"Electronic mailing lists are a special usage of email that allows for widespread distribution of information to many Internet users. Software is installed on a server which processes incoming email messages, and, depending on their content, either acts on them internally or distributes the message to all users subscribed to the mailing list. Popular examples of mailing list software include GNU Mailman, Listserv and Majordomo. Today, mailing lists are most often used for collaboration on various projects and as a way of distributing current news and other such information." -- Wikipedia
Mailing lists can be an incredibly powerful and useful tool for business owners to communicate with their customers without having to constantly update their address books. Instead of sending out 500 individual emails to 500 individual addresses, for example, you can send out a single email message which will be automatically forwarded to everyone on your mailing list.
Mailing lists have gotten a lot of bad press in recent years due to their association with the ever-growning "spam" problem. However, there is nothing inherently wrong with mailing lists, just as there is nothing wrong with email, websites or any other form of technology--like anything else, it's all about how it's used. The key to proper use of mailing lists is to make certain that yours is OPT-IN, not OPT-OUT. This means that in order to have their addresses added to the mailng list, your customers have to choose to add themselves by filling out a simple "Join our List" submission form. More advanced mailing list systems will add an extra step, automatically sending a "confirmation" email to the person joining, which they have to reply to in order to confirm that they really want to join the list. Some maililng lists even have a third step--the website administrator may have to authorize the name before it is actually added. Finally, any properly configured mailing list script should automatically include a "Remove from List" link in every mailing, in case those on the list don't want to receive any further mailings.
While having so many layers of confirmation may seem to put mailing lists in a poor light, the truth is that a properly-maintained mailing list makes it extremely easy for you to inform your customers of the latest happenings at your business, whether it's expanded product offerings, additional services, new locations or whatever you have on your mind!
Click below to view screenshots of the various administrative controls in an advanced, rich-text mailing list script: