E-Mail Is Alive and Well

A few years ago everyone was calling e-mail “the killer app.” But e-mail quickly became a victim of its own success, as the very factors that made it attractive to marketers also made it attractive to spammers.

Legislation, filters and image blocking, all designed to make it tough for spam to get through, also make it difficult for legitimate e-mail. Jupiter Research estimates that the cost of false positives – those permission e-mails erroneously blocked as spam – to online marketers will balloon from $230 million in 2003 to $419 million in 2008.

Though it may seem that “the killer app” is dead, there’s life left in it yet. E-mail remains one of the most powerful channels to communicate with your customers, provided you follow a few suggested practices.

Opt for affirmative consent. Affirmative consent is the safest permission strategy, as it decreases the likelihood your e-mails will be mistaken for spam.

Be relevant. E-mail users are growing less tolerant of all commercial e-mail, whether permission-based or not. To stand apart, segment your lists and ensure your messages are targeted and contextually relevant.

Go above and beyond what the law requires. Though unsolicited commercial e-mail is technically legal, it isn’t necessarily permissible in the eyes of Internet service providers, e-mail providers and e-mail users. The following will help you go beyond what the law requires:

· Get permission before sending e-mail.

· Ask recipients how frequently they would like to hear from you, or conduct tests to determine optimal frequency.

· Make content relevant.

· Make header, subject and routing information accurate.

· Include a valid postal address of the sender.

· Include a return e-mail address or other Internet-based mechanism for unsubscribing.

· Honor unsubscribe requests within 10 business days.

· Don’t send nontransactional e-mail after objection, or engage in e-mail harvesting (using programs to search the Web to capture e-mail addresses) or dictionary attacks (trying various combinations of a person’s e-mail address until hitting upon one that works).

Avoid content that filters may perceive as spam. Eliminate these types of words and symbols: free, money-back guarantee, satisfaction guaranteed, risk, win, opportunity, extra, $$$, !!!, adv, advertising, sweepstakes, promotion, cash, 100%, random numbers or letters and words with a sexual reference. If you must use them, embed them in a graphic to avoid detection in HTML e-mail.

Streamline your lists. Keep lists clean by periodically proofing to remove bounces and duplications. If your list is large, send e-mails in batches to no more than 500 addresses at a time.

Put it in writing. Capture the IP addresses of your subscribers at opt-in and document your permission process.

Make the “from” line count. The from line in your e-mail is an often-overlooked branding opportunity. The from name and from address should make sense together or alone, be recognizable, be short to ensure visibility across all e-mail clients and remain consistent from one e-mail to the next.

Keep checking. Keep an eye on ISP blacklists, as senders are added daily. Also, check delivery rates by specific domain. Set up test accounts to see how your e-mails render at each domain.

Get help from experts. Contract with a third-party e-mail vendor to scrub the content of your e-mail and the content of your lists as well as deliver and track e-mails and cultivate ISP relationships on your behalf.

Get your from name added to ISP white lists and personal white lists. An ISP white list is a list of from names and domain names that ISPs have identified as senders of legitimate e-mail. A personal white list is a list of from names and domain names that e-mail users have added to their address books. To get on ISP white lists:

· Document your company’s process for gathering permission.

· Document your company’s QA/scoring process.

· Ask your e-mail service provider to contact each ISP directly seeking white list status.

· Submit necessary forms and adjust practices, if necessary, to adhere to ISP guidelines.

· Once you’ve been white listed, have your e-mail service provider recontact ISPs periodically to maintain your status.

· To get on personal white lists:

· Make your e-mails too good to pass up.

· Reassure recipients that you respect their privacy.

· Don’t send e-mails too often.

· Target and segment to ensure relevancy and customer value.

· Ask recipients to add you to their address book. Be sure to explain how and why.

Get ready for Gmail. Gmail, Google’s soon-to-be-released searchable e-mail service, creates yet more challenges for e-mail marketers. Here’s how to mitigate Gmail’s effect:

· Message heavily. Analysts forecast that Google will take 10 percent to 20 percent of the market in the first year. To capture this migration, heavily message your customers to keep their e-mail addresses up to date.

· Join Gmail. Gmail will provide users with a new e-mail consumption experience. Joining Gmail lets you see for yourself how your customers experience your messages.

· Track Gmail. Add your new Gmail address to your sample list for QA procedures to ensure the quality of your message.

· Keep it clean. Ensure that list cleanup procedures are up to par. Continuing to send e-mail to bad addresses is one reason an ISP will blacklist you. Stop e-mail to any address that has bounced on three consecutive campaigns.

· Make it consistent. Your e-mail will be competing with contextual, text-based banner ads that will appear on Gmail. Develop a reporting structure to view click-through rates for Gmail recipients versus standard e-mail recipients to help determine Gmail’s effect on your campaign’s effectiveness.

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