Sending a Mass Email? (read this first)
An AskBob reader says: 'I need to send occasional email updates to a large group of people. But I've heard that if you do it wrong, you'll get flagged as a spammer, or your emails may never get delivered. What software or services do you recommend to safely and reliably send emails to a list of people?' Read on for some good mass email options, and a few you definitely want to avoid...
Sending Emails to a List of Addresses
The reason this person wants to send a mass, group, or bulk email was not mentioned to me. But there are many legitimate reasons why you might want to send emails to a list of addresses. It could be as simple as keeping in touch with a group of friends or family. Perhaps you want to send regular updates to a group, club, or church newsletter. Maybe it's a one-time thing where you're sending invitations to a party or event. Or you might run an online business, and want to send a coupon or promotion to your customer list.
Hopefully, you're not thinking about sending 50,000 emails to a list of emails you purchased on Craigslist for $49 from a guy named Cousin Vinnie. I happen to know Vinnie, and even though he knows a guy who lives near the police department in a major city, he is not to be trusted. Such lists advertised for "email blasts" are bound to be of very low quality, and sending to them will almost certainly backfire. More on that below.
You're right to be concerned about the spam issue. Even if your intentions are the best, and your message is benign, sending the same email to a large group of people is one of the "triggers" that anti-spam filters look for, and it can result in your outgoing emails ending up in a black hole, instead of reaching the intended recipients. Bad email addresses will generate "bounces" (notices of non-delivery) back to you. The people who DO receive your message may respond angrily about your unwanted missive. Are you prepared to receive thousands of bounce messages and hate letters? The BEST likely outcome will be lots of people simply marking it as Spam. Email service providers will take that as a sign to block future messages from you.
Sending bulk emails might even violate your Internet Service Provider's terms of service. You don't want to lose your account for spamming, or even due to an honest mistake. Let's take a look at several options for mass emailing that will maximize delivery success, and minimize the chances of getting you on the Most Wanted Spammers blacklist.
Using Your Email Program to Mail to a List
If your intentions are to simply communicate with a group of a dozen or so people, I recommend using your email program's built-in list or group feature. Every mailer is different, but in general, you'll go into your Contacts or Address Book, tag each of the intended recipients, and save it as a list. You can then compose a new email and easily send to the list, instead of tediously entering each address every time you need to email your list.
Normally I love Gmail for its simplicity, but this task is surprisingly convoluted in Gmail. To create a list, you need to open your Contacts tab. To do that, you need to click on the "dashboard apps" icon, which looks like nine little squares, and is located near the top right of your Gmail window. (See illustration below.) Select the "Contacts" icon and a new Google Contacts tab will open. (If you don't see the Contacts icon, click More.)
Click "Create label" (located in the left-hand navigation list), enter the list name, and click Save.
You've created your list. Now click the icon or checkbox next to the people you want in your group. After making your selections, click the icon that looks like a rectangle pointing to the right. (I told you this was obtuse.) Click the name of the list you just created, then click Apply, and your selected contacts will be added to the list. You can now close the Contacts tab and return to the Gmail tab in your browser. To email the list at any time, click the Gmail Compose button, type the list name in the "To" box, and press enter.
If you use another webmail service, such as Yahoo Mail, Outlook.com, or a desktop mailer such as Windows Mail or Thunderbird, there will be a similar capability to create a group or list of contacts, and send to that list. Keep in mind you can use the BCC (blind carbon copy) option to send to a group without revealing everyone's address to all recipients. If you're sending to a dozen or so recipients, this approach should be fine. Some people split their mailings into groups to avoid getting flagged as spam, but management of the list, including removing bad or non-deliverable addresses, can become cumbersome.
If your list is larger, or business-related, there are better options.
Online Alternatives for Group Emails
Google Groups is a free service designed specifically to help groups of people communicate. You can create a group for your club, organization, friends, Romans, or countrymen. After inviting people to join the group, you can send messages to the group by email, and they'll be distributed to all the members. Google maintains an archive of all messages, which can be viewed on the Web.
Facebook is another option for informal groups to communicate. Facebook Groups lets you have open groups, or secret groups, so only members will be able to see the group and its postings. Members can view group messages within Facebook, and there is an option to get an email notification every time there is a new posting.
Groups.io bills itself as "Email Groups, Supercharged" and promises no ads or tracking. The interface is designed to be simple, but powerful and private. In fact, their website advises you to "drop Google and Facebook groups and use this instead". Groups.io allows for topics within the group, and lets members control which messages they want to see. You can receive every message, mute individual topics, or receive only the first message in a topic, with the option to follow the topic later. You can customize the welcome message, and assign moderators to a group. Free accounts allow for up to 100 members. Premium accounts ($20/month) can have up to 500 members, and include a group calendar, chat, polls, and sections for a database, photos, and files.
What About "Bulk Email" Software?
If you're planning to email a large group of people, you may be tempted to buy software that promises to help you build, manage and broadcast to email lists. I strongly recommend against using these "bulk mailer" programs. Typically, these programs will offer a feature to extract or "harvest" email addresses from websites, and claim to help you avoid blacklists.
