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Building A Compliant Email Database: How Not To Spam

April 26 - 2024

Email Marketing Strategy 5 min read

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Every marketer should be aware of data privacy and how it relates to email recipients. From database management to double opt-in and sending permissions, several factors must be taken into account when building a compliant email marketing database. 

Unsure about whether your list is compliant? Don’t worry – we’ll help you stay on the right side of the rules by covering the basics of email marketing compliance for marketers in 2024.

Why does email marketing compliance matter, anyway?

For many marketers, the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) in 2018 set a new standard for data security and compliance. GDPR gives us the framework to collect, store and use personal data legally. Over the years, brands have seen the business and commercial benefits of treating a customer’s data as a precious gift.

As the digital world continues to mature, email providers have set clear expectations for how businesses send email campaigns. Brands must send relevant content from an authenticated source to users who actively want to receive your content. 

That means regularly cleaning your database to remove inactive users, reducing any activity that may be flagged as spam and ensuring you have the right authentications in place. Failing to comply means failing to reach your target’s inbox.  

The standards around email compliance and sender activity are continually improving –  a recent update from Google and Yahoo set new authentication requirements to prevent spam and ensure users are only receiving relevant emails from brands.

So, building and maintaining a compliant email database goes hand-in-hand with maximising email deliverability. The higher the quality of your email list, the less likely you are to be flagged as spam. This will only lead to more interested and engaged users seeing your content and buying from your brand. 

Now you know why compliance is important – but what does a compliant email database look like? And how can you ensure you are maintaining the highest standards while working towards positive results and growing your database? Let’s dig a little deeper.

How does GDPR affect email marketing?

GDPR succeeded the Data Protection Act (DPA) of 1998, which was enforced long before the advent of data usage in digital marketing. The ICO (Information Commissioner's Office) introduced GDPR to return the power of data privacy back into the hands of users and allow them to be better informed about where their data is stored and how it is used.

Over the last six years, all marketers will have grappled with GDPR at some point, so we won’t go into too much detail here. In short, the ICO set out seven key principles for anyone handling or processing personal data. Failure to comply with the principles may leave you open to substantial fines. There is no fixed penalty figure; the ICO simply says this could mean a fine of up to £17.5 million, or 4% of your total worldwide annual turnover, whichever is higher.

While the threat of a fine is enough to make any marketer consider their data processes, it shouldn’t be the only motivation. These regulations mean that users should only receive marketing messages that they have requested and, therefore, are of interest to them. 

Following the enforcement of GDPR in 2018, many brands were forced to cull or even delete their databases to ensure compliance. But remember, email database management isn't a one-time event, it's an ongoing process that's directly linked to the success of your email marketing. You can only ensure its compliance and effectiveness by continuously monitoring and updating your database. 

GDPR and spam

GDPR isn’t the only concern for marketers when it comes to sending emails. Email providers have built-in spam detectors that will flag your messages if they don’t meet certain criteria. Part of GDPR is the opt-in process, which means that users should always give “valid consent” to receive marketing emails. 

The exception to this is via the ‘soft opt-in’, which allows businesses to contact existing customers via email provided you ensure they had a chance to opt out when you first collected their details and in every subsequent campaign. 

Many brands choose to go with double opt-in, which asks users to tick a box and confirm via email that they are happy to receive marketing messages. This might reduce the number of sign-ups, but it will ensure that all new subscribers are happy to receive your emails and are, therefore, more likely to engage. Double-opt-in will also filter out any bot signups, so this will keep your emails safe from spam filters and protect your sender's reputation with the big email providers. 

How to grow an email database

Whether you’re starting a brand or simply investing more in email marketing, you will want to prioritise growing your database. At first, this will seem daunting, but remember that quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quantity when it comes to email lists. By starting now, you can ensure that every user is relevant and all information is accurate.


Here are some tips for growing an email list…

Consider necessary fields

A name and an email address might be all you think you need, but if you can gather additional relevant information, then this will likely prove useful in the long run. Consider the ‘value exchange’ concept, where you can ask customers for additional data provided you explain the benefit to them. For example, an ecommerce brand may ask for a customer’s date of birth in order to send them a birthday discount code or gift. 

