What Is Considered Bulk Email?

By Steve Lander

Bulk email is a powerful component of permission marketing.
i Chad Baker/Photodisc/Getty Images

Bulk email is the practice of sending out electronic mail messages to large groups of recipients at once. Depending on how, why and to whom it is sent, bulk email can be a useful communication tool or an annoyance that opens its sender up to a range of sanctions. The difference between a desired bulk email and spam is relatively clear.

Solicited Bulk Emails

Companies send out bulk email legally every day. When a flower delivery company from which you have bought flowers in the past sends you a reminder for Mother's Day, it's a bulk email. Newsletters from your favorite websites are also usually sent as bulk email, as well. When these messages are sent with your permission, they can be useful marketing tools for the companies that send them.

Unsolicited Bulk Emails

For many, the term "bulk email" means spam. However, spam email is a special type of bulk email in that the messages aren't solicited. For an email to be considered "spam," it has to come from a company with which you don't already have a preexisting relationship. Sending spam email is illegal in the United States.

Making Bulk Email Work

The line between bulk email and simply sending messages to a group of friends or associates can be a bit blurry. At the extreme, sending a million messages out is definitely bulk email while sending a memo to five people at once isn't. Different Internet providers have different thresholds for when they consider a bulk email to be abusive of their network. A good rule of thumb is to try to not send more than 100 messages per hour to a given network, and no more than 10 at a time.


Should your bulk email be considered spam, you could fall subject to the CAN-SPAM Act. This law carries penalties of up to $16,000 per message. As such, when you send out bulk email, it's important to always have accurate information on who is sending it and to include instructions on how to unsubscribe.

The Upside of Bulk Email

Well-respected Internet pundit Seth Godin coined the term "permission marketing" to refer to the potential of bulk email. If you can get permission from customers or prospects to periodically send them bulk email that they want to read, you can build a meaningful relationship with them with relatively little cost. These messages can become the cornerstone of your branding and sales efforts.