The From Line

Sending, Managing & Monetizing Email

Email Service Providers' Dirty Little Secret

There is a dirty little secret with email service providers (ESPs) and it’s about time it has been brought to the forefront of industry discussions.  I learned about the intricacies of this secret while culling Gold Lasso customers that exceeded our spam complaint threshold. After politely showing a few of them the door, out of spite they revealed to me that they were simultaneously using the services of five other competitors unraveling a twisted web of ESP “switch-a-roonie” that promotes spam and hurts the industry.  This dirty little secret is so obvious that I’m surprised it hasn’t been exposed by privacy and anti-spam advocates and used to smack the smug faces of ESP executives.  Surprise!  The dirty secret is that most ESPs have no economic incentive NOT to do business with customers who refuse to use good list practices.  Let me say it this way: Email service providers make good money from bad customers who in some circles could be considered spammers.  You might be scratching your head thinking most ESPs have strict anti-spam policies and lobby hard to clean up the industry.  For the most part this statement is correct, however there are always a handful of bad customers that are tolerated because of the big checks they stroke.  These customers come in the forms of traditional direct marketing agencies that have to blow their client’s budget, affiliate marketers, and idiots who have deep pockets but not a clue about how email marketing works.  One thing these types of customers have in common is that they want or have to send large volumes of email and have either purchased an email list or have appended a purchased direct mail list.

Contrary to popular belief most ESPs don’t give their high paying bad customers the boot.  Most try to force them through a reformation process, however if the customer continues to ignore best practices some ESPs will do one of the following; either isolate the customer on an IP block reserved for wrongdoers (a sort of purgatory) or mix their bad customer’s email across multiple IP addresses of customers with good sending practices increasing the bad customer’s chance of making it to the inbox.  In the first scenario, the ESP milks the customer as they are well aware their email will either wind up in an ISP black hole or get bounced faster than an Atari Breakout ball. The bad customer, fed up with bad deliverability, will feverishly switch to a new ESP as soon as their contract is up.  In the second scenario, the ESP increases the deliverability risk of their good customers.  The attitude is akin to “so what if some customers get 90% deliverability instead of 96%.  What’s 6%?” Eventually this attitude catches up with reality and good customers start complaining.  This is when the ESP gives the bad customer the boot as their foot is already in the door of another ESP.  Contrary to what Ken Magill of Direct Magazine says “a marketer can’t ride an ESP’s e-mail reputation, folks” a marketer CAN ride the reputation of an ESP’s customers… for a while at least.  In either case the ESP is doing a disservice to not only their customers (good and bad) but to the industry at large.

The time has come for ESPs to get together and create their own blacklist of customers who they have booted because they refused to clean up their act.  This would prevent these bad customers from trying to hop ESPs causing headaches and silently undermining the industry.  The secret is out!  Let’s do something about it.

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A Wake Up Call For Email Marketing Newbies

Last year I predicted that 2007 was going to be "the year of the mailman" for email marketing, meaning that everyone including the mailman would engage in the practice.  This is evident in that Constant Contact now claims 150,000 small business customers.  The word is out that email marketing returns big bucks and the little guys want in.  True, email marketing does level the playing field between large and small online retailers since it's an affordable medium and relatively easy to press the send button.  However the newbies to the game need to understand that any monkey can click send and just as anything good in life, realizing a positive ROI from your email marketing takes time, effort, a little bit of smarts and an education.  Yes, you got to get yourself an email marketing education.  Don't be dumb and buy into unscrupulous pie in the sky marketing that you'll sell millions of dollars of your ill conceived widget by blasting some cockamamie email to a three million person list you bought for $300 from Raj in India.  And don't start crying that you didn't sell anything in the first month of sending your weekly email of skateboarding products because you were too stupid to figure out your customers are parents who purchased from you when their little Johnny was going through his skateboarding phase. 

