Guest Blog: I am not a spammer – so why have I been blocked?
Today’s post comes from Richard Bewley. He’s a deliverability expert in ExactTarget’s London office. Since I’m at ET as well, we sometimes get the opportunity to work together and I’ve found him to be pretty solid in the advice that he gives clients and thought that you might enjoy his insight.
So, without further ado, take it away, Richard!
“I am not a spammer – so why have I been blocked?”
Well, as the saying goes, ‘that depends’. In recent weeks, I have certainly experienced a rise in cases of legitimate senders being blocked, notably by the Spamhaus SBL. For those who have so far been insulated from the pain that it such a listing, there is sadly a day when this could just happen to you.
A Spamhaus SBL block is about as effective at preventing email from reaching the intended receiver as a rock slide is at closing a road.
Historically, my professional background has predominantly been working client side in a technical marketing capacity — I can genuinely empathise with the challenges in play which email marketers are faced with on a regular basis.
In one role a few years ago, I was instructed to email a woefully inactive portion of my employer’s database, and alarm bells rung immediately.
In a not untypical scenario where data is considered king, multiple thousands of legitimate opted-in records were <em>magically</em> discovered when migrating to a new ecommerce platform. The previous platform’s developer admitted that the query to bring across email addresses to the ESP was inherently broken, and had been for a number of years. Of course the business owners were livid — their entire business mode was built on expensive yet opted in customer acquisition at point of sale, and would see profit via email retention campaigns. In their shoes, I would feel exactly the same.
I put up so much resistance to this idea that I expected to be shown the door by the business owners. The reason was simple – I genuinely cared for their brand’s deliverability. More to the point, I wanted to protect their reputation knowing how business critical the email channel is to them.
The questions I had to ask at the time were:
- So how long have we not been emailing to them?
- How old is a lapsed record, and at what age should a line be drawn in the sand to be considered too risky?
- How do we know that the email address is even valid?
- Is it SPAM, as they are our customers who opted in to hear from us, yet have never even received a basic welcome mailing?
What I did next in terms of managing this situation is not the point of this missive, but more an awareness of how hard I know it can be for email marketers to build resistance to potentially catastrophic strategies decided upon by stakeholders who really do not understand the damage it could do. Whilst size isn’t everything supposedly, list size seems to be still deemed the all engrossing KPI which trumps all other metrics in email marketing.
Unfortunately, the definition of ‘SPAM’ in the minds of many of the more traditional marketers I have spoken to still seems to conjure up images of
promoting: male enhancement pharmaceuticals; get rich quick schemes; phishing attacks, and the like. Spamhaus’s definition, however is far less focused on content type:
Spamhaus’s anti-spam blocklist, the SBL, used by more than 1 Billion Internet users, is based on the internationally-accepted definition of Spam as “Unsolicited Bulk Email”. Therefore anyone sending UBE on the Internet, regardless of whether the content is commercial or not, illegal or not, is a sender of spam and thus a spammer.
Email receivers are so efficient at weeding out the traditional spam that their attention is being turned to the bulk newsletters you keep sending them but they do not engage with at all. Week after week, sometimes even month after month. Look at Gmail’s Priority Inbox or Hotmail’s sweep, just for starters.
So I guess the next question is, what is ‘solicited’? In a recent meeting with a client who inadvertently mailed to 500,000 records who had potentially not been communicated to for up to 5 years, the rebuttal was ‘marketing opt-in’, so it was legally considered ‘safe’.
In another situation, the criteria of who would be targeted was even woollier, more along the lines of ‘has not unsubscribed = opted in’, and this is internally categorised as an ‘active’ subscriber. The difficulty by which a subscriber can be removed from their list (visit website you may have last used up to 5 years ago > remember the username and password > failing that have one sent/ reset and that actually being received in a timely manner) is a practise which insanely still goes on. Even if this is done, the record needs to be suppressed and flagged with the ESP – how robust is this solution?
I have heard, ‘we do not want to make it too easy for them to unsubscribe, in case this is done in error’. What is the answer then, quadruple opt-out? Phone-based unsubscription? Unsubscribe by postal service? DNA swab to prove ownership of address?
After analysing a client’s database, it was evident how unengaged subscribers really were. Over 80% had not opened or clicked in over 18 months, yet they will continue to be sent to. How many thousands of dollars are being spent to send to those who do nothing, and probably never will. Ever again. What about a reengagement campaign? Empowering the customer with a choice as to whether or not they want your missives in their inbox?
Do not forget, they can always opt-in again, should they choose to, but please give them a good reason to do so.
Finally, if ever you run into a similar situation as those described above when it comes to targeting inactives, just pay a little attention to the
Or, CHURN for short. It is far cheaper not to send en masse to those who do not want to hear from you, than to face the music of the consequence of such actions.