This 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.
A 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 JakeLudington.com 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 JakeLudington.com 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?