If you're not doing this already, now is definitely the time to start!
The consequences if you're labeled an ezine author spammer- even if you've made an honest mistake- are getting more serious all the time.
If your e-mail is blocked because of spam complaints (or even because it contains certain words and phrases), as much as 50% of your e-mail may be "filtered" and never reach your subscribers.
It can take weeks- even months- to resolve the issue. In some cases, if you really mess up, you may NEVER be able to send e-mail from a particular domain or IP address ever again.
If this happens, you'll lose valuable promotion opportunities with your
opt-in list. Your relationship and credibility with your subscribers will fade away into nothing as time passes and they don't hear from you.
And you don't even want to think about the cost and hassle of setting up a new domain and IP address.
I'm always on the lookout for the latest information on spam rules, laws,
tools, and tips. (And boy, do things change fast!) After all, I know how valuable this information is to my subscribers, and I wouldn't want any of you to find yourselves in trouble because you weren't fully up-to-date.
That's why we sent two full-time abuse investigators to the Federal Trade Commission spam conference in Washington, DC.
Here are some of the most important updates from the report they brought back:
Definitions are changing
As ezine author you've probably noticed that some people use terms like "UCE," "UBE," and "spam" interchangeably, while others insist that these three terms mean very different things.
Even the definition of opt-in e-mail itself is constantly evolving.
There are still no set-in-stone definitions of many spam-related terms, but here's a basic primer on the terms you as ezine author absolutely need to know before launching your next e-mail marketing campaign:
Simply put, opt-in e-mail is e-mail sent to people who have
given you as e-zine author permission to contact them via e-mail. It builds
on existing relationships with customers, newsletter subscribers,
affiliates, business contacts, and sales leads- people who have given you permission to contact them on a particular subject.
This is why opt-in e-mail is sometimes referred to as "permission-based" e-mail marketing.
- Confirmed opt-in:
Confirmed opt-in adds one more level of permission to your list. Basically, when a new person subscribes to your e-mail list, they are sent a confirmation e-mail with an "unsubscribe" option included.
- Double confirmed opt-in:
"Double confirmed" takes it even one step further.
First, a visitor arrives at your site and enters their name and e-mail address to join
your opt-in list. Then, that visitor is sent an e-mail asking them confirm their request by clicking on a link within the message. Only once they click the link or reply to the message is their e-mail address added to your opt-in list.
Spam is basically (a) unwanted e-mail sent by a company or ezine author with whom the recipient has had no prior contact, and/or (b) unwanted e-mail sent to someone who has specifically requested to be removed from the sender's mailing list.
- False positive:
In the context of e-mail promotions, a false positive is any legitimate e-mail that is mistakenly filtered as spam.
If you notice that your response rate drops drastically for a particular mailing (you ARE tracking your response rates, aren't you?), your message may have been caught in spam filters as a false positive.
Now, we know there will be people who disagree (okay, strongly disagree) with these definitions of opt-in e-mail.
There was heavy debate about these definitions at the FTC conference, and there will continue to be heavy debate out there in the real world.
Some people will feel these definitions are too restrictive- and others will argue that they don't go far enough. We accept these differences of opinion as the consequence of attempting to educate the general population about responsible e-mail marketing.
Just keep in mind that these definitions are based on the panel discussions that took place at the spam conference- and that they're going to affect the way you do business online.
Spam is an ever-increasing problem- and it's costing YOU as e zine author money!
One thing that truly became clear at the FTC spam conference is that spam is definitely NOT going away. In fact, despite all the spam filtering programs, ISP initiatives, and even state legislation, spam is becoming a bigger problem every day.
Just look at the stats that came to light at the conference:
And get this:
- 75% of AOL's e-mail volume is spam
- 75%-80% of Nortel's e-mail volume is spam- and they expect the amount
of spam they deal with to double every six weeks
Yahoo! is stopping 500% more spam than they were one year ago
- Bell South experienced a 25% increase in the spam getting through
their filters in the six weeks leading up to the conference alone
Panelists agreed that all in all, spam costs $8 billion to $14 billion to deal with every year! That's BILLION with a "B"!
If you're thinking that the cost of spam isn't your problem, think again.
Even if you've never sent a promotional e-mail, you're paying a small part of that $8 billion to 14 billion yourself.
According to Ferris Research, ISPs spend between $5 and $20 per user every year to deal with spam (AOL spends $4 to $5 per user every month!)- and that cost is passed down to their subscribers.
If you as e-zine author ARE sending promotional e-mail, you could potentially bear even
more of the cost- if you don't watch your step!
