The Dark Side of Email Marketing

dark side of e-mail marketingThis week I spoke at MarketingSherpa’s Email Summit 2012 in Las Vegas, which has many great panels and discussions on the best ways to reach your customer in the digital age. When the panel I was on that included Chip House from ExactTarget and Tom Sather from Return Path came together to discuss the topics we should present, I suggested that we also include the “tough” lesson discussion. I have done a lot of presentations about best common practices for senders, but looking back I realized I’ve never talked about some of the uncontrollable situations that many marketers may find themselves in from time to time.

What marketers need to know today is that everyone gets their email stream blocked at some point in their digital communications career. You can have the cleanest lists in the world, never purchase lists, and have very genuine opt-in practices, but somewhere along that path you’ll wake up one day and find your email is blocked by a blacklist.

There are hundreds of blacklists that come in all forms such as public ones like Spamhaus (one of the good guys), private ones that are run by some ISPs themselves, and others that are owned by anti-spam companies/appliances like Google Postini. With the public ones, you have the ability to see and address the blocking that is occurring more rapidly and transparently. With private blacklists, you don’t have as much transparency or the ability to address the blacklisting in a quick fashion. However, all blacklists have the same goal – protect mailboxes from unwanted or dangerous email. Some blacklists can take their block pretty seriously and create some rules that might not be obtainable by many companies. Some of their blocking methodology targets the same legitimate practice they require from legitimate senders and for some blacklist operators, that coupled with some unwillingness to remove incorrect blocks can be a recipe for a few bad weeks – yes, weeks.

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Believe it: Email Reputation Causes Penalties in Google Search Results

e-mail deliverability SEOA number of Web sites hit with falling search rankings in April had several things in common. These sites publish original articles, frequently in the 500+ word range, which is supposed to be a quality benchmark in the way Google values content. They are authored by writers generally considered to be among the leading experts in their field. And all of these Web sites publish email newsletters. I’m part of this group and while it sounds arrogant for me to consider myself an expert, there are a handful of topics I know more about than most other people.

When my traffic at suddenly dropped in early April, I thought I’d made some kind of change that was resulting in a technology failure. I was wrong. Everything appeared to load as it should. So why the sudden drop? I called around to a handful of friends and discovered I was not alone. Early April was the second round of Panda algorithm changes. With some additional digging, I got a tip from someone at Google who indicated Google was penalizing with some new measurements that penalize email behaviors for domains. In talking with a number of other online publishers who were also hit with a stiff penalty, including LockerGnome, it appears that one common theme is that we all have email newsletters.

At first I simply didn’t want to believe email publishing was my problem. I require confirmed subscriptions. You can’t receive a single issue of my newsletter without clicking a link in the confirmation email saying you really want a subscription. This has been true since the newsletter launched as part of LockerGnome back in January 2001. I’ve always been adamant that people who don’t want to be on my list shouldn’t be and make it just as easy to unsubscribe. I currently use Aweber to send emails, which makes it easy to identify the number of people who mark your email as spam for any given mailing and automatically eliminate them. How could I get penalized for seemingly doing what was right?

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Email marketers need to get back to basics: study

While email marketing budgets and the volume of emails sent has been increasing steadily over the last five years, marketers still need to focus on basics like deliverability and testing to improve performance.

We have just published our Email Marketing Census 2011, sponsored by Adestra, which surveys almost 900 in-house and agency email marketers.

Some findings from the survey after the jump…


Testing should be an integral part of any email campaign, as it offers the opportunity to constantly learn and improve, yet too few marketers are putting this into practice.

Only a third of responding companies (32%) carry out a regular amount of testing for email marketing. One quarter of organisations say they infrequently carry out testing, while 13% don’t test at all.

Generally speaking, how would you describe the amount of testing you carry out for email marketing? (Company respondents)
e-mail marketing testing


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E-mail use remains high trough mobile and social media (say the e-mail agencies)

Remember the old Timex advertising tagline “Timex takes a licking but keeps on ticking!”? It’s one of the iconic advertising slogans that will probably be a part of the American pop culture lexicon for a long time to come.

Well, that same implied toughness about a Timex watch can now be applied to e-mail as a communications device. There are many people who think that it’s time to drive the final nail in this communication tool’s coffin. That nail is supposedly being driven by social media in general.

eMarketer reports that quite the opposite is occurring according to a survey by Merkle. Of course, Merkle provides e-mail marketing management services so you have been warned.

Email and Social Media Usage marketingfood

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Three Things You Must Do Before You Increase Email Frequency

e-mail marketingFrequency has become an increasingly hot topic for email marketers. A recent article in The New York Times, for instance, reports research results from marketing firm Responsys that show large retailers sent an average of 152 messages per subscriber in 2010—a 15-percent boost in email volume from 2009.

Sounds like a good argument for you, too, to send more promos out, right? Well, hold on a minute.

Megan Feltes, writing at the Emma blog, warns against the knee-jerk reaction of sending even more emails in the hopes of making even more profit after successful results from an increase in frequency. “While email marketing remains the most cost-effective, most trackable direct marketing method and is still the champ when it comes to marketing ROI, those juicy returns only come with forethought to strategy and smart implementation,” she cautions.

13 tips: the science of email marketing


For those of you who missed it (and with 20,000 people registering for it I’m not sure who that may be) Hubspot’s Dan Zarella’s “The Science of Email Marketing” was a reminder that testing and optimization are a core best practice which will ultimately drive the success of any email initiative.

Not that the webinar was focused on testing. Instead, takeaways were presented with the caveat “this may or may not be the case for you” … which is another way of saying “test it and see what happens.”

Content was based on a mix of email data, Hubspot survey and focus groups results. Key takeaways include: Read More

When will the “death of email” die?


Email is dying, again. If you didn’t know this, you must have been waiting for the email.

According to comScore, usage of web-based email plummeted again last year, and that means that the “email is dying” crowd is out in full force, once again promoting the notion that the mobile phone and social media are making email irrelevant.

comScore’s numbers are pretty dramatic: usage was down nearly 60% amongst teens aged 12 to 17, and dropped 18% for those aged 18 to 25. Even ‘older’ folks got into the act, with usage amongst 35 to 40 year olds and 45 to 54 year olds declining 8% and 12%, respectively. Read More