Archive for June, 2009

Causes of Spam Complaints

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Here are the most common reasons we end up having to shut down an agency’s client for too many SPAM complaints:

  • Old lists (Surprise factor) – If your client has been collecting email addresses on their website for years, and this is their first email campaign to the list, there will be people who do not remember the client – (“Who the heck are you, and how did you get my email address?”). These people will report you for SPAMMING. You want to avoid the surprise factor as much as possible with email marketing.
  • SPAM traps – Some ISPs take very old email addresses they assume are not being used anymore, and they post them to public websites. Then they wait for SPAM-bots to scrape them, and SPAM them. As soon as they get SPAM to one of these “SPAM trap” addresses, they block the SPAMMER. This is why you never send to a list more than a year or two old. It is also why you should never buy an email list, and why you should never scrape emails off of websites. The effect of hitting a SPAM trap is devastating and fast.
  • Tradeshow lists – When people attend a tradeshow, they usually buy their tickets online. They submit their email address. The tradeshow host then gives their email address to the companies who exhibit at the show. Companies can theoretically use this list to find prospects that plan to attend the show, and reach out to them. That is fine, as long as the communication is one-to-one. But if they send an email campaign to the entire list, it is SPAM, and they will get reported for it.
  • Outlook address book dumps – This one is extremely common with small businesses that do not have big fancy customer databases. They just manage everything in their Microsoft Outlook Address Book. The problem is their address book does not let them export a list of “only my customers” or “only people who opted in for email marketing.” It exports everybody, including “grandma, the guy I met at a tradeshow three years ago, my tech support who I emailed two years ago, and my ex-wife.” These people will report you for SPAM. But it is not limited to small businesses. You may tell your client, “Okay, we’re prepping the big email campaign now. I’m going to need your customer email list.” Your client will then ask their entire company sales team, to “Give me your lists of customers by close of business, so we can get our exciting email newsletter out!” Guess what that sales team is going to do. They are going to dump their entire address book out and send it. They are not going to spend the time to sort out opt-ins vs. non opt-ins.
  • Sales force dumps – This is similar to the “Address Book Dump” above, but at least you have some sort of classification (theoretically) of email lists. Be on the lookout for clients who dump all their different lists into one big one. Ask them if they combined their prospects list, leads list, qualified leads list, customer list, and subscriber lists, then tell them how dangerous that is.
  • Purchased lists – It is a real no-brainer that purchasing 30 million emails from some seedy, offshore company is a dumb idea. The thing is most clients buy lists from local networking organizations, or tradeshows, or publications they advertise in. They sound innocent, and totally legit. And sometimes, the intent of the list seller is to let you send one-to-one communications (not SPAM). But the reality is most people buy those lists to send unsolicited bulk email. So ask your client if the list was purchased. If it was purchased, then whoever sold them the list needs to send the bulk email. Or, the client needs to send totally different emails, one at a time. Unacceptable responses to this include, “But this list is all legit”, and “But this list is all opt-in”, and “But this list was very, very expensive”, and “But this list came from a reputable industry source that everybody knows.”
  • Organization lists – Your client may be a member of a realtors’ organization, or a local business group. Organizations will often give you their membership directory whenever you join. This is for one-to-one networking. It is not mass subscribing them all to email marketing. The most vicious SPAM complaints can come from these lists, because often your client’s competitors will be members of the same organization.
  • Chambers of Commerce lists – When you see a small/new company that has an inexplicably large email list, it is probably from their local chamber. Again, the lists they give out are for one-to-one networking with other business owners, not mass email marketing.
  • Lists from their previous ESP– If you are helping a client switch from another email service provider to, make sure they are exporting the latest clean version of their subscriber list. Some clients will mistakenly export their entire list of subscribers (even those who previously unsubscribed, or bounced). Sometimes it’s because the they use does not give them the opportunity to download a “clean” list. We do not know if that is just poor functionality or if they are trying to lock people in. In those cases, you will need to download the full list, plus the unsubscribe list, and the bounce list, and then clean them manually before importing.

*Did You Know – ISPs want to reduce the barrage of unwanted e-mail sent to their users, permission-based or not. Spam complaints are the number-one factor that harms deliverability with major ISPs.

Does Your Subscriber’s SPAM Box Affect You?

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Whenever a client sends a bad email campaign, their recipients will click the “Report Spam” button in their email programs. Most people think nothing of it.  They figure it just teaches their Spam filter to throw away the email.  But what really happens behind the scenes is this:

1.     A complaint is sent to their ISP (like AOL, Yahoo, Comcast, Earthlink, etc).  The report has a copy of the email in it.
2.    The ISP scans the emails header, and tracks down the originating server (if you use to send the campaign, the ISP traces it to us).
3.     The ISP sends us a feedback loop (FBL) warning.
4.     If an email campaign causes too many Spam complaints (about one per thousand recipients), the ISP blocks future emails from the sending server.

Feedback Loops (FBL) like the one described above are being used more and more by large ISPs.  The reason is simple.  ISPs are dealing with billions of pieces of Spam daily.  They cannot sort through what is legit and what is not. Technology can only sort through so much.  So they put the ultimate decision in the hands of the recipients. If a recipient says it’s Spam (even if they opted-in for it) then it is spam.  That is the end of the story. Of course people make mistakes, which is why they set thresholds for complaint levels before blocking senders.  But the point – technical and legal definitions of Spam do not matter anymore. All that matters are what recipients think is “unwanted”. So your clients better be sending material people specifically requested.