If you are accused of spamming, or if your messages get caught in spam filters, you will suffer lost revenue, inaccurate campaign measurements, and a damaged reputation- not to mention the more serious consequences I mentioned earlier.
I just can't emphasize enough how important it is for you as ezine author to absolutely ensure that you do not send spam- accidentally or otherwise!
ISPs are losing patience with ezine authors
With the hard costs of spam skyrocketing, it's no wonder that ISPs are getting a little upset.
Just think about the situation from the point of view of an ISP. Not only do all those spam messages take up a ton of bandwidth (costing the ISPs money), they also annoy the customers of those ISPs.
As customers grow more and more annoyed with spam, they start to complain about the problem.
And the ISPs know that if they can't keep their ezine author customers happy, the customers will leave.
That's why many of the larger online services are implementing their own anti-spam measures-and they're giving their users the power to determine what is spam and what is not.
The latest releases from MSN (Hotmail), Yahoo!, and AOL all include some form of spam filtering or reporting.
And these features are being used- a lot!
Earlier, AOL reported that they had blocked over a billion spam messages in one day! And despite the fact that AOL, Yahoo!, and MSN are in direct competition with one another, they've recently joined together to fight the problem of spam.
What this means for you as e-zine author- is that you need to work harder than ever to make sure your subscribers know who you are, what your relationship is to them, and why you're sending them e-mail.
It's no longer safe to assume that your readers know who you are- because if they don't, you're going to find yourself facing spam accusations, no matter how "clean" your list may be.
Make sure to remind your readers- in the very first paragraph of every e-mail you send- what their relationship is with you.
Here's an example you can customize for your own promotions:
As a subscriber to my [insert newsletter title or URL]
newsletter, I know you are interested in the latest developments
in the [insert your industry] industry.
That's why I as ezine author wanted to make sure I let you know about...
Legislation is coming
Various levels of government are starting to get involved in the fight against spam.
Many states now have anti-spam laws- and these laws are being used.
While it's still hard for individual e-mail users to use the laws to do much about spam, large online service providers have successfully sued spammers who were seen as hijacking
their bandwidth resources!
Known spammers have also been successfully prosecuted under the "Computer Fraud and Abuse" Act, and even under trespassing laws!
Interestingly enough, shortly after the conference, a new federal anti-spam bill was introduced. Unlike the several attempts at federal legislation that came before it, the new "RID-Spam" Act (short for "Reduction in Distribution of Spam") is expected to move quickly through Congress.
Still, panelists at the conference agreed that federal legislation is the next step to getting spam under control.
If the RID-Spam Act does become law, there will be serious legal penalties (including
the possibility of jail time) for repeat spam offenders. Here are some of the highlights of the RID-Spam Act:
Of course, there's much more to the proposed legislation than I can cover here... after all, I'm not a lawyer!
Just like "no-call" lists for telemarketers, the FTC will maintain a "no-spam" list.
- Any ezine author sending commercial mass e-mails will be required to use the label "ADV" (short for "advertisement") in the subject line. (Although panelists agreed this would do little to curb the problem of spam.)
- Real e-mail headers and addresses:
Stiff punishments could be imposed for making e-mail look like it came from somewhere (or someone) else.
The important thing to realize is that this proposed legislation is out there- and
so are several other proposals.
Sooner or later, federal spam legislation will be a reality.
The best way to keep yourself informed about the latest developments in spam laws is to visit:
It's a great resource site for finding out what's going on with both state and federal laws.
Final thoughts on Ezine Author
One thing the FTC spam conference really made clear is that everyone is fed up with spam- and everyone agrees that something needs to be done.
With more and more time and money being dedicated to managing spam all the time, it's clear that the current systems just aren't working.
Whether the next step is federal legislation or just placing increased power in the hands of e-mail recipients, your strategy is simple:
Above all, ALWAYS be sure to focus on your relationship with your subscribers.
Make sure you as ezine author have permission to e-mail the people on your list
Keep spotless records
As e-zine author, only contact your list members about things that they're likely
to be interested in
Include a clear "unsubscribe" option in every message you send
Every time you as ezine author contact them, make sure they know exactly who you are- and remind them why they should care what you have to say.
Most of your subscribers have a "This is Spam" button (not to mention a "Delete" button!) easily within reach.
It's your job to make sure they're not inclined to use it.
Finally, make sure you keep yourself well informed. The rules are changing all the time, and you simply need to know what's going on if you want e-mail marketing to work for your business.
Rest assured that I'll be on the lookout for the latest developments in the
war on spam- and I'll make sure all viewers are in the know, too.