Feb 24, 2009

This morning's Gmail Outage due to a Hacker?

A new post has been made on the Official Gmail Blog to apologize once again for this morning's outage and to say the problem has now been identified and corrected (the service was back more or less 2 and a half hours after the crash).

The funny thing is that we are warned we might have to complete a captcha to login.

I don't know you, but it really looks like a way of countering a hacker attack to me.

Gmail down!

As unusual as it may seem, Gmail crashed down world wide (around 9:30 AM GMT) this morning.
The problem seems general.

Basically it was then impossible to connect to one's Gmail inbox.

Google is of course aware of the problem and are trying to solve it as soon as possible.

This impacts Gmail free and Enteprise.

A status is available on the Gmail support page, it currently shows:


We're aware of a problem with Gmail affecting a number of users. This problem occurred at approximately 1.30AM Pacific Time. We're working hard to resolve this problem and will post updates as we have them. We apologize for any inconvenience that this has caused.


Concerning the impact on email Marketing:
I just received a lot of emails on my Gmail account a few minutes ago, so emails apparently shouldn't bounce back.

In any case, you will probably have poor results on email campaigns broadcasted this morning to Gmail users.

More info on the Official Google Blog:
Official Google Blog: Current Gmail outage

Feb 19, 2009

Canada to pass an anti-spam act

Canada's senate is currently working on an anti-spam act.
Last country of the G8 not to have their own anti-spam act, they just ran a second reading at the Canadian senate.

I personnaly loved the definition of spam made by senator Yoine Goldstein available in the transcript of the session:

"We all know what spam is. Although the Senate filters a tremendous number of spam messages, some nevertheless go through the filters. We have all been solicited to buy Viagra at bargain prices on the web or via email. I sometimes have the notion that I should email back to point out that we, as senators, do not need Viagra. We have all received a goodly number of plaintive emails, predominantly from Nigeria, but elsewhere as well, telling us that the sender is an orphan or the widow of an oil minister who died in unexplained circumstances. The emails speak of leaving a bank account in a secret place that contains many millions of dollars. They tell us our cooperation is required to transfer the money to a safe haven, like Canada. In exchange, we will receive 20 per cent to 40 per cent of these millions. Those few who are foolish enough to respond end up providing bank account information and various pieces of other personal information that allow the sender to raid the bank account, withdraw virtually all the money and then disappear.

While many of us might not consider spam to be a significant challenge, it imposes massive costs at the global level. Depending on which source one uses, somewhere between 75 per cent and 95 per cent of all email sent in 2007 was spam. That is up from 10 per cent in 2000."

The entire text of the act is available here.

Most important facts concerning this act are:
  • A commercial electronic message shall
    (a) clearly and accurately identify the person who is sending or authorized the sending of the message;
    (b) contain readily-accessible and accurate header and routing information; and
    (c) include readily-accessible and accurate information as to how the recipient of the message can easily contact the person who is sending or authorized the sending of the message.
  • The unsubscribe facility
    (a) shall be expressed and presented in a clear and conspicuous manner;
    (b) shall allow the recipient to respond to the sender using the same method of communication that was used to send the commercial electronic message;
    (c) shall be capable of receiving the unsubscribe request at all times during a period of at least 30 days after the message is sent; and
    (d) shall not require the recipient to pay a fee to the sender of the message or to any other person in order to use the unsubscribe facility.
  • No person shall send or authorize the sending of a commercial electronic message if the person knows or ought to know that the electronic address to which the message is sent was obtained
    (a) using address-harvesting software;
    (b) from a harvested-address list; or
    (c) using an automated means that generates possible electronic addresses by combining letters, numbers or symbols or a combination thereof. Impersonation of a trusted source
  • Every person who knows, or ought to know, that their trade, business, property, goods or services are being or will be advertised or promoted in a commercial electronic message sent contrary to section 8 or 11, and who receives or expects to receive an economic benefit from the sending of the message, shall take reasonable measures to prevent the sending of the message and to report any contravention to an appropriate law enforcement agency.
This act also authorize ISPs to block any incoming spam source.

As often in this case this law will apply for anyone sending from Canada or to Canadian persons (whatever the spam originating country is).

Feb 18, 2009

Email-Ethics email marketing survey


I decided to launch a survey for email marketers. The goal is not of course to spy on you but to get information on what are email marketers' concerns and habits.

I will of course post the results on this blog and the email ethics website.

