Do You Know Who's Killing Your Email Marketing?

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By Sean D'Souza 
Imagine you take a trip to your post box down the road today to pick up the mail. To your surprise, you find nothing. Not one word. All you see is just an empty hole in the wall with zip in it. Annoyance would be the prime emotion here. Maybe even a dollop of disappointment.
But what if you find out that all that airy space exists simply because the post office decided to send all your mail back? Now that would get you in a bit of a boil, wouldn't it? Frothing at the mouth, wouldn't you want to tear all those bespectacled post office workers into little vulture-sized meat bites?
And then what if I told you that your email marketing business is going the same way? What if you suddenly learned that the email newsletters you'd subscribed to are now doing the boomerang dance? What if you're an email marketer and your subscriber isn't even getting your mail? What if he's just getting a stripped down version of it?
Is that smoke coming out of your ears?
The Wild West Lives Again!

In the Wild West the rules were simple. If I didn't like you, I'd shoot you. Email isn't dropping to the floor quite that quickly, but there is a definite pattern evolving that you should be aware of. Someone has put your email marketing on a poison drip, and by golly, if you ignore it, you're one dead puppy! Read how Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are systematically working to weed out HTML mail and what you need to do to minimise your damage.

Who's Paying for Whose Fault?
Spammers are the baddies, and spammers don't care. Bandwidth can span the breadth and depth of the Grand Canyon and it won't make any difference to them. You can be sure they'll find a way to top it up with their junk. It was also obvious, even several years ago, that control of spammers was improbable. They know very well what they are doing. All they have to do is go to an offshore provider when anti-spam legislation is passed. What's to stop them? As long as there is one country in the world that will allow spammers to send their poison, they will.
Does anyone really believe that every ISP on the network is going to spend the resources to closely examine the specific content of each and every large-scale email transmission to see if it's okay or not?
The answer has to be no, since this doesn't avoid the cost of spam in the long term. It simply transfers it from a cost of bandwidth to a cost of administration.

The harder commercial email pushes, the harder the network will respond by pushing back. "Big" email is a lame duck -- and will soon be a stone cold dead one. Even with filters in place, my email account bulges with mail I didn't ask for, and would never reply to. ISPs (Internet Service Providers) on the other hand, are watching this rainstorm with increasing concern. Every day, the volume of email threatens to blow the dam, and they're not going to sit back and take it. 

How an ISP's Worry Becomes Your Headache
Bandwidth costs money. The more email you get and send, the more it's costing your ISP. They can't charge you more (or may not want to charge you), and so the easiest way out is to send your email à la Elvis: Return to sender! 

The biggest offender here is HTML email that clogs up the system with a reasonable amount of imagery. It's the graphics that generates business for you and me, but it's also this very factor that is clogging up the pipe. This has led several ISPs to take some very radical decisions that border on telling you what you can and cannot read.
A Growing Menace Called Filters

Filters that are easy to implement seem to beat the system, so that's the option that many ISPs consider first. In an attempt to control the traffic, they simply install cheap and nasty systems that send any mail that's considered 'spam' right back to where it came from. This seems noble until you consider the following. These filters may be stopping legitimate mail from entering your mailbox. 

If mom sent you a mail with a word which the filters pick up but don't like: Bounce, bounce. It would go bouncing back! If you had the word 'search engines' in it, maybe they'd decide that word signified spam. Kaboom! It's back to where it came from. Suddenly, your business that depends on the mail getting through is being vetted by an unasked police patrol run by goons. You're not getting across to your customers, and even worse, your customers' mail may not be reaching you.

What's worse is that as an email marketer, you would tend to take for granted that you would get an "undeliverable" note when this happens. I understand it's not always true; you can send out thousands of messages and remain blissfully ignorant of their eventual fate.
Why HTML-Based Marketing Will Be Easier To Kill

Macromedia Flash went through a fashionable phase and had to be dumped in favour of good ol' HTML. HTML, while great on the web, is a pain in the neck in your inbox. 

To counter this, many a software developer is seriously working out ways to have HTML-like effects within your email without the code and bandwidth that goes with it. This software, though available today, is quite expensive and not a very viable option except for larger companies. The rest of us have to contend with the inescapable fact that any email over a certain size will be treated as an HTML file and fair game for the intrepid filters to play 'shoot the ducky.'

HTML will always be bulky, and is already denied or stripped by some carriers and destination ISPs, so it will always be a hazard. Some companies and email marketers have decided they are cutting out HTML altogether. It's too much of a risk when you don't even know whether it's been dumped or stripped. 

How Can You Go Past This 'Doomsday Scenario'?
Two possibilities: text and online HTML.
Text is faster, and has stood the test of time. But it's devoid of colour and formatting -- and more tedious to read. The better bet is to use HTML to link back to the website or online email newsletter. Businesses that get their customers trained to fetch their newsletter off the web will have fewer problems because they'll have few occasions when they will have to send emails out to their customers -- and then only very short notices or informative "drip feeds".

The kind of email you would then send would rarely have the kind of signature that causes the spam filters to scream. Most of these filters are weighted, and there are very few stand-alone telltales that send email into instant oblivion.

My guess is that small emails, even if numerous, will escape filter security, because it requires a certain minimum amount of text to make a spam offer. Emails, smaller than this minimum will probably not be checked at all, owing to sheer volume. 

The Hero Doesn't Die In The End
The saddest part of this whole scenario is that people like you, me and a dog named Spammer are all trying to achieve the same thing -- bulk up the profits. And in doing so, we are all part of the gloomy picture. But don't despair.

Unlike you, Mr Spammer doesn't want to be traceable. You do, because you're legit. Make use of your legitimacy, and drive your customers back to your online newsletter or website.
And simultaneously drive the spam merchant out of business!



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