How not to be a spammer [5]: Tell me why I got this

How can legitimate direct marketers get their messages through more reliably? How can they avoid being branded as a "spammer" by over-enthusiastic spam vigilanties?

We wrote about this problem before. See [1] and [2]. This is the third of an irregular series of blog posts where we'll examine some additional ideas. the previous posts in the series are here: [3] [4].

Many legitimate direct marketers purchase lists of email addresses. Unlike spammers' lists, these legitimate lists should contain addresses of people who have given permission for it to be sold.

The main problem with this is when the user doesn't recall having given such permission. This might happen for several reasons. For example:

  • They forgot
  • They didn't read the fine print
  • They didn't realize that resale of details is a condition of being a member of a free service
  • They mis-read the opt-out checkbox text because it was confusingly worded
  • They didn't give permission (i.e. the vendor has sold the list fraudulently)

Why should you care? Users who find themselves in this situation are likely to think messages sent by a list purchaser are spam.

If you buy such a list, you should protect yourself against accidental accusations of spamming by making it very clear in all your messages why the recipient has received it. Your messages should contain text explaining how you've come to email the user. We recommend that you place this text at the top of the message. Ideally, it should include details of how to prevent the vendor from reselling the address in the future.

Here's an example of good text, telling the user that the message came as a result of membership of J2's free fax and voicemail service:

You are receiving this message because you are registered as a jConnect Free member. Your jConnect number is xxxxxxxx. To change your email preferences, click here.

Here's an example of bad text. It contains meaningless and unhelpful jargon, coupled with deliberately obscure instructions for opting out:

Our database is managed in accordance with the relevant Privacy Conditions and eMail Marketing guidelines relating to UK business. Details of our privacy policy can be obtained by writing to us at the postal address above, or by faxing your request to xxxxxxxxxxx.

Making it hard for users to opt out—or "easy" for them to accidentally opt in—may seem like a good way to increase the size of your list, but it's not. It's simply going to antagonize users, and will cause you grief from spam complaints.

One Comment

  1. Posted April 25, 2005 at 12:15 PM | Permalink

    You have forgotton one subset of one of the reasons. Under “they didn’t give permission”, it’s not just the case that the vendor has sold the list fraudulently. It is sometimes the case that someone else gave permission for you. They probably don’t even know you. They just picked your address out of thin air and used it as their “fake” address when registering on a web site, and that web site did not require an email confirmation. Some addresses are more likely than others to be victims of this inadvertant problem. My own address (which looks like it could be the general mailing address of any of about a thousand different high schools) gets it quite a lot. It is often easy to distinguish this spam, because it often actually includes the real name of the person who did the web registration. I would therefore recommend changing the opening sentences of your notice. It should read as follows:

    “You are receiving this message because you or someone else registered your email address as a jConnect Free member. Your jConnect number is xxxxxxxx. If you are not the person who registered for this account, or to change your email preferences on the account, click here.”


  2. unknown
    Posted May 4, 2005 at 12:19 AM | Permalink

    You’ve also forgetten that people have VERY short term memories when it comes to things that have no meaning to them. When I sign up for something online I will click whatever I need to click on to get to my goal….. Happen along the way that I have agreed to have my inbox filled with crap doesn’t mean that I am willing to deal with that stuff 2 weeks from now.

    Opt-in schemes are a scam! They take advantage of people in a vunerable state to gain the maximum advantage for the vendor/advertizer in question. Should this be legal? Should we be expected to read every last 6pt sentance on every web page before we can place our online order for viagra?

    So in the “real” world marketers are required to ask you verbally if you want to opt-in to a scheme that bombarbs you with unwanted CDs every month.. True; these invitations can be hard to spot but if you say “no” then heaven help them if they ship the stuff anyway. Shine that light onto cyber-space and you will see the same view that you get from looking at your nearest black hole!

    Marketers, of which I am one, don’t see life like regular people do. You are all just a market to us. You don’t have dinner. You don’t want privacy. You “understand” that we have rights too! NEAH… It’s a game! It’s all about grabbing a few seconds here and a few seconds there and over time (maybe even years) our brand will get under your skin… You cannot win… Resistance IS futile.

    So when you get mad at spammers and you vote for rights-crushing politicians who pledge to save you from all this, just remember that we don’t want you to “click here” or “call now”, it’s enough that you even acknowledge that you got the email to make it all worth while. Oh, and while you’re at it, think a little about who passes the laws that make it legal for us to do what we do….. They are the same people saving you from gay marrige and Iraqi’s. Shame they can’t sell oil via tele-sales!

    Tiz this and this alone that makes America the country that it is today.

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