Nothing Lasts Forever (Including Email Permission)
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Nothing Lasts Forever (Including Email Permission)

So you think your list is permission-based because all recipients have given their consent to receive mailings from you. Permission has been given. Now you can e-mail them whenever you wish. Is it really as simple as that? Not really. Let’s face the truth, permission should never be taken for granted as the list can go stale faster than you think.

Permission is key

What makes your list legit is direct and explicit permission from a subscriber to be emailed by you. This allows you to email your list regarding a certain topic, product, or group of products that the subscriber expressed their interest in.

Permission is a very specific term and it is highly time sensitive, however, it seems that not many email marketers realize that or rather they prefer to forget about it. Nevertheless, you should remember that your subscribers are interested in your offer at a specific moment in time and their will should be honored and not overly extended.

Read more: What is Email Deliverability?

Permission is not eternal

Many email marketers would probably maintain that permission given at any point in the past counts as permission to send. That’s true, CAN-SPAM would not categorize this as unsolicited emailing. Still, you should remember that the ones who decide about the spam rate of your messages are the recipients. If they cannot remember you, your company, or signing up to your mailing list, they will most likely mark your email as spam without even opening it.

Generating complaints is one factor but you should also remember that a stale list most probably contains numerous invalid addresses, emailing which can put your relationship with your email marketing vendor in trouble. Why is that? Because it might produce a large number of spam complaints, bounces, unsubscribes, therefore putting their deliverability at risk.

Let me walk you through this with an example scenario that I borrowed from my own experience. When I was pregnant, I subscribed to a few pregnancy goods related mailing lists. I did not keep track of all the sites that I had given my address to. Much to my surprise, I started receiving pregnancy mailings from one of the companies… When my daughter was already 6 months old and even thinking of another pregnancy was making me shiver.

Needless to say, I immediately unsubscribed, but if I was more forgetful or if I had a bad day, I would probably hit the spam complaint button. I certainly did ask for that type of mailings, but with time passing and me not being pregnant anymore, the sender’s  permission ‘expired’ a few months after it was given and no contact was made. Moreover, I had no way of unsubscribing in the meantime because no mailings were sent.

Of course, this example is quite extreme and one can argue that their mailing is justified for various reasons but you should always put yourself in your subscribers’ shoes and try to imagine their reaction to your mailing that is received after a long period of silence.

So, what is the expiration date?

Generally speaking, you should be really careful if you send to a list that has not been contacted at all, was built more than 3 months beforehand, or if you didn’t happen to send them an email for the last 6 months, you should not send it at all. The latter is a case when the permission has become stale.

You can allow yourself to be less strict time wise if we are talking about an existing list of subscribers that you have already contacted a few times but didn’t have a chance to send them an email in the last few months. In this case, you should think twice before you take the liberty of deciding that they are still awaiting your email after more than 6 months.

If you are not exactly sure if your list is still usable because of the time that has passed, or you can’t even recall how long it’s been since they were added to your list, or when was the last time you contacted them, I’d say you should consider letting them go. The loss that you may suffer as a result of a mailing gone bad can be greater than any benefits you might be anticipating.

Reconfirmation to keep your golden ratio

If you are not ready to let go and if you’re looking for other options that are in your favor, I would probably say that reconfirmation of such a list is the best method to remedy the situation. You will need to create a newsletter that gives your current subscribers a chance to decide if they want to remain on your list. Believe me, the most engaged ones will stay with you, increasing your email ROI and decreasing the complaints ratio (remember that it is the quality that counts, not the quantity!)

Such a message should include comprehensible information explaining the need for reconfirmation and a reminder of who you are. You will need to include a customized link for those who want to reconfirm their subscription and stay on your list. To make an impact you can, for example, offer a free incentive or a gift to those who will decide to remain on your list. You should make sure it is very clear that clicking this button or link is equal to reconfirming the subscription and remaining on your list while not taking any action will remove them from your list of subscribers.

Here’s a very basic example of such a message that will give you an idea of what a reconfirmation message looks like:


Subject: [[firstname]] Please stay on my list – reconfirmation needed!

Hello [[firstname]],

You are receiving this message because you have visited my site  and requested to be added to our mailing list on [[optin_date]].

We would like to make sure you still enjoy hearing from us.  To stay on our list simply click the link below:


We promise that you will not regret your decision!

If for some reason you do not wish to continue as our subscriber, please ignore this message and we will stop receiving e-mails from us.


You should of course edit the message to reflect an actual stay in touch request, however the reconfirmation link is a must.

Then, you can create a segment containing only those subscribers who clicked on the link and remove the ones who chose not to click. Voilà! Here’s your reconfirmed list of the most engaged subscribers!

All in all, the relationship with your subscribers is a lot like marriage. In order to be happy and successful it requires work, effort, and commitment from both sides. Don’t let go of the connection that you have with your list, keep them interested, do not let them forget who you are and keep a regular frequency of mailings as long as they are still looking forward to hearing from you!

We would also like to hear about your experiences with a list that permission has expired. Do you recommend any particular methods as the most efficient to revive such a list? Let us know in the comments below!


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