Author Archives: Jim Morton

About Jim Morton

I am a Marketing Communications specialist working in the field of email marketing technology. My goal is to make email easier, friendlier, and genuinely useful. Death to spam!

The Hidden Costs of Cloud Services

Azure and Email Marketing
Have you considered moving computer workloads to the cloud? You probably have. In the studies we’ve seen, over 90% of companies are now using cloud computing services.1 If you are considering moving your infrastructure to Amazon Web Service (AWS), or Azure, or some other cloud computing service, there are a few things you should know before taking the plunge. We’ll look at these potential pitfalls and give you the information you’ll need to make an informed decision.

Moving to Azure: A Case Study

Recently, a customer decided to move their databases from a managed IT provider to Microsoft’s Azure. They had a large, home-grown CRM-style database to move, plus several more databases that we helped manage for their email marketing purposes. They carefully studied the Azure website to determine which package would meet their needs, and how the cost compared to that of their current provider. They concluded it would be cheaper and more reliable to switch to Azure. However, things didn’t go as planned.

The first question everyone asks is how much will it cost, but that’s difficult to estimate. Even careful scrutiny of the configuration pricing using Azure or AWS won’t necessarily answer this question. When you buy a server from Dell or others, many factors determine the performance, but the cost is relatively upfront. The speed and number of cores determines the base speed and how much RAM can have a significant impact. In the case of a database server, the speed and size of the storage system is critical. There are other factors but these are the main considerations. It’s a relatively straightforward process.

Compare that with the purchase of a cloud database. For Azure, you start by determining if you want a managed instance, an Elastic Pool, or a single database. Go down the route of a managed instance, and you choose from Windows Virtual Machines, SQL Database Managed Instance, or a SQL Server virtual machine. The Elastic Pool is closest to owning your own server that hosts multiple databases and that pricing path has you choose between the vCore (virtual core) and the Database Transaction Unit (DTU) model. Choosing the DTU model has you then select your elastic Database Transaction Units (eDTUs) per pool, which determines the per-hour pricing. But what is an elastic Database Transaction Unit, and how many units do you need for a viable database? Microsoft defines a DTU as “…a blended measure of CPU, memory, and data I/O and transaction log I/O in a ratio determined by an OLTP benchmark workload designed to be typical of real-world OLTP workloads,” but they provide little information on how these factors are “blended” or the specifications of the OLTP numbers used. Microsoft does offer a DTU calculator, but it involves running either a Command Line Utility or a PowerShell script to capture CPU and IOPS at the server level and create a CSV file, which is then uploaded to the Azure website.

It’s also tricky to verify that the configuration you’ve chosen will actually work. The customer initially picked a mix of a single vCore and the other databases in an Elastic Pool. However, they learned later that this setup does not allow SQL jobs to run or cross-database joins, things that their current database allowed and were fundamental to their design. There were also resource limits that Azure imposed that caught them by surprise. An estimated nine-hour overnight transfer of the data ended up taking thirty hours because of Azure-imposed resource limits.

Azure vs. AWS

Although Microsoft’s Azure cloud offering is growing in popularity, Amazon’s AWS is still the market leader. How would you estimate the costs for their system? To us, AWS pricing seems more straightforward than Microsoft’s. You still get these cryptic descriptions like db.m5.xlarge and db.r5.8xlarge that you must individually look up, but when you do, the abbreviation stands for a computer with a certain number of cores running at a specific speed, and an amount of RAM. Much more like what you get when buying your own computer. You must also estimate costs for data transfers and database and backup storage, which can be hard to determine.

The customer ran into several issues in attempting to migrate their databases to Azure that further increased their costs, but once they worked through those technical issues the migration was performed overnight. However, when they brought their systems back online the next day, they found the performance was unacceptably slow. They rolled back to their existing managed provider and looked over the website pricing options again. With their increased knowledge of the requirements, they recalculated the monthly pricing. Now they estimated a figure that was twelve times their initial cost!

