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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Don't Let a Spam Trap Byte You!

As mentioned earlier, too many spam trap hits is one of the things that can affect your sender reputation. And, of course, sender reputation is the single most important item for getting your emails to the Inbox.

A study by Return Path found that IP addresses categorized as legitimate servers, but with even one spam trap hit, saw their delivered rate plunge to 38%. This is as compared to a legitimate server with no spam trap hits, which typically sees a delivered rate of 58%.

So, what is a spam trap or spamtrap, as it is also sometimes written?
It is exactly what it sounds like: It is an email account that was set up to trap spam ... it was created specifically to catch senders who harvest email addresses and/or attempt a dictionary attack, in which addresses are just made up, to see what doesn't bounce. A spam trap is an address that has never signed up to receive any email so, by definition, any email sent to such an address is spam.

How are spam traps created?
There are a couple of ways ... sometimes ISPs simply reactivate dead accounts. In other cases, they are new accounts, created solely for this purpose.

If you have these addresses in your lists, then either you are not properly pruning the lists or, if you purchased a list (NOT recommended), questionable practices were used to build it. Another way these email addresses can get on a list is when a subscriber makes a typo, when signing up.

What are the weaknesses of spam traps?
If a spammer discovers that a particular email address is being used as a spam trap, that party could send very large amounts of spam to that address. The spammer could also subscribe the address to any legitimate mail lists, that aren't double opt-in.

If a spammer uses a spam trap address as the sender addresses, any replies will be sent to the spam trap address. The replier is then also labeled a spammer.

If a spammer puts a spam trap address, along with many others in the TO or CC line, then if any of the receivers Reply to All on the message, the replying address will be considered spamming too.

Finally, a spam trap addresses is often shown in search pages like Google's, so anyone can write to it and this email will also be considered spam.

These actions give the spammer some control over the determination of what is considered "bulk unsolicited e-mail" by the anti-spam system.

How do you get rid of them, once they're on a list?
You want to remove spam trap addresses as soon as you can, but you don't want to inadvertently remove legitimate email addresses.

You must establish a policy for how many times you will send to a particular address, without at least getting an open response from it. Regularly remove addresses that reach this count.

The less often you send mail to a list, the more likely it is to harbor spam traps, as old addresses get converted into trap addresses.

Email addresses that are created by ISPs as spam traps need to be identified, if possible ... one approach is to send email to new (non-double opt-in) addresses, using a special IP address for a few days and then monitor the IP address for spam trap hits. There are a few sources of public spam trap data, such as the Spam Cop blacklist and Microsoft's SNDS service.

If no spam trap hits occur, the addresses can then be safely merged into your other mail lists.

So, how do you keep spam traps off your lists?
The best way is to only use confirmed or double opt-in. If you never send to an email address that doesn't confirm they want to receive your emails, then you will never send to a spam trap.

Whether you use confirmed opt-in or not, All Web Email can help you avoid spam traps.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How Do You Achieve Relevancy?

Every marketing email includes a "call to action"... perhaps, to click-through to the web site and purchase something. A message that is "relevant" to a particular receiver is far more likely to encourage the recipient to read the content and respond to that call to action.

The importance of relevance in marketing emails keeps cropping up over and over! So, what does it mean? And, how can you put it into your emails?

Simply put, relevance is what makes your email worth opening and reading ... it makes your message interesting, instead of boring ... it separates your emails from those that might be considered Spam.

You achieve relevance by segmenting your mail list and personalizing the content for each segment. If you do this well, your email will likely be seen as relevant.

Let's now talk about list segmentation and personalization - the keys to relevance.

List Segmentation
I have also seen list segmentation referred to as "demassification". Whichever you call it, it refers to dividing a mail list into multiple subgroups, based on some combination of attributes. Rather than sending a mass email to everyone on the list, you can now send targeted messages to each subgroup.

Much of the information used for segmenting the mail list comes from the initial signup process and the information requested then. Some of it comes from a subscriber's online history.

