Spam: Taking Control

There’s been plenty written on spam, but, as a newsletter publisher, I feel it’s my obligation to address it here. The question for us publishers revolves around the discussion of what spam is. I personally like this definition from the ClickZ column “Searching for a Definition of Spam“: “Spam is an email message that the recipient — and only the recipient — deems inappropriate, unwanted, or no longer wanted for any reason.”

That definition would make you think the recipient is in control of his own personal email destiny, and if people ask for your newsletter they’ll get it. That’s not necessarily what happens. There are organizations and hoards of people out there who don’t know a thing about your company or your readers but may determine whether your newsletter will get to its intended recipient. This is where control is taken away from the newsletter publisher and the recipient and where your efforts to build relationships and communities get incredibly derailed.

Take a moment to digest these stats:

  • According to Assurance Systems’ fourth-quarter email blocking and filtering report, approximately 15 percent of permission messages do not make it to the inbox as intended at the top 10 email account providers.
  • In an Assurance Systems study that monitored 800 campaigns sent by its clients, nondelivery rates ranged from 4 to 38 percent. On its Web site, Assurance Systems claims, “ISPs incorrectly treat one of six permissioned email messages as spam.”
  • On “Top Five Facts” on fighting spam, AOL claims to block 900 million emails every day. IDC predicts the number of spam messages sent over the Internet could exceed 10 trillion this year.
  • Ferris Research says spam will cost U.S. businesses over $10 billion in lost productivity and increased IT costs.

Feel the frustration? Has spam foiled your best e-marketing efforts?

What’s a Publisher to Do?

Although much of the control is out of your hands, you can be aware of certain things that may help your newsletter get to the people who really want it:

  • Be aware of blacklists. Blacklists supposedly are a list of the worst spam offenders. You want to avoid these at all costs. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to get on them. These lists are human-generated collections, created either by blacklist organizations, individuals, or internal IT departments, of machine names and IP addresses belonging to ISPs or corporations believed to be the source of spam. The problem lies in the fact creators of these lists often make arbitrary decisions about whom they add to the list. You can easily get on a blacklist without doing anything offensive.
  • Try to get on white lists. White lists are the good guys. Getting on a white list means you’re OK. Check with your readers. If their companies maintain a white list, make sure you’re on it!
  • Obtain double opt-in permission. Obtaining an email address through a pre-existing relationship is often deemed not enough permission. It can get you blacklisted. So go the double opt-in route: Ask permission when you collect the email address the first time, then ask again by requesting a reply to a confirmation email verifying that email address. This is important if you get on a blacklist. To get off the list, you’ll need to prove you used a double opt-in procedure.
  • Be responsible. The spam issue exists in part because of offensive email content. Though you probably aren’t writing about obscene topics in your newsletter, make certain it contains content people want to receive. Once you get on a blacklist (and it often takes only one complaint to get you there), it’s very difficult to get off of it.
  • Support anti-spam efforts. There are several organizations, such as the Email Service Provider Coalition (ESPC), The Direct Marketing Association (DMA), and Network Associates (NAI), out there, trying to help protect the interests of e-marketing professionals and their readers. If your e-marketing efforts are being derailed by spam, you might want to join the fight.

Do you have your own war with spam to wage? E-mail me at

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