Offer incentives

Growing a database from scratch can be a slow process, but one way to attract subscribers is to offer them an incentive for signing up. One simple way to do this is to give new subscribers a small discount code. 

Ensure data compliance from day one

Whatever information you collect, remember your users must be aware of how you process and store their data. Make sure your privacy and cookie policies are up-to-date and only work with email marketing partners and technology you can trust to handle your customer data correctly.

Make it easy to sign up

It’s surprising how many brands don’t make their email sign-up forms accessible and easy to find. Make sure new visitors can find the form on your homepage, and consider making a dedicated landing page you can link to from social media profiles and posts.

Leverage more of your website

Try including sign-up forms on other key pages and interactions within your website. Consider the context of certain pages to identify whether users will be keen on learning more – such as a stock alert sign-up for out-of-stock products. Similarly, if a user has scrolled to the end of a blog post, they are likely invested in your content – so ask them to sign-up to your newsletter to access more of it.  

Make content relevant, but don’t overuse the database

Even if your database is still relatively small, you should start making the most of it. If people sign up, and don’t receive any emails for weeks, they might be more likely to unsubscribe when you do start sending your regular communications. Make it clear what they can expect from the outset so you don’t ever feel un

Appoint an email marketing agency

Managing an email database can be laborious, especially if your database requires cleaning. Even the best-crafted emails will fall at the first hurdle if you don’t comply with the industry’s various regulations and standards. 

By appointing an experienced email marketing team, you can rest easy knowing that both the technical and creative elements of your strategy are taken care of, so you can focus on driving forward with your marketing goals.

Should I buy an email list?

This is a question that used to come up frequently. Before 2018, buying email lists was quite common, as marketers believed the more users in their database, the higher the chances they would have of success. However, GDPR put a stop to that for B2C brands, as users must provide “valid consent” (i.e. opt-in) to join a database, and they must also be aware of how their data is being used - or sold. 

Though B2B businesses can arguably still use rented or purchased data, we would advise caution. Users who didn’t consent to your messages are more likely to ignore or delete your message, which can actively harm your deliverability – or even report you as spam. 

How to clean your email database

As we’ve already mentioned, cleansing an email database isn’t a one-time job. You need to continuously manage your database and ensure all data is up-to-date to maximise the performance of your email campaigns. 

Cleansing your database isn’t necessarily a matter of compliance as much as it is a smart business decision. According to a study by Vainu, around a third of company data becomes outdated after just a year. So, if you aren’t regularly updating and cleansing your database, you will start to see lower performance, including fewer opens and click-throughs and higher bounce rates. 

If you have a large and well-established email database, cleansing the data might seem like a huge undertaking. You’d also be forgiven for thinking that reducing the number of people on your list will have an adverse effect on your stats, but we know that the opposite is, in fact, true. 

By removing inactive users from your database, your percentage of opens will increase proportionally. Are you worried about having a smaller database? Don’t be. Quality is far more important – more doesn’t equal better

Finding success is about sending relevant and interesting content to people who are likely to engage with your brand, and any incorrect or inactive data points will only hinder that process.

Here are some tips for effectively cleaning your database

Improve incomplete entries

If email personalisation is a priority for you (which it should be!), subscribers with limited information can only offer so much. Consider setting up a preference centre or campaign that encourages users to provide more information based on their behaviours and needs. 

Re-engage or remove disengaged users

You might find that there is a certain percentage of users who simply haven’t interacted with your emails for a long period of time. Depending on your strategy, you could seek to re-engage these by sending a tailored reactivation campaign that features a special offer. If that doesn’t work, you should first reduce send frequency and if they still remain unengaged, remove them from your list.

Appoint a data analyst

Data cleansing is a time-consuming process, especially if you have a large database with multiple data sources. The optimum way to ensure the quality of your data is to bring in a data analyst with experience in email marketing to get your database into tiptop condition.

Worried about your emails hitting the spam filter? Not sure if your email marketing process is compliant? At Jarrang, we work with ambitious organisations to get better results from their email marketing, all while ensuring that their processes are both compliant and effective for maximising deliverability. Get in touch to work with us today.

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