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May 29, 2002

Reader Mail: Bounceback Metrics, Append Letter Copywriting, European Stats, Bad List Rentals

SUMMARY: No summary available.
Here are answers to typical letters we get at EmailSherpa:

LETTER #1: Erin Read Ruddick of BabEBook ( sent in this question:

"I was wondering if you or Alexis knew of any rules of thumb regarding undeliverables to e-mail lists. For example, how many bouncebacks should we expect with each (e)mailing? What are the most common errors that lead to bouncebacks, and how do we "clean up" the list to avoid future errors? At what point should we begin to worry about ISPs intercepting our mailings?

Our company recently ran a sweepstakes at a trade show for new parents. These folks opted in to receive a follow-up e-mail telling them if they'd won the prize. We were very clear in the entry forms and in our personal pitches that their e-mail addresses would be for notification/follow-up only. However, we seem to have gotten a high number of 'users not found.'

Naturally, I'm interested in learning more about success rate expectations so that I can run better efforts in the future."

MarketingSherpa Reply:

Bouncebacks are a complicated topic. (To do the topic justice, we'll be devoting an entire issue of MarketingSherpa to bouncebacks and what you can do to reduce them.)

For now, we can tell you that frequently mailed opt-in lists will typically see ~2% delivery failure rate. Vendor VerticalResponse surveyed their own users and found they had a 2-5% delivery failure rate for opt-in lists mailed between weekly or semi-monthly. In general, the less frequently you mail, the higher the rate you'll see because there's been more time for people to close accounts and switch jobs. For opt-in lists mailed monthly or less frequently VerticalResponse found a 5-13% delivery failure rate.

There are things you can do to clean up a list, but they are not 100% effective. For example, there's no way to pre-verify the existence of Yahoo, AOL, or Hotmail users. Also, there's no way to know whether free account users are above quota on their accounts.

As far as email blocking goes, your list host should be making a delivery report available to you. It will include the "conversation" that takes place between your list host and the intended recipient's mail server when you try to deliver a message. If the message is rejected, the mail server will giveyour list host a reason, usually in plain English.

If your failure rate to an existing opt-in list seems high, have someone look through (or look through it yourself; it's really not that technical) the report to see whether there are rejection messages that say things like, "We do not relay from you" or "Domain is on a blocked list," or "Host domain not found," then you have reason to suspect that you are being filtered. Other most common rejection messages you should see are: "This account is over quota," "Exceeded storage allocation," or "User unknown."

Finally, you brought up the fact that this is a new list and that you got the list from a sweepstakes. You can expect to see 20-30% delivery failure rate on a new list. The sweepstakes factor exacerbates the problem. Many people give out temporary, free addresses when they sign up for sweepstakes so that they can later leave the list by closing the account. In this situation, we would think a 33% failure rate on the first mailing would notbe unusually high.

LETTER #2: Ivor Morgan of Momentum Sales and Marketing Limited ( wrote in regarding last week's MarketingSherpa interview with Time-Life's Patricia Hader:

"This was a very informative article with some excellent executions in it. I was, however, surprised that the append mailer didn’t work since I have used this successfully in the off-line world on several occasions.

I had a look at the example and I can offer a few suggestions why it bombed… The text of the email has a few flaws in it. First, the copy is uninspiring and so poorly written that it is almost difficult to get the meaning of the email. Second, it is all about Time-Life (we want to do this, we want to do that) and finally, where is the offer?

I’d be interested to hear if Patricia plans to run the next append exercise linked in to one of her coupons (neat idea) or to her special offers. Something along the lines of “click here to opt in and get 25% of the Lord of the Rings DVD”. I bet the response rate to the append goes into the high 20s."

MarketingSherpa Reply:

Hader did mention that the copy in the original append email was based on suggestions from the vendor she used. (In general if you're going to try something new, it's a good idea to get tips from a vendor who's done it many times before.) However, she's a very strong believer in creative tests and we're sure she'll try other types of copy for any append attempts in future.

In the meantime, we'd like to note that using "flawed" copy might have actually improved her response rates. After all, any consumer who would respond to less persuasive copywriting should be more interested than average in Time-Life's offerings. (Note that Hader's test was not for percent of list to respond to the append offer, but for append responses who then purchase Time-Life products online.)

One reason why appended names might have worked differently in this case is that Hader was mailing US-based names. UK-based names, which almost certainly get fewer emailed offers than US-names (because there are fewer British email marketers currently), would probably respond at a higher rate. We don't have hard data on this, but will research for future issues.

LETTER #3: John Wake at ( wrote in:

"Compare and contrast e-mail marketing metrics in Europe, where they have much stricter spam controls, to those in the U.S.

Question: If the U.S. gets spam legislation, would the U.S. industry begin to look more like Europe's? How?"

MarketingSherpa Reply:

It's a great question. The best resource currently tracking some information on European data is Nua Internet Surveys ( so you can dig around for answers on their site.

However, we'd like to toss in a word of caution -- comparing Europe vs America is not a scientifically controlled experiment because there are *so* many other factors at play. Pricing, economies, ISP access, ingrained attitudes toward database marketing, list availability, etc., all affect response rates.

Yes, we should all watch other countries, but take their results with a grain of salt for your own marketplace.

LETTER #4. Ted Theologis of Wireless Internet Daily ( wrote in:

"I purchased 7500 names and paid .40 - .10 more than their base price because they were supposed to be targeted to managers/executives.

The open rate was 7%, over 1,000 names bounced back and the quality of the rest was terrible. Everything from plain fake emails ( to XXX names (

…Although the vendor repeatedly avoided to disclose where the campaign ran, I coincidentally found out they ran it on consumer sites … which proves that it was not really targeted as they claimed.

… I started by disputing the credit card charges and am prepared to go to court.

Do you have any ideas, suggestions or comments? I don't know what else to do. Am I being unreasonable?"

MarketingSherpa Reply:

This story illustrates why you should *always* ask to see specifics on where and how names on lists were collected. (Don't blindly trust a data card or a list rental sales rep.)

List selection is the most important part of your email campaign, so you should be investing more time in it than anything else. (Certainly offline direct marketing firms do -- most have list buyers who specialize in doing nothing else 100% of their time.)

Negotiations between list owners and renters can get complicated, so it's also a good idea to get a professional broker on your side haggling these details for you. They deal with the list owners day in and day out, they know their quirks, and with multiple clients behind them, they have a little more power to get fixes when something goes wrong.

Some marketers even enlist their broker's help to manage bartered list deals when you swap rentals with other list owners in your niche. (You pay the broker a CPM for this.)

Paying for an initial list order with a credit card is smart because US credit law is on your side as the buyer and your card should be able to reverse the charges if you're not satisfied. (Not always true outside the US.)

However, going to court over an issue like this may be a waste of your time and resources because you'd probably get a better ROI if you wrote off this experience to "lessons learned" and moved on to focus on growing your business.
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