(This post originally appeared on Forbes)
Imagine a world where you don’t have to come up with new ways to entice your website visitors to give up their contact information – including those valuable email addresses – when they visit your website. Imagine that, instead of creating whitepapers, events and other “call to action” forms you can just get this information automatically as they browse. Imagine that this information just gets imported into your customer relationship management system, or sent to you on a simple spreadsheet.
That world exists. A startup called GetEmails says it can do this and for as little as $50 per month for about 200 email addresses (they also other plans, both more and less expensive). So…how?
It has to do with cookies. When you and I fill out an online form – like an application or a request for a brochure – the website that receives our data often downloads a cookie – a small data file that contains information about us or at the very least identifies who we are – for future visits and tracking. Sure, we can block those cookies. But most people don’t.
GetEmails’ code – which is added to your website – checks a visitor’s device for those cookies. Sometimes their email addresses are stored in those files. Regardless, the software – by looking at these cookies – can find out where the visitor has previously been online. If that visitor has submitted their email and contact information to a site that belongs to GetEmails’ “opt-in” partner network of more than half a billion personal emails then…well, they’ve got the data. And so will you.
Is this even legal? The company says yes it is, because all of these visitors have previously – whether they knew it or not – opted in to share their data when they visited those partner sites and therefore they are 100 percent CAN-SPAM compliant.
“Our product gives you the source URL and opt-in date for any contact you receive and you can go back and look at the privacy policies of these websites,” GetEmails’ CEO Adam Robinson told me. “Sadly you’ll find that if (a person) gave their information, the website owners are probably entitled to sell it.”
It sounds creepy. And it is. But Robinson also contends that visitors who receive an email from you soon after they’ve been to your website aren’t likely to complain or find it intrusive. In fact, they’ll probably engage more. “They’re already on your website,” he says. “It’s not as if you’re buying a list of people.” Robinson says that in the end you’ll likely receive the email address for as many as 35 percent of your website’s visitors.
So is this OK for your business? I’ve been trying out GetEmails over the past few weeks and although the email addresses I’ve received have been significantly less than 35 percent of my site’s visitors, I think it is. Why? Because GetEmails is just providing a technology that – according to them – is getting me legally opt-in data which I’m adding to my CRM system. What I do with the data is up to me.
I don’t want to upset a website visitor by emailing them. But then again, a prospect is a prospect, and I do agree with Robinson’s point that if someone was visiting my website, and I email them, they’re likely going to have an interest in the information I’m providing to them. My job is to educate our visitors, not to be too intrusive or bother them. So what I’ve been doing is just sending two emails after a visit offering additional assistance. If there’s no response, then I move on. I’ve yet to receive a complaint. In fact, I’ve managed to engage with people that I’m sure wouldn’t have connected with me otherwise.
Are you comfortable with this? I guess the better question is whether or not your competitors are. Because that’s the world we’re now living in.