And I will also, I hope adapt my upcoming posts to the biggest concerns expressed on this survey.

Click Here to take survey

Feb 17, 2009

Say goodby to Club-Internet

After Lycos Europe closing down last week, SFR (who bought Club-Internet in 2007) announced to the Club-Internet users that their account would be closed on March the 10th 2009.

Users now are facing 2 options:
- First is to subscribe to an SFR offer, and keep their email address
- Second is to give up their account and lose their email account.

The possibly impacted domains are @club.fr and @club-internet.fr

Cabestan (the company for which I work) sent an email to all our clients telling them about the situation and advising them to identify these emails int the database and send them an "update your account" campaign... wise advice I would say!

What would George Washington think of google's strategy?

Jonathan Rosenberg posted an article on the official Google Blog for Presidents' Day.

Hopping cheerfully from the founders to 21st century's technological improvements this blog post introduces the author's (or is it Google's) views of recent evolutions what internet will probably look like in a few years time.

Read the post:
Official Google Blog: From the height of this place

Feb 16, 2009

Anti-Spam vs freedom of speech.

A nice article was posted on the first amendment center website telling us about a student being sued after using Michigan State University's email to send 'unsollicited', 'bulk' email.

Now, the question raised by the website is: where's the frontier between Spam Filtering and limitations to freedom of speech?

If we think a little about it, the question is wide:
Freedom of speech should allow anyone to tell anyone else whatever he believes to be relevant.
Spam filtering is here to protect personal (and professional) emails from unsolicited information sent by third party.

The line is thin...

Feb 14, 2009

Is your subscribers list protected?

If you want to have a successful email marketing strategy you have to make sure your list is really optin, that profiles in your list are people that voluntarily subscribed.
You always have to be sure people are not subscribe through robots filling up marketing databases with random emails.

There's only two ways of making sure no robot uses your forms to subscribe hundreds of potential complainers, bounces or spam traps:

First option is the double optin.
Even though it has been recently discussed on a Bill McCloskey Blog Post, the double optin remains a sure way of making sure people have willingly subscribed to your newsletter.
The double optin system is sending a confirmation email to your subscribers with a link to confirm the subscription. Only users clicking on the link will eventually make it to the broadcast list.

Second option is the Captcha
This second option will not block people from subscribing other persons' email but it will block scripts and robots from posting automatically emails in your list. Thi Captcha system will check on the form posting that the user correctly typed in the text shown in an image.

You don't want to under-estimate the risk of these robots posting emails in your list. Being unprotected might lead you to gather a consequent number of harmful emails.

Feb 13, 2009

Is it not all about content after all?

I've been working for some time now in the email marketing business. I've spread the wise words of best practices to whoever I could.
Now don't get me wrong: Of course best practices are and will probably always be the best way to reach your user's inbox.

I'm talking here about list hygiene and technical specifications mainly.

But when you are in the inbox, what will make the user open your email and eventually click to your website.
People use to say : the subject line, the sender name or the marketing pressure.
All these elements do have an impact for sure (and I also do insist on those with my clients) when you think on a general point of view.

Now let's get in a one to one analysis:
My job being to know as many things as possible about email marketing I am subscribed to over a hundred newsletters (not on my main personal or professional email of course :)) and I receive 20 to 30 advertising emails each day. Even though (for professional reasons) I usually open each and every one of them to see what's going on around on the market.
Sometimes don't have time to go through everything. Then I have to make choices, and I will then act like any other subscriber : I pick what I believe to be the most interesting Newsletters in the list.

Now let's just stop here for a minute: How do I decide what is the nicest newsletter around in this huge list?
Believe me or not, I don't base my choice on the name of the sender or the subject line, I know from experience where to find good, nice looking emails. I know on which newsletter I will find the best deals.

This leads to my point: as good a marketer you are, as well you reach the email marketing best practices, you will always be dependent on the quality of your offers.

Feb 10, 2009

A check list for 100% inbox delivery

Even though a 100% inbox delivery on an email campaign is 100% fictional due mainly to temporary errors and soft bounces, it is possible to secure your email delivery through a few steps.

Here is a check list, should you match all these requirements, then there is no reason why you would not be able to reach near 100% email deliverability:

1 - Do you have enough dedicated IPs?
Your ID when broadcasting newsletter is most of the time based on the couple IP/Domain.
Some ISPs and webmails limit either the number of hourly or daily number of emails to be received form an IP. You therefore need to have sufficient IPs according to the volume of emails sent to these ISPs in one go.
I also insist on the dedicated part of the question since sharing your IPs with other senders might get you into troubles should the other senders send dodgy campaigns.
It's also very necessary to build up your own sender reputation using always the same IPs and slowly getting the ISPs' confidence.

