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Articles - Email Marketing Ethics and Spam Reporting

As a web master and having a fairly accessible profile through your web sites, you will no doubt become the target of many spammers. 

The history of spam

The history of spamming goes back to the early days of UseNet. UseNet is a compilation of messages into specific categories we commonly know as Newsgroups. It is thought that the term originated from a popular Monty Python comedy sketch about spam (spam is a somewhat interesting pork product).

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 Spam is the equivalent of unsolicited junk mail, and at any given time there are millions of these emails floating around the Internet. It is estimated that spam mail constitutes twenty two percent of all active emails. All this unwanted mail is not only annoying, it actually slows down the Internet through the combined massive amounts of processing to transport it. And that is bandwidth that could be utilized for more productive means. We all pay for it.

Be careful what you tick!

Not all marketing email you receive is spam. If you have signed up for a newsletter on a website, this is called joining an opt-in (safe) mailing list. Make sure you read what you will actually receive before submitting your email address for an ezine. You may be getting more than you bargained for. If there is a privacy policy, read it. This will state exactly what will be done with your information. Any deviation from this policy can land the offending mailing list owner into a lot of trouble.

Thinking of starting a mailing list?

If you are a webmaster/marketer considering using email marketing methods, respect the people you will be sending your messages to. Don't just bombard them with sales messages, give them something useful for the time and effort they have spent in acknowledging your email. Their time is valuable. Ensure that you offer an "unsubscribe" function and heed unsubscribe requests....the first time. I give email marketers 2 chances to remove me from their mailing list. Then it's time to play hard ball....

To assist in protecting yourself from spam complaints and ensure that your lists are "clean", use a double opt-in system. Double opt in means that after subscribing from your site, the person is sent an email with simple directions on how to further confirm that they wish to receive communications from you. This confirmation may be as simple as a mailto link with "yes" in the subject e.g:

mailto:lfdjkldfl@ldjfdkf.com?subject=yes

If possible, it's a good idea to use an automated system. Learn more about mailing list management software

Buying 'opt-in' lists

I have seen many mailing lists advertised for sale on the Internet. They all claim to be packed with eager customers who are sitting by their computers with bated breath, just waiting to read your sales copy. Be suspicious about these offers! Ask the vendor how they have sourced the names and get it in writing. I'm sure the last thing you want to do is to spend good money to annoy the hell out of 20 000 people who won't want to buy whatever it is your selling - but would quite gladly lynch you! (I choose to annoy my family instead, it's safer and it costs me nothing). Other safe lists contain only the names of people who have bought safe lists - you might find yourself preaching to the converted and totally uninterested in your product or service.

Email marketing does work and is a more successful form of promotion than snail mail or telemarketing - when it is carried out properly. Your sales copy must be professional; as I've mentioned in a number of articles, "BUY ME!" just does not cut it with net savvy customers. If you must purchase these lists, stick to buying them from high profile companies. It may cost more, but at least you will get your message out to those who actually may be interested in hearing it.

The best way to create a mailing list is to do so via your own through your site. Be specific in your privacy policy regarding how subscribers information will be utilized. When you do build a decent list and have promised subscribers not to distribute their details, you may be tempted to sell it - I suggest keeping the terms ethics, court case, law suit and compensation in mind.

Newsgroup postings

Another good way of using email  marketing is to post in newsgroups, but make sure it is the appropriate newsgroup. Before posting away, research the group. Are there rules posted up? Read what is being posted so you can get a "vibe" on how the group operates, what is acceptable and what isn't. I monitor a Domain Sales newsgroup on a regular basis and have witnessed what happens to over zealous marketers. The group descends upon them and sends them packing.

You could also monitor other discussion boards for opportunities to assist people by providing them with answers to their questions - proper answers, not just "to fix this you should buy this from me". I run a discussion forum and am more than happy for a commercial concern to promote their product if they have responded to a request for advice from another user. Marketing in this way also increases your credibility.

Reporting Spam

If you do receive spam, more often than not it won't contain instructions as to how to have your name removed from the list, and if it does, this is only to confirm that you actually exist. Your name may be then put onto another list and sold to other spammers.

It's important not to answer spam, you should instead forward it to the originating ISP or Hosting service and they will investigate further. 

A word of caution.

Before making spam accusations, make sure you are accusing the right person. It is very easy for a spammer to cloak their details on the surface to make it look as though the email came from someone else. Be aware that in making a wrongful accusation, you may be threatening the livelihood of another person.

A wrongful spam accusation is an extraordinarily time sucking experience and very stressful - I know, it happened to me. Learn more about what happened and pick up some tips for reporting spam properly.

Blocking email harvesting software

For the webmaster, your email address displayed on your pages act as a flag for the spamming "bots" which are used by companies to scan the Internet for new contacts to add to their mailing lists. Using the following code instead of traditional "mailto:" email links will greatly decrease the amount of spam messages you'll receive. Edit it with your details:

<script language=javascript>
document.write('<a href="mailto'+':'+'info'+'@'+'my website'+'.'+'com'+'">');
document.write('info'+'@'+'my website'+'.'+'com</a>');
</script>

The following are some other links where you can report incorrigible spammers:

http://spamcop.net/
http://www.abuse.net/

If you would like to forward spam to the United States Federal Trade Commission, send it directly to UCE@FTC.GOV.

If you are a little more "hands on" and would get a kick out of busting spammers, Whew.com can provide you with some excellent information and resources on tracking spam.

So, whether you are an email marketer, or a netizen who is sick of mailboxes full of so much junk mail that you end up deleting important messages by mistake; you have a choice. Be part of the solution - the only other alternative is being a part of the problem.

Further Learning Resources

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Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
http://www.tamingthebeast.net 
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