The From Line

Sending, Managing & Monetizing Email

Do Forward-to-a-Friend Referrals Work?

The forward-to-a-Friend gimmick is a failed attempt by e-mail service providers to incorporate viral marketing tools into their applications. Because 100% of the most commonly used e-mail clients have a forward e-mail feature, people use that instead. The only thing we e-mail service providers can do to save face is to hope that the feature reminds people to use their forward button.

A recent survey to online market­ers by the Email Experience Council asked, “What is your most successful list-building tactic?” Only 6% chose “Viral: empowering subscribers to share my e-mails via forward-to-a-friend,” 9% chose “Acquisition: growing by renting lists,” and 84% chose “Organic: capital­izing on sign-up opportunities across all of my channels.”

These statistics prove that the forward-to-a-friend process is inad­equate, and a more formalized referral program is needed for success. A good program is automated, timely and usually starts where the original opt-in process ends. Once a Web site user has gone through the motions of opt­ing in, it is a perfect opportunity to ask for a referral. Ask the referrer not only for an e-mail address, but also a full name. When soliciting the referee to opt-in, always personalize the message and, most importantly, reference the referrer — this gives you instant cred­ibility and will produce a much higher conversion rate.

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2008 Predictions Review – Hit or Miss?

Every New Year’s I take the avalanche of information I gather from clients, business partners and  hundreds of articles and white papers I have read of the previous year and try to make some bold predictions for email marketers.  Like any modern soothsayer, my predictions are a medley of hits and misses, such as my accurate such as the call for more email marketing legislation in 2008, and complete flops such as my 2007 suggestion of wider adoption of RSS by email marketers.  More importantly, however, they are the basis for my predictions for the upcoming year (2009 will be posted next week).

2008 Prediction 1: The Death of the ISP White List (Hit and Miss)
While still in use, ISP white lists have been fairly marginalized as reputation-based systems have taken a much larger foothold for managing spam.  In fact, Gold Lasso hasn’t noticed a real deliverability difference between clients who follow best practices and do not participate in a formal white listing program, than clients with the same practices and do participate in one.  This might explain part of the reason there was a fire sale of Habeas to ReturnPath.  The only ISP white list that will continue as is in 2009 and that I know can guarantee 100% deliverability is GoodMail.

2008 Prediction 2: Email Rendering on Mobile Devices Will Be a Continued Issue (Hit)
Even with the advent of the second generation iPhone with improved HTML email rendering, designing for the mobile screen was a big challenge for email marketers in 2008.  With click rates in some cases exceeding open rates, mobile devices threw email marketers through the rendering loop forcing many of them to abandon open stats and to better segment their mobile subscribers.  

2008 Prediction 3:  Authentication Technology Will Become Mandatory (Miss)
Even though email authentication is mandatory for all members of the Direct Marketing Association, it’s still not being used by a large number of senders especially marketers that use in-house email marketing systems.  Based on discussions with clients and other industry veterans, I have concluded that many IT professionals still don’t know how to implement email authentication technologies let alone understand what they are for.   In addition to the lack of education, email authentication technologies still face an uphill battle as a result of a number of domain registrars preventing their customers from attaching the necessary text files to their DNS entries.  Overall, authentication is gaining ground but it still has a long way to go to make a difference in the war against spam.

2008 Prediction 4: More Legislation Might Be Around the Corner (Hit)

In June of 2008, the Federal Trade Commission tightened and clarified some of the language in the CAN SPAM Act to make it easier for consumers to opt-out of commercial email.  In addition, the FTC took another step toward making a clear distinction between commercial and transactional email.  While all these new clarifications are good, this poorly crafted legislation continues to fall short of its original intention of staving off spam.

2008 Prediction 5: Social Networking Sites Will Become the New Inbox Providers (Miss)

This prediction was bold and premature, yet I believe it will soon come to fruition and I’m sticking to it for 2009.  There’s no doubt social networking sites are chipping away at traditional personal email as Millennials, Gen Xers and Yers are adopting the medium as one of their main choices for personal communication.  However, if social networking wants to entice older generations, increase visiting times and eventually sell more ad space they will have to open their networks to include traditional email communication.  This day is coming and I’m banking on it!
 