2 - Are your DomainKey/DKIM and SPF correctly configured?
Yahoo! and Hotmail use the DomainKey (or recently DKIM) and SPF to identify sender domains. Having a correctly set ID will help you build up you, if you have a good reputation, to go through.

3 - Is your revers DNS working correctly?
Most of the email receiving servers query the revers DNS to see who's sending, you need to make sure your reverse DNS is correctly set before broadcasting.

4 - Are your email headers correctly set?
There's a few things to know when broadcasting, Gmail for example asks for "precedence=bulk" to be stated in the email header.

5 - Do you use double optin in your newsletter subscription process?
Nowadays, double optin is the only way to make sure of two things :
a) the user realy wants to register to your newsletter
b) the real owner of the email subscribed went through the process of subscription.

6 - Do you have a simple and efficient unsubscribe process?
With the spam complaint button so easily reachable above each and every email in the webmails inbox, you need to have the simplest unsubscribe process as possible.
The more complicated the unsubscribe process is, the more likely the user is to click on the spam complaint button, and we don't want that.
For the same exact reason you realy want to take each and every unsubscribe request into account ASAP, any email received after the user having unsubscribe is a potential complaint to the ISP.

7 - Do you correctly identify complainers and remove them systematically from upcoming broadcasts?
Several ISPs provide email senders with feedback loops. These feedback loops are very usefull to measure the perception users have of your newsletter and of course to stop sending to complainers.
A list of available feedback loops is available here

8 - Do you sometimes check for inactive profiles and remove them from your list?
An email that haven't reacted (opened) on any email sent to him for a long time should probably be removed from your list, it's very likely you will never get any benefit from sending to this person, you probably pay a fee to send emails to this user and you also take the risk of this email being a spam trap.

9 - Do you avoid spam words, special characters and ALL CAPS in your subject lines?
Part of the email filtering is made on the email content itself. You therefore need to check your email subject line for common spam words (Viagra beeing an obvious one), it's also preferable to avoid special characters such as $, £, % or accents and avoid also using too many capital letters (some say also it's preferable not to use exclamation marks).

10 - Is the Image/Text ratio correct in your email?
One of the most common technique spammers use to bypass content based email filters is to use images instead of plain text. Having only images in the email you broadcast can make the ISPs very suspicious and sometimes lead to false positives (legitimate emails being blocked by filters).

11 - Is your HTML code tidy?
One very important thing when sending an email to users is to have a clean HTML code, the first reason being that all webmails, browsers and email readers might deal with your bad HTML in different ways and therefore your email might be displayed incorrectly on several of them.
The second reason is that the Spam filters are very likely to block poorly coded emails.

12 - Do you monitor your marketing pressure on your subscribers?
When people subscribe to your newsletter it's very recommended that you tell them how often you will send emails to them, even if the time of year is special (sales period, christmass, valentine's day,...) you need to make sure you don't over communicate with your subscribers.
If you don't you might see an important increase in your unsubscribe and complaint rates.

This list covers the main issues you might have to deal with while setting up your email strategy and choosing your ESP (Email Service Provider). Not all these points are compulsory (some are more heavy weighted than others) but the more "yes" answers you have while checking these points, the better you will perform.

Feb 9, 2009

Add Google News to your website

I removed some time ago the email marketing news feeds form the lateral bar of this blog.
I was not satisfied with the relevance of the news, the update rate and there always was this limitation on the number of feeds.

Now google just came out with a Google News widget that can be added to your blog/website.

I just installed it on the right of this blog should you want to have a look. The keywords I chose are:
"email marketing, email direct marketing, spam, spam filters, hotmail, yahoo, gmail"

More information is available on the Official Google Blog: Add Google News to your website blog post.

Feb 7, 2009

It will soon be too late!

On funny thing next week is that two webmail providers gave their users a deadline, please note one deadline is more critical than the other one.

The first critical notice is of course given by Lycos europe login pages.
As it has already been discussed on this blog, Lycos europe is closing down. Since they apparently didn't find another provider to continue providing the service, then all the Lycos hosted emails will be deleted on February the 15th. It means for users, they have to dowload and backup all important data still on one of the Lycos europe hosted domains.
For email marketers, it means it's your last week to try to have the users update their contact email, on february the 16th all you will be able to do is suppress all the Lycos europe hosted email addresses from your lists.