Needless to say, this was unacceptable, so they’ve stayed with their current managed provider. But how could the price be so far off? We looked over the options they had initially selected. In our opinion, the eDTUs for the Azure DTU model was a bit low, but not unreasonably so. It’s easy to see how someone performing a diligent and thoughtful analysis of the pricing could come up with this price.

If you’re considering moving your infrastructure to the cloud, you need to be aware that the benefits don’t always outweigh the costs. Goolara’s Symphonie email marketing solution can use a database hosted by a cloud provider, or with AWS, the entire system can be installed on their computers. If you are considering a cloud provider for your database or entire email marketing system, contact us, and we’ll be happy to help you estimate the costs.

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1. According to Flexera’s 2020 State of the Cloud Report.

© Goolara, LLC, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Goolara, LLC and the Goolara Blog with appropriate and specific directions (i.e., links) to the original content.

The Techniques Behind Mail Client Unsubscribe Links

Unsubscribe
Of course, we’d all rather have no unsubscribes from our painstakingly crafted newsletters and promotional mailings, but you can’t please everyone, and having a recipient unsubscribe is vastly superior to having them mark your email as spam. In 2014, Google caused some furor in the Email marketing community when they announced the addition of an unsubscribe link that appears at the top of the email content. A few years down the road, we can see that the angst of many marketers was unfounded. Gmail wasn’t even the first email client to offer an automatic unsubscribe link. Microsoft started offering unsubscribe and block features in Outlook as early as 2010. We did some research, looking at a large collection of emails we’ve received to determine what criteria caused the ISP to show the unsubscribe link. There were inconsistent results, but one of the most significant factors is the List-Unsubscribe header.

List-Unsubscribe

One thing that should be included in your mailing—and is automatically inserted by most ESPs—is the List-Unsubscribe header. This provides a web link and/or a mailto address to use for automated unsubscribes. To see if your mailings have this, look at the header information, either by choosing to see the header or, in Gmail by choosing “Show original.”  In some cases, you’ll see this line followed by a “List-Unsubscribe-Post” line, which may contain the command: “List-Unsubscribe=One-Click” to further facilitate the unsubscribe.

In our research, most of the cases where the ISP showed the unsubscribe link the email included the List-Unsubscribe header. Since this is the main mechanism to provide an automated unsubscribe ability, it is unclear how Google and the other ISPs are determining the unsubscribe link when the header is missing, but we have seen some cases where this was done.

Using “Via” Sends

When the ISP displays that your domain is “via” some other domain, it generally means that you do not have your SPF records configured correctly. If your email is “via” another domain, there’s a good chance the unsubscribe link won’t appear. Take a look at these two From addresses:

direct domain

via domain

The mailing that was sent from the How-To Geek’s primary domain (howtogeek.com) has the unsubscribe link, while the mailings sent using a different domain (reviewgeek.com via howtogeek.com) does not. In our research, we found that none of the mailings sent via other domain addresses appeared with the unsubscribe links.

The Link’s Reputation Score

You can do everything right and still not have the unsubscribe link appear. In our research we were surprised to find many valid senders that didn’t have the ISP’s unsubscribe link. It wouldn’t make Google or some other ISP look good if the unsubscribe link they offered instead went to a phishing page. Email recipients should have confidence that clicking the link will be safe, but how does the ISP determine if the link provided as the List-Unsubscribe is valid? The answer is by using the same basic algorithms they have already applied to your sending to determine if the recipients want your email (your email Reputation score).

When the link does not appear, it is usually for one of these three reasons:

  1. The sender does not send enough email out to create a usable profile
  2. There is a problem with the sender’s IP information
  3. The sender is a known spammer.

If it’s the first, the problem should disappear as your email sending rates increase. If it’s the second, you may have some erroneous information in your setup. As for the third, it needs no explanation.

