The Spamhaus Project


C-O-N-S-E-N-T, find out what it means to me!

With her unique style of wisdom, wit, and authenticity, Alison Gootee is a pro at challenging you to think differently about fundamental deliverability issues. Recently, we asked Alison to share her thoughts on consent, an issue close to Spamhaus. Guess what? She said, "yes!" So, sit back, grab a cup of coffee, and read on to find out what consent means to her.

by Alison GooteeMay 01, 20247 minutes reading time

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Succeeding in the art of email marketing hinges on a crucial understanding: consent is key. Seems straightforward, right? Either you agree to something, or you don’t. Here are three scenarios that could easily happen in real life, jokes aside. In full disclosure, much of this blog focuses on the "why" before sharing what marketers can do because without understanding the why, the what becomes near impossible to achieve.

But doesn’t intent matter, too?

Think about the three scenarios above; what about the intent behind the consent?

  • If agreement is coerced, is it really an agreement?

  • If you give permission, but only because it’s required in order to receive something you need or want, are you truly consenting to what happens next?

  • If you are “opted in” without being given the opportunity to decline, was it even optional?

These aren’t just philosophical or ethical considerations; recognizing authentic consent is integral to understanding your deliverability outcomes.

Email marketers routinely misunderstand the concept of permission, operating under the assumption that “opt-in” is a technical requirement.

While it may be a legal hurdle in many jurisdictions, blocklists like Spamhaus’ aren’t reviewing senders’ subscription processes to verify that consent has been appropriately obtained. Mailbox providers don’t review your terms and conditions to verify that email consent is listed in the fine print. They don’t need to - and it doesn’t matter anyway! True permission can only be freely given, and an agreement entered into involuntarily will inevitably reveal itself in the data: bounces, block listings, spam folder placement, and even low engagement are all frequently traced back to a lack of explicit, voluntary consent.

What should marketers do, then?

  • Instead of obliging or tricking users to “opt in” to your mailing list, create content so compelling that people truly desire it.

  • Rather than requiring that users agree to emails when they have to check the “terms & conditions” box, build a brand so appealing that people ask to be on your mailing list.

  • Don’t bury consent in a menu somewhere! Put it front-and-center and give people ample opportunity to interact without being trapped on a list they didn’t knowingly sign up for in the first place.

Sing it with me now, C-O-N-S-E-N-T, for deliver-a-bil-i-ty! Louder for those in the back!

If you haven’t seen Alison’s posts on LinkedIn, they’re funny and engaging, and she is simply brilliant—go give her a follow. You won’t regret it!