Commentary

Black And White Ain't Always Easy

I've been spending a lot of time dealing with IPs, shared IPS, black lists, white lists, lists that were white that are now black. If you service, send, or buy anything e-mail-related, you may know what I'm talking about. If not, hold on to your seat cause it's gonna be one bumpy ole ride.

Life is hard for legitimate marketers and advertisers these days--especially in the e-mail space. Why? Because of one word. You guessed it, dear readers--SPAM. No, not the lunch meat in the can by Hormel---unsolicited e-mail.

Just two years ago the CAN-SPAM Act--Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act--became law. According to the Federal Trade Commission the act establishes requirements for those who send commercial e-mail, spells out penalties for spammers and companies whose products are advertised in spam if they violate the law, and gives consumers the right to ask e-mailers to stop spamming them.

In a nutshell, the FTC highlights the details of CAN SPAM as follows:

It bans false or misleading header information. Your e-mail's "From," "To," and routing information--including the originating domain name and e-mail address--must be accurate and identify the person who initiated the e-mail.

It prohibits deceptive subject lines. The subject line cannot mislead the recipient about the contents or subject matter of the message.

It requires that your e-mail give recipients an opt-out method. You must provide a return e-mail address or another Internet-based response mechanism that allows a recipient to ask you not to send future e-mail messages to that e-mail address, and you must honor the requests. You may create a "menu" of choices to allow a recipient to opt out of certain types of messages, but you must include the option to end any commercial messages from the sender.

It requires that commercial e-mail be identified as an advertisement and include the sender's valid physical postal address. Your message must contain clear and conspicuous notice that the message is an advertisement or solicitation and that the recipient can opt out of receiving more commercial e-mail from you. It also must include your valid physical postal address.

According to Return Path, 10 out of 12 messages today are SPAM. As advertisers and marketers who make a living at legitimate e-mail generation, how do we establish ourselves as trusted marketers? Well, Return Path says it's all about our reputation. The company shares five guidelines we should follow to stay on the "good" list and protect our reputation:

1. Keep Complaints Low. Make sure that you don't give your subscribers too much to complain about. This begins with a registration process that gives them honest expectations. Make users aware of when you'll be e-mailing them, how to unsubscribe and what kind of information you'll be sending.

2. Reduce your unknown user rate. ISPs gauge your worthiness in part by your list cleanliness. By doing what you can to get valid e-mail addresses up front, you will avoid having unknown users along the way. Then, stay up-to-date on your unknown user rate.

3. Keep spam trap addresses off your lists. You could be sending e-mails to addresses that were maliciously added to your list without knowing it. If your e-mail list has "spam trap" addresses, you will quickly be condemned a spammer--with a reputation in need of major repair. To avoid this situation, send a welcome message to all new subscribers to your lists and remove any bounces or complainers immediately

4. Stay put. As spammers find their reputations have soured, they will begin to "hop" domains. Distinguish yourself from them by staying put and mailing consistently from the same IP address and domains.

5. Incorporate authentication. Authentication combined with a solid reputation is a sure-fire way to end up in your customers' inbox.

I know this is a mouthful, and some of it may be information you already know. However, we should revisit the law and learn to differentiate ourselves from spammers. Do you have any tricks and tips for fellow e-mail marketers? If so, post to the Spin Board.

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