Email marketing – this really isn’t helpful

We are always busy with email marketing campaigns for our clients in the build up to Christmas.  Despite that fact that we only ever work with responsible companies sending email in line with all good practice and legislation with respect to privacy and unsolicited email, it’s become harder and harder in recent years to maintain successful delivery rates.

Judging by my own spam filters (we mainly use Postini), the percentage of false positives is increasing as providers try ever more exotic tricks to separate spam from acceptable mail.  Still, that’s our business – helping clients to get their message through.

Two things came up this Christmas that drove me even closer than usual to taking the seasonal sherry overdose …

First, Google implemented another of it’s ‘helpful’ changes. For gmail users, they now download a cached copy of any images included with a message and serve those to the recipient without asking for permission. That’s maybe a benefit to the recipient as they no longer have to authorise images to display, and those images are apparently scanned for viruses and other nasties. The downside, is that images are widely used in such emails to track whether emails have been opened. That will no longer work for mail to gmail addresses, causing a major headache for companies and organisations trying to manage communications with their target audiences. And guess what, part of the solution is to use a Google product (Analytics). It’s funny how often that’s the case with Google’s kindly and selfless changes to help users. Just look at how they’re eliminating from Analytics the search keywords used to find your site. That major hindrance to website owners is apparently driven by confidentiality issues. But, for some reason, confidentiality isn’t such an issue if you used the commercial Google Adwords system as you can then have access to all that data no problem.

The second major irritation this season is the number of people (almost all of them hotmail users, interestingly) who entered one of our client’s competition to win a very nice prize in return for permission to send them occasional emails and then reported the quarterly email newsletter they eventually received as abuse! The email came from the same organisation, so no evil sharing was involved. It contained a clear statement of why they had received the message, and had a clear and functional unsubscription link. So, instead of unsubscribing (disappointing but fair enough) they hit the ‘abuse’ button.  That has caused us to waste an hour manually cutting and pasting the addresses from the messages received by our ISP into the suppression system, and damages our ‘reputation’ score and hence affects future delivery rates. This is a family blog, so I’ll simply call them “time wasters”.  Can’t help but wonder if there is something about the hotmail interface that confuses users and makes them more likely to hit ‘report abuse’ when they really mean just to unsubscribe. Checking the list, all the addresses are from the Microsoft stable –  hotmail, msn, live.co.uk.