Legality of direct outreach

Hi there – I have a legal question regarding content marketing. I read your article:

and all 3 pages of comments as well as doing other searches online but cannot find the answer.

I am wondering about the legality of direct outreach in content marketing or SEO marketing: this is the process of finding an individual’s email address online (where it has been made publicly available on a website) and sending them an email with a link to your article (this is usually done by finding people who have shared similar content and then linking to yours).

The purpose of doing this is so that they link to or share the article – there is no direct commercial purpose involved in this communication. The aim is not to make money from the person that you have emailed, the aim is to increase the virality and the SEO strength of the piece of the article you have sent to them.

In addition, the article shared usually has no marketing or sale message at all. It is instead the top of a funnel whereby searchers subscribe to a double opt-in email address and become regular readers, and then become customers in the future.

What is the legality of this? All of the legal guidance is around direct marketing messages and this sort of content marketing is not the same thing I believe.

This is a very widely used approach to marketing online so I am really interested in your response!

42 viewsmarketing law

Alasdair Taylor's Answer

From the English law perspective, I think there is an argument that this sort of direct outreach may be prohibited by law:

  • first, the courts would be likely to consider this to be “direct marketing”, thus engaging Reg 22 of the PECRs; and
  • second, I assume that personal names are being used, so the DPA will apply. 

The key question under both legislative regimes is whether you have consent for the activity. If the published email address is accompanied by an express consent, you’re in the clear. If you can imply consent from the publication of the email address, then again you should be in the clear. In what circumstances could you imply such consent? I’m afraid I don’t know.

However, if very few emails are being sent, and if the emails are relevant to recipients, then the risk of a complaint or enforcement action is of course lower.

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