Select Quality E-Lists That Work

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Unless you live in a cave, you know Internet marketing is growing in popularity almost exponentially. In a recent online survey, more than 50 percent of direct marketers polled by Edith Roman Associates said they now use the Internet as a marketing tool.

A great deal of entrepreneurs are using e-mail to promote e-mail lists, mainly to other entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs who dream of getting rich on the Internet. These e-mails promise big lists at bargain-basement prices ("2 million names only $100!"). These cut-rate lists may work for sex Web sites, business opportunities or other spam offers aimed at a mass audience -- although I doubt it. As far as quality e-mail lists, there are only a few dozen on the market.

What defines a "quality" list? And how do you find the right one for your campaign?

To begin with, in e-mail -- as in "postal mail" (printed direct mail) -- response lists generally are superior to a compiled list. In e-mail, there are numerous lists compiled from Internic, which is the organization with which all Web advertisers must register their domain names. Other compiled lists consist of Internet addresses of people who visit user and news groups.

Response lists, by comparison, consist of Internet-enabled prospects who have either responded to an e-mail offer or have registered at a Web site. By doing so, they have shown interest in a particular subject area. Another plus is that, in addition to the Internet address, the list contains additional information such as name, address, phone number and sometimes even buying preferences and demographics.

Results from Internet marketing programs indicate that the best response is obtained using opt-in lists. The true definition of "opt in" is that people on an e-list have (a) registered at the site or through some other electronic or paper form and (b) checked the option requesting additional e-mail information from other companies.

Different list owners use different definitions of opt in, resulting in lists of varying quality. When you visit Web sites and fill in guest pages, note that some Web sites have pre-checked the "Yes, I want to receive e-mail from other companies" option. So when you complete and submit the guest form, you opt in automatically. Other Web sites require the registrant to check "yes" to the opt-in option. The latter is indicative of a more responsive, qualified e-list.

Make sure the opt-in language explains clearly that other companies will be e-mailing to the Internet user. If Web surfers visiting the site aren't presented with the choice to opt in, they may respond negatively to receiving e-mail from direct marketers, including you.

How can you find out what opt in means to the e-list you consider testing? Ask for the list owner's opt-in language, or go to its Web site and register. If an e-list owner won't give you its opt-in language or the URL address of its Web site, question the integrity of its list.

A number of lists use a form of "reverse opt in." They broadcast e-mails to Internet addresses with an advertising message that includes the promise of future promotional e-mails. They state that if the recipient doesn't want to receive future e-mails, he or she must click on "Unsubscribe." Therefore, these so-called opt-in lists aren't really opt in at all, since the prospect that takes no action is considered qualified -- which, of course, isn't true. (This is the electronic equivalent of mailing qualification cards for a controlled circulation publication and considering anyone who doesn't send in the card with a note saying "I don't want to subscribe" as a qualified subscriber.)

When you rent a quality response e-list, don't be surprised when the list owner refuses to transmit the names to you and insists on transmitting your e-mail, for a fee, himself. This is standard practice among owners of quality lists. It's the electronic equivalent of a conventional list owner who won't send his list directly to mailers but ships only to bonded letter shops.

For the 135 e-lists on the market today, 76 of the list owners insist on doing the transmission, while the rest will release their e-mail lists to mailers. For those 59 who will release their e-lists to you for transmission, 29 (49 percent) are opt in. Of the 76 that must do the transmission themselves, 41 (54 percent) are opt in. Therefore, opt in is more prevalent among lists in which the list owner does the transmission. Opt-in lists represent half of all lists on the market.

Why do owners of quality response lists insist on controlling their lists so closely? One reason is to ensure the integrity of the list by eliminating tampering. More importantly, it prevents the people on the list -- whose trust the owner values -- from receiving unwanted offers. And it ensures that Internet users get only offers of interest ... including yours.

Michelle Feit is vice president of the Internet division of Edith Roman Associates Inc., Pearl River, NY, a firm providing list brokerage, list management and database and Internet marketing services.

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