Understanding DR: The Technical Language of E-Mail, Web Marketers

Both e-mail and Web-based marketing activities have forced our lexicon of direct response terminology to quickly expand. Standard terms of merge/purge priority and zip frequency analysis are augmented with terms such as hard vs. soft bounces, and HTTP server logs.

Understanding the terms and the underlying technology behind them is key to effective use of the Internet as a direct response medium. The following is a list of some key terms that you, as a direct marketer, should know and understand.

• IP address. Internet Protocol address. Every computer connected to the Internet has a specific address. If your computer is constantly connected to the Internet, you probably have a Static IP vs. a Dynamic IP that is typical with dial-up connections.

• SMTP server. Simple Mail Transport Protocol server. This is the server that handles the standardization and transfer of e-mail messaging through the Internet.

• HTTP server. HyperText Transfer Protocol server. This server handles the set of rules for exchanging files (text, graphic images, sound, video and other multimedia files) on the Web. It is the system serving the Web pages that constitute your corporate or e-commerce site to the end-user (running a client browser software such as Netscape or Internet Explorer).

• HTML. HyperText Markup Language. This is the language interpreted by Netscape or Internet Explorer that defines how to display text, graphics, images, sound, etc. The HTTP Server is typically distributing text files that contain HTML code, which is then interpreted by the end-user’s browser.

Marketing tip: Some e-mail rental lists have a select for plain text or HTML e-mail. If the select is not available, ask to see if secondary level domains such as Hotmail and Yahoo can be separated for the purpose of sending an HTML-based e-mail. Both services use a Web browser for accessing e-mail and can inherently view an HTML-based message.

• Hard vs. soft bounces. This is a critical component of an e-mail campaign, and reference is usually made to bounces after an e-mail transmission is completed. Bounces indicate the number of undeliverable e-mail addresses as reported by both the transmitting and receiving SMTP servers. A hard bounce represents an e-mail that never left the transmitting SMTP server, and a soft bounce represents an e-mail that made it to the destined STMP server (to the right of the @ sign) but could not find the particular individual (to the left of the @ sign).

Marketing tip: Carefully select the from line – if you insist that the e-mail comes from your organization, be prepared to receive the soft bounces. Consider having the third-party transmission company create a from line that returns the mail to its servers, as the company is better-prepared to handle the back-end processing and tallying of hard vs. soft bounces.

• Access log file. The access log file on your HTTP server will show you what areas of your Web site are being requested as well as from what IP address. Marketing tip: Your IT group can deliver a monthly log file to you that can easily be opened in Excel. Ask them to parse it so you can sort by IP address, date/time, as well as the pages requested in your site. Simple sorts in Excel can give you an idea of what areas of your site are being hit the most. Sorting by IP address also can give you an indication of where the user is coming from. If you are running Windows 95/98, open an MS-DOS session (start menu, programs, MS-DOS prompt). At the “C” prompt, enter “TRACERT .” The TraceRoute utility will trace back to the server of origin, usually resolving to some type of company name.

• Referrer log file. This is an HTTP server log that keeps track of the “referrers.” A referrer is the document that contained the links to the requested document. This can be useful for tracking usage patterns around your site or the external links used by individuals to discover and visit your site. Marketing tip: If you want to see the external links pointing to your site, go to www.altavista.com. In the “Find This” box, type in “link: (your Web site address).” The search engine will report back the pages with a text link to your site.

The items discussed provide several core technology points, as well as their relation to “real-world” marketing use. Understanding these terms will enhance your communication ability in the world of Internet marketing, as well as help turn information that is private to the IT group into marketing tools.

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