By Alexis Gutzman, Tech Editor
I have been testing a bunch of the different spam-filtering tools both from the consumer perspective (I get my fair share) and from the deliverability perspective. Most recently, I have downloaded Cloudmark (http://www.cloudmark.com)
, which runs only in Outlook 2000/XP.
Cloudmark checks all your incoming mail against their server to see whether anyone else using their system has identified it as spam. I do not know how many votes it takes to get something routed to the spam folder (that is where it puts mail it believes is spamz) but I hope it is more than one. This system is referred to as a "collaborative spam-reporting network," or peer-to-peer (P2P) network. In theory, this should work better than content filters.
Cloudmark has more than 100,000 people using it, but this probably is not representative of the general population. First, it only runs on Outlook 2000/XP. Most consumers are using Outlook Express. Outlook is the most common email client used in business.
The good news is that it does catch about 80% of the messages offering me body-part enlargement for parts I do not have.
The bad news is that it also flags most marketing offers from merchants I have chosen to receive mail from as spam. Who is going into my spam box? Overstock.com, OldNavy, Orbitz, Forrester Research, Jupiter Research, Lands' End, ClickZ. Who is not? Ann Taylor and Frederick's of Hollywood.
Right now, Cloudmark is nothing to worry about, but eventually, the industry (with dozens of systems vying to dominate in spam-filtering) will winnow down to a small handful.
My biggest concern with Cloudmark is that it makes a joke of opt-in. I told Lands' End I wanted their charming and well-written newsletter. Presumably so did the person or people who then marked it as spam. What does it do to Lands' End brand to appear in the spam folder next to ads for body-part enlargers?
If marketers are not doing a good enough job of convincing consumers that their marketing messages are not spam, then this problem is only going to get worse. In the minds of consumers, marketing email and spam email are blurring together. Either that, or the small subset of the universe that Cloudmark represents hates all commercial email and marks it as spam.
The other problem is that a lot of idiots have been repeating (ad nauseum), "Never reply to spam, and never try to unsubscribe, or they'll know you have a good address." If consumers do not distinguish between legitimate commercial email they requested and spam, then they do not know that they can unsubscribe from your message without negative repercussions. You keep sending messages to people who do not want them, and your response rates keep falling. All a spammer needs is a tracking image with a unique ID for each recipient in the message he sends to know which addresses are "good," he does not need you to hit reply. Duh. Email Vendor Encrypts Email Addresses on the Server
I finally found an email vendor that encrypts email on the server: STEdb.
In short, STEdb encrypts the email addresses while they are on the server. When you are working on the list or doing a mailing, the addresses are temporarily unencrypted. They offer this as a hosted service.
I think this is a pretty clever solution. Most vendors balk at encryption because they think about the real-time load on the server to unencrypt each address as it is needed. Scrambling them in bulk makes so much more sense. Wish I had thought of it!About That Refer-a-Friend (F2F) Link
Mike Grover, of CMP Media, mused extensively on the refer-a-friend link, suggesting that it would make a better way to provide F2F functionality even in HTML newsletters, since it would permit readers to forward the message to ALL their friends at once.
Rich Tatum, of Christianity Today, sent me a link that one could put behind the HTML F2F link that would populate the message body with happy marketing talk about the newsletter, along with the link, rather than just the link. Very cleverly done.
Brian Alvey, of Meet the Makers, wanted to make note of the fact that when you use any kind of mailto: link in which you include a body parameter (body=), it wipes out the automatic signature of the sender. Do not use this for customer service or sales functions, unless you remind the customer service and sales reps to insert their signatures manually.
Many others suggested permutations on what is included in the body, such as hard returns to put additional text on separate lines. Of course, this caused the links to wrap (and break).
Two readers wrote in to ask whether there was any server-level software (like ProLinkZ) that would let you include a mailto: in the link to be shortened. They noted that their software required the link to be shortened to start with http. I do not think such a thing is possible, but if you know of one, please let us know.Assurance Systems Promises Pre-Send Filter-Testing
I am sorry that I have not had a chance to interview these folks yet, but they appear to offering services that will let you get s*pam scores on your marketing offers before they go out.
They will also test delivery receipt with a handful of IPSs and MSPs (mail-service providers). See their offerings at http://www.assurancesys.com