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GoodMail WILL Survive in 2009

There's been a lot of speculation if GoodMail will survive in 2009, and thankfully much of it has been put to rest today with the announcement of its third round of funding lead by Bessemer Venture Partners. After a lot of research, my feeling is that GoodMail is currently a must for financial services companies. With identity theft on the continual rise, banks, credit unions and brokers need to ensure that they are taking every step possible to secure their customers information and to prevent phishing.

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Custom DNS – The Last Link for Your Reputation & Branding

There is a dizzying array of information, discussions and banter regarding the importance of sender reputation, however very little substance about how the process technically works. Even more surprising is the continuous debate among ESPs as to whether its better to have a client on a shared IP address verses a unique IP address. Please tell me how a sender establishes a good reputation using a shared IP address? I still haven't figured out the risk logic to this yet. What's most shocking is that very few ESPs offer their clients custom DNS. What is custom DNS you ask? It's when you have the ability to send email from your own domain name such as This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. instead of your ESPs mail server domain such as This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. This involves pointing certain DNS records to the unique IP address your ESP provides. The IP has to be unique since reverse DNS needs to be configured as well and only one reverse DNS is permitted per IP address. Instead, many ESPs allow their clients to "spoof" a sender email address, violating many ISPs acceptable use policies (however rarely enforced).

The importance of custom DNS stems from the fact that it's the last link in ensuring your email sending reputation and one that is rarely implemented. In fact, if you don't have a custom DNS and a unique IP address, you will not be able to participate in sender verification, white listing and reputation management programs. Also, many corporate phishing filters block links in messages that point to other domains other than the receiving authenticated domain. Meaning if you send an email from mx345.myesp.com and have a link in your message that is pointing to yourwebsite.com you have a higher probability of it being filtered in a corporate network environment.

So what's a concerned marketer to do? The first step is to get a unique IP address. If you send a significant volume of email and your ESP doesn't offer a unique IP address then its time to consider a new ESP. The second step is to ask your ESP to help you with your custom DNS. They should provide you with a string of DNS entries that include authentication. If your lists are relatively clean and branding is important, choose a derivative of your corporate domain name such as email.yourdomain.com or click.yourdomain.com. If your list gathering practices are even slightly questionable then you should purchase a domain specifically for email marketing. If your ESP tries to charge you an arm and a leg for this service kick them in the shins and demand that they do it for free. It should take an experienced network admin no more than 15 minutes to get your account configured correctly.

Custom DNS is the only way to go with email marketing. The setup process will take a little extra effort however it will pay dividends with email reputation management, branding and overall trust with your recipients.

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Pre-Fab Email Templates Suck! Here's Why

If you're a marketing manager for a mid-sized company and insist that your email service provider offer you a bunch a pre-fab templates you're lazy and should be fired! Pre-fab templates were great back in the day when email marketing was novel and a limited number of marketing mavericks experimented with the medium however the day of pre-fab templates for real marketers has come and gone.

Just think about it, email service providers that push pre-fab templates such as Constant Contact or iContact cater to hundreds of thousands of tiny companies sending to millions email recipients. Since there is only a finite number of templates that these email service providers offer, this means that a large number of companies have the same look and feel to their email marketing efforts without any differentiation to cut through the clutter. If you're a marketing manager at a mid sized company do you really want your email marketing to look like Joe's Bicycle Shop down the street? What if your boss subscribes to Joe's Bicycle Shop email and you unknowingly use the same template? Do you think you'll have your job for long?

I know lifting and plagiarism are common practices among marketers but for G-d sakes don't copy something that's sub-par and meant for people lacking creative abilities. And if you are a small company that's serious about its email marketing it doesn't take much these days to create a professional looking custom template. Any graphic design student at your local community college can create something far better then what an email service provider will give you. Remember, benchmark the best not crap!

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