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Opting in to Anti-Spam Compliance

  |  December 18, 2003   |  Comments

Is your small business ready to comply with the new anti-spam law? Here’s one affordable solution that can help SMBs with micro marketing budgets remain legal.

Wow, it is tough to get noticed out there, isn’t it? To paraphrase that old sailor’s prayer: The Web is so vast and my site is so small ...

My Google ad campaign is going along OK, I guess. However, sales directly through our Web site have been slower than expected. The good news is that our eBay sales are way up, and our Web site is in part aimed at pushing customers to our eBay store. That makes it harder to get a handle on the value of our online advertising efforts.

As a small startup business, we don’t exactly have a marketing department. So I’m still torn about what to do for an email marketing campaign, and now it’s clear that whatever we do will have to meet the requirements of the new federal anti-spam bill, signed into law this week by President Bush.

The measure is set to become effective Jan. 1 and email marketers have 120 days from that date to comply with it.

What I really want to do is just send an occasional notice of a sale or a special offer to people that I know have some interest in our products -- in this case orchids. Like a lot of small businesses, we have no big need to "go fishing" for new customers. Lots of our business is from repeat buyers.

One thing that might help -- and be within our micro budget -- is something called Opt-In-Buddy, a new site that provides a mechanism (a button, actually) that I can place on our site for single opt-in, single opt-in with confirmation or double opt-in all for a price I can afford -- $29.95 a year. And there’s a free two-week trial.

All you need do is copy and paste the code for an Opt-In-Buddy button into your Web pages. There is nothing to install on your server or on your computer and it looks about as easy as installing a PayPal "buy now" button on a page.

This solution actually comes from the United Kingdom -- in fact Opt-In-Buddy is a trading name of Small Green Tree Ltd. which in turn is the Internet arm of parent company Circuit Solve Ltd.

"It’s a good way for an SMB to stay legal and retain customer goodwill," said Richard Morris at Small Green Tree. "Our Opt-In-Buddy product goes way beyond the new U.S. law’s requirements for building an email list. It makes it a simple matter to use a "double opt-in" procedure -- a practice that will really put a site and a business on the side of the angels in the fight against the spam menace."

"Of course, having built a subscriber database by double opt-in, a business still needs to make sure they comply with the other requirements of the new legislation -- provide opt-out, avoid falsifying email headers, and so forth," he said.

The new law makes it a misdemeanor crime subject to up to one year in jail for intentionally sending unsolicited commercial email with falsified header information and sets out civil penalties for a host of other common spamming practices used to obtain email addresses, including harvesting, dictionary attacks and spoofing.

However, critics have said there are so many holes in the law that it just won’t have much effect in reducing the amount of spam bombarding your in-box or your network.

"We developed this originally for a site called choosingpaint.com, Morris said. "Recently they fired off their first newsletter and they have had a 100 percent delivery rate and a zero percent unsubscribe rate. Admittedly the list is pretty small at present - but it does indicate that a good, solid communication channel to customers is being built that is appreciated by both parties."

Deliverability, of course, is all the rage among email marketing firms these days. After all, what good does it do to fire off a zillion emails if many of them don’t even get through?

Still, I want no part of that. I couldn’t begin to service thousands of customers anyway -- at least not just yet.

I like what Morris told me about email marketing, and it applies whether you use his solution or some one else’s. (I know, I know, there are plenty of others out there).

"It is best to adopt ’best practice’ from day one if you are setting out to do e-marketing," he said.

And I agree. In the spirit of the holiday season, I really do want to be on the side of the angels.

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