Sending high-volume email from a typical home Internet connection (especially if you do not have the permission of the recipients) is a bad idea for several reasons. First, your emails will have very poor deliverability. Spam filters on the receiving mail servers are very good at sensing patterns used by spammers and bulk email programs. If your messages are not silently deleted, they will be bounced back to your inbox as undeliverable. Second, your ISP may cancel or freeze your account. If your abuse of your ISP's mail server causes it to be added to a blacklist, then it could affect the ability of ALL of their customers to send email.
Bulk email software is so 1995. Read on for some better alternatives...
Email Marketing for Clubs, Groups and Businesses
If your bulk emailing is on behalf of a business or organization, my recommendation is to use a web-based email marketing service. Mailchimp's free version is popular with non-profits and small businesses because it lets you send up to 12,000 emails per month, with up to 2000 subscribers. So, for example, you could send to a list of 400 people every day of the month; a list of 1000 people twelve times a month, etc. You don't even need a credit card to sign up.
If you need to send larger volumes, check into Aweber or Constant Contact for more robust email marketing services. (I use Aweber to send the AskBob Updates, and Constant Contact for my FlowersFast email marketing.) MailChimp, Aweber, Constant Contact and similar services all have certain benefits that are important for people who email to large groups on a regular basis. Management of your list, professionally designed email templates, handling of bounced emails, and the ability to customize messages for each recipient are lacking in the do-it-yourself approach. They also have relationships with the major ISPs, to help ensure high delivery rates. In return, they help to minimize unwanted email by requiring that senders have permission, and recipients can easily remove themselves from a mailing list.
In all cases, getting permission is key. If you're sending to people with whom you have no existing personal or business relationship, you're likely to raise red flags and possibly lose your account. Here's a list of best practices for communicating effectively via email to large groups:
- DON’T: Add people to your list without their permission. Even if you have one of those sneaky pre-checked “add me to your list” opt-in boxes, visitors won’t remember “opting in” and will consider your marketing messages spam.
- DO: Instead, use “confirmed opt-in” which requires the new subscriber to respond to a confirmation email before they are actually added to your list.
- DO: Provide a link to an easy opt-out or unsubscribe form in your email marketing messages. It’s required by federal anti-spam law. Test the unsubscribe process occasionally; it’s surprising how many don’t work and no one ever gets around to fixing the problem.
- DO: Ask subscribers to add your newsletter address to their address book or “safe senders list.” This helps to ensure that your messages won’t be routed to the junk mail folder.
- DO: Remove invalid email addresses from your mailing list as soon as you become aware of them. A large number of bounced messages can get you blacklisted.
I also recommend that you generate a report every so often to identify people who have not opened any of your messages recently. You decide if "recently" is one month, six months, etc. Email those folks to see if they wish to remain engaged. If no reponse, remove them from your list. Doing so will minimize the number of unopened messages you generate, which helps to improve your sender score with email providers.
Do you have something to say about sending bulk or mass emails? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 3 Feb 2023
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Sending a Mass Email? (read this first) (Posted: 3 Feb 2023)
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Most recent comments on "Sending a Mass Email? (read this first)"
03 Feb 2023
Our church has been using Mailchimp (free version) for a few years. It is easy to use and we have had great success with its service.
03 Feb 2023
Serious senders should consider using a mail relay service like SMTP2go, SendGrid, MailGun… there are many.
They are great for large volumes of email and have great analytics showing delivery, open, click rates.
If your club or group owns a domain name (website) you can authenticate your bona fides via your web hosting tools (DNS records) and get excellent delivery rates.
03 Feb 2023
It can be difficult to predict how an individual server will respond: I send a monthly list of events to 92 people who have requested it, and last time all those sent to recipients on Blueyonder bounced, but not the others. Even re-sending individually to those people failed, for no obvious reason. Perhaps Mailchimp is the answer.
03 Feb 2023
Another +1 for MailChimp. Yes, the interface to write and format emails is ... well ... obtuse. (Fonts are ok, but line spacing and font size isn't what one expect.) No attachments, and all graphics are linked back to MailChimp.
But MailChimp takes care of the administrivia. Automatically adds and takes care of the unsubscribe legally-required function. Drops bad addresses, you don't have to futz with these.
With a free tier of up to 2,000 addresses, this will work for most small businesses, and for us, a non-profit, that helps. A lot.
04 Feb 2023
Also please remember if you forward messages to other people, like jokes or suchlike, then send them on with the 'b.c.c' enabled. I always add this comment to my forwarded email.
"If you forward this correspondence
please delete the forwarding history which includes my email address and use Bcc: if sending to multiple recipients. It is a courtesy to me and others who may not wish to have their email addresses sent all over the World.
Erasing the history helps prevent Spammers from mining addresses and viruses from being propagated. Thank you."
04 Feb 2023
BCC should always be used for this type of email. In the UK and Europe, the privacy laws (GDPR) protect personal information and publicising everyone's email address in this way could be seen as breaching their privacy.
A group that I belong to uses MailChimp for its newsletters - it's free and works well.
I had an issue with Gmail recently - it was bouncing emails sent from my personal domain name as it didn't have an SPF record. I spoke to tech support at Ionos, who host my domain, and they set one up immediately. SPF authenticates emails you send by associating your domain with the IP address of the SMTP server you use. It's a protection against email impersonation & spoofing.