The Internet's effect on Congress
Ever wonder what kind of impact the Internet, particularly email, has had on Congress? It's so easy to blast off an email to your representative these days. It could also be easy for some no-gooders to automatically submit those online contact forms, too.
Here's a study from CMFWEB on how the Internet has affected Congress. Some highlights:
- In 2004, the House received 99,053,399 communications by Internet. The Senate received 83,000,000 by internet.
- Half of House and Senate senior managers surveyed also report their offices have reallocated resources to responding to communications over the last two years.
- only 17% of House offices and 38% of Senate offices answer
all incoming e-mail with e-mail. The large majority of
offices respond to some or all of their e-mail with postal
- Half of congressional staff surveyed believe identical form communications are not sent with constituents’ knowledge or consent. Another 25% are unsure about the legitimacy of these communications.
- Only 3% of staff surveyed say identical form postal mail would have “a lot” of influence on their Member of Congress if he/she had not reached a decision. In contrast, 44% report individualized postal letters would have “a lot” of influence.
Source: found this link in the latest Convio Connection newsletter.
The Sleazy Life and Nasty Death of Russia’s Spam King
"He withheld pay from employees, boasted of his sexual adventures, enraged government officials, and flooded Russia with 25 million emails a day. Then one morning, Vardan Kushnir’s mother found his bloodied body on the bathroom floor, skull bashed in."
Should You Re-Confirm Your Email List?
Has your company been collecting emails for years, and you're only just now getting around to sending out an email newsletter? Do you have a list that's a hodge-podge of rented, purchased, opt-in, opt-out, and "prospects" that your sales team met at conferences and seminars?
You're probably going to get a ton of spam complaints when you send your first few email campaigns.
And if you get too many spam complaints, you'll notice all your emails getting blocked by major ISPs and spam filters.
You'll also notice dismal click and open rates.
Why waste money sending emails to a big, unresponsive list of people who don't want to hear from you?
One thing you could do is re-confirm your entire list. This means sending everyone an email that basically says,
"Okay, we don't want to send you email if you don't want to receive it, so we're asking you to click this link if you want to stay on our list. Otherwise, ignore this message, and you'll be removed from our list."
At MailChimp, we've recommended this approach just a handful of times to some of our users who were collecting emails responsibly, but their customer lists were ancient, and so they were getting way too many abuse complaints.
Each time, their lists dropped in size dramatically. About 30-50%. Of course, the upside is that open rates go up, and delivery costs and spam complaints go down.
Here's a case study from Direct Magazine on how the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society re-confirmed its email list, and it dropped in size by over 85%. Most marketers would never agree to such a drastic reduction, but it can be worth it if your spam complaints are very high. It's your reputation on the line.
Sending Your First Campaign To An Old Email List?
A lot of our customers have been collecting email addresses on their websites from day one. They just haven't been contacting those email addresses from day one, because they didn't know how to send email newsletters. Or maybe they just never had the time.
Then, they find MailChimp.
"Eureka! Now I can start emailing to my whole list!"
Not so fast. If that list is older than, say, 6 months, you need to re-introduce yourself to those recipients.
Email addresses (and the permission that goes along with them) go stale after about 6 months. So you can't just assume that the list you've been sitting on for 3 years is going to be perfectly fine to start sending full blown newsletters to. If you just start sending emails to an old list, you'll run into all sorts of problems, like:
"Who the F*#$ are you, and how the F#*& did you get my email?"
Nobody remembers signing up to some email list a year ago. We've all surfed around the Internet, found something kinda-sorta interesting, and signed up for newsletters. But if you take more than 3 months to send the 1st email, nobody will remember who the heck you are. Prepare for tons of spam complaints and abuse reports. It only takes a handful of complaints to get blacklisted by major ISPs.
High Bounce Rates
At MailChimp, we can easily identify a "first-time-send-to-a-stale-list." They typically get a 20-35% bounce back rate (when something under 10% is normal). The important thing here is to use a system that automatically cleans your list of bounced emails. Otherwise, if you keep sending to undeliverable addresses, servers will start blocking your messages.
