Avoiding Drip Marketing SPAM

I am reprinting this post from Infusionsoft’s blog because I think it’s critical information for any Drip Marketing program.  It doesn’t matter which email marketing software you use, the same principles are going to apply.

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Let’s Talk about Spam & Deliverability

Posted: 02 Feb 2010 01:34 PM PST

Recently, I had a conversation with James Thompson, our email compliance manager. He took the time to share a few helpful insights that will help you and your small business. Email marketing is what Infusionsoft is all about- and James makes sure that when you launch new follow-up sequences, your prospects and customers get your messages without any interruptions.

If you could summarize what you do in one sentence, what would it be?

I protect Infusionsoft and their users’ email deliverability by identifying and addressing email abuse and troublesome email practices.

What do you love about being Infusionsoft’s email compliance manager?

Personally, I love the challenge it presents.  If it weren’t a challenging and complex job, I would get bored. I’m sure everyone probably has an answer like that, right?

The other part I love is knowing that I make a very direct impact on our customers’ success. By identifying and removing risks, I help give them a better experience with our software and a strong deliverability rate.

I have to ask this: What’s the deliverability rate Infusionsoft users can expect?

In short, our users can expect a “very good” deliverability rate. I don’t like to give a percentage because deliverability is a completely subjective term. In all honesty, it depends on who you email the most. So on average our deliverability is very good, but not perfect… but we’re working on that. ;)

We consistently hit an average of 95% and above, if you wanted a number to run with. We track these on a daily basis and Tweet it weekly, so follow us to get a weekly snapshot of our deliverability.

What are the top three deliverability concerns for small businesses?

  1. “Are my emails getting delivered?”
  2. “If they are being delivered, are my emails going to the bulk folder?”
  3. “Am I causing deliverability issues because of high spam complaint rates?”

What can senders do to improve their email reputation?

Haha, that’s a loaded question. Reputation is almost entirely dependent upon the individuals who send emails and whether or not best practices are being exercised properly. Email marketing is still relatively new, so the industry as a whole is always on the move and frequently evolving.

If you are an email marketer, you need to be sure you are keeping up on the industry and what the best  “email best practices” are.  To be clear, this does not mean “niche-specific” best practices, but email marketing as a whole industry.

… And what can’t they manage with their email reputation?

The technical infrastructure-level basics. Infusionsoft handles most of this for you. This includes the mail servers themselves, Feedback Loops (FBLs), authentication (SPF/DKIM) and the segmented email queues. We got all that taken care of.

Do you have any advice you have for people who are new to email marketing?

I have many, but here are the main topics to consider:

  1. Respect your recipients. They were willing to give you personal information about them, so please ensure this information is not abused in any capacity. It is not “your list” – they ultimately decide if you overstep your bounds as a marketer or business owner.
  2. Gain Permission. Just because someone gave you his or her email address, does not necessarily mean they opted-in, want, or expect your email marketing – maybe they wanted a free report or other offering, which is why it is important to provide a checkbox upon email address collection, to give the option to the individual to opt-in for follow-up email marketing. (Don’t worry, they still will opt in and look forward to your messages!)
  3. Don’t worry about the size of your list. It is much better to build a list of interested subscribers organically than it is to try and find, harvest, buy, borrow or cheat a junk list and start ‘blasting’ to it. That is spam. In today’s email marketing world it is about quality, not quantity. If you want to grow your list with cash, consider better alternatives like pay-per-click Web ads, advertising and other forms of promotion for your business.

Permission-based marketing is a hot topic in the industry; do you find it an asset or a threat?

I find this question has become obsolete. Today, the only type of email marketing is  permission-based. Anything less than permission-based marketing is intrusive, abusive and definitely leads to email compliance issues. Perception is reality, especially when it comes to preventing spam complaints.

For the offenders you contact, why have they violated the AUP?

There are usually a number reasons, but I’ll focus on the most common. The first and foremost reason is they failed to place themselves in the shoes of their recipients and objectively ask themselves, “Would I consider this spam?” That is the overlying issue for most negative compliance situations. However, it can then be broken down into the basics:

  1. Assumed permission. Did the recipients give specific and explicit permission to receive email marketing from your business? Assumptions and flat-out ignorance don’t fly here.
  2. Permission gone stale. The recipient could have a double opt-in status, be a current customer and your uncle’s best friend; however, if they opted-in a year ago, they are considered higher-risk to the industry. Permission to email begins to go stale after about six months from the date of the original opt-in. So how old is your list?
  3. Poor Expectations. Are clear and concise expectations set for the newly obtained recipients?  This should never be assumed. It is important to look at this objectively while utilizing the industry’s best practices. For example, if you use a Web Form to get people to put in their email address to get a free report, do you also use a check-box for them to opt-in to email marketing?  There is a clear difference. Just because someone gives their email address for a free report, does not mean they gave you permission to send them follow-up email marketing.  You have to set the expectation that their email address submission will only result in a single free report, unless otherwise stated or an option to receive additional emails is given via a checkbox on the form. Using checkboxes along with a confirmation email are the current best practice.

