E-mail Marketing — A Free Lunch With a Side of Spam

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One of my favorite westerns is the “Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. You may recall Clint Eastwood is one of the good guys in this movie. He personifies the western hero who comes to the rescue. On the other hand, you have Lee Van Cleef who plays Clint’s bad partner and Eli Wallach who plays the ugly partner. These three characters personified all the attributes of the western hero/anti-hero.

Since WWW stands for the Wild Wild West (aka world wide web), we can  think of e-mail as one of the good guys that helped firms promote their businesses on the Internet. During the past few years, however, e-mail spamming has become one of the ugly facts of life online.

The good news is that legitimate e-mail marketing is still alive and well.

It is also still mostly free.  If you are like most business owners, you spend a considerable amount of time and money trying to create qualified leads for your sales staff.  Having owned, operated and/or managed a number of thriving businesses over the years, I have come to appreciate the fact that many forms of lead generation provide great results. This includes leads generated by newspaper ads, coupons, yellow page ads and direct mail. While these forms of lead generation systems have proven to be effective at making our phone ring in the past, they have also proven time consuming, hard to track and expensive.

Take direct mail, for instance.  With the cost of a first class stamp currently at 46 cents apiece, designing, constructing, stuffing and mailing a single circular from one business to another is going to cost you a minimum of $1. If you want to send your mailer to 1,000 businesses, this is going to represent a significant financial risk. Since the average rate of return on direct mail is a scant one to two percent, it isn’t exactly a sure thing as to whether your firm will break even on the campaign, let alone turn a profit.

However, sending the same offer or newsletter via e-mail will cost you little more than the time it takes to craft the offering.  While there is a right way and a wrong way to go about creating a legitimate e-mail database, if you belong to networking groups, attend business functions, or in other ways come into contact with potential customers, getting permission to send them a monthly newsletter is as simple as asking permission. (This means you shouldn’t be branded as a spammer).

You can also include forms on your website, landing pages and social networks that will allow interested parties to sign up to receive your white paper, e-book or newsletter at the click of a mouse.  Providing an easy way to let your prospects opt-in is just another way of connecting with an ever-growing audience.

Opt-in data bases are even better than purchased databases because these prospects want to receive your information. By automating parts of this process, you can touch prospects with less effort, lower costs and send out information and articles with greater frequency.

Creating a newsletter is a snap, since there are websites such as constantcontact.com, icontact.com and mailchimp.com that provide a low-cost service that includes everything you need to construct newsletters, invitations and offers, all via their template driven system.

Want to send out a birthday or holiday greeting to those on your mailing list?  Try jibjab.com a website that contains hundreds of customizable e-cards and video cards that you can send to as many people in your database as you care to, for a flat $9.99 per year.  We recently sent out a series of holiday video cards that were a huge success because they were humorous and because we added our staff’s headshots into the action. (If you haven’t seen this site you don’t know what you are missing.)

Best of all, all of the above-mentioned forms of online promotion are cost-effective and spam-free.  If anyone receiving your newsletter wants to opt-out, all they have to do is click a link on the newsletter to be removed from your mailing list. Of course, that doesn’t mean that spammers do not exist.

What’s Scary! Really Scary!

The bad news is that there is no end in sight for spamming. Anyone who receives e-mail usually receives tens or even hundreds of unsolicited e-mails every day.  According to cyber security firm Symantec, in 2012 72.89 percent of all e-mail received worldwide was considered spam.  While most of us employ one form or other of spam filter to keep from being buried alive by spam, Symantec recommends a few other ways to reduce the amount of unwanted e-mails coming your way.

Some Simple Ways Stop E-mail Spam

This topic deserves a standalone blog post, so we’ll highlight the most important points only:

1. Do not give away your primary e-mail address when registering online. Use a secondary or special address for registrations.

2. Unless you are a salesperson, don’t include your e-mail address in the public profiles visible by everyone.

3. Choose an e-mail address that is difficult to guess.

4. Never respond to spam e-mails such as asking to unsubscribe — this will confirm your e-mail address validity rather than unsubscribe you.

5. Use a spam filter on your computer or in your corporate network.

6. Use the “Report spam” option within your e-mail client so you never receive e-mails from this sender again.

7. Update your anti-viral software on a regular basis.

The problem with spam is there is no way to legitimately take your name off the spammers e-mail list.

E-Mail Spam — The Ugly Truth

Not only are spammers raking in millions of dollars, so are the companies

that sell them their lists. A number of freeware and free apps are also used to collect e-mail address illegitimately. Some are even being used to infect the computers, tablets and Smartphone’s of unsuspecting consumers and business owners worldwide. This ugly truth is becoming more than a nuisance, it’s epidemic.  It is threatening all our livelihoods.  Governments have been woefully inadequate at protecting consumers. They have done a poor job of going after and prosecuting these spammers, hackers and cyber criminals. However, that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do to defend yourself.

Is there anything you can do about unsolicited commercial e-mail?

Unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE) can come from various organizations, companies or be the product of ‘computer viruses.’ Companies or individuals can get your e-mail address from the Web. Other sources exist such as marketing lists that you sign up to that often get passed between companies. Unsolicited commercial e-mails generally also come from outside the U.S. Many of these UCE originate from countries like Ireland and those in European Union. This means it is quite difficult to stop the occurrence of UCE — it is a global phenomenon. Generally, there is little you can do to prevent unsolicited commercial e-mails being sent to you.

Here is what you can do if you receive UCE:

In the vast bulk of cases of UCE’s e-mails, the e-mail headers are not valid.

*E-mail headers may be forged so replying to the e-mail merely results in you sending UCE to the innocent person whose e-mail address was forged.

*It is not advised to respond to an e-mail address to “opt-out” of a list unless the address is from a recognized organization. These e-mail addresses may also be false or are used to confirm the unwanted e-mail was originally sent to a valid and active e-mail account.

*Responding to a website that supposedly lets you remove yourself from the list is also not advised. This is because once you access the website your details are logged. You could also you be exposed to pornography.

It is possible to determine the location (rather than the user or the e-mail address) from where the e-mail was sent. If you are able to look at the e-mail headers, you will then be able to determine the IP address of the Internet Service Provider (ISP) whose services were used to send the e-mail. Finding out exactly where UCE has come from can be difficult and time-consuming.

If you have determined the location of the sender of these mails, then it may be possible to send an e-mail to abuse@isp to complain  about the e-mail. However, adult e-mails are not illegal in many countries including Ireland. If you do succeed in sending an e-mail complaint to abuse@isp and the material is illegal in the jurisdiction it originated in or in breach of the Acceptable Use Policy of the sender’s ISP, the ISP can disconnect the sender. However, it might be unable to tell you the name of the sender due to international data protection regulations. In many cases, the sender just moves to a different ISP and starts the process again.

Just like the characters in the movie, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, e-mail has a way of showing us the best and the worst the Internet has to offer. E-mail has saved billions of dollars for businesses worldwide. It has also cost billions in return. While e-mail can be a two-edged sword, it can also be a godsend to businesses looking for a way to increase their exposure. It has helped thousands of businesses survive the tough financial times that are upon us today.  Just bear in mind that the when it comes to working the Web, only the good guys play by the rules.

Carl Weiss is one of the good guys who has been helping clients work the Web to win since 1995. He is president of WSquaredMediaGroup.com a digital marketing agency and owner of Jacksonville-Video-Production.com.  You can speak with him live on the air every Tuesday at 4 p.m. EST on Blog Talk Radio.

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E-mail Marketing — A Free Lunch With a Side of Spam

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