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Spam Costs Everybody




Direct E-mail Marketing:
Do's, Don'ts, Tips, Tricks, and Traps

Business Constructions by Artvilleby Suresh Ramasubramanian

All right, you have this great product to sell, and you've got yourself a spanking new Web site to sell it. Now, you sit back and wait for the orders to pour in...

To your great surprise, the only people to even peek at your site are you, your family, and a couple of your friends. Now that you have spent time and money to get your Web site, you naturally expect some return on your investment. So, you decide you have to market your site and let the world know all about it.

  • Why is your site unique? Take out your pen (or keyboard) and write down why people should visit your site. Use the AIDA (Attention, Information, Desire, Action) technique to cover all of your bases.
  • Where and how to publicize your site: Choose a segment of readers and target it, using an attractive pitch. Find Web sites and newsletters that target your audience and trade links or ads; join feedback forums (discreetly); and subscribe to mailing lists and newsgroups that cover your area of interest.
  • Sign your work: Develop a short, sweet, polite signature to use on the Web that lets readers know who you are and what you do.
  • Press releases and search engines: Send press releases to interested newspapers and other publications; submit your site to search engines.
  • It's not Spamtastic: E-mail can be great, but avoid (like the plague) sending unsolicited, unwanted e-mail in an effort to attract business.

letters, russel thornton artvilleThe first step is to start thinking of what you feel is unique about your site and put it in writing. Why would people want to visit your site and not any of the dozens of other sites your competitors have put up? A marketer would call this your USP (Unique Selling Proposition).

Work the entire thing into a short, clear note, preferably less than a page in length. If you feel something has to be covered in greater detail, include a link to an appropriate page on your Web site.

When writing, use what's called the AIDA strategy.

  • Attention: The first part of your write-up grabs the readers' attention.
  • Information: The second part gives them information.
  • Desire: The third part makes them desire your product.
  • Action: The fourth part spurs them to action making them reach for their credit card and buy your product.

Now, you've reached the halfway stage: You have a product to sell, a Web site to promote it, and a fantastic write-up. The next half of the marketing process is to find out where and how to publicize your site.

letters, russel thornton artvilleSegment, target, and fire!

Use the STP process: Segmentation, Targeting, and Positioning. This is, in essence, a simple concept.

  1. Divide and conquer: Divide the people you can reach into segments based on various criteria (say, employed women between 25 and 35 who live in your city's suburbs).
  2. Segment and Target: Decide which segments are likely to be interested in buying your product. Target your promotions to these segments, concentrating your efforts on them.
  3. Make your pitch attractive: Position your product so it is attractive to these segments. This means you have to customize your presentation to make sure it will appeal to the target audience. For details, read the brilliant book Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout, the originators of this concept.
  4. Trade links and ads: Find other Web sites and opt-in e-mail newsletters and see if you can trade links or e-mail newsletter ads. This can be the single most effective thing you can do if you find sites and lists that are focused to people who will be interested in your products or services.
  5. Talk back: Maintain a feedback form and a "tell a friend" form on your site, encouraging visitors to send in comments and tell friends about your site. Include some freebies to attract your user (say a mouse pad or a 10% discount for the best comment you receive).

    Make sure you it's clear to people that they're signing p for your list. Make sure to include a clear privacy policy, even something as short as, "We never share your name or e-mail address with anyone." If you do share or sell your lists, include a checkbox that allows visitors to say they don't want any promotional mail from anyone else.

    letters, russel thornton artvilleDon't send e-mail to people who haven't asked for it. That's called Spam, and it can do you more harm than good. Ignore the Spam  you get offering to sell you a million e-mail names for $20—just take a $20 bill and light it with a match. That will probably do you less harm.
  6. Get on the Liszt: Now, start identifying the various mailing lists and newsgroups that are relevant to your site and are usually read by your target audience. Liszt  is a great search engine for mailing lists and DejaNews for newsgroups. Subscribe to the most popular ones, sit tight, and read them for a while, till you understand what's going on. Don't post anything as yet.

Once you get the drift of what's going on, post a short note to these lists (one at a time, don't cc your mail to half a dozen lists and newsgroups).

Be very tactful about this, or you'll be flamed so bad hell will seem like an air-conditioned hotel room with a tray of chilled martinis by comparison. You might want to check with the list administrator about whether your post is legit or not.

For example, it's not a good idea to say: "Great new site!!! 10% Discount!!! Buy Now!!! ... blah blah."

letters, russel thornton artvilleAt the same time, it's perfectly legitimate for you to reply to a query posted on the list, answering the question in brief and adding, "See my Web page at for more details."

In fact, this is more likely to attract people to your site because people then realize that you know what you're talking about and that you are not just some idiot of a marketroid—the sort who rings you up when you're having dinner.

  1. Getting Siggy with it. Include your Web site address and a note about your site in a short signature on each post (most mail clients allow you to set your signature). If you can, keep your signature to under four lines.

    For example, my e-mail signature reads something like:

Suresh Ramasubramanian     President, CAUCE India Stopping Spam In India
Speech isn't free when it comes postage due

  1. letters, russel thornton artvillePress release me: Get the public contact e-mail addresses of the newspapers and journals that your target audience is likely to read. As you should know your target audience rather well by now, this won't be too hard (you'll probably read them yourself). These addresses will be listed on the newspaper's Web site and/or mentioned in the newspapers. (Learn more about creating an effective press release)

Mail them a press release and place an ad in one or two of the most popular ones, as some of them are likely to mention your site somewhere after the obituaries or even ignore it.

