Blast, Harvesting, Purchased Opt-in, Engagement, and Click Rate: Email Vocabulary

For some reason, a lot of the people I’ve been communicating with lately are using the term ‘blast’ to describe sending to their email list. It reminded me of this article, which I originally wrote for my ClickZ column in 2011. Enjoy!

My mother taught me, from the time I was small, that words matter. In my family, saying “I’ve got to pee” wasn’t an acceptable way to excuse oneself to go to the bathroom. There were more congenial ways to express that sentiment and I was expected to use them.

So it surprises me when people doing email marketing use language that makes me (and many of those in the industry) cringe.


“Blast” is one such term. I’ve never used the word “blast” to describe the sending of an email campaign. And, for me, the first sign that someone is probably a new or unsophisticated email marketer is the use of “blast” in this context. Sometimes I’m proven wrong, but most of the time I’m not; I’ve found it to be a good indicator.

Blast has a companion term; it’s often used in the phrase “batch and blast,” which is a way to express the fact that the sender isn’t segmenting or targeting at all – they are just “batching” all the email addresses they have and “blasting” a single email marketing message to them. In the industry, “batch and blast” has a derogatory connotation. The UK version of this is ‘spray and pray’ — also bad.


Another such word is “harvesting,” when used to describe how a list is being built. I was speaking with someone whose organization is doing email marketing last week who used this term repeatedly, until I asked him to stop and explained why.

“Harvesting” is discussed in the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 – it’s actually called out as an aggravated violation of the law, meaning that penalties under the law increase if harvested addresses are involved. There is some debate, even with the law, about what the definition of “harvesting” is: does it require automation or is it harvesting even when email addresses are manually pulled from websites without permission? But here’s my point with the use of the word “harvesting”: you’re either admitting that you’re doing something that has the potential to get you into legal trouble or you’re using the wrong term for what you’re doing.

You may think that my dislike of “blast” is just because I think it’s crass. And you might be right. But I feel like I’m on firmer ground when I cringe at use of the word “harvesting;” here, there are legal implications.

Purchased Opt-In

Another of the least-favorite phrases I hear is “purchased opt-in,” as in “I purchased an opt-in list.” Typically, the truth is that the person (a) purchased a list that the seller said was opt-in (but, in the typical industry understanding of “opt-in,” isn’t) or (b) is renting an actual opt-in list.

Opt-in is another word for affirmative consent or permission. None of these are transferrable between organizations; therefore, you can’t “buy” an opt-in list, although you can rent one. Purchase tends to mean that the seller provides the buyer the email addresses; rental involves the renter providing creative that the list owner or broker sends to the list on the renter’s behalf (the renter never takes possession of the email addresses).

It may seem like a small detail, but the difference between purchasing an opt-in list and renting an opt-in list is huge. The former is a move that many unsophisticated email marketers make, which can jeopardize their deliverability and their reputation; the latter is an industry-accepted way to go about marketing to third-party email lists.


This is currently a very hot buzz word in the industry, and while I’ve been known to use it myself, my concern is how we all use and define it.

Engagement can be used in a general context (“improve engagement”) or as another term for click-to-open rate (CTOR). Wanting to increase recipient’s engagement (general context) with your email is good. But when the focus shifts too strongly to engagement (CTOR) as the driving force behind your marketing efforts, it’s bad.

Case in point: the results of a test campaign I did for a client and the response of the marketing manager responsible for the send. Here are the results:


The marketing manager I was working with initially decided that the control had won, since the test lagged in “engagement” (CTOR). But look more closely. The test generated triple the number of opens (open rate) and double the number of clicks (CTR) that the control did; it’s clearly the winner. The test’s CTOR is lower than the control’s because the increase in opens delivered by the test outpaced the increase in clicks.

Click Rate

Another industry issue is the definition of metrics. I was in a meeting not too long ago between two brand-name companies (one was a brand new client of mine) where a person involved with email was touting his organization’s double-digit click rates. The other company was impressed and asked to learn more about how these were being achieved.

I suspected that the metric was wrong as soon as I heard it, but when I asked him he assured me it was correct. Turns out the person didn’t really understand the difference between click-through rate (CTR) and click-to-open rate (CTOR); they were only calculating the latter and had labeled that metric “clicks.” Anyone working in the industry needs to educate themselves on standard email metrics terminology and definitions.

Bottom line: email marketing has its own vocabulary; it’s important to know what the words mean and how to use them appropriately. If you don’t, it not only reflects poorly on you and your organization, it can negatively impact your email marketing performance.

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