Late last Friday afternoon I made one last 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, the 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.
Here are the sordid details…
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.
So anyway, let’s get to the 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 let’s get to the lesson for newbies…
It all comes down to this. No matter how tempting it may seem to buy a CD 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.
OK, now you know the perils of this marketing method, and 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.
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 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.
(See WebBusinessWizard.com for the simple interface I now use with all my freebies – I’ll be releasing that site to the public in about a month but you can try it today for free.)
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 I used this past week, feel free to save them for future reference and modify them as necessary to fit your situation if and when it arises..
Letter to spam recipients:
Thank you for contacting us. Here is an update on the unfortunate situation…
The spam you received originated from the domain . 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. They have apologized for the incident and any further actions you wish to take should be directed to them. More details on this incident are available at the following URL:
Best regards, Jim Daniels
And here’s a letter you can use as a model when you need to contact the party responsible for your grief… (Actually, as you’ll see, the site in this instance may be getting off a bit easy. Many folks in my position would press charges and seek damages. But after speaking with the person responsible in this case, I’ll probably just bill them for the time I spent fielding angry emails. After all he’s in quite a bit of hot water already and his site was shut down.)
Dear Offending Website Owner Name,
I have copied the headers of an email message sent by your user, which confirms your email activity on Friday August 4, 2000. Your actions have resulted in literally thousands of complains to our email addresses at bizweb2000.com. 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 every address on your list that bizweb2000.com was not responsible and was an innocent bystander in this unfortunate situation
Please reply to this email message before the close of business on 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.
Regards, Jim Daniels
President – bizweb2000.com
And closing today’s column, here are a few more 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! See the following URL for a free encoding service:
– At your site, state your policy on spam very clearly. It’s also a good idea to post reports of any incidents at the same area of your site. See our own privacy statement 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.