The World of Apple

Not surprisingly, Apple has created its own version of the unsubscribe button. On iPhones and iPads, these appear in the Mail program like this:

Apple unsubscribe

The Apple unsub link appears to be intended to make it easy to unsubscribe from newsletters and other list-based mailings. The Apple unsub link is not contingent on the sender’s reputation score, so you may get the unsubscribe notice on the iPhone, but not in Gmail on the desktop. As with the Gmail unsubscribe link, figuring out why and when it appears is difficult. The wording of the message suggests that it appears when it recognizes that an email has come from a mailing list, but we see plenty of emails that unquestionably are sent from email lists that don’t include this link.

Email Apps

Email apps handle things slightly differently again. In the Gmail and Yahoo apps, you’ll find unsubscribe as one of the choices in the “more options” menus.1 It won’t appear if your unsubscribe process uses a preferences menu or requires the subscriber to re-enter their email address.

Conclusion

Determining the conditions which will cause your email to appear in the ISP’s unsubscribe link can appear a bit arbitrary or illogical. The most important thing is to make sure you have the List-Unsubscribe header, and that the link works properly. Beyond that it appears to mostly be an issue of your good email reputation score, which is significant for many other reasons as well. Allowing recipients an easy way to stop receiving email they don’t want will help ensure good deliverability to the remaining engaged recipients.

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1. Unlike the hamburger menu, which everyone agrees on, this menu goes by several names. Apple prefers to call it the “more options” menu, while on Android it’s the “overflow” menu. Some sources call it the “meatball” menu, while others refer to it as the “dumpling” menu. Still, others go for the most literal description of the menu, referring to it as the “ellipsis” or “three-dot” menu.

© Goolara, LLC, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Goolara, LLC and the Goolara Blog with appropriate and specific directions (i.e., links) to the original content.

Our ESP has been hacked!

I've been hacked
We recently had a customer come to us to say their account had been hacked, and spam email was being sent from our system. We immediately investigated but were unable to find any sign of problems. The customer insisted the emails they had received were coming from our system because the “From” address was their email marketing address. In fact, their account hadn’t been hacked at all. It was just another example of scammers taking advantage of the “Friendly From” name in an attempt to fool readers into thinking an email was from someone else.

We’ve all received those emails that claim to have been sent by WalMart, Chase Bank, FedEx, and others. They’re annoying enough already, but they become intolerable when the company being spoofed is your own.

Scammers will copy the identifying elements from a sender’s mailings, such as the design and logo, in an attempt to convince readers that the email came from the legitimate company. But how can you recognize this, and what can be done about it?

Prevention

When email was created in the early 1970s, the designers had no idea how popular it would become or the range of problems that could be introduced. They created a simple, flexible system that allowed email to become what it is today, but that flexibility also enables malicious people to abuse the system. Email allows you to assign the “from” address to anyone you want. This is useful, especially for marketers who want to use an ESP to send emails that appear to have come from their company, but it can also be used to prey on a good company’s reputation.

To help prevent this kind of abuse, you need to add the email authentication protocol SPF. This protocol tells the receiving mail server which mail servers are allowed to send email using the “from” domain, so should reject email that is being sent by some other entity. The use of this protocol will help prevent phishing emails (those pretending to be from eBay, Bank of America or other brands with good reputations) from landing in your inbox. It is important that your SPF specification end with a “-ALL”, rather than “~ALL” or other options. The dash indicates that the email should be rejected, which is what you want.1

DKIM (pronounced “dee-kim”) is also a popular email authentication protocol. DKIM uses encryption to verify that an email message was sent from an authorized mail server. A private domain key is added to the headers on messages sent from your domain. A matching public key is added to the Domain Name System (DNS) record for your domain. Email servers that get messages from your domain use the public key to decrypt message headers and verify the message source.

An email authentication protocol popular with high-profile, brand-driven companies is DMARC It was created by PayPal with the specific intention of preventing spoofing and phishing, and is most useful for companies that are often targets of these types of scams. For most businesses, SPF and DKIM should do the trick. DMARC only works if you’ve set up both SPF and DKIM.

Recognition

So what if someone contacts your organization saying they have an email from your company that is spam. How can you determine if your ESP has been hacked or if someone is sending email using your company name as a “from” address?

