppression list to the mailer. You should be able to export your unsubscribed reader list to a simple file format (email addresses, no need for demographics or other data), add some traps of your own if you wish, then send it on to the mailer.

What this means, though, is that if you ever plan on using a third party mailing service, such as an email marketing program run by an industry journal, you should never remove unsubscribed readers from your database. Why? Because you want your suppression list to be complete and accurate. And with a complete list your risk of complaints and unsubscribes is significantly reduced when using a third party service.

Now at FeedBlitz we don’t charge for unsubscribed addresses (and you can’t get rid of them either), so this risk doesn’t apply to publishers using FeedBlitz for their email marketing solution. But other services (a.k.a. ESPs – Email Service Providers) do charge for such addresses, even though they’re not going to mail them anymore for you. Crazy, I know. But if you are in that situation and you remove unsubscribed addresses from your list to keep your ESP’s fees down, then you may risk higher complaint rates from your mailer when it comes to delivering your sponsorship. If you can, I recommend you keep unsubscribe information around.

Alright. So much for email marketing suppression list theory. Tomorrow, how to set up and use suppression lists in FeedBlitz.

Meet Phil Hollows


Phil Hollows is the Founder and CEO of FeedBlitz, the email marketing, RSS feed and social media automation service, and premium FeedBurner alternative. He is also the author of “List Building for Bloggers,” - http://ListBuildingForBloggers.com - highlighting proven email strategies that build your audience, increase engagement and grow your income – without the geek speak. Phil started what became FeedBlitz in 2005, raising private equity investment in 2006. Before that, he’s held a variety of high technology, consulting and marketing positions in both the US and the UK since graduating from Oxford University in 1987. Phil’s lived in the US for nearly 22 years. The father of two teenagers and currently living in greater Boston, MA, Phil enjoys hearing from folks stateside how much they love his accent, and from friends and family back in England how American he sounds


2 comments
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email list broker

An effective way for email marketers to exclude selected addresses from specific email marketing.