This is why email marketing services (like are setup to receive FBL alerts from ISPs, and then we automatically clean complainers from your list.  Too many complaints from one campaign, and we can get blocked. And since you are sharing our system with many other users from around the globe, we have to be rigorous about monitoring FBL complaints.

You know how they say “You are more likely to die in a car accident than a plane crash”?  The same concept applies with abuse complaints.  You may think your client is safe and sound as long as they are not sending nasty pharmaceutical or online gambling Spam. But it is far more likely you will get blocked by ISPs because of complaints from your own subscribers about seemingly innocent newsletters. So it is important to know what makes people complain, and how to prevent it.

*Did You Know – a safelist is an email mailing list that people join (of their own free will) which enables them to send email offers to all the other members in exchange for agreeing to receive email from those other members. So you get to mail, but you have to agree to receive mail too. And no one gets spammed.

What Is SPAM?

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

Warning Signs Your Client Is Spamming
A guide for creative professionals
(with clients who misbehave) –
Part I (of MANY)… is an email marketing solution originally created in 2002, to help creative agencies (web developers, freelancers, advertising agencies, etc.) to send professional HTML email campaigns, on behalf of their clients.

We have helped numerous agencies assist their clients with email.

Unfortunately, we have had to shutdown many agencies for their clients’ bad email marketing practices: sloppy list management, poorly designed emails, purchased lists, and old lists. These bad practices get the client and the agency reported for Spamming, and sometimes they get blacklisted. In some cases, we have seen their mistakes tarnish their reputation and follow them even when they move around from server to server, or switch email marketing services.

Luckily, most email marketing nightmares like this are preventable. You just need to know what the warning signs are, and how to deal with them.

What exactly is Spam?

Seems like a silly question. We all get Spam, and we all know what it is. But do you know the technical definition? You need to know it, so that when challenged by a stubborn client, you can easily explain why they are Spamming.

Email is Spam when it is:
1. Unsolicited (meaning the recipient did not opt-in for it), and,
2. Sent in bulk (meaning its part of a larger collection of messages that all have substantively identical content).


Keep in mind those two criteria. Some clients will argue that, “I send unsolicited emails to prospects all the time from my computer.” And you can tell them that is not Spam, because it was not sent in bulk to 500 other prospects.

Some clients will tell you, “But I get Spam all the time! How come I can’t send it too?” Initially, that sounds like an extremely stupid reply, and it use to make me want to punch them in the gut. But I have learned during the years most newbie email marketers actually think Spammers are doing something that technically makes it legal and acceptable to send Spam. Like there is some kind of “Spam license” you can apply for, or “Spam system” you can use to make it okay. But if you explain to them that most Spam is actually sent illegally, via virus-infected, hijacked computers called “botnets,” they get the picture.

*Did You Know – the United States still leads all countries in Spam.  So although countries like China, Russia, and Brazil are touted as being the origin of the new wave of Spam, they have a long way to go to catch up to the United States.

In The Know… Database Development

Friday, June 5th, 2009

Across the Board

While many of us think of databases as merely a computerized storage facility for names, addresses, and telephone numbers, the opposite is true. Today, more and more databases are being built not only to store, but to also analyze information.  No longer are they restricted to large company’s and government facilities, databases are used by online schools, commerce retailers, neighborhood salons, restaurants and a bevy of industries. As a matter of fact, databases are one of the fastest growing segments in development.

This segment of development will continue to grow, because the need to know customers will never go away. For instance, databases can contain information about a customer’s likes, dislikes, shopping patterns, family size, age groups, and much more. This can assist a retailer with target marketing and product recommendations based on age and favorites. This also can help a retailer understand any number of important factors for a customer’s satisfactory shopping experience.
But, what other advantages can a detailed database offer? Let us talk about online education, a rapidly growing industry. More and more people are turning to online courses, because they are convenient and affordable. Online education databases offer a full list of courses, course descriptions, schedules, etc. Now, online education databases offer course recommendations and on campus suggestions for courses unavailable online.

What to Do

You have decided your business will benefit from a database, now what? Very few of us know how time consuming and rigorous creating a database can be. According to an online article, “It is not wise to dive directly into a physical design without first conducting an in-depth examination of the data needs of the business.”  Furthermore, “a proper database design cannot be thrown together quickly by novices.  A practiced and formal approach to gathering data requirements and modeling data is needed.” At times the wealth of information that will be stored on a database can be overwhelming. Precision and careful attention to every single field is due; otherwise the results can be horrific.

Therefore, when approaching a development company with a database project it is imperative to have all of the information you wish to have in your database available from the beginning.  It is NEVER a good idea to leak information to your developers while the project is in progress – this can severely delay your project and frustrate all parties concerned. So, DO give all of the correct information to your development providers at the start of your project.

With the growing number of information maintained on databases there is the need for tighter security.  How many of us hesitate to put our social security number or home address on an online application? The truth is database development is becoming more secure as technological advancements occur. However, the threat to database security is very much a concern for many of us. So, PLEASE ask your development provider about security measures and precautions.   Inquiring about the security and vulnerabilities of your database is a sign you care about protecting your customers. Your project developer will understand and appreciate your concern.

*Did You Know – Web Development is the larger picture where Web Designing is just a small part of it.  Not taking away the credit from a good designed website, it cannot really answer important queries and does not provide the interactive functionalities that a good website, which is developed using the right technology can.