Originally Published at Practical eCommerce
It seems that every time we read about potential legislation against SPAM, we get flooded with more emails alerting us to unbelievable mortgage rates and a better life. With ever-growing SPAM practices it’s no wonder so many Internet users use filtering services. Without them, failure to check email accounts for even a few days could result in mail returns to the sender, due to full mailboxes. If you’re just an Internet user, it’s not a big deal. But in business, the standard practices could be costing you more money than scanning spam messages yourself.
You may think it’s not a serious issue, but you need to be careful about using anti-spam services that require human interaction. Sure, it does a better job on filtering out the junk, and gives you peace of mind that the majority of incoming messages are legitimate. It also puts too high of an expectation on potential customers. There’s nothing like placing an order and having to confirm yourself just so the company from which you purchased can get a copy of the order confirmation. What’s worse is getting a Mail Delivery Failure in return, due to a full mailbox.
I’ve always known that following the way of users who spend most of their time surfing sites like YouTube.com and MySpace.com was not good for business. Last month I realized just how imperative it is to use more logical tactics when it comes to combatting unwanted emails.
My company has a mailing list, and emails of tips and other info are sent nearly weekly. I decided to put my theories to the test and we analyzed, over several months, return rates and reasons for returns. Keep in mind that the majority of subscribers are online store owners and staff.
On average nearly 11% of emails were returned for one of two reasons:
- We needed to manually verify ourselves via an anti-spam service so the subscriber could receive our message;
- We received a Mail Failure message, stating recipient’s mailbox was full.
My first thought was that most people who had signed up for the list used a non-store email address (one customers don’t see on any store pages), but that was putting too much faith into logic. I was soon proved wrong, as we found that of the 11% of messages returned for the reasons above, a whopping 52% were addressed to email addresses either listed on the stores’ contact pages, or were logically the same address used to send and receive order confirmations and follow ups (sales@, orders@, customerservice@).
Yes, we spent several hours actually visiting sites. It’s one of the many things I do as a means to statistically determine what works and what doesn’t.
Based on research from the past mailings, the return messages fell into one of three groups. I list them here, along with advice.
- Non-spam verification: Customers have to click a link and enter text to be approved senders. You should never use anti-spam filtering services on any email addresses your customers will use to contact you. This includes order confirmation emails, wish lists, account sign up messages, mailing list sign up verifications, or anything that actually shoots a message to you from the customer’s email address. Don’t use these services on any email address you provide to customers or business prospects.
- Over Quota: Your Mailbox is Full. If people are getting mail returns due to company mailboxes being full, you’re losing potential customers. Many shoppers won’t understand the message and will think you no longer exist. Circumvent this by at least tripling the allotted disk space for such email addresses. If you’re email account carries a quota of 20 MB, set to 60 MB. Some hosts allow you to configure this so long as you don’t go over space allocated for the entire domain; others may charge nominal fees. Either way, it’s an important effort to make.
- Auto-Replies: Customers receive an auto-reply, stating you are out of town. I know, you’re thinking that it makes sense to tell people when you’re unavailable, so they’ll at least know to expect a delay. While you should notify customers if there will be any delays in order processing and shipments, this should be noted both on the store pages (before they checkout completely and on the invoice screen) and in the order confirmation email. Keep in mind that the customer does not physically send an order confirmation to you – it is automatically sent by the system, and thus, the customer should not receive auto-reply emails to messages they never sent you themselves. Also note that auto-replies can backfire. If your mail server is auto-replying to spam that also returns back an auto-reply or mail return, the mail server could wind up running an endless loop. That’s enough to bog down anyone on that particular server. I’m sorry, but even if you’re a one-man shop, you need to make the effort to check in on any important emails even while out of town. If you simply won’t be available, consider designating this vital task to someone you trust.
Since many online store owners also purchase from other online stores, it only makes sense to follow these same practices for your other email addresses. Relying on companies to catch all “approval link requests” for anti-spam filtering could wind up with you never getting a record of an order you’ve placed.
Arrrgghhhh! So how do I control all this spam? That’s a great question, and there are various software packages that can help – I use Cloudmark, which relies on user ratings as a basis to flag messages rather than “robots”, which commonly flag legitimate email. It won’t leave your inbox as clean as the manual approval filtering services, but it just might let that top-dollar sales inquiry reach you just fine.
Online businesses need to realize that sometimes complete automation isn’t the best method. When it comes to handling email, the time involved weeding out unwanted messages can result in “caught” sales potential, which can ultimately outweigh the cheaper route of requiring verifications, shooting out auto-replies and going the cheap route on restrictive mailbox sizes.
This entry first appeared at Practical eCommerce