Safelists: An Affordable Marketing Option Or a Huge Waste of Time?

My “safelist verdict” is in.

And my opinion has recently been rubber-stamped by one of the biggest names in copywriting.

Let me explain …

I first read about “safelists” a month or so ago in the bonus report that was included with master copywriter Bob Bly’s eBook, Writing eBooks for Fun and Profit.

If you’re not familiar with the term, a safelist is comprised of internet users who have agreed to provide their email addresses in exchange for the ability to regularly promote to the list’s membership.

They were created as a direct result of the 2003 CAN-SPAM Act which put serious restrictions (and penalties) on email spamming. Some marketers still wanted to be able to blast out their marketing messages to thousands (even millions) of people and not be accused of spamming. And since people “opt in” to safelists, they are perfectly legal.

In his special report, Bob explained that his freelance webmaster, unbeknownst to Bob, had signed him up for a few safelists. He went on to say that if you’re interested in quantity and not quality, safelists would appear to be a low cost way to grow your e-zine subscriber list in a hurry. However, he added that it was too early for him to tell whether safelists were a useful strategy or just another internet scam.

Now that some time has passed, I was curious as to how things have worked out for him.

And not just curious for me … but for you, too.

Because if your client ever asks for your opinion on safelist marketing, it never hurts to have input from someone with Bob’s experience and expertise.

So I emailed Bob a few days ago and asked him.

I’ll tell you what he said in a minute … but first, let me tell you a bit more about safelist marketing.

Safelists are web-based, which means you don’t send out the emails from your computer and internet provider. You log onto a website, compose your message, hit send, and the safelist company sends out your emails.

Safelist owners promote them by saying they’re an inexpensive way to get your sales message out to a lot of people. Instead of having to build your own list, join a safelist and you have a ton of people just waiting to buy your product or take advantage of your free offer.

Most safelists offer the option of joining for free or, for more features, signing up for a monthly fee of generally between $5 and $15 per month. The main benefit of the paid service over the free service is that you’re allowed to email the lists every day. Most free services limit you to sending one email per week.

At first glance, this might look like a pretty good marketing strategy.

But here’s the thing about safelists …

Yes, you get to send your email to hundreds, thousands, even millions of people (depending upon how many safelists you sign up for), but everyone you send emails to will also be sending you emails.

Essentially what you have is marketers sending emails to other marketers. So there’s a good chance your ad may never be read.

To combat this, some safelist sites have adopted a couple of strategies. I call them “strategies,” but they’re really more like bribes.

Some offer credits. The more emails you open, the more credits you accumulate. You can use the credits to advertise to the list more frequently or send your message out to a greater number of names.

Others offer cash prizes. To claim a cash prize you have to weed through the emails until you find the one that has the prize.

It’s kind of like if you were walking by a teddy bear store while wearing a t-shirt that says, “I Hate Teddy Bears,” and an obnoxious teddy bear salesman tried to lure you into his store by offering you a lollipop …

Even if you take him up on his lollipop offer, the chances of your buying a teddy bear are remote at best.

Here are some other cons of safelist marketing:

  • You’ll potentially receive thousands of emails in your inbox every day. You can expect a full email box every day. Now you might be thinking, “No big deal, I’ll just sign up for a free email service and use that email.” However, most safelists won’t accept free email services. There are a couple of reason for this: 1) Many free email services have spam blockers and auto delete options (which they don’t want you to use); and, 2) They want to make sure the safelist emails go into an actual inbox that is being used.
  • They can be time-consuming. It can be time-consuming to go into your inbox and delete everyone’s email. Plus, like any marketing campaign, it takes time to tweak it and get it just right.
  • You could lose money. You might get so few responses that you end up losing money and wasting your time.
  • Opting out is not always easy. While it’s easy to “opt in” to multiple safelists at once, if you want to “opt out” you have to go into each safelist individually and ask them to remove you from their list. This can be quite time-consuming.
  • You could be put on safelists you didn’t sign up for. In the fine print, some safelist companies give themselves permission to submit your email address to other safelists. So you could find yourself on safelists you didn’t sign up for directly.

Which brings me back to Bob Bly …

His response to my safelist email was short and sweet. He wrote:

“Safelists are crap and should not be used. They bring moochers, not buyers.”

Case closed.

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Published: July 30, 2008

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