the markITeer

Archive for the ‘spam’ Category

Email and/or RSS?

Posted by the markITeer on July 12, 2007

Since a couple of months I’m systematically unsubscribing myself from email newsletters and subscribing to the RSS feed equivalent. I just couldn’t handle the massive amount of newsletters any more. It cluttered my inbox, drowned the important messages. My ideal scenario? Using e-mail for personal messages and RSS for all the rest.

However, being an email marketeer myself since quite some years, I was kind of shocked by my own actions. Could it be that RSS is replacing email after all? Is email marketing dead?

It’s in fact a very old discussion on the net. Back in 2004, at the dawn of RSS, RSS believers where quick to bury email alive, waving the spam-flag to prove their point. Email defenders answered with the email’s ease of use and personalization possibilities. It was an endless yes/no game stuck in the same arguments over and over again. Luckily the discussion faded and RSS and email believers alike came to believe that both technologies can peacefully co-exist and complement each-other in the marketing mix.

It took however till the wide-spread adoption of web 2.0 in 2006 for RSS to become a real mature medium of content delivery. Google launched its online RSS reader, blogs made the number of feeds sky-rocket and widgets offered all new possibilities.

So where are we now? Can RSS and email peacefully co-exist? Or is RSS becoming an email killer after-all?

Starting from the great comparison table between email and RSS Alex Barnett put together back in 2004, I created a new, up-to-date, version showing both mediums’ strengths and weaknesses from a marketeer’s and customer’s point of view, and added some remarks:

Remarks

(1) Email has proven a to be great tool for creating a personalized, 1-to-1 feel in mass communication, going from simple personalized salutation to Amazon-like delivery of personalized content. RSS on the other hand is currently mostly used for non-personalized content delivery. With RSS, you can choose the feeds you want to subscribe too, but that’s as far as it goes. The upside for the consumer is that because content isn’t personalized, and because RSS doesn’t require you to give any personal information to subscribe (as opposed to the email address for email marketing), the consumer can see the content without giving away any sensitive data. As soon as the content has to be personalized, the consumer would have to reveal himself. Strangely enough, this is an option that is almost never considered: You could offer the RSS feed subscriber the option to receive personalized content via RSS if he makes himself known. In that case the subscriber would receive a personal RSS feed URL with personalized content, and would he be able to get the best of both worlds.

(2) The viral effect of email has enormous potential. It is very easy for a recipient to add some comments and forward the email. The viral effect of RSS on the other hand was long time a problem. Web 2.0 did however solve this by embracing RSS as a means of content sharing between different social networks like digg.com or del.icio.us. People can comment on stories they received via RSS, add them to their online bookmarks which in their turn can be shared with other people and so on. Feedburner (Google-owned) is one of the big players in this field. It allows you to easily offer your feeds in RSS format and to have your stories submitted to a number of social networking sites. Interesting is that it also allows you to receive new content via email (e.g. the email subscribe link on the right)!

(3) Email marketeers can rely on a set of tools to track the behavior of the email recipients. Click-through, opened and bounce ratios, opt-ins and opt-outs, ROI, … they can all be measured because the consumer has had to make himself known in order to receive the content: he had to give his email address. And this allows the email sender to track all actions back to you, the recipient. Because with RSS the consumer doesn’t have to give any personal information, statistics are less detailed. Unless of course you could convince the consumer to subscribe to a personalized feed (see (1))…

(4) This is one of the major draw-backs of RSS content gathering. Email is much easier to search and archive. Most RSS readers only allow archiving of entire feeds, and for example Google (how strange sounds this?) doesn’t offer a search functionality to search all your subscriptions in its RSS reader (although there is a workaround available).

(5) This is however changing rapidly.

Conclusion

What was true in 2004 looks to be truer still. RSS and email have become two full-blown communication channels that can (and must) exist next to each other. It’s up to the marketeers to adapt to this reality and figure out how they can integrate both channels in their marketing mix.

