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How NOT to Promote Your E-business

Late last Friday afternoon I made one final email check
before leaving for the weekend. Much to my surprise there
were nearly 1000 email messages waiting in my inbox. And
little did I know at the time, there would be thousands more
over the next few days.

So, I’ll bet you’re excited to learn this new promotion
method that brought in all this email right? Well, before
you get too excited, let me tell you this… it’s one you
should never even consider using.

You see, that windfall of email was not from potential
prospects and customers. It was from angry netizens – all
recipients of unsolicited email. No, not spam from me, but
spam that caused a nightmare for me none the less. And it
shut down the site that was responsible, before they even
realized they did anything wrong.

The rest of this article shares the few sordid details,
including how YOU can avoid similar trouble…

It seems that a company in New Jersey who was new to the
online marketing game decided to try some “email marketing”.
So they bought one of those email lists that bulk email
companies sell as “targeted email addresses” and had their
host load it to their server.

One posting later their business was bombarded with
complaints from angry recipients of the message. Not long
after, their website was shut down, all because of one email
message.

As for me, my own problems started when the spam hit my
autoresponders. My “Welcome to the Bizweb eGazette”
autoresponder appeared on the list no less than 17 times.
The autoresponder was the one I used when new subscribers
asked to be added to my newsletter.

Well it seems that the list of 30,000 addresses had been set
up as an unmoderated discussion, and every angry spam
recipient was free to reply to the entire list, snowballing
the problem into a mass of junk mail in seconds. When my
autoresponder replied to the list of 30,000 angry spam
recipients over and over with “thanks for subscribing”, many
of the spam victims figured I was the culprit in the whole
mess! And let me tell you, there are more nasty people out
there than I imagined.

If I had a nickel for every cuss word and threat that came
in over the weekend I could retire today. And I can
understand why so many of these people were upset, but
unfortunately their anger was misdirected at a fellow
innocent bystander.

Now let’s get to the main point of this whole story. I’m
sure I can keep at least a handful of newbies from getting
themselves in hot water like this website did.

I can also prepare my fellow “experienced” web marketers for
the day when THEY are the recipient of misdirected anger due
to spam.

OK, first the lesson for newbies…

No matter how tempting it may seem to buy an email list and
“broadcast targeted email to thousands”, it is a trap. And
it only takes one message to shut your site down. The sad
part is that these bulk email CD’s are promoted as “millions
of targeted addresses” and you can get them dirt cheap,
making them even more tempting. The problem is, nearly every
bulk email list comes with a few features you are NOT being
told about. For instance…

  • NONE of the addresses on these spam lists have asked to
    be there. Actually, NONE of the email addresses on those
    lists even realize they are on them and they have NOT opted
    in to receive email solicitations.
  • By “targeted” addresses these list hawkers really mean
    they entered keywords into an email address harvesting
    program and the program loaded thousands of addresses from
    sites with that keyword somewhere in their pages. (Is that
    targeted?)
  • A HUGE percentage of people on those lists will complain
    to every ISP, host and agency they can, which will shut
    your site down in a heartbeat.
  • The USER of a bulk email list is the one liable for
    damages that result. And there is now legislation against
    sending unsolicited email.

It really is simple to stay out of trouble — just don’t
ever email anyone without their permission. And never trust
a company that sells email addresses. If you think there is
a chance that the addresses are truly opt-in (and it would
be a rare instance) then ask for a list of satisfied
advertisers BEFORE you buy the list. Contact each and every
one of them and ask about their results using the list.

And definitely ask the company selling the targeted
addresses exactly HOW they built the list. If they say that
the list members opted-in to the list then ask them if they
realized that the list was going to be sold. You’d be
hard-pressed to get 100 email addresses to opt-in to a list
that was going to be sold over and over, let alone 30,000 or
a million. After all, would YOU offer your email address to
a company that told you up front they were going to sell the
address over and over?

The fact is, when it comes to marketing with email your very
best bet is to build YOUR OWN email lists. You can do this
by offering free reports, email newsletters, email courses,
downloadable ebooks, shareware, or anything else that
contains valuable information related to your area of
expertise. In exchange for the free service you
offer, you simply ask for the users name and email address.

It takes as little as ten minutes to set up an interface at
your site to collect names and email addresses and deliver
your free product automatically. And once you set it up your
own opt-in lists will grow continually. You’ll never have to
even consider using spam! This strategy is 100 times as
effective.

Help for Victims

Now lets move on to help some spam victims. If you’re doing
business online, there is a good chance that one day you
will be accused of spamming, even if you are not a spammer.
The anonymity of the Internet promotes the attitude of
accuse first and get the facts later. (I know this all too
well after my recent experience.)

Anyway, when it happens to you, you’ll need some letters to
send out to both the spam victims and the company
responsible for the spam. Here are the two you should save
for future reference…

Letter to spam recipients:

Thank you for contacting us. Here are the details of this
unfortunate situation.

The spam you received originated from the domain
<insertdomainnamehere>. Rest assured you have NOT been added
to any email lists at our site. We do NOT use nor do we
condone the use of unsolicited bulk email and we too, are
innocent bystanders in this situation.

We are in no way affiliated with the offending website and
along with your address, our addresses were on their spam
list. Any further actions you wish to take should be
directed to them. More details on our policies and this
incident are available at the following URL: <YOURURL>

<YOUR NAME AND TITLE>

And here’s a letter you can use as a model when you need to
contact the party responsible for your grief…

Dear Offending Website Owner Name,
CC to:legal@yourdomain.com

I have copied the headers of an email message sent by your
user, which confirms email activity on <INSERT DATE>. This
email has resulted in numerous complains to our email
addresses. Please take the following actions
immediately:

a) explain of how this incident took place and why

b) take measures to insure that this NEVER happens again

c) notify each address on your list that our domain was not
responsible and was an innocent bystander in this
unfortunate situation

Please reply to this email message before the close of
business on <DATE INSERTED HERE> or we will be forced to
pursue further action. We will also expect a full letter of
explanation mailed or faxed to our offices.

Thank you for your cooperation.

<NAME AND TITLE>

And closing today’s column, here are a few additional tips
to help you avoid trouble with unsolicited email…

  • If you have an opt-in list, keep EVERY opt-in request you
    ever receive. I keep opt-in requests dating back years. On
    several occasions I have been able to provide proof of
    signup to someone who forgot they joined and accused me of
    sending unsolicited email. These email “receipts” also come
    in handy with ISPs and web hosts.
  • Keep your email addresses from being harvested at your
    website by using a tool that encodes your email addresses.
    It’s a great way to cut down on spam and avoid situations
    like the one I ran into!
  • At your site, state your policy on unsolicited email very
    clearly. It’s also a good idea to post reports of any
    incidents at the same area of your site. See
    the BizWeb2000 site for an example of how
    you can set this up.Well, this closes a rare, not-so-fun chapter in online
    marketing. Hopefully today’s tip will help you avoid trouble
    or save you a bit of time if and when trouble
    does arrive.

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