The content is seldom useful. Any decent ESP allows customization of the content, so any link could be sent and the unsubscribe information can be specific to you. These can be faked by the malicious entity.

In many cases, these attempts to trick readers into thinking an email comes from a legitimate source are easy to spot:

Phishing example

Although this appears, on the most casual glance, to have come from Chase Bank, there are giveaways that it did not. The most obvious one is that the actual email address is not from Chase, but from a free email service in Germany. Clearly, a major institution like Chase Bank is unlikely to use a free email address to send out information about a customer’s account status. Presumably, upon clicking the link, you’ll be taken to what looks like a sign-in page for Chase. They’re hoping you will continue believing the ruse and enter your login name and password.

If you want to find out where an email came from the email headers are your best source of information. Unfortunately, email clients don’t always make viewing the headers easy. The desktop version of Outlook, for instance, requires you to go to the File menu and choose Properties, then the headers appear in a small scrolling box that can’t be resized.

Yet, here too, though the headers are useful, they can be faked as well. Under the covers, headers are just part of the email content, and the malicious entity can provide any headers they want to the email. However, the standard rules for email are that the mail server that accepts and email should add some “received” headers. Your mail server knows the IP address of the mail server that is sending the email and should provide this information, as well as the name associated with that IP address, as part of the “received” header.

Often there will be multiple “received” headers. The email protocols were originally designed to be store-and-forward systems where an email might require passing through several mail servers before getting to the one that has the proper mailbox. In our modern environment multiple “received” headers often come as part of the sending process. Many ESPs and other senders will generate the email on one computer that relays it to another computer for actual delivery. This will result in multiple “received” headers that can be used to trace the path back to the original sending computer. The standard for “received” headers is to add from the top, so the data near the beginning of the headers data should be the data added by your mail server and can be trusted. Everything after that is suspect.

Understanding “received” headers can be a bit tricky, so you may need to ask your ESP or email expert for help. But simply scanning the data added by your mail server can often give you a clue of where the email came from. If the headers say “Received: from mail-ot1-f48.google.com ([209.85.210.48])” for example, it should mean that your mail server received an email from IP address 209.85.210.48, which, when looked up, inform us that it is a Google mail server. If the malicious email says it is coming “from” your brand, but the headers say: “Received: From h2hclan.com ([36.89.36.149])” you can feel confident it was not your ESP that sent this email.

Finding the Headers

If a client, co-worker, neighbor, or whoever forwards you an email that claims to be “from” you, the important headers will be lost. A forward is actually a new email message, with a new set of headers, and the content copied from the source email. This email will not show you the interesting header information. To get that you need a copy of the email as it was received. With most email clients, if you create a new email message and include the problem email as an attachment, the headers will be retained. The trick is getting that person who received the malicious email to send you the email as an attachment.

Conclusion

If you have a popular brand, and especially if you have good email deliverability, malicious people will eventually decide to try and take advantage of all your hard work to deliver their junk. The only thing you can do about this is to have the proper SPF records in place, which will limit the damage. Being able to recognize when an email has been sent faking your domain is important so you can quickly determine if someone has gotten into your email server or ESP, or if it is the more likely case of someone attempting to abuse your good reputation with an email pretending to be “from” your company.

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1. Fortunately, our customer had the proper SPF records in place, so the damage was minimal. It seems that more North American mail servers pay attention to SPF records, and not so much in China and Asian countries where this particular abuse-email was targeted.

© Goolara, LLC, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Goolara, LLC and the Goolara Blog with appropriate and specific directions (i.e., links) to the original content.

A Look Back at 2019: The Year in Email

Happy New Year
It’s that time again! Our annual looks back at email shenanigans. The things that worked and the things that didn’t. We look at the clever, the ill-advised and the sloppy. For our first example, we have one that is both clever and ill-conceived.