The second deadline is set by Gmail ont the Official Gmail Blog: Last chance for Gmail stickers post. After February the 14th, they will stop sending nice looking gmail keyboard stickers to users asking for some.
You still have a couple of days to request your set of stickers.
All you have to do is to send a self-addressed stamped envelope as described on the Gmail blog post

Feb 5, 2009

What email addresses tell you about your users

When it comes to list hygiene there are lots of ways to identify poor quality profiles based on historical data:

Does the user unsubscribe or complain upon receiving your emails (which is the best reason of course to stop sending them)? Does the email bounce (hard or soft)? What is the softbounce reason (spam filtered, timed out, relay error,...)?
Does the user open emails you send to him? How long has he been inactive?

All of this needs some broadcasting before you can estimate the potential risk of each of these users on you deliverability and your email marketing campaigns efficiency.

But, before any broadcasting is made, some information about your profiles can be found according to the user's emails.

An email is made of 3 parts:
- The user name (or local part)
- The domain name
- The extension

Each of these parts can be looked at to get more information about the type of profile.

First the user name:
Here you should probably check the emails for bad words and insults, it's not very likely that someone would register to a list he really wants to get emails from with an email such as : spamthisemail@domain.com
Same thing for email aliases such as info@, sales@,... these emails are very likely to be received by several persons and probably one or the other will either complain or unsubscribe on the first email received (anyway it's not very likely anyone would have registered with such an email in the first place)(of course this is less relevant when talking about B2B lists).

Then the domain name:
If people usually have several email addresses, usually people check more often their ISP's or their professional email than their webmail accounts (mind this is no absolute rule).
You should also probably check your list for disposable email addresses, you can check my list of disposable email email providers.

Finally, the extension can give you a couple of extra information like the country of the user. If you run an US campaign you shouldn't probably be sending emails to .ru emails for example.

Feb 3, 2009

New Email Direct Marketing Syndicate in France

We had the SNCD (Syndicat National de la Communication Directe or Direct Communication National Syndicate), we of course had the MAAWG, a new Email Marketing syndicate just joined the pack: the CPA-France.

This new syndicate was launched by the following affiliation networks :
Affilinet, Commission Junction, Effiliation, NetAffiliation, Tradedoubler and Zanox.

The goal is to help improve Email Direct Marketing ways in the affiliates' world, promote best practices, but also get in contact with the CNIL (France's National Commitee on Informatics and Liberty) and other organisations such as the IAB (Internet Advertising Board).

Even though email is already quite spread among affiliates, I bet they will have quite a lot of job ahead before French affiliate list owners reach the Email Marketing Standards and comply to all the best practices.

Gmail sponsored links and email marketing

It seems this is my Gmail week :)

Thinking about the latest Google announcements and their possible impact on email marketing, a question Struck me:

All best practices around the world strongly advise to use as much text as possible in email communications with clients/prospects.
One thing with Gmail is that they use the sidebar to display contextual ads based on the email content.
Now, the more text you use, the more relevant these ads will be. Should they turn out to be more relevant than your message, what is the risk the click goes to someone else (a competitor very likely)?

Here is an example of a Borders communication which is I believe a good illustration of what I just said:

Click to enlarge

I'm not very sure where I could find statistics on the subject or how to efficiently check this assumption

If you have an opinion, please feel free to comment.

Gmail on the go

The news came out a few days ago, and I didn't want to post a message right away about this offline feature, not before I had a chance to estimate the impact this might have on email marketing deliverability issues.

After having tested this feature and going through the settings, the first impact I can see for email marketers is that whenever working in "offline mode", spam messages are not accessible (they are not downloaded, like emails in the trash).

This might be an issue when talking about "false positives" (read here emails sent to trash although they are legitimate).

But one of the biggest issue I can foresee although I haven't made any advanced tests yet is for email openings measurement. As most of you know, Email Service Providers use a pixel displaying to measure openings of an email.

What if all the images, including the counting pixel are loaded in your browser cache?
EDIT: It doesn't seem so, since no images are displayed while you browse your emails being offline.

I guess it will take some extra hours of use before one can tell if it will really impact email direct marketing on gmail users.

I will of course keep you posted on this issue, stay tuned!

You can read more on the Gmail official blog:
Official Gmail Blog'offline Gmail Post