Personally, I have a couple of rules I follow when I decide whether or not to keep an email newsletter subscription:

  • If the newsletter content and RSS feed content are identical, I go for the RSS feed
  • If the newsletter is highly personalized (and I don’t mean just the salutation), I keep my newsletter subscription. If one day however the personalized version of the newsletter would be available through RSS, I might still make the switch.
  • If the content of the newsletter is highly time-sensitive, I keep the newsletter subscription. RSS feeds have a lower priority than my email inbox.
  • If the email newsletter offers extras compared to the RSS feed, I keep the newsletter subscription.
  • If the email newsletter offers a clever aggregation of website content, I sometimes keep the newsletter subscription.
  • If the email newsletter offers content that is just sporadically interesting and there is no RSS feed, I unsubscribe. I would still rather subscribe to a RSS feed that delivers only once in while an interesting post between a bunch of uninteresting stuff, than to a newsletter offering the same content.

I guess it once again comes down to delivering the right content through the right channel. And RSS turned out to be a channel indeed.

Posted in spam, walking the walk, Web 2.0 | Leave a Comment »

(un)defining spam

Posted by the markITeer on June 1, 2007

Each workshop on e-mail marketing and spam, I start with a seemingly simple question: “What is spam?”.
This is how it mostly goes:

[markITeer]: Does anybody know what spam is?
[John]: Of course: emails I don’t want to receive.
[markITeer]: So if your best friend sends you an email that you didn’t want to receive, it’s spam?
[John]: no… spam is about emails I don’t want to receive from people I don’t know
[markITeer]: So if a friend of your best friend sends you that same email, mentioning your best friend as a reference, you would consider it spam?
[John] hmmm… no….
[Tom] I think I would
[Lydia] Doesn’t spam always have some commercial message?
[markITeer]: So spam is a commercial email you don’t want from somebody you don’t know? Suppose you were looking for a new car six months ago and you received an incredible offer for the car of your dreams from a garage in your town (someone you didn’t know personally). Then according to this definition it might not be spam. But if you would receive that same email now, after you bought your dream car, it would be?
[Lydia]: hmmm… maybe… I don’t know.
[Tom]: Couldn’t you say that spam always involves large volume sendings?
[markITeer]: So you judge an e-mail you receive by how many people received it?
[Tom]: hmmm… no
-silence-
[markITeer]: Anybody?

And that’s why spam filters will never be perfect…

Posted in conversations, spam, that's why | Leave a Comment »

Why images don’t show in e-mails

Posted by the markITeer on May 22, 2007

Ever wondered why you receive all your emails without the images?
If you’re using MS Outlook, Google Mail, Windows Live Hotmail or any of the quadrillion other email readers that suppress images, chances are you did.

The reason behind this phenomenon is to protect you against spammers: By using the images in (HTML) e-mails, spammers can figure out if your email address is valid!

So how does it work?

When sending out HTML e-mails (ie emails containing layout code, images etc.), only the text and layout are sent while the images are kept on a web server. Only when the recipient opens the email and requests to see the images, the images are loaded from the web server.

This has the advantage that images must only be sent to people requesting to see them, and the requests are spread over time, thus optimizing the bandwith usage. But more important: when the images are requested from the web server, the request can be logged! This way the sender knows which email addresses have requested the images, and hence which email addresses are valid!

In a nice picture this is what happens:

This system is used by spammers as well as legitimate email marketeers: Spammers use it to identify which email addresses are valid so they know which addresses they can use again (and again and again… 🙂 ), while self-respecting email marketeers use it to calculate their open rates.
But in the heat of the spam battle, email marketeers had to give in and images were suppressed by all major email applications, resulting in much less trusty open rates (and email marketeer’s headaches)…

There are however a few things email marketeers can do to deal with the issue:

  • try to get listed in the address book of the recipient. Senders who are in the address book are automatically ‘white-listed’ and the images will always show!
  • add a ‘view email online’ link to an online version of the email
  • include alt tags for your images describing your images
  • use text-based ads
  • focus on click-through rates and conversion rates

for more tips: check out the EmailGarage website

Posted in spam, that's why | 3 Comments »