There are of course many other reasons but the above seem to be the most common and frequently overlooked factors.

If someone doesn’t want to get an unexpected call from you, what can they do?

If you are a new Infusionsoft client, take into consideration that a new list of recipients is necessary. Infusionsoft is not a list-cleaning service. We expect that only legitimate, up-to-date, ‘clean’ lists are imported into our system.

A good way to minimize email compliance issues is to use Double Opt-In confirmations before an email address expires. Doing this on a regular basis will help keep your list clean from troublesome users. If you’ve got permission and people confirm it, you probably won’t hear from me – which is a good thing.

Preventative maintenance goes a long way in maintaining relationships with your subscribers. Some people believe ‘list scrubbing’ is a good solution to neglecting their list maintenance. The problem with this method is that all of that ‘dirt’ from a scrubbed list has to go somewhere. In this case, the ‘dirt’ is spam complaints. These complaints negatively affect all Infusionsoft users. Be sure you take every precautionary step that you can to ensure your first email broadcast will yield less than the allowed 0.1% (1 out of 1,000) complaint rate threshold.

The best solution is to set clear expectations, get permission, provide value and later confirm their permission on a regular basis. Remember that letting go of an older email address is much better than sending to a problematic one.

If you are an existing Infusionsoft client, utilize good email marketing practices:

  1. Don’t email contacts in your database who haven’t been emailed in over six months. I recommend to opt them out because it’s more trouble than it’s worth.
  2. Don’t send more than one double opt-in request, it can be quite aggravating. If someone doesn’t click the opt-in link the first time, they likely don’t want to receive your emails very badly.  After a double opt-in email is sent, opt-out all of those who did not click the link to confirm they want to stay on your list.
  3. Use consistent template formatting and a “From” address. This is a given, but many forget it. This increases the likelihood your recipients will trust you.
  4. More emails do not mean more money. If sales are down, don’t ‘hit the list harder.’ Get creative if you are having issues with your marketing effectiveness. Sending more of the same old messages isn’t the answer and usually leads to trouble.
  5. Respect. The last and probably most important step to ensuring long-term success with a list of email addresses is to ensure you respect the recipient’s inbox and their overall needs. Your emails are one of many they receive for the day/week/month. Don’t overwhelm them with your offers. Be sure that you are sending legitimately valuable information to the recipient. Think twice before setting up a sequence that sends a message out every day, unless they requested it. In the compliance subculture, we often say, “Don’t be a Blastard.”

Generally speaking, what’s in the works for Infusionsoft users for managing violators?

The newest feature that will be released soon is called “Email Throttling.” Trust me when I say it’s not as bad as it sounds. This upcoming development is a feature that takes ‘cold’ leads and sends email to a small subset of the cold list, waits for spam complaints, then throttles the batch (letting the system finish based upon whether or not complaints resulted from the sample send.

The result of this is even higher deliverability, better experience for recipients and a direct form of feedback if your email broadcast isn’t up to par with recipient needs. I briefly explained this new feature in a video in preparation of our 2010 Winter Release.

What books or resources on email marketing do you recommend people read?

A great place to begin is with the Infusionsoft Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). If you send email through Infusionsoft you must know our AUP. Your business depends on it. Other than that, the Web is full of free and useful information about email best practices, guidelines, etc. (Even our own blog is a great resource!)  If you feel overwhelmed by the vast amount of information available, start with our Fusebox articles on email best practices.

As an email compliance manager, what are some of the tools you use?

The best tool I use is called a Feedback Loop (FBL). A feedback loop is a mechanism that sends notices of spam complaints to the originating ESP (Infusionsoft in our case) regarding a spam complaint generated from one of the recipient’s ISP users such as AOL, MSN, or Yahoo.  In other words, when someone on your list hits the convenient “Report Spam” or “This is Spam” button in their email client, it sends a notification to Infusionsoft about the application that sent the email and the specific contact that complained.  We then take this data to enforce complaint rate metrics, which are handed down by the same ISP/ESP. It should be noted, we risk being blocked when a sharp increase of spam complaints happens, which is why my role is crucial to ensuring your messages reach the inbox of your prospects and customers.

Internally, we benefit from our own Infusionsoft application, a database indexing service called Splunk and our internal spam-reporting system found on Infusionsoft opt-out pages.

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