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Silverpop Prepared to Beat Challenge-Response

  |  July 2, 2003   |  Comments

Silverpop is an e-mail marketing firm that’s used to dealing with anti-spam blacklists, working with ISPs to get whitelisted access to theircustomers. The company says challenge-response anti-spam systems might be less difficult to beat than blacklists.

Atlanta, Ga.-based Silverpop’s clients are big names, like Club Med, HP, and Internet Security Systems. The company offers email marketing as an outsourced service, as a hosted (ASP) service, or as a product installed on the client’s network. The company is used to checking email delivery and contacting ISPs or enterprises where a large proportion of emails don’t get delivered.

Bill Nussey, CEO of Silverpop, says that ISPs understand that their customers will sometimes report a newsletter as spam instead of canceling the subscription. ISPs, he says, understand the need of legitimate marketers to contact their subscribers. "But if every marketer has to talk to every ISP, you have a problem that grows exponentially as the market grows."

He says Silverpop never sends spam. "Our clients send retention emailemail only to people with whom they have an existing business relationship. The only gray area in our experience is that our clients sometimes get questionable lists either through a merger or acquisition or because the company bought a list from a questionable source, such as a sweepstakes website where they did not get clear permission to send emails."

Nussey says there’s an obvious solution to that problem, though. "Some companies simply decide not to use those lists. Others will send a single message asking for permission. If an ISP sees a message asking for permission to email people, they’ll generally be understanding of that."

The bottom line, for marketers, is that good behavior must be maintained. "Best practices are more important than getting whitelisted at individual ISPs, because you can get un-whitelisted so fast, or even blacklisted, if someone complains. It’s best to worry about best practices first, and then talk about getting whitelisted."

When Silverpop does decide to call up an ISP, the company has to find out who’s in charge and persuade them that the company is legitimate. Nussey says that sometimes it’s simple. "We show them we have a real website, real traffic going through our system, that we’re not on blacklists, and that we’re not in the spam business." Nevertheless, the process can take time.

Compared to getting whitelisted, or getting off blacklists, Silverpop anticipates that challenge-response anti-spam systems will pose no problem to anyone who puts a legitimate email in the "from" field (or "reply to" field) of the message. In its white paper (you fill out a form to download the white paper) called, "Challenge-Response: Not the Challenge that Legitimate Marketers May Think," the company calculated, as a thought exercise only, the amount it would cost to employ a manual "responder" to get through a challenge-response system.

"Many of our clients are big enough that they already have large call center operations," explains Nussey. Thus, the white paper calculates that the cost of a "responder" is $7.50 per hour, and that the "responder" could reply to 10 emails per minute, making the cost per response $0.0125.

But how many responses would be needed? At present, with challenge-response only sparsely adopted, the white paper suggests that 10 percent of all recipients of an email going out to 250,000 mailboxes would require the responder.

The math is simple: 25,000 responses x $12.50 per thousand responses = $312.50. If they wish to, companies can afford to pay people to be manual responders.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lisa Lacy

Lisa Lacy is senior staff writer at ClickZ. In addition to ClickZ, her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Luxury Spot, LearnVest, MarthaStewart.com, GoodHousekeeping.com, amNewYork, and The Wall Street Journal. She's a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism.

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