Please Read my … Email

As a rule, we don’t like to talk trash about the competition. We all make mistakes, and let he who is without sin, et cetera. Still, just to prove no one is above making mistakes, not even email marketing software providers (ESPs), here’s an example that turned up in our inbox earlier last year:

Clever pre-headerLook at the text above the blue banner. This has to be the most literal interpretation of the term “preheader text” you can get. At first glance, it might seem like it was intended as a placeholder, or maybe a novice worker was asked to “put the preheader text” at the top of the newsletter so they literally did. What they were trying to do here was a little too clever for its own good. By itself, the “Do’s and Don’ts of” subject line makes no sense, but if you receive the email in a client such as Gmail, which also displays the first text in an email, the message reads: “Do’s and Don’ts of…the preheader text.” If you click on the masthead it takes you to this:

preheadersIt’s an interesting idea, but unless it’s viewed under exactly the right conditions, the concept falls apart.

This Crazy, Upside-down World

upside-down imageThis also may have been intentional, but, like the previous example, there is nothing in the copy to indicate it. The fact that it advertises footwear by the avant-garde fashion designer Bernhard Willhelm might have something to do with it. but from here, it looks like they simply forgot to look at the email before sending it.

A Browser is not an iPhone

iphone example 1One simple way of checking the responsiveness of an email in a browser is to reduce the horizontal size of the browser window and see if the content re-positions itself for the smaller window. While this quick-and-dirty techniques works a lot of time, it can also fail. Witness the case of this mailing from FuncheapSF, a newsletter that lists free or cheap events in the Bay Area. If you check this by resizing your browser window, everything will look fine, but suddenly everything is out of whack on an iPhone.

Getting the dimensions right can be tricky and should be tested before sending. B&H Photo is usually pretty good about this, but here’s one that slipped by them:

iphone example 2If you check this one in a browser, it functions as it should. The problem is between the media query and the max-width. You’ll only encounter it if you look at the email on an actual iPhone, or an email rendering service that can duplicate the iPhone environment accurately. Checking it on an actual phone is safer.

E for Effort

Microsoft HalloweenThis past Halloween, Microsoft came up with a fun little email that offers a scratch-off panel that lets you use your mouse or finger to reveal a free offer. While it doesn’t work in all email clients, it offers a fall-back that will take you to a website where you can experience it outside of the email environment. Except Firefox, which takes you here:
Hallooween no formatThe funny thing is, when we opened the same email in other browsers, it did let us try out the scratch-off feature, but told us we didn’t win anything. At least the Firefox mistake gives us a discount.

Hurry, They’re Going Up Fast!

OverpricedWhoever put together this email for the sports apparel and footwear store Under Armour wasn’t paying close attention. Normally the strikethrough price would be higher than the one you’re now offering (shown in red). Does anyone ever want to pay more for something that’s advertised at a lower price?

Self-Responding Email

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, emails with the same subject line and content are threaded in Gmail, so that if you and a friend are sending emails back and forth on a specific subject, these messages don’t completely takeover your inbox list. It’s a nice feature and it rarely has anything to do with email marketing since each new mailing is, as a rule, unique. A marketer might resend a message because the links were screwed up (although you don’t have to do this with Symphonie), but even then, they would normally change the subject line to let you know why they are sending you the message again. Here’s a case in point:

OopsThe content of these two emails is the same. Only the subject line and preheader have been changed, with the former subject line now appearing as the preheader.

But that’s not what’s happening with the Illyusa emails. The subject lines, and the content for these two emails is identical, and all the links seem to work in both emails. Perhaps they forgot they’d sent the message and sent it again. Or perhaps their email marketing software handles the email addresses in each segment as separate entries (a bad practice—see List Segmentation Landmines for more on this). Whatever the case, we ended up with a threaded promotional mailing.

A more extreme version of sending the same thing twice came from Forever 21, who actually pasted the same content into an email twice:

Redundant copyThis could be something as simple as a person trying to paste finished content into their email marketing software and accidentally hitting the paste button twice. On the spectrum of email mistakes, this is minor.

