Over the past few days the whole anti-spam movement seems to have reached critical mass.
- This morning three days of hearings started over at the FTC in Washington DC, with all sides of the debate weighing in (and no doubt arguing vehemently) to find a solution against unwanted email. http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2003/04/spamforumagenda1.htm
- AOL v.8 announced a new "Communicator" service that account holders can sign up for that will "help control junk mail better by separating unwanted bulk mail that slips through AOL's other spam filters."
- AOL, Yahoo and Hotmail announced a partnership to battle unsolicited bulk email. (We found the quotes from Yahoo and MSN/Hotmail execs ironic because last year these two companies both forced all their email box holders onto multiple rental files on a strictly opt-out basis.
They were going to flog your name on the rental market unless you leapt through hoops to tell them otherwise. These are the guys who are setting standards now?) Anyway, link to release: http://media.aoltimewarner.com/media/press_view.cfm?release
- ePrivacy Group, one of the many private companies that have been working to create better filters, announced a new program today called Trusted Email Open Standard. They did not say much about what it would cost or who would pay for it, which aside from "does it actually work?" and "do you have buy-in from the major ISPs?" is the big question for all email senders. http://www.eprivacygroup.com/teos
- Last week the Email Service Provider Coalition (ESPC) which is a membership group of almost two dozen major email broadcast firms, announced "Project Lumos," a program which they also hope will stop unsolicited email while letting permission mail through: http://www.networkadvertising.org/espc/042303lumos.asp
- Of course legislators are hopping on the issue big time, especially in AOL's backyard in VA. What fun to be able to tell your constituents you are working on a solution that will be universally welcomed (unlike that pesky war).
The forces of good and evil email are joined in battle.
The conclusion will not be easy or quick. There are too many competing ideas and interest groups. Whatever ends up being the solution has to be accepted by everyone in governments, ISPs, broadcast email vendors, publishers, marketers, list host software makers, trade groups, corporate IT departments, AOL/Yahoo/Hotmail, and oh yeah, email recipients.
That is a lot of people to get into consensus.
In the meantime innocents are being caught in the cross-fire, namely permission mailers.
Here is our advice on short-term damage control until we have a clear winning solution and a new day dawns:
#1. Keep in close touch with whoever sends your bulk email (either in-house or a vendor) to make sure they have strong relationships with ISPs and are constantly reviewing ways to make sure your mail gets through.
If necessary, switch vendors. This is *not* a time for choosing an email service strictly as a commodity on a price-per-email-sent basis. It is about email getting through and that is another story.
One tip Michael Wexler shared with us is to go to Google Groups and type in the ending of an email address from your vendor's email, such as "@e-dialog.com." You will see many of the messages that the company employees (including techies) have posted to various discussion boards, including those blacklisting possible spammers. If your vendor's been blacklisted, it may show up there.
#2. Keep careful watch on your typical message filter rate. You can not usually tell directly when a message has been filtered, there is no % filtered report you can get.
Watch your open rate for sudden unexpected lulls. Maybe your subject line was a stinker this time, or maybe your mail is being filtered at an unexpectedly high rate.
AOL in particular has reportedly been tightening filters like crazy in the past week or two, so if you have a large number of AOL names on your list, ask your email vendor for a separate open rate report on those names.
#4. If you have not already done so and it makes sense for your campaigns, arrange for copies of your regular email newsletters and sales alerts to be posted on your Web site in an easy-to-find section. This way if regular readers miss issues, they can find them easily online.
(Plus, you get the added benefit of possible links from other sites and higher search engine rankings as they notice and rank this extra content.)
#5. Alert your customer service or subscriber services team that they may get queries from readers asking why they have not gotten any email from you lately. (In fact, if no one complains, maybe you should rethink your email content because it is not valuable enough to miss.)
One handy tool you can ask your email vendor to build or offer you is a "bounce look-up" where your customer service team can look up an account by email address and find out if they have bounced any mail and if so what the reason was. This can be a big help with unraveling why a reader is not getting the mail they are expecting.
#6. Clean your list. Most importantly, make sure your email vendor can differentiate between "soft" and "hard" bounces, so they can leave names on your file who are temporally unreachable while stripping out the names that are dead mailboxes. As we have noted before, if you have too many bad mailboxes on your list, some ISPs and mail systems will filter the rest of your mail out as well. Prune your deadwood.
#7. Get (really) relevant. Personalization such as sticking a recipient's name on email is not going to make much of a dent in your deliverability. However, if your messages are sent only to people who really truly care, they will be opened and read no matter how much other crud is in their in-box. This means:
- Forget tactics to gather names fast such as sweeps and pre-checked boxes in favor of tactics that may get you fewer, but more highly interested names.
- Segment your list by topic and only send people the topic they are most interested in. Every single emailer we've spoken to from SportingNews.com to New Line Cinema has told us their results went rocketing up when they split their lists into groups by interest and then mailed offers accordingly, instead of one offer to a general list.
By the way, if you would like to follow the latest news on the spam-front on a day by day basis, our favorite Blog on the topic is here: http://spamnews.com/blog/