Remember that reporters already get dozens of these notifications every day, and are likely to trash your mail if you don't grab their attention in the first few lines. Use AIDA and customize your write-up as much as possible, keeping in mind the paper's target audience.

  1. Start your search engine: Submit your site to the various search engines and "Free Ads" sites, and make sure your Web pages have sufficient meta tags to ensure the search engines will pick it up and index it properly. The best ones are Yahoo, Alta Vista, Google, Lycos , Fast, and the Netscape Open Directory <>. If there is a speciality portal (one that exclusively lists sites such as yours), then definitely submit your site to it.

This should start things moving. If it doesn't, don't take the easy route and buy a "marketing set" (a bulk mail program and a CD full of addresses). Spammers use these and quite often sell it to gullible marketers.

letters, russel thornton artvilleIt's not Spamtastic

OK, I mentioned Spam, and I'll go a bit deeper on this one. At every stage of your marketing career, you are likely to be faced with a Hamletian question--"To Spam or not to Spam, that's the question.''

What's Spam?  Spam is unsolicited e-mail, the on-line equivalent of the junk mail that keeps arriving in your postal mailbox. Sadly, it is much more damaging than postal mail--and can be the end of your career as a marketer.

Unsolicited e-mail?  That is, mail I have not asked for?  But that means my long, lost girlfriend cannot mail me out of the blue, asking me to marry her!!!

Oh, OK, let me clarify. Spam is unsolicited, unwanted e-mail, frequently sent in bulk quantities and advertising some commercial proposition. A major part of the Spam you probably get, and what this article deals with, is BUCE (Bulk Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail).

So, your girlfriend is welcome to mail you, asking you to marry her. What she cannot do is mail you (and hundreds of others who don't know her from Adam) advertising her Web site/product/get rich scheme.

Spam is illegal in several American states, including Washington and Virginia. In fact, you can be sued in small claims court by residents of these states who have received unsolicited mail from you. See for more.

Others will complain to your ISP and Web host, who will delete your Web site, disconnect your dial-up line, and delete any mailbox you might have mentioned in the Spam. They might even fine you anywhere from $20 to $2,000 for Spamming. To learn more, just visit your ISP's Web site and look for a page that says "Terms of Service" or "Acceptable Use Policy."

Of course, you might, by now, be putting on an injured expression and saying "I'm not a Spammer. I'm a legitimate marketer promoting a legitimate product." Put yourself in the shoes of whomever is receiving your mail and paying his ISP for the privilege of doing so.

By now, you must have gotten dozens of offers from "marketing companies" that offer to promote your site by sending bulk e-mail or try to sell you do-it-yourself promotion kits (a CD full of addresses and a bulk mailing program).

Don't ever respond to them, and complain to their ISPs if you can (see for a cool automated tool for reporting Spammers).

In particular, watch out for programs such as "Desktop Server,'' "Atomic Harvester,'' "Cybercreek Avalanche," and "Diffondi Cool," or anything similar, an ad for which arrives in a Spam/junk mail and claims instant, fantastic results.

It will all sound too good to be true--and generally is not true. A rather comprehensive list can be found at .

Using these programs will get you a torrent of complaints, accusing you of Spamming and perhaps someone with more technical skills than ethics may hack into your Web site and redirect it to a smut site, or just crash it.

letters, russel thornton artvilleDon't send your ads "Postage Due"

Sending Spam is not like sending your ads by post. Let's see why Spam is evil. As my signature says, "Speech is not free when it's sent postage due"--a quote from the late Jim Nitchals, one of the first warriors in the fight against Spam.

When the postal carrier delivers your mail, you are quite often greeted with several ads sent by various companies (from the sleazy operators who send "Fill in this puzzle and get a camera" to megacorps such as Amway and Reader's Digest ). There is also the chain mail stuff , such as "Say 20 Hail Marys and send 20 copies of this letter to your friends.''

Fair enough, this direct marketing is just a mild annoyance, and besides, they are paying the postal department, not you. All you have to do is throw it into the trash, tearing it into little bits if you are sufficiently irritated.

Now, suppose you got all of this junk mail postage due and were forced to pay the postal carrier out of your own pocket for the privilege of receiving this junk? Or you got five-page ads on your office fax or telemarketers called you on your cell phone? Right--you wouldn't be all that amused.

Now that almost everyone has at least a hotmail account, the same problem has moved to e-mail but magnified several times. Junk e-mail (or Spam) is a huge problem throughout the Internet.

According to an informal survey of several major ISPs, most said that more than 30% of the e-mail reaching their users was Spam. Thus, they had to invest thousands of dollars in more powerful hardware and extra bandwidth and had to take on additional staff to deal with Spam complaints. All of these extra costs were ultimately passed on to the customers, none of whom had asked to receive the Spam in the first place.

Read more about how Spam costs everybody.


letters, russel thornton artvilleAbout the author

Suresh Ramasubramanian is President of the Indian chapter of CAUCE --an international organization of people dedicated to fighting Spam. He is Webmaster and list administrator of K-Circle, one of India's oldest trivia quiz societies.

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