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How’d They Get My Email? (And How Can I Do It Too?)

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Last Updated on March 22, 2024 by SERP Kingz

“In a world of ever-watching machines, a whisper often speaks as loud as a shout; we speak, they listen, and thus is birthed the omnipresent digital marketer.”

– Old Wookiee Proverb


In the tranquility of our homes, there was once an intimacy reserved for family, loved ones, and perhaps a furry confidant or two. That old-fashioned serenity has since been infiltrated, not by an uninvited human guest, but by the ceaseless curiosity of our smart home companions—the constant digital marketers.

It puts me in mind of that old folk tale about the farmer and the farmer’s wife:

As the farmer spoke about his plans for the weekend, his wife queried in bemusement why he insisted on whispering.

“Because,” the farmer said with a conspiratorial wink, “Mark Zuckerberg may be listening.”

A picture of How'd They Get My Email? (And How Can I Do It Too?) with The King Of Search

The farmer laughed.

The farmer’s wife laughed.

Siri laughed.

Bixby laughed.

Google Assistant laughed.

Alexa said, “Sorry, I didn’t catch that.”

Cortana wasn’t there, but she probably would have laughed too.

The laughter died away, replaced by a disconcerting awareness of our ever-listening, ever-watching, digital observers.

How did we get here?

And when did our private, home-bound conversations become the entertainment for our smart devices? Is there even such a thing as a private conversation anymore?

Or are we forever performing on the stage of big tech companies, our every word and laugh being observed, analyzed and stored away for purposes we may never fully comprehend? (Spoiler: It’s for marketing to us) 

It just goes to show you that in the realm of constant surveillance, the farmer’s whisper to his wife carries more weight than the crowing rooster—when they chuckle, their digital harvesters echo the laughter. Or whatever.

But hey—that’s just a simple SEO man’s opinion.

Still not sure what this article is about?

I don’t blame you.

This article seeks to answer the mystery of how these companies seem to always be ‘in the know’…

Capturing our data without us consciously handing it over.

Back on track, if you’ve ever found yourself wondering how it is you received a follow up email about a product you were just browsing—from a website you didn’t input your information on—then join us as we dive into the rabbit hole of digital data collection in 2023.

Did You Know?  Steve Ballmer tried to name Cortana “Bingo” before he left Microsoft.

Chapter 1: The Omnipresent Digital Marketers

How it All Works

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In the digital world, every interaction is a potential data point ripe for harvesting.

And it’s not just the aforementioned smart devices that engage in it—it’s cookies, too.

You visit a website, leave a comment on a blog, play a game, even just passively surf the internet—all these activities feed data to the machines that constantly observe and analyze us.

You may not have explicitly given out your email address, yet you start to receive promotional emails.

This is no coincidence. It’s the consequence of sophisticated tracking methods designed to understand your behavior and preferences.

Website owners often employ cookies—small files stored on your device that allow them to track your online behavior.

They help websites remember you, keep you logged in, and all other kinds of genuinely convenient stuff.

And they also allow companies to collect information about your online activities.

They can then use this data to create a detailed profile about you, which can be used to target you with personalized ads or even sold to other companies.

This is how you receive emails from companies you’ve never “explicitly” interacted with before.

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Certain companies—actually, let’s use a completely made-up stand-in company named “TrackPals”—collect data from a variety of different sources and then help businesses send these unsolicited marketing emails to unsuspecting people.

Even if you don’t provide your name or email address on a company’s website, if they are working with “TrackPals,” they can gather identifiable information from you such as your device type, IP address, operating system etc.

TrackPals can then cross-reference that information with any existing records in their massive database. Which can include emails from social media platforms, public forums, and other online services.

If a match is found, TrackPals provides the business with your email address and possibly other information they have on you as well.

You may then receive an email from the company reminding you about your incomplete purchase, or other annoying things.

Now at this juncture, you’re probably scratching your head, pondering, “How on earth did they get my email address? What else does this nosy business know about me?”

Here’s something even more fun: forms that use AJAX can grab your info without you even clicking a button.

So if you start to enter your information on an AJAX form, you might as well have hit a giant, neon “Capture My Details And Give Them To Whoever” button, because it’s entirely plausible that your personal trivia has been scooped up, stored, and shared silently—all without you being any the wiser.

But hey, don’t worry—they have a privacy policy that says they’re allowed to do this. And you agreed it was cool when you were just trying to get that obnoxious “Cookie Preferences” pop-up to stop covering up the content on the website.

When Retargeting Misses the Mark: A True Cautionary Tale

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Allow me to tell you a true story—perhaps the greatest cautionary tale since Slick Rick’s Children’s Story, if you will.

Recently, I needed a new stand for a BBQ grill.

When I spotted that rarely in-stock barbecue grill stand at an unfamiliar website, I was quick to add it to my cart.

But just as I was about to hit the “buy now” button, I hesitated.

Something felt “off” about the site.

Minutes later, an email pinged into my inbox “reminding” me to checkout.

Despite the fact that I hadn’t done anything on the site but add the item to my cart and close the page.

My first thought?

“Well, that’s creepy.”

But the unsolicited meddling didn’t stop there. The next morning, my phone rang at the unholy hour of 6:00 a.m. (Technically 5:58)

On the other end was a representative from the grill stand company (well, probably a virtual assistant in Manila) reminding me to complete my purchase.

Soon, my inbox started to look like an accountant’s nightmare as the company began sending multiple invoices a day, all under the pretense of “helping” me finish checking out.

Like some sick joke, it turned out the website was using a digital marketing service that used “consumer digital rights management (DRM) technology to spam connect my inbox with thousands of brands while receiving verified offers in my inbox, saving me time and money;” who knew desperation had such a fancy name?