If you don't already have the data needed to segment your mail list, you can use surveys, polls or response forms to gather it.

Once you have the data, items used for segmentation might be any of the following, as well as many others:
  • How was the email address acquired? Did the recipient buy something on the web site or did they just sign up for the special offers? If they bought something, what was it?
  • What did the receiver do with previous emails? Did they open them and click-through to the web site? Did they buy something? Did they just hit the Delete key?
  • Behavioral tracking of your email campaign means monitoring the links that recipients click on in the email. You can then analyze this information to determine what is being read and what is ignored and adjust accordingly.
  • Similarly, clickstream tracking monitors visitors' pathways through your website. What web pages have they visited? What online papers have they read? This information can also help you target the interests of the recipient. Both behavioral tracking of your email campaign and clickstream tracking let you re-evaluate any subscriber information gathered earlier and possibly see if their needs have changed.
  • Demographics - Things as simple as female versus male or the age of the recipient can be useful. Obviously the sensitivity and the security of any information gathered must be carefully weighed against the value of the information, for targeting purposes.
  • Preferences - Making it easy for a user to set their preferences and change them at any time also makes it easier for you to personalize what you send.
Now that you have segmented your mail list, you can target your emails to each segment. That is, you can personalize your messages for the recipients in each subgroup. The ideal result would be an email message that appears to have been created only for the recipient.

Personalization techniques at its simplest should at least include adding the recipient's name in the subject line or message body. If the subscriber has purchased previously, the email can mention that purchase and suggest possible companion products. If the recipient recently downloaded a white paper, the message could offer a product or service that is related to the topic ... or provide a link to another document on the same or a similar topic.

The truly important thing about personalized messages is that they can help build a relationship between the marketer and the recipient ... that can lead to consumer loyalty ... and that, in turn, can lead to ongoing sales! has the expertise necessary to help you make your email Relevant!


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

You Made It To the Inbox - Now What?

Previously, we discussed some of the problems in getting your email to the inbox. We concluded that a good sender reputation was the most important item!

We talked about acquiring a quality mail list, so you can get to more inboxes. We said that a quality list helps your sender reputation and that, in turn, gets you delivered to more inboxes.

But, what happens after it gets there? The focus today is about what kinds of things will assure that your emails, once they reach the inbox, will get more scrolls, click-throughs, and purchases!

There are several things that can affect how your email is treated, once it reaches the inbox, including the following:
  • The headers - What is in the From and the Subject fields?
  • The creative - How is your email rendered?
  • The fold line - Are the really important items ABOVE the fold line?
  • The HTML - Do you have coding errors?
  • The spelling - Are there spelling mistakes?
Let's now discuss each of these things further.

The Headers
Not only is the From of your email closely tied to your sender reputation, but having a "Brand" identity can encourage receivers to open and read the email. For example, if a subscriber signed up for "Bargain of the Day!" and they receive an email from ABC Company, they may not realize it contains their bargain of the day.

Last time we said that together with the headers, the Subject line was probably the most important item in determining whether or not a message would be read. Be sure to write the Subject line carefully!

The Creative
The "Creative" refers to your email, which is designed to eventually lead to a purchase of services or goods. There are many things that can help or hinder this objective.

For example, how does it look with graphics displayed, when viewed in service provider domain A versus domain B? How about without graphics? Or, in a purely text version? How does it look when viewed with Outlook? How about with the AOL email client?

It's important to know exactly how your email will look in each of these circumstances ... More specifically, how they will render in the combinations of domain and email client that account for most of your list members.

And, of course, that important concept of "Relevance" needs to be considered, in term of both personalizing your messages and targeting them to your subscriber's interests.

The Fold Line
To understand the phrase "above the fold", just think of a printed newspaper, which is typically delivered and displayed to customers folded up, so that only the top half of the front page is visible. The items that are "above the fold" are either considered to be more important or are meant to lure the potential buyer into buying a copy of the paper.

