I adore my older brother. He is the unsung hero who helped fashion the geekinista that I am today.

However, sometimes he irritates the heck out of me. Especially when I try to explain to him exactly what Constant Contact does. Twice now, I’ve started in on my spiel and he’s interrupted me with “Oh, so you send out spam?”

No more Christmas presents for him.

I don’t share this to just rag on my brother though, I want to make a point.

As email marketers, we have the misfortune of being lumped in with a lot of businesses that aren’t exactly respectful of people’s inboxes.

Not only do we have to do our best to send out quality, permission-based email, we need to know the key terms and concepts of the industry, especially when it comes to email compliance.

Knowing the ins and outs of email marketing allows us to put our best feet forward. Here are the 6 compliance terms you should get comfortable with:

1.  Spam

Spam is commercial email (no, my mother’s updates on the family don’t count) that was never solicited by the receiver. It doesn’t matter whether the information in the email is great or not – if the recipient didn’t ask for it or give you their email address, the email is considered spam.

2.  Permission-Based

We talk a lot about using permission-based emails here at Constant Contact. In fact, it’s kind of our thing.  Permission-based just means that everyone on your list has given you permission to email them.  Simple, right?

There are two types of permission based on the type of interaction you had with the contact you want to add to your list: explicit permission or implied permission.

  • Explicit Permission
    Explicit (or Express) permission is when a contact says “Yes, I want you to send me emails.” This can take place when the contact checks a box, types in an email address, or sends you a message. It’s important to note that Canadian anti-spam law (CASL) has a few more details defining express and implied permission.
  • Implied Permission
    Implied permission is what you have when there’s a pre-existing customer or client relationship between you and your contact, and a less formally stated request for your information. For example, when people leave you business cards in a fish bowl, it could be considered giving implied permission.

3.  Opt-In / Subscribe

When people give permission to be added to a mailing list, it’s called opting-in or subscribing. Part of permission-based email marketing is making sure that everyone on your list has opted in.

4.   Opt-Out / Unsubscribe

Just like changing your mind about getting a magazine, contacts can change their minds about getting your emails. When they do that, they are opting out or unsubscribing. It’s American and Canadian law that every outgoing email should have an easy and visible way to opt out or unsubscribe.

5.  Soft-Confirm

A soft-confirm is like the confirmed opt-in’s gentler little brother. It’s a way to gently nudge contacts to confirm their interest in your emails, without making it a “do or die” situation. Contacts can confirm their interest and that’s great. But if they don’t, they still get your emails.

6.  Double-Opt In / Confirmed Opt-In

This is the gold standard for getting permission to email someone. Sometimes, it’s called double opt-in and sometimes it’s called a confirmed opt-in. When you have this sort of opt-in process in place for new people subscribing to your list, that means contacts take an additional step to confirm that they want the information.

Typically, this is done by having an automatic email sent to someone who just signed up, so that the contact can click the link to confirm he or she wants to receive future emails.  These double-opt ins are great to weed out misspelled or invalid email.

Confirmed opt-ins can also be used for purging lists. When you send out a confirmed opt-in email, you’re sending your contacts a link to click. If they click the link, they’ve confirmed that they want to stay on your list and keep getting emails from you. If they don’t click it, you can’t email them again. They’ve unsubscribed.

Sending permission-based emails isn’t just ethically good – it’s good for business, too. Making sure that all of your contacts want to receive your emails will not only boost your open rates, it’ll boost your results.