Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Recipe for not spamming

Why are you spamming me?

Heather's post last week has had me thinking about spam.  (and not the oh-so delicious canned processed meat kind, either.)


photo credit:  Hormel Foods via

Yesterday I ended up with 92 emails in my Junkmail folder.  I spent a little more time than normal skimming through them, trying to make sense of them all.  2 of them were false positives, which I moved back into my Inbox.  The rest were unsolicited commercial email (spam.)  Believe it or not, I have a few thoughts on the subject...

Where do they come from?  About half of them are addressed to me as ChrisB, rather than chrisb.  The only two places where I use capital letters in my name are 1.) this website, and 2.) the association of Realtors.  So I want to give a quick thank-you to the NAR, AAR, and WeMAR for passing my email address around to anyone who asks (and pays.)

What's the difference between spam and acceptable commercial emails?  (this is an important topic to me, because we send a monthly newsletter via email.)

the Time factor.  4 of the emails were very specific in saying they understand my time is valuable and they don't want to waste it.  Here's the thing:  once you write an email, it takes very little additional time to send it to multiple recipients.  Therefore email is inherently more time consuming for the recipient.

If you're asking me for 10 seconds to review your email, but you're also emailing 100,000 people, you're really asking for us to collectively give you 278 HOURS of our attention.  That's not a fair trade - we didn't ask for your product or email, and I doubt you spent 278 hours preparing your email.  So I don't believe you when you say you don't want to waste my time -  you're wasting everybody's time!

the Percentage factor.  Industry estimates for "mass email marketing" (spamming) expect success rates of a fraction of 1%, oftentimes less than one-tenth of one percent.  That means you need to send out 1,000 emails in order to have 1 person respond to you.  Therefore, 1,000 responses will require 1 million emails.  Anyone following these "laws of large numbers" is sending spam.

the Permission factor.  More than half of the spam emails I received yesterday told me that I had "opted in" to their list.  Believe me, I'm fairly savvy with this whole internet thing, and I did NOT opt in to your email list.  Just because I'm a member of the Board of Realtors, and my board reserves the right to share my information with "affiliates", does not mean that I opted in to your list.

There are some people & organizations I know of who send out thousands of emails each month, and one person who sends out over 1 million per week!  But these emails go to recipients who asked to receive them, and oftentimes look forward to receiving them.  I know from experience it takes a long time to build a list of people who trust you enough to "opt in", while it only takes a few minutes to buy a list of email addresses.  There's an even bigger difference in the results.

the Product factor.  I received emails yesterday from real estate brokerages asking me to switch companies, diet pills & programs who can help me lose weight, companies who want to enhance my sexual performance, vocational schools who assume I'm an out-of-work former Realtor, as-seen-on-tv products, people offering me quotes on insurance, cars, and loans, companies offering me various types of real estate leads, and people who want my help getting several million dollars out of their country.  (I'm sure there were others I can't remember.)

Here's the thing - if I'm in the market for your type of product, and your product, pricing, website, and testimonials are good, I'll find you.  If you have a new product that I might not have known about, and you feel the only way to let me in on your secret is to spam me (and millions of others), you need to find a better business plan.

the Offer factor.  This ties in very closely with the Percentage factor and the Product factor.  If your offer is so fantastic that you just have to send me (and millions of others) an unsolicited email, you should be getting an overwhelming response rate.  ABC product for XYZ price, plus a special bonus if I sign up today?  Come on - give us all a break and go away already.

the Reply factor.  Is the email coming from an individual person?  Even if it's from a company, there should be a human who can read your response.  If your reply or request to unsubscribe never gets read, or worse - bounces back to you as undeliverable, that's another sign of spam.

Most spammers follow the CAN-SPAM act by including an unsubscribe link.  (whether they actually unsubscribe you is another topic for another day.)  But following the act and not sending spam are apparently two different things.

My personal unsubscribe attack.  For the last couple of years I had pretty much given up on spam, using filters and my Junkmail folder as a best method for at least keeping it pretty much out of my way.  Yesterday I decided to be more aggressive at reducing the amount of spam received.  I have been unsubscribing to as many of the emails as I can.  I expect to either receive less spam over the next couple of weeks as these unsubscribes take effect, or far more spam as my email address is sold to other spammers as a "validated email address."  I'll update this post in a couple of weeks with the results.

And finally, my Recipe for not spamming.  Simple - just do the opposite of everything on this list, and you'll be ok.  Send emails to people who want to receive them.  Keep the time factor fair - remember that one-to-one it takes longer to write an email than to read one, but sending out large numbers tips the time factor the other way.  Send emails personally, and be willing & able to respond to every person who writes back.  Let it all simmer together, then sit back and enjoy.

Seems so easy, right?  duh.

Your tummy aches from digesting so much spam Realtor,

Chris Butterworth