Ask Al: How do I publicize my new site?

Patrick Writes,

Hi. I like your blog! I run a doctor search engine, a new business looking to run a legit email campaign to get the word out to doctors. I don't know where to turn or who is legit, etc. Can you recommend anyone? Thanks for any help or referrals, etc.

Hi Patrick,

Thanks, glad you like the blog! I know it's tough starting a new site or business and trying to get the word out. I've helped others do this before, and there are actually quite a few things you can do.

As far as doing email campaigns, let's start with what you shouldn't do. Don't harvest email addresses. Harvesting addresses involves using software to find email addresses out on the internet and add them to your email list. Those people didn't opt-in to get mail from you, so if you send mail to lists like that, you're going to end up blocked fast and far and wide. It's spam, plain and simple, regardless of how well targeted it is. Don't buy lists either. There's no such thing as a guaranteed opt-in list for sale. The people on those lists don't know you, don't recognize you, and aren't keen to hear from you – they're already getting tons of unwanted spam from every other fool that bought that list. I can guarantee that such a list is going to garner more spam complaints than new visitors to your site.

If you want to get the word out via email, the way to do it is by partnering. Find sites that cater to doctors and find out what advertising opportunities they offer. I don't know a ton about this space, but a quick search says that WebMD, OneHealth, and Medscape might be places to start. Will they send an email to their list on your behalf? This type of third-party emailing is legal and common, though it can get spendy. Ask them if it's okay to send them press releases – maybe you can generate some buzz that will cause them to write articles about you, and get you free traffic and interest.

You could also partner with a list rental firm. I've guided clients toward Return Path's Postmaster Network in the past, with good results. I find them to be very reputable. Beware, though. For every good Postmaster Network, there a thousand fly-by-night firms whose lists aren't truly opt-in and who turn out to be run by people whose ethics are questionable. I'm technical enough that I've caught list rental brokers trying to deceive my clients with falsified proof of opt-in details (No, this Michigan RoadRunner user did not opt-in from an IP in London), or proof of delivery (no, an SMTP transaction handoff does not mean the recipient received it and therefore opted-in). Etc. The space is filled with bad guys changing company names every few months, selling opt-out access to lists compiled from questionable methodology. My recommendation would be to get references from anybody you're going to go with, and force the vendor to use an opt-in process, instead of opt-out, if the process involves the people being able to sign up to get emails from you later. With opt-out, the match rate is higher, and you will pay the list rental vendor more money. But, the complaints will be higher and you'll end up angering some important ISP like AOL and having to opt-in those names later. (Throwing away 90% of them in the process.)

Besides email campaigns, organic search is very important. If your field is unique enough, or you can find a unique enough angle, this actually can work pretty well. Start a blog or a content site. Write and post intelligent and relevant articles on the topic in question. Link to it legitimately by participating in blog and online forum discussions on the topic. Link back to appropriate content on your sites, but only in the context of the discussion. (Don't just post and say things like, “Hi! Great discussion. Visit my site at www.domain.com for more info! That's pretty close to blog spamming, and if it happens enough, Google will end up removing your site from their index. When that happens, the results are devastating and it can take months to clean up. )

Hope that helps! And thanks for your question.

Double opt-in: For and Against

Double opt-in, confirmed opt-in, email address verification, whatever you call it -- nobody ever universally agrees on whether or not you should do it. I see a lot of people in the anti-spam community try to recommend it based on their feelings. They relate specific experiences where a company annoyed them by not confirming subscriptions. Interesting, but it doesn’t always speak to senders in the language they need to hear. Unhappy anecdotes don’t provide the necessary info to convince marketers, who generally work by way of a data driven decision making process.

Surveys, Profile Information, and Hamtraps

As part of my massive spam/ham tracking project, I’ve been signing up for lists. Hundreds of lists. Somewhere north of four hundred and I keep adding more every day.

