Bad News in 2010, if You Suck

In the MediaPost article "Why 2010 Could Be A Bad Year For 'Worst-Practice' Marketers," ReturnPath's George Bilbrey talks about what's driving ISPs nuts lately: legitimate companies with bad email practices. He writes: "The good news is that the ISPs (and their technology providers) are doing a much better job at preventing much of the truly criminal spam. With the worst mail out of the way, what are they finding? Of the mail that is not criminal spam, the mail streams that are causing the most noise from ISP subscribers (high "this is spam" rates, high spam ratings from spam rating panels, low "this is not spam" rates) is mail coming from legitimate companies with very poor practices. These mailers are now front and center on the ISPs' radar screens, which will result in widespread, critical delivery problems for this class of mailer in 2010."

This is something I've witnessed first hand, and I've also seen what happens next when ISPs denote that these mail streams aren't all that kosher: They block. Hard block, permanent block, spam block. The anvil drops right on the sender's head, and it takes months to clean things up and get unblocked. I've seen at least one really big ISP say to heck with this, don't ask us to unblock it until six months have passed AND you've cleaned up your act.

This is all yet another data point on why an ounce of prevention is much better than a pound of cure. Clean your act up now, so you keep getting to the inbox, instead of waiting until you get blocked and suddenly have to scramble to try to rescue your email program.

The E360 Pantsing Continues

Laura Atkins writes today about the newly discovered settlement between 'email marketer' E360 and Comcast: "Today, only weeks before the trial date, a settlement agreement was filed. The settlement agreement prohibits the defendants and any group associated with them from transmitting email to any domain owned by Comcast without affirmative consent (as defined by CAN SPAM). All mail sent by the defendants must comply with the Comcast Terms of Use or AUP. The defendants must not attempt to circumvent Comcast’s spam filters, must comply with CAN SPAM and must not help anyone else violate any of the provisions of the agreement."

Mickey Chandler provides some additional commentary and some MOST AWESOME opinion: "As I see it, Linhardt was so desperate to get out of this case he became willing to sign (in the Affidavit of Confession of Judgment) what’s basically a blank check to Comcast worth a quarter of a million dollars, and waive the usual niceties, like not having to allow the whole world to see what he agreed to I’ll also point out here, even though I don’t at Spamsuite, that Comcast basically agrees to nothing. This is all give on Linhardt’s part, with no take."

Work-at-Home Spam, Scam or both?

Check out this wonderful story from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, wherein a dupe robocalls a reporter for the paper. The consumer watchdog reporter -- aka "The Whistleblower." Oops.

From the story:
  • The product he was pitching was something called an “extractor.” It has nothing to do with your teeth. “What it does, is it extracts phone numbers and emails from businesses off the Internet,” he said.
  • Kitchen paid $249 for the extractor, and he’ll get a cut of any new extractor business he steers to Bayne.
  • [Kitchen] he hasn’t made any money yet, but he’s just getting started.
  • So far, Kitchen said, his phone blasts have resulted in one callback. [The reporter's.]
To recap: Guy buys a $250 program to allow him to harvest email addresses and phone numbers from the internet. He illegally robocalls various phone numbers, including the reporter's number. The only response he's received from his phone spam was....a call back from the reporter.

Might be time to consider a new line of work, Rodney Kitchen.

In-Application Email Signup: Ew, Really?

Yesterday, Campaign Monitor posted a helpful hint on how you can add an email list signup form to your Macintosh application. I would strongly recommend against this, unless it's both clearly optional, and tied to a confirmed opt-in (double opt-in) process. This is a mine field if you don't know what you're doing.

Once upon a time, I worked for an e-commerce service provider, a company whose original core business was hosting online stores for downloadable software. Online registrations and in-application registrations were two very popular ways of driving list growth, and it led us to learn a few lessons the hard way.
  • If you force a signup form in front of somebody's face, they're going to fill the form with crap.
  • If the form isn't very clearly optional, they're going to fill the form with crap.
  • If the form pops up without any clear initiation from the end consumer, they're going to fill the form with crap.
  • If you make registration a condition of anything at all, they're going to fill the form with crap.
Been there, done that. I observed people putting in email addresses of people at Spamhaus, AOL's anti-spam team, various US presidents, etc. And lots and lots and lots of spamtraps. Deliverability was very poor; clients got blacklisted, the signup server got blacklisted, emails went to the bulk folder, and AOL even very angrily called me directly once (how often has that happened to you?).

What we learned is that the only way this works at all is if you make any sort of registration process like this confirmed opt-in (double opt-in), making it so that the registration is not complete until the consumer receives an email message and clicks on the link to validate their address and confirm their desire to be on the mailing list. It got so bad with people putting crap in the forms that we ended up creating a dedicated system, explicitly for handling software registrations, and no address was ever considered to have opted-in until and unless the double opt-in process was completed.

The net result is that our deliverability woes went away. We still had issues from time to time, clients that needed remediation, but it was never due to software registrations handled by the system we built.

What is Zeusmail.org?

A whole bunch of sites have noticed seemingly bogus signups from email addresses in the zeusmail.org domain. Does anybody know who or what this is? Of course, the domain owner's WHOIS information is hidden by way of Privacy Protect (barf).

Pivotal Veracity Acquired by Unica Corp.

Multiple sources are reporting today that provider of email delivery tracking and email rendering test tools Pivotal Veracity has been acquired by online marketer Unica.