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Help for Marketers

Since none of us here are marketers, we frankly are a little at sea when it comes to making suggestions to folks who are in the direct marketing field. We know pretty well what we'd like you to not do, and that's to not send spam: don't send e-mail to people who haven't requested it.

We're much less certain when it comes to advice on what you can do, how you deal with accusations of being spammers, or even how you always make certain people have actually requested your e-mail. We're not speechless, though, and we do have some basic guidelines we'd like to share.

First of all, we always think that more communications is better than less. If someone gives you an e-mail address at your web site, when you use it, mention where and and when and from what host or address you got it. For example, when sending out a newsletter, include at the bottom something like this:

We were given your e-mail address at our web site www.<companyname>.com on <date> by someone coming from <hostname> <IP address>.
This serves to remind people of when they subscribed to your site and helps reduce the number of complaints from people who forget they even asked for your newsletter.

Second, we urge you to validate your data as thoroughly as possible, especially e-mail addresses that you receive through anonymous media like the web. You are probably already familiar with data integrity as a concept - it's how you assure the quality of your marketing phone and mailing lists - how many good names and numbers/addresses do you really have? You wouldn't dream of sending a traditional direct mailshot out without validating the US mail addresses, because at 50 cents to a dollar a pop, it's too expensive not to. But, for some reason, some direct marketers think it's OK to send e-mail to as many addresses as they can find, without worrying about validating them.

Don't be one of those people. When you get an address entered into your system, send a validation e-mail to it, with a link for the user to click, or a special address for them to respond to, to complete the validation process. This helps you guarantee the integrity of your data, helps weed out mistakes users make when entering addresses, and from the point of view of the anti- spam crowd, makes your system confirmed opt-in, the cream of the crop when it comes to list management. To see what happens when you don't go through this simple process, read the story of "Nadine", a clear case of poor data validation.

We've heard some complaints that data validation of e-mail addresses is bad because up to 30% of the potential customers never complete the validation process. While we agree that it sounds terrible, we wonder just how much of that 30% was bad data to start with. We know that the percentage of people on surveys who say they don't give their real address to web sites is nearing 30%, so we ask you this: would you rather have a list of addresses with up to 30% bad information, or a 30% smaller list with 100% good information? We think you'll get as many or possibly even more customers out of the second list, and you won't run the risk of losing your ISP connection or landing on one of the blackhole lists that can make life so difficult.

Another way to think about list validation is in terms of return rates. Compare two lists - one is 70,000 addresses, all 100% validated, and the second is 100,000 addresses, but it's 30% dirty. If you e-mail to that 100,000 address list and get 3% return on the good addresses, your real total return on the whole list is going to be 2.1%. That's a big difference. If you had validated the list before using it, you'd have a real 3% return rate on it, which is a much better number.

One question we often get asked is whether it's OK to buy "opt-in" e-mail lists and market to them. An associate phrased a response this way:

Buying an "opt-in" email address is like buying a Nobel Prize. You could hold the medal in your hands, put it in your trophy case, show it off to anyone, but few will believe that the Nobel Committee awarded it to you.
In other words, permission to send e-mail to a specific address is rarely transferable. If someone says they're selling "opt-in" mailing lists, be very skeptical. Ask them to show you the standard permission form they use and the clause that grants them the right to transfer the information. Sometimes, they'll even have that - it'll be buried in a privacy policy that nobody ever actually reads. You might be legally free and clear to buy and use that list, but keep in mind that for you, that list is essentially unvalidated data - the recipients of your e-mail aren't going to realize that you're e-mailing them because they signed up at an unrelated site unless you tell them that up front. Even if you do tell them up front - "Hi, we're sending you this because we bought 3 million addresses from mypetfrog.com" they may still be upset at this perceived invasion of their privacy. Buying an e-mail list may seem like a bargain compared to building your own, but very likely it isn't a bargain at all.

Lastly, if you don't do address validation, you can wind up on the MAPS Non-confirming Mailing List (NML) database. MAPS' databases are used by a variety of companies and e-mail providers to block probable spam sources, so ending up on the NML could cause your company's e-mail to be refused by many sites.

While you're here, take a look at our resource page of tips on good Internet marketing.

Scott Hazen Mueller / E-mail me