I’m practicing safe signup – each retailer, newsletter publisher, media outlet, or other list owner gets a unique address that isn’t easily found by way of dictionary attacking. I’ve got multiple domains and the ability to bounce/filter out certain addresses. Thankfully, too, as there’s already a few senders who have done things with the addresses that I don’t agree with. They’re no longer a part of the feed, as I don’t consider them “good” senders.

This isn’t exactly “shout it from the rooftops” fun to do. I’d much rather be over on Navy Pier, relaxing at a table in the beer garden, with some sort of tasty beverage. But, it’s been providing me with good, useful data, and for the most part, I’m able to stand the monotony of signing up for list after list after list after list.

What really is dragging it down for me, though, is excessive profiling. I’m not new to marketing. I know profiling is good. I love self selection and self segmentation. Let people tell you what lists they want to be on. It’s wise. It puts the consumer in charge of the messaging. Let them hear what they want to hear about, and it’ll make them happy. Don’t offer that capability, or don’t utilize the data you’re collecting, and you end up looking silly. Heck, get it wrong enough, and people are even going to blog about it. Heh.

But some of these sites go overboard with five and six page surveys. Screen after screen of required fields and “tell me more about yourself.” Dude, I just want to receive your newsletter. I’m not applying for a car loan. Sure, I'm subscribing for a unique purpose when compared to most other newsletter subscribers, but is it really that different? When I sign up for something for myself (XM Radio, technology newsletters, etc.), my eyes start to glaze over if they want to ask more than ten questions (and I’m counting “enter your email address twice” as two of those).

How can people stand these? If my office had a window I would’ve jumped out of it rather than finish the most recent of these long, slow forms that I just came across. And I can't be the only person who feels this way.

I just can’t help but wonder about the drop off rate is for these long, multi-page survey-based signup forms. I bet it’s fairly significant. If your prospective registrant gets bored and wanders away mid-process, you’ve lost a chance to sell to him.

Flixster Wants Your Passwords

Anne Mitchell pointed me toward a post on her Internet Patrol blog about how Flixster’s “invite a friend” functionality either asks you for or allows you to give Flixster your AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail passwords.

Then Flixster logs in to your email account, finds your address book, and sends out invites to your friends in your name from your own email account.

Flixster founder Joe G (Joe Greenstein?) posted a comment in response to Anne, confirming that this was indeed the case. He goes on to state that users are “then ALWAYS given the list of contacts and asked to select whom to invite.”

Well, that’s good. But still, yikes.

Are there still people out there ignorant enough to give out their email passwords to strangers? Joe may be trustworthy, but Joe’s still a stranger, and so is Flixster.

In my opinion, there should never be a reason to give an account password to some site other than that site itself. If that other site ever gets hacked, or if their data security is lax enough to allow employees to steal data, it’ll end up being a privacy (and spam) disaster.

This reminds me of something. Recently, SpamHuntress talked about how Myspace accounts get hacked, and it sounds similar to this. Give us your username and password so we can do something cool with your account….and then we’ll do a bunch of other bad stuff too, without your knowledge.

I am not suggesting that Flixster are a bunch of privacy thieves. I am not implying that they’re going to do something bad with your email accounts. I am, instead, suggesting that you shouldn’t give your passwords out, to prevent something like that from ever happening to you, regardless of how trustworthy the site/service actually is or claims to be.

Do you know how much it would suck if somebody hacked into your AOL or Gmail account and were able to send emails as you? It could be used to send spam to your friends and others, matched up with your saved emails to find your passwords to financial or other accounts, be used as part of a phishing scam to get bank info from other unsuspecting people.

Which blacklists work well?

Just for kicks, I've embarked upon a large spam and blacklist tracking project. Wondering how well Spamhaus works? Preliminary results are showing me that it's actually very accurate and has a much better (lower) false positive rate than every other blacklist I've tested. At the other side of the spectrum, Fiveten blocks nearly a third of desired mail, and isn't as good at tagging spam. Read more about it, and link to the actual data I'm publishing every day, over here on dnsbl.com.