As 2008 rolls in I welcome all newbies to the email marketing community and encourage them to seek the knowledge that will make them successful.  Before you start "blasting" a hole in your list, please read some books, do some research and talk to other people who have been engaged in the email marketing practice for a while. 

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New Years Resolutions for Email Marketing - In February

This is the time of year for resolution and improvement.  It includes more than just losing weight or sticking to a budget (two of the most common resolutions).  For e-marketers, it means vowing to check their messages for SPAM before sending them or adding action-based messaging to their marketing plans.

  1. Check all messages with the SPAM analysis tool before sending them to my recipients.
  2. Join Dot Email, post questions and brainstorm ideas with other marketing professionals.
  3. Add a survey to my messages to help me gather more information about my readers.
  4. Add dynamic content to my marketing messages to increase personalization.
  5. Brand landing pages to increase connection with my readers.
  6. Segment my lists and create targeted messages to increase response rates.
  7. Make sure my IP is not blacklisted by checking the black list status in eLoop.
  8. Keep up-to-date on industry news by registering with Dot Email.
  9. Check my message with multiple email providers (such as Yahoo and AOL) to make sure my message is getting through and delivered correctly.
  10. Stay on the white lists of my readers.
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Gold Lasso Joins The Industry Leaders of the Email Experience Council (EEC)

Gold Lasso announced last week that we joined the Email Experience Council,  Red More Here! 

The group meets every so often via teleconference then splits into various round table discussions.  I'm currently participating in the email experience round table which is tasked with formulating standards for different types of email communications such as newsletters, transactional, promotional and charitable.  So far most of the group seems to be pretty engaged and has come up with some good ideas and formats to test.  My overall experience with the "Experience" has been good.   Allison Swerdlow of Ogilvy has done a great job organizing everything, especially since everything is virtual.  I don't know how she does it and work full time.

Next post should be about my round table's findings.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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Marketers Not Following Best Practices Getting Desperate

I received three calls this past week from amateur marketers desperately seeking to open an account with my company Gold Lasso.  Each one claimed to be using an email service provider that encourages best practices.  Below is a paraphrased conversation with one of these marketers.

Me: How long have you been practicing email marketing?

Marketer: About three years.

Me: What kind of email content do you send?

Marketer: Offers from third party advertisers.

Me: (red flag goes up) What is your average monthly email volume?

Marketer: Around two million emails a month.

Me: All two million email addresses are double opt-in?

Marketer: Double opt-in, what's that?  These people signed up with my website.

Me: Did you disclose that you would be sending email from third party advertisers during the sign up process?

Marketer: No.  I'm not spamming.  I comply with the CAN SPAM Act.  I provide my address at the bottom and an opt-out link.

Me: Why are you looking to open an account with Gold Lasso?

Marketer: Because my email is not getting through with my current email service provider.

Me: Which email service provider do you use?

Marketer: I use (Censored).

Me: Never heard of them.  Do they over you your own unique IP address?

Marketer: They provide me with three revolving IP addresses.

Me: How much do you pay to send two million emails with your current provider?

Marketer: How much would you charge to send that volume?

Me: Depending on a few things, the cost might run around $(censored) per month. 

Marketer: What? I pay $(censored) per month with (Censored) provider.  You seem expensive.

Me:  Our mail gets through.  You get what you pay for.  Besides, you're not the type of client we would like to have for the simple reason that your email marketing practices are not up to snuff.  It's not an insult.  It's just we like to have all our clients achieve maximum success and deliverability.  I'm going to send you an email with some information to help get your program on the right track.  Let me know if you have any questions.  Once you're able to get your lists cleaned up we can speak further.

Marketer: Click!

Desperation is starting to resonate quickly amongst email marketers who lack best practices.  I'm sure I will be receiving many more calls like this in the not so distant future.  If you're doing everything right and your email is still not getting through, it's probably because you're sharing a network with one of these boneheads who recently called me.

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