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5 telltale signs of list abuse

5 telltale signs of list abuse Wendy Roth

What's your greatest email marketing asset? It isn't your list software, creative designs or even your budget.

None of those really matter if you don't have a healthy, vibrant and engaged mailing list. Without your subscribers, whom I will assume have all opted in to receive your mailings, you have no marketing program, or at least not one that recovers its costs and adds value to your company.

So, what are you doing to protect this most precious asset? Not much, judging by what I see marketers doing across the industry. They would never leave money out on a table, but they don't take the necessary steps to protect their lists from abuse, internally or externally.

Your mailing list is not an inexhaustible collection of data bits. Every name on that list represents a person who has trusted you with his or her email address and expects to get something of value in return for it.

You also have a lot of money tied up in your list. Each name costs you something to acquire and has a solid financial value. When you neglect or misuse your list, you forfeit thousands, maybe millions, of dollars, pounds, marks, francs, or what-have-you in both customer goodwill and lost sales.

You also stand a good chance of damaging your sender reputation with the ISPs, to the point where you can't get inbox placement with any of the majors.

How do I see marketers being cavalier with their mailing lists? Let me count the ways:

1. Lax security at the database
What are you doing to keep your list from getting hacked or hijacked? Who can access your list? I see marketers using common log-ins and weak passwords and having no clue about who has access to the information.

It's not just your list on your own database, either. Do you know how well your email service provider secures your database? Could a disgruntled employee or ex-employee hijack your list? Don't roll your eyes; it has happened.

Talk to your IT manager to make sure your list is locked down and secure from hackers and hijackers, especially if and when employees who had access to it leave the company.

2. Ignoring email preferences
Do you make subscribers take the time to tell you what they want from you and how often, in which formats and a little (or a lot) about themselves? Then you need to honor those preferences. When you don't, you disrespect your list.  

Subscribers have many ways to get back at you for doing that, like unsubscribing (if you're lucky) or clicking the spam-complaint button in their email clients (more likely) or just going dark and disengaging from you completely.

3. Sending irrelevant messages
If your subscribers tell you they're interested in road bikes, don't send them offers for snow skis. And if you have more than one company, don't start sending email messages from Company B to your Company A list unless your subscribers tell you they want to receive offers from your other businesses.

This demonstrates a fundamental disregard for your Company A subscribers and tells them you really don't care what they think or what they're interested in.

4. Doing deals with shady partners
Co-registration is a great way to expand your list, because you can build on a complementary partner's success -- but not if you pick a partner without researching its offers and permission practices. Especially not if you don't police the offers your co-reg partners send out or the process they use to sign up your members for their lists. And particularly if they insist that you hand over your list so they can mail the offers to it themselves.

Bottom line: You never, ever, hand over your list to any outsider. Even people inside your company should not be allowed to access it without your control or consent.

5. Neglecting basic list hygiene
You wouldn't drive a Mercedes without doing at least one tune-up in 100,000 miles. So, when was the last time you took your list into the shop for some basic maintenance?

Clean out the dead-wood (anyone who hasn't opened or clicked in two years), check for hard-bouncing addresses that your list software doesn't automatically remove and patrol for "role" addresses that can frequently hide spam traps ("[email protected]," "[email protected]," "[email protected]") and any user names with "spam" in them, such as "[email protected]," "[email protected]," and [email protected]

In the end, it's all about respect. Treat your list well, and it will respond to you. Treat it cavalierly, and you will be the big loser.

Wendy Roth is the strategic account manager for Lyris Technologies

Wendy Roth is senior manager of training services for Lyris, Inc., a pioneer in email marketing and other online marketing solutions since 1994. She works closely with marketing and advertising professionals to help them understand how Lyris'...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Aliya Zaidi

2008, March 13

Great article, Wendy. It seems that mot email marketers are failing to get the basics right. E-consultancy recently updated their email census, and the results showed that almost a fifth of email marketers don't incorporate any list cleansing at all.

Email marketers need to targeting users with relevant messages from an accurate database. Without clean, complete and accurate data, you can never be relevant and targeted, despite best intentions.

There's more information about the report here:

Another important point is to ensure tracking of ROI - email marketing was found to be one of the best channles for ROI, but it appears that many email marketers are still not taking adequate measures to track this.

Commenter: Roland Reinhart

2008, March 07

I would also suggest to make sure you seed the list with a few unique email addresses (just like postal mailing lists) so you can evaluate:
1. Are your email communications being displayed correctly in various Webmail applications (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.)?
2. Are all your links working?
3. Do your 'from' and subject lines make sense and could they be working harder for you?
4. What do your communications look like over time so you can get the consumer's perspective.
5. Has your list has been compromised and is being used by someone else?

Commenter: Mini Guruswamy

2008, March 07

This is a good article regarding the etiquette that email marketers should follow when dealing with their mailings lists. Unfortunately most email marketers do not follow the steps you outlined. If they did we wouldn't have a Can-Spam law.