This term has been extended to refer to that part of a webpage that is visible without scrolling. It has also been applied to marketing emails, to define that part of the email visible in the preview pane. Here again, there is variability in different domains and when viewed with different email clients - You want to be sure your emails will look their best when viewed by most of your list members.

Your HTML should be free from errors. HTML errors cause display and other issues, which can cause your entire message to be rejected as low-quality and not worthy of consideration.

The Spelling
Like HTML errors, spelling errors can make the entire email look lower in quality. Additionally, to the tech-savy among your subscribers, they can make your message look like a phishing scheme, since spelling errors are a common component of such emails.

Too Many Details!
A terrific thing about working with All Web Email is that they will take care of these details for you. All Web Email uses tools that will let you preview how the message will appear in 90% of all inboxes! Visit the Design Page for more information.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Email Welcome Message - Thanx for signing up!

The Welcome email has been compared to a first date ... it can set expectations about what will happen next and in the future. A successful first date almost always leads to a second one.

A good Welcome message will increase the odds that a subscriber will interact with future messages ... the objective is for the subscriber to become active and engaged over the long-run.

Plus, setting expectations properly can help reduce the complaint rate. And, everyone should know how important THAT is, for getting your email delivered to the Inbox!

The Welcome message should confirm the sign up and make the subscriber feel glad they signed up and, ideally, get recipients shopping. It gives the new subscriber a chance to evaluate the email program's value.

It's amazing how many marketers either don't even bother to send Welcome messages, which is clearly a missed opportunity, or who send them, using plain text messaging with little more information than "You are on the list." This is barely an improvement over not sending them at all.

In some cases, new subscribers receive a Welcome message, but not if they purchase an item before subscribing. In fact, according to ReturnPath, 40% of marketers who sent Welcome emails to new inquiry subscribers did not send them to new buyers who signed up.

Answer New Subscriber's Questions
It's important for the Welcome email to answer as many of the new subscribers questions as possible ... up front!

Questions such as ...
  • Will I get bombarded with ads? Tell folks how often they will receive your messages.
  • Will I get useful information? Describe what types of items will be included in each email.
  • Can I stop receiving messages at any time? Mention the unsubscribe link, which should be at the bottom of every email.
  • What kind of privacy policy is in place? Provide a link to yours.
  • Will I get special discounts? If you offer special discounts to email subscribers, make them actually special and not something anyone can get, if they visit the web site.

Optimize the Subject Line
The Subject line and the "from" address are probably the most important items, in determining whether or not your Welcome message is opened and read.

Best practices recommend using a friendly greeting, mentioning any welcome offers, and including the company name in the Subject line. This is not easy to do, when you consider that it is also recommended that the Subject line be no more than 55 characters.

How about? "Welcome Offer for ABC Company Subscribers!"

I guess with a longer company name, you will really need to be creative.

It is pretty much agreed upon that if your email reaches the Inbox, the best way to ensure that subscribers read it and want more is to provide "relevance". The Welcome email is your first opportunity to show it!

Always customize the contents of every email for the reader. Set up a preferences page, so subscribers can let you know exactly what they are interested in and how often they wish to receive email from you.

And, don't miss the opportunity to Upsell! If a new subscriber already made a purchase, mention the item they bought and suggest companion products for their purchase.

Make It Easy! ... To Gather New Subscribers & Lose Unsatisfied Ones
Make it easy to both subscribe and unsubscribe. Most eCommerce companies have a signup form on the home page. Why not have it on every page?

Explicitly offer buyers the option to sign up during the checkout process. If it is a pre-checked box, make sure it is visible and easy to uncheck.

It's a good idea to also include instructions for adding the newsletter sending address to a subscriber's address book. These "whitelisting" instructions can keep your email out of the client Junk folder.

And, take advantage of viral marketing: Include a Forward-to-a-Friend link in every email. For example, your Welcome message and future emails could encourage subscribers to "Pass on the savings".

Finally, having an easily visible Unsubscribe link in every email, including the Welcome message, makes it easy to opt-out of future messages. This is another piece of the "reduce complaints" puzzle.