So here’s the punchline: Did I buy the grill stand from Creepy McWebsite, after being emailed, sleep deprived, and digitally stalked by some propane accessory dropshipper’s aggressive marketing strategy?

Or did I purchase it from a different, veteran-owned company that respected their customers’ privacy and ability to click a checkout button?

Well, what do you think?

Chapter 2: A Business Owner’s Guide to Digital Data Collection

How Can I Use Visitor Data to My Advantage?

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By now, you’re probably thinking, “That AJAX thing sounds as cunning as a fox on a cold brew buzz. Could I, a savvy business owner, leverage this to my advantage?

Well, if you want to do it without creeping out your customers by partnering with “consumer data rights management platforms” (lol) like TrackPals, HauntData, SafeStalk, and PeepTom—there are a few things you can do:

  1. Make use of cookies. Cookies can be a valuable tool for understanding your visitors’ behavior and preferences. This data can be used to personalize their experience on your site, improve your products or services, and target your search marketing efforts more effectively.
  2. Use analytics tools. Tools such as Google Analytics can provide a wealth of information about your visitors. You can learn about their demographics, their interests, the pages they visit most often, and much more. This information can be invaluable when shaping your marketing strategies.
  3. Consider employing targeted advertising. With targeted advertising, you can use the data you’ve collected to show your ads to people who are most likely to be interested in your products or services. This can greatly increase the effectiveness of your advertising efforts and help you reach the right people at the right time.

Re-targeting isn’t a dirty word. It’s one thing to spray and pray with your ads, another to use your data to reach people who might actually want what you’re selling.

But the goal is to show up like a helpful suggestion—not a persistent door-to-door salesman or an attention-seeking paper clip with boundary issues.

So use the wealth of information you can collect to shape your online marketing strategies, without turning your website feel like a digital Big Brother, like the store in the cautionary tale earlier.

The digital world is a treasure trove of data that can provide valuable insights for businesses. And as a business owner, it’s good to understand these data collection practices and how you can leverage them to your advantage.

Whether to join the dark side, however, is entirely up to you.

Chapter 3: The Ethics of Digital Surveillance for Fun & Profit

To Track or Not to Track?

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The question at the heart of the matter is not necessarily “how can you” but “should you?”

If you’re wondering whether this is worth thinking about, consider that a common follow up question included in questions about how websites get user email addresses is “is this legal?”

The potential benefits of data collection for businesses are significant, yet they must be weighed against the potential downsides. Do you want to be the “is this legal?” company in your sector?

In the realm of data tracking, sausage making, and bicycle recovery there are technical aspects that people may not understand, perhaps couldn’t understand, and arguably—for their own peace of mind—shouldn’t understand.

Some businesses in 2023 engage in partnerships with email marketing companies that use a multifaceted approach to steal manage your email address. They can do this by:

  • Scouring Public Platforms: These partners may gather email addresses from a host of public online sources. This could include forums where users openly share their contact information, social media sites where personal details are readily available, and other online services where user data is not heavily guarded.
  • Purchasing Email Lists: In addition to the above, they might also buy email lists from third-party vendors. These vendors specialize in compiling databases of emails, which they then sell to businesses for marketing purposes.

By leveraging these practices, businesses can gain access to a vast amount of email addresses, without the users directly giving them that information.

But remember, as discussed earlier, it’s not just about the ability to do this —it’s about whether it aligns with ethical business practices and respects consumer privacy.

The issue here is privacy. Many consumers find the idea of being tracked online deeply unsettling. They see it as an invasion of their privacy, and it can damage their trust in businesses that engage in these practices.

Moreover, studies have shown that consumers are increasingly concerned about their online privacy. In a survey by Pew Research Center, 79% of adult respondents expressed concern about how companies are using their data. This highlights a growing disconnect between business practices and consumer preferences.

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If customers feel that you’re tracking them without their consent or knowledge, it can lead to a loss of trust and potentially damage your brand reputation.

This is especially true if you’re collecting sensitive information—or using the data in ways that consumers might not expect or agree with.

Instead of simply gathering as much data as possible, businesses should consider adopting a more transparent and ethical approach to data collection.

This could include:

  • Transparency: Clearly communicate to your visitors what data you’re collecting and why. Make sure your privacy policy is easy to understand and readily available.
  • Consent: Always ask for consent before collecting data. This could be through a simple pop-up asking the visitor to agree to the use of cookies.
  • Limitation: Only collect the data you actually need. This not only respects your visitors’ privacy but also reduces the amount of data you need to manage and secure.
  • Security: Make sure the data you collect is stored securely. And that you have measures in place to prevent unauthorized access.

Remember, the key to ethical data collection is respect. Respect your visitors’ privacy, respect their choices, and use their data in a way that respects their trust in your brand.

A picture of How'd They Get My Email? (And How Can I Do It Too?) with The King Of Search

In the end, building a relationship based on trust and respect is far more valuable than any amount of data you could collect. That’s not what every business owner will necessarily want to hear, but what’s more important is that it’s true.

Take a moment to think about your own online data collection practices. Ensure that you’re striking the right balance between utilizing customer insights and respecting their privacy.

Ready to boost your sales and conversions without resorting to tactics that creep out your potential customers? Partner with The King of Search for SEO and SEM consulting.

We believe in ethical and effective strategies that respect your customers’ privacy and build trust. With our proven techniques, experience, and track record, we’ll work closely with you to develop a customized plan that aligns with your business goals. From keyword research, to content optimization, to SEM coaching, we’ll ensure your business is optimized for success.

Don’t let your competitors outshine you online. Take the leap and join forces with the King of Search to drive sales and conversions with integrity. Schedule a call or email us today to discuss how we can supercharge your online presence.

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