Email as a Predictor of Business Honesty

fake email

At first we were confused when we opened this email. We usually read email with the images turned off at first to see how people are handling alt tags. Some email readers will put in default messages about missing images; others, such as Thunderbird, display nothing unless there’s an alt tag. Even so, if all of the images are missing, there’s usually the required fine print at the bottom to give you some idea of what you’re looking at, but not with this particular email. When we opened it, it was completely blank. After assigning it as spam, We checked out the message source and found the content consisted of two image with href links. The top image would have been acceptable, but turning the physical address and the unsub link into a graphic is always taboo. A closer examination of the email revealed that it was phony from top to bottom. A good rule of thumb: If the unsubscribe link is an image, mark it as spam.

We get a lot of spam, but our favorite junk mail of the year came from this knucklehead:

bad phishingIt sounds so self assured. Putting aside, for the moment, the bad grammar, the fact that we don’t have a webcam attached to our computers, and that claiming an email came from our own account is not a good threat to try on someone who works in the email marketing industry, this scam is the king daddy of scam failures, Worried that spam filters would identify this for what it is, the scammer converted the entire message to a base64 encoded image! This means that even if you did want to give this bozo your money, there’s no way to copy and paste the bitcoin address per the instructions. All you’ll do is drag around the image.

Beanie and Switch

Beanie boobooStraight to Hell, a company specializing in hipster clothing, sent out an email advertising their new line of beanies. Most of this email was done well, with pictures of each beanie, and each image link going to that particular beanie. The only problem image was the first one, shown here. Which, when clicked, takes you to a page about their leather jackets, the subject of their previous mailing. Whenever an email has lots of links, and you’re working off an existing email there’s always a danger of this. Check every link!

This gets back to a topic we’ve discussed in the past and will, undoubtedly discuss in the future. If you’re going to show a product, make sure the link on that item takes you to the page containing that item. Too often, we click on links to pictures of products, only to discover that the product is buried five pages deep in the display listings, but this next example is even more insidious than that:

Bait and switch Putting aside the fact that boots are not accessories, and ignoring the mysterious “si” that appears between the images at the bottom, clicking on the boots takes you to Forever 21’s sale section. After scrolling through all 15 pages, we never did find these boots. Oh well, they probably wouldn’t fit anyway.

The Curse of the Template

empty linkTemplates are a great way to get an email designed with a minimum of work. The only problem is that it’s also easier to miss things such as links. That’s what we suspect happened with this email from Screen-o-matic. Most of their social links work, until you get to the Instagram icon, which contains no link.

While we’re on the subject, We received an email the last week of 2019 using this social bar:

no google plusSee any problems? Google shut down Google+ a year ago. Clicking on this link will get you the Google page explaining that the service no longer exists. Do all the social icons in your mailings work? Are you sure?

The other problem with templates is the danger of overlooking placeholders:

template issueWhoever put this together should have noticed the empty content box at the bottom of their mailing, or, at the very least, got  a second pair of eyes to look at it.

Problems of the Past

Target problemThe other problem with previously-constructed emails is that if you never checked them thoroughly across all browsers and email clients, you might have issues that pop up again and again. Here is a problem that Target has had for at least a year now. In most email viewers, this email looks fine, but in Microsoft Windows’ Mail program, you get the rather confounding problem shown above. The image on the right looks fine, but the image on the left has the words “The picture can’t be displayed” appearing across the top. It seems like a strange thing to say, given that the image is actually there. Fortunately, the buttons that appear on the images make it a lot easier to trace the problem. In this case, it turns out that the folks at Target have inserted the image on the left as a background to a table cell, rather than simply place the image in the cell as was done on the right. An empty image placeholder sits inside the cell, for some reason. Since that image can’t be displayed, it results in the message over the background image. Considering that the audience for this particular type of email is the general public—the very people that are likely to use the Windows Mail program—and that the problem has existed for over a year, someone should have noticed it in the Target marketing department by now.

I Talk Real Good!

