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Safelist Marketing- The What, Why & How Behind It (2023 Guide)

Safelist marketing is among the older internet marketing channels out there. It is older than social media. Yet, being so established, it remains a controversial topic among digital marketers. Some consider it a viable channel, others call it spam. So what is it about? Is it ok to do safelist marketing?

Our guide will help you shed light on this non-traditional channel so you can decide if it is worth getting into.

What’s a Safelist?

A safelist is a group of email users that have agreed to add their email address to a mailing list and use that list to send their promotional emails. It is a closed group where people send emails to each other.

The name “safelist” gives us clues about its meaning, too. It is a list of emails that are safe from being marked as spam. Every member in the list has agreed to receive emails from other members and committed not to spam or report them. Unlike any email service, the safelist platforms do not have a “mark as spam” or “report” feature.

Safelists are usually used for marketing. In particular, members of safelists will promote their products or services to each other – aiming at driving traffic and converting some of the list members into their paid customers.

Safelist marketing started back in the 2000s. The primary motivations behind people creating such groups were strict regulations on email spamming that governments and email services had implemented. In particular, it was the Federal Trade Commission’s 2003 law coined “CAN-SPAM” that served as the key driver for creating closed safelist groups.

Are safelists legal?

The short answer is that they are not illegal. But here’s the long answer to understand its legality better.

That’s right, safelists were created because of spam laws. However, there is a common misunderstanding that a safelist is a “safe haven” online businesses use for spamming and avoiding legal regulations. Assuming that you have joined a proper safelist and not fallen for a scam, the legality of safelist usage depends on your content too.

How? Let’s review safelists from these four aspects:

  • Affirmative consent: when users knowingly do a double opt-in to receive emails from their peers. If the rules, policies, and the way safelists work are made clear to you before you join, then that specific safelist should be fine from the legal perspective.
  • Ability to opt-out: people receiving promotional emails should be able to opt-out, and the sender should honor the request. Here, safelists comply as well, as members can exit the group and stop receiving messages.
  • Absence of misleading messages: this aspect is on the sender. It is your responsibility to make it clear that your email is an ad and be honest with the message and subject line.
  • Telling who you are and where you are located: this responsibility is shared between you and the safelist members. The “from” address and email user name are handled by the safelist. Writing a wrong or misleading “from” address or name is prohibited. Having your correct physical address in the email body is your responsibility. Again, “misleading” here is prohibited under CAN-SPAM.

Now that we know what safelists are and how to deal with their legal side, let’s discuss the main point of our guide – marketing with safelists.

How Does Safelist Marketing Work?

Safelist marketing is not as complicated as you might think. After all, it is a specific type of email marketing, and there is little extra that you need to learn to get started.

For marketing with safelists, there are two tools that you will interact with – a safelist website and your email service.

The process is fairly simple. Let’s see the steps from setup to driving traffic to your website.

Signing up and sending an email to the list

1. Pick a safelist, sign up on its website to become a member.

Signing up for an email safelist

2. Log into your safelist website, create an email and add your ad content to it.

Logging into safelist account

3. Make sure that you have some kind of link tracking tool. Paste your link into the Website URL area.

4. Hit Send.

That’s it, now the members of the safelist will receive your email.

Getting clicks

This part is all about your content and internet marketing skills. The website URL that you added when creating an email will be placed in the email body, and people will click on it only if you have caught their interest and attention.

The link you place in the website URL field is the final destination for the people reading your email. Place the URL of the page or website where you want your safelist traffic to go.

Gaining credits

To send emails to your safelist, you need to have enough credits. The credit system was implemented to motivate list members to open the emails of their peers, as you gain credits each time you open a mail sent by a safelist member.

To gain credit, you need to:

1. Log in to the email account that you use for the safelist.

2. Open an email you have received from a safelist member.

Email from safelist

3. Click on the reward link in the email.

This link will take you to your safelist website, and you will see the credit added to your balance. Some safelists also offer to buy credits directly from the website or pay a monthly fee to access the entire list without credit limitations.

Using safelists is easy, but is it worth your time and effort? Let’s see it together.

Benefits of Safelist Marketing

As a marketing channel, safelist might seem quite non-traditional to some of you, considering all of its potential drawbacks. After all, you are sending ads to people who will open your email just to be able to send ads to you. Doesn’t sound like it should work, right?

Despite all of this, safelist marketing has proven useful to many marketers. People have successfully promoted various business opportunities, e-commerce sites, and earned money online with them. It is all about taking into consideration the audience on the list with their motivations and taking advantage of it.

If used correctly, a safelist can become a viable channel and even beat traditional channels like search engine optimization (SEO) in terms of effectiveness.

Let’s check out some of the safelist marketing benefits.

Benefit #1: Used right, they can be an effective form of advertising

The effectiveness of advertising depends on showing relevant ads to relevant people, right? Safelist ads can be relevant too!

Many safelist members not only click on emails to gain credits, but they read them looking for new tools or product promo offers. So if you show them a relevant ad with the offer or product they need, you will get a click and a conversion.

Selling affiliate products and matching traffic with offers is also quite common in safelists.So, in terms of generating leads, safelist marketing can be a viable option. For more on this, check out our lead generation guide.

Benefit #2: Safelists can drive traffic to your website

Safelist marketing works well in scale with automation and can convert into sizable traffic on your website.

The number of members you can email and maximum sending frequency depends on your credits and usage history. We assume that you have experience with your safelist and have gained enough credits. You can use automation tools (sending tools and autoresponders) and send scheduled emails to hundreds of thousand people every day or week, depending on your limits. You can be a member of several safelists and scale like that too. If done right, your CTR can be somewhere around 2-3%.