Let's say you visit a tiny little Yahoo store to buy some kind of obscure gift for your anniversary. It was a nice website, with cool little gifts. You buy a trinket for your wife and leave. 3 years later, that Yahoo store has grown into a huge e-commerce portal with millions of customers. They've installed an extremely powerful email marketing system, and they're finally ready to send email offers and promotions to their customers. Hey, according to CAN-SPAM, they've got a "prior business relationship" with you, so they're allowed to do it right? How would you feel if you suddenly started receiving weekly "e-blasts" and 5-page long newsletters from them? (see above: Who the F&*^ are you?) Problem is, you probably would have enjoyed a few emails from these guys. But suddenly receiving ginormous email offers every other day is crossing the line.
The Re-Introduction Email
So here's our advice for when you're about to send your first email to an old list. Start with a re-introduction email. Remind them of who you are, and what you do. Remind them that a while back, they actually requested email newsletters, or special offers, from your company. If you can, merge in some data, like their signup date, to jog their memory. Did they purchase something from you? Merge that in too.
Tell them that you're finally getting around to sending emails, and you'd like 'em to stay on the list, because you're going to send some nice offers. Here's an example:
Remember us? You visited our website back on *|OPTIN_DATE|* and signed up for our email newsletter. Well, we've finally gotten around to setting up a nifty email newsletter program, and we want to make sure you still want to receive news from us. We hope you do, because every month or so, our newsletter will include useful how-tos, tips, and advice, plus special offers (like the one below). Of course, we don't want to clog up your inbox with stuff you don't want, so feel free to click the "unsubscribe" link below, and you'll never hear from us again...
No thanks, remove me from your list.
The example above is basically a gentle reminder of who you are, and it provides a very prominent unsubscribe link. Another option is to require people to RE-SUBSCRIBE to your list. Instead of an unsub link, you'd use a "Sign me up" link. You'll lose more emails this way (we've done it a handful of times for different clients, and they usually lost 30-50% of their lists), but the list will end up being much, much cleaner, and way more responsive.
The key is not to suddenly shock your recipients by sending full-blown newsletters out of the blue. That's like seeing an old high school girlfriend in a crowd, and running up to her and planting a big wet kiss on her. You gotta start with, "hey, remember me?" If you don't re-introduce yourself, you better hope she's not carrying pepper spray.
7 Tips for Landing Page Sequences
Nick Usborne from Excess Voice has posted 7 tips on writing landing page sequences. This is for when you need more than one page to convince a site visitor to convert.
Georgia Aquarium Marketing Case Study
MarketingSherpa's posted a case study of the Georgia Aquarium. A lot of us have built a "phase one" website, and collected email addresses in anticipation of "the big launch." When the time finally comes to make our announcement, sometimes we execute brilliantly, and sometimes we've already run out of steam.
The Georgia Aquarium executed brilliantly. Here's a quote:
The email announcing the annual pass offer got a 72.3% open rate and a 36.7% clickthrough rate. 8,000 passes were sold via ecommerce and phone in the first eight hours of the offer.
Tips For Growing Your List
Clickz has posted some tips for growing your email database. Stuff like perpetual contests, perpetual coupons, prominent opt-in boxes, and more.
People Love Stats
Here at MailChimp, we recently more than doubled our own marketing database by publishing a useful case study about writing subject lines. The best part was getting it mentioned by MarketingSherpa, but we also used PRweb to distribute the press release (for a couple hundred bucks), and got decent results there, too. If you've got access to lots of intriguing industry stats, publish 'em!
The "51-Second Rule"
People spend roughly 51 seconds max reading email newsletters, so ReturnPath lists some tips on how to design them. Here's a quote from the article:
Good news is that 51 seconds is a long time in the email world, as promotional emails get about 15 seconds (Marketing Sherpa, 2005). The average person reads about 200 words a minute, which means, I'm loosely figuring, you'd get about 100-150 words after headlines and images to communicate and engage - or about 5-7 headlines if the reader is skimming.
Spam Assassin Reads Comment Tags?
We recently ran our free HTML email templates through Spam Assassin's filters, and noticed that we were being penalized for a few items (learn more about Spam Assassin here). Most of them were caused by some "placeholder" text like, "free" and "preview," but that content would be replaced by the end user anyways.
But we noticed that our comment tags were getting flagged as spammy too! If you're a coder, you should know about this.
