Your Email Is in the New Black Hole

Remember that last email you sent — your marketing message or your newsletter?

Your subscribers at AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo, Excite, or MSN may not remember it. Even worse, they may never have gotten it — not because you are a spammer, but because you send more than the average volume of email.

What’s average? This interpretation varies from provider to provider, but the amount of mail you send per hour may be resulting in your exile to the emerging email black hole. These volume filters may be an obvious way to fight spam, but they’re also beginning to have an effect on affiliate marketers.

Since these filters have been installed, it’s become difficult to determine whether your email ever arrives, which is a huge problem for affiliates who use email as the focal point of their marketing.

As the ISPs see it, if you want to stop a huge flow you need to put up a dam. When it comes to email, creating that dam involves checking:

The sender line

The sender email address

The IP address

The volume level per hour and per day
Once the ISP sets an acceptable volume per sender, anything over that level is set aside. Ways around these blocks exist, but most folks don’t know about them (and they are generally illegal).

Although it works for the ISPs, volume filtering threatens your efforts. After all, if you can only deliver 2,500 messages a day to Excite and your list has 25,000 Excite addresses, it might take you 10 days to deliver your message. You might as well put it in the mail!

Fewer emails are getting through, open rates are dropping dramatically, and you are not in control. Many marketers are questioning whether it’s worth sending AOL users email at all, because you have no idea if it goes through and likely never will.

One thing you know for sure: AOL doesn’t care if it ever gets there. Why should it?

Email Filtering Goes Way Beyond Text

It makes sense that ISPs are looking beyond text-based filters, because using them to stop spam is an endless game. As I wrote about in an earlier article, spam filters that use text are everywhere, and their numbers are increasing daily. But smart email spammers can outwit text filters. Anything your filtering program can do, someone can likely do better. It’s the nature of software. Code always has some hole a smart programmer can figure out.

But filtering for volume is much simpler and almost impossible to combat. It’s unlikely an individual would send more than 25 messages an hour. However, it’s very likely a professional email marketer or email newsletter publisher will deliver thousands of messages an hour.

When a volume filter blocks an email, you often don’t really know what happens. It all depends on how the network receiving the mail has set up its system. In many cases, the email is not bounced back, and you assume it went through — but you have no proof. You will never know if that email got to its destination. Sometimes it is just cast aside; other times it is put in a queue and delivered over a longer period of time.

Volume filters are also sporadic, because they react to changes in incoming traffic. The more messages that come in, the more that get caught in the volume filter. This is why messages sometimes get through to the major providers, such as AOL, Hotmail, MSN, and Yahoo, and sometimes don’t. It all depends on timing, volume, and when these filters are at their most vigilant.

What to Do

Email is cheap and has become a commodity — an oft-abused commodity. If you send email, you are in the battle whether you like it or not. Here are a few suggestions for fighting the volume wars:

Send fewer emails. If you have big lists, remove people who never open your email. Most marketers are lucky to get 10 percent open rates. That means 90 percent of the list consistently ignores the message. Why send them email?

Qualify users and break down your lists into smaller groups. Marketers should create lists of prospects, buyers, and multiple buyers. The last two lists will be far smaller, and far more valuable, than the first.

Mix up your lists so that they contain addresses from different providers. Never send to lists with only one provider, such as AOL, or you will definitely be blocked.

You can contact the providers, but don’t expect much. AOL has no incentive to let your email in. Who does?

Treat email like search engine positioning; it’s a game that changes monthly, as providers react and email marketers adapt. It’s a game of vigilance.

If you buy lists, even from the most reputable companies, beware. Though some may say they have deals in place to get their email through, it doesn’t always matter. I have a friend on AOL’s white list for approved email providers, and his email does not get through consistently.

Put your own AOL, Hotmail, MSN, and Yahoo addresses on your email list and check to see whether the messages get there or are filtered.
In the end, you can’t let these filters cripple your efforts, but you have to be aware of the effect they are having. What’s occurring is part of a natural evolution of direct marketing online, as email lists of 50 million names are being replaced by smaller, targeted sets of email lists that are more valuable.

When it comes to email, less is more. In the end, this will make email better.

By Declan Dunn, The ClickZ Network

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