The CTR and the number of sent emails above can translate into several thousand people visiting your website.

Benefit #3: No significant costs

Safelist marketing is easy to get into, thanks to its cost-effectiveness.

By design, safelist marketing is a simple exchange. People open your emails when you open theirs. So, it is natural to be free. Free safelists are everywhere.

However, if you want to scale your operations, and gaining credits by reading emails is not an option for you, some safelists will charge you $15-30 monthly for unlimited credits. Safelist marketers report an average of $0.1-$0.18 of cost per click with the monthly subscription.

Benefit #4: No risk of being reported as spam

Safelist members know they will receive ad emails. So, the chance of someone reporting your emails is quite low. The entire system is built on this “safety” concept.

It seems like safelists can be beneficial for your marketing efforts, considering all the benefits above. But how can I do safelist marketing right? Let’s highlight several best practices.

Safelist Marketing: Best Practices

To know how to do safelist marketing properly, you will need to follow best practices that are both general to any other channel and very specific to the safelists. We have gathered a couple of safelist marketing tactics and best practices here for you.

1. Use separate email accounts for listing and contact

To become a safelist member, you need to have two email accounts, as you will need your email for two purposes:

  • Contact email: this is the email that you use to communicate with the safelist administration and peers.
  • Listing email: this is both the email where ads are sent to you and the email from which you send your own ads.

When using the same account for both cases, you risk losing important emails from admins and peers in the pile of ads you can get every day. If the safelist is big enough, you can end up with 2-3 thousand email ads in your inbox every day.

Having a separate contact email and listing email makes it much more manageable.

2. Pay attention to your ad copy

This rule applies to any type of advertising, not only to safelists. A good ad copy can make or break your campaign.

Writing good ads is a story for another day, but here are some tips for your consideration:

  • Double-check your URLs. There is nothing worse than a great ad email that takes you to nowhere.
  • Make sure your email is mobile-responsive. Most emails today are opened on mobile devices. Make sure your email looks good and is readable on iOS and Android devices.
  • Use HTML email builders for better-looking emails. Email design, even a simple one, can have a significant impact on CTR.

You can draw inspiration from our email marketing examples too.

3. Use safelist as part of a funnel

Safelist emails work great for so-called “soft pitches”.

An average safelist email reader barely spends a couple of seconds checking your email out. This is not enough time to tell them a compelling story and sell them your product. However, this is sufficient to get them interested enough to subscribe to your email list or visit one of your landing pages.

If you create a funnel for your safelist or include it into your existing one, the chances of converting visitors will increase significantly.

4. Practice Link Tracking

Safelists only send emails in bulk to their members. This means that there is little to no performance data that you can get from the safelist website.

Fortunately, link tracking tools are here to save our day. Instead of placing your website’s or landing page’s URL in the email, shorten it with a link tracking tool and place its URL instead.

Link tracking tools allow you to count how many people have clicked on your link, when, and from which locations. Here’s what it looks like with Bitly, a popular link tracking tool.

Link tracking via bitly tool

With link tracking, you can:

  • Set performance KPIs
  • Track the impact of improvements in your advertising.
  • Compare and choose the best safelist for your specific product or offer.
  • Do split and A/B testing, and more.

No matter which tool you choose, link tracking will be exceptionally useful for you.

5. Make Sure Your Content is Not Violating CAN-SPAM

As we have already established, avoiding the “spam” title is partially on you too. So, make sure to:

  • Include your physical address and name in the email.
  • Be honest with the offer and your wording. False advertising is a direct ticket to “spam”.
  • Send safe content that will not be moderated and blocked by email services.

There are plenty of best practices to consider, but starting with these will surely give you a head start in your safelist marketing strategy.

Now Over to You

Safelist marketing is very specific, unusual, and unconventional. However, when you know what it is about, who the audience is, and how to do everything right, you can turn it into a viable traffic source with lovable conversion rates. Hope you found our guide useful to decide if this channel is right for you. Good luck out there driving traffic and conversions!

Liked the guide on safelist marketing? Check out our guides on email marketing and other channels in our blog. We have a lot more email marketing content coming soon too!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Still have open questions? We have answered the most common ones for you.

Q1. What’s a credit safelist?

A credit safelist uses the crediting system to motivate members to open emails. If you want to send emails, you need to have credits. If you want to gain credits, you need to open the emails of your peers in the safelist group.

Sometimes the safelist website will also sell credits.

Q2. What’s a viral mailer?

A viral mailer is a safelist, where you can involve other safelists and safelist mailers. This is called creating a downline. With a viral mailer, you are not limited to sending to the members of your safelist. Using the list builders, the members in your downline will receive your email ads as well. Downlines are built by entering your referral ID and others joining and entering theirs.

Q3. What’s safelist aggregation?

Safelist aggregation is a Microsoft email server technology that runs on the Exchange Server. It takes the junk email settings from the Microsoft Outlook desktop app and web app for all users in the group, unifies it, and starts filtering incoming emails based on the aggregated data.

Q4. Does safelist marketing work for everyone?

It does not. Safelist marketing works well if you sell affiliate program offers or tools, as your audience is safelist marketers or affiliate marketers. You need to beware that not all types of offers and products will work in a safelist. It is a closed group of members with a specific type of audience.

Sona author profile pitcure

Sona Kalantaryan is a senior digital marketer with a creative past. Big fan of high cinema and well-optimized landing pages. She authors guides by sharing the best practices and does it the right way!