See, in our HTML email templates, we include all kinds of descriptive comment tags for users, so that they know why we coded things the way we did (because making HTML work for email is really odd sometimes). Normally, these comment tags are "invisible" unless you view the raw source code of your HTML. They're just notes to help other coders know where and why you placed your code.
I was a little surprised to learn that these tags were actually being read, and scored, by Spam Assassin. Kinda reminds me of this crazy Calc5 professor I had, who actually deducted points for my bad handwriting.
Some examples of comment tags that got us flagged:
<!-- /// CSS goes here in case the /HEAD tags get stripped \\\ -->
<!-- /// Sometimes, BODY tags get stripped. This table is for background color when that happens. \\\ -->
* We got a 2-point penalty for "SHOUTING" because of these comments. Switching "CSS," "HEAD," and "BODY" to lowercase cleared the penalty.
<!-- /// footer area with contact info and opt-out link \\\ -->
I used this comment tag to point out the proper place to stick their unsubscribe link (in the header and footer of the email). In turn, I got a 1-point penalty for using the term, "opt-out." Since I had that in 2 locations in my email, this resulted in a total of 2 points added to my spamminess score. Guess too many spammers use "opt-out" in their messages. Switching to "unsubscribe" helped. Note that the word, "unsubscribe" still gets flagged by other spam filters. Some people choose to use the word, "remove" instead, or "take me off this list." Just don't go nuts with the old thesaurus, because that's bound to look even more fishy to the spam filters.
Overall, we're not the types who fret about every little point. Just like money, you can be "penny wise, pound foolish" about spam points too. For the most part, you shouldn't be too concerned. As Spam Assassin says, "We filter spam. If you don't send spam, you've got nothing to worry about."
But if you send content with any financial information, or if you had a special "free giveaway," or if you send pharmaceutical related emails, every tiny fraction of a point matters. No need for your comment tags to skew your score.
FYI, we've modified all our free HTML email templates.
New Enhancements to MailChimp
We made a few quick enhancements to MailChimp's interface over the weekend. Most involve the "Create Campaign" screen, but we also made some improvements to the "Lists" area...
1. New Campaign Preview Pop-Up:
Don't worry, we didn't take away the chimp's "stretchy arm." We know how mission-critical that is to you guys. We just added a little checkbox that displays your email's "header" information, so that you can preview what the "To:" and "Subject" lines will look like for each recipient. This is really handy if you like to place *|MERGETAGS|* into those fields:
2. Pop-Up *|MERGETAG|* Hints:
Have you ever been in the middle of coding a campaign, then wondered, "what the heck is my *|MERGETAG|* for company name?" Now you can click a little button on the Create Campaign screen, and we'll pop-up a little window with a list of all your database's *|MERGETAGS|*
3. Hotmail Abuse Complaints:
We've already had this in place for your AOL recipients, but we just recently added Hotmail and MSN to the list: If any of your Hotmail.com or MSN.com recipients classifies your message as "Junk," the member is automatically cleaned from your list (he obviously doesn't want to hear from you anymore). This "auto-cleaning" feature is to prevent blacklisting by Microsoft and AOL. Hopefully, more and more of the major ISPs will offer abuse reports like this, so we can help you keep your lists free of complaints.
To view each campaign's abuse reports, go to its "Stats" page, and you'll find links:
By the way, you should start worrying if your complaint rate hits about 0.01%. If it gets up to about 0.03%, it's really bad to some ISPs, and they'll start blocking mail from your server. To help protect the deliverability of our system for all our users, we suspend accounts that exceed a certain threshold, and that we think could jeopardize our servers.
4. More Detailed Error Popups:
So we created an error pop-up window that provides a quick list of all the "oopsies" we found with your campaign, plus detailed information about how you can fix 'em. We even go ahead and give sample code for some of the errors, so you don't have to go searching our knowledge base for answers:
5. New Lists Dashboard:
We added some new icons to the Lists Dashboard to make it a little easier to get to your List Settings and Customization screens. Also, if you like to create tons of test lists like us, you might also feel the need to delete your lists a lot like us, too. So there's a little "Delete List" trash can on this page now:
6. New Control Panel & Customization Screens:
We changed the design and layout of the "List Control Panel" and "Customization" screens just to make it easier to find stuff. Be sure to familiarize yourself with these areas by clicking on the little "Settings" and "Customize" icons from the Lists Dashboard.