Really Good Emails is a website that offers a selection of recent emails that they think are particularly outstanding. It’s a good place to visit if you are looking for creative inspiration. Normally, their emails are well done, but this one came in a couple months ago that reads as if it was written by someone for whom English is a second—or maybe, third—language.
bad grammarRGE responded a couple days later with an apology that also serves as an enticement to explore their site further.
Really Good EmailWell done.

Color Theory 101

back color choicesConsidering the importance of good color use in every other aspect of marketing, it’s surprising how lackadaisically many marketers treat color in their mailings. The number one mistake comes from marketers who don’t bother to think about how their mailings will appear when people haven’t turned on the images. In the image above, the links are virtually impossible to read. This could have easily been remedy with a color:White (or color:#ffffff) style added to the alt text (for more on this, see The Finer Points of Styled Alt Tags).

While the absence of linked text color formatting is the number cause of unreadable text in emails, sometimes, the problem comes down to bad design:

gold on pinkGold and pink are great colors for suggesting a certain pampered luxuriousness, but they don’t always go well together.

Oops…Just Kidding!

Petco deceptionPetco isn’t exactly a fly-by-night organization, so I’m surprised to see that whoever is in charge of their email marketing thinks it’s okay to use techniques that are normally the providence of spammers. Neither of the emails with “Oops” in the subject line is an apology. They are simply promotional mailings. The email marked ‘CONFIRMED” is just an attempt to get you to use their dog grooming services. The fact that it’s all caps only furthers the suspicion that Petco’s email marketing manager comes from the world of spammers.

Click Here to See This Picture, Again!

Vinegar SyndromeIf you’re going to add a link to an image, the best thing to do is to add a link that takes you to the page that the image references. Vinegar Syndrome did add a link, but it’s a link to the image in the email. Clicking on it just shows you the image by itself. I’m sure this one is a mistake. Remember to check your links. Fortunately, Vinegar Syndrome has provided other links in this mailing.

Dear Me

Missing names are a common mistake. They’re usually the result of using a mail merge command that requires content in the first name field. The problem is easy to avoid by using dynamic content instead. That way, if the first name field is empty, you can finish the salutation with something meaningful (e.g., “Dear Reader,” Dear Subscriber,” etc.). They also lose points for the white type in the footer on a pale pink background.

Blackboard Bold or Spam Folder Bait?

Blackboard BoldYou may have received an email or two that appears to feature a unique font in the subject line and wondered “How’d they do that?” The answer is, the same way they use emojis in a subject line: by using alternative Unicode characters. Buried in Unicode are a few special characters that are virtually identical the standard alphabet except for their appearance. The most popular ones are those called the mathematical double-struck characters, sometimes referred to as “𝕓𝕝𝕒𝕔𝕜𝕓𝕠𝕒𝕣𝕕 𝕓𝕠𝕝𝕕.” There is also 𝕱𝖗𝖆𝖐𝖙𝖚𝖗 𝕭𝖔𝖑𝖉, ⓑⓤⓑⓑⓛⓔ ⓣⓔⓧⓣ, 𝒸𝓊𝓇𝓈𝒾𝓋ℯ, and many others. As fun as these things are to play with, we can’t recommend using them. They are often used by spammers to try and get their messages across without tripping the keyword searches, so there’s a higher chance that your email will end up in the junk folder with these characters. If you don’t believe it, take a look at your junk folder.

That’s it for this year. Do you have any examples of email marketing fails that you’d like to share with us? If so, let us know in the Reply box below.

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Drag-and-Drop Solutions

Drag and Drop interface
Perhaps it’s because I had already spent so much time learning HTML, or perhaps it was just prejudice, but, until recently, I gave drag-and-drop email design solutions little consideration. After all, how hard is it to create a few divs and tables then add images and text? It’s not rocket science; it isn’t even Python. But after spending a few weeks using the new drag-and-drop interface in Goolara Symphonie, I’m here to say, I’m a believer.

Since its inception, Symphonie has had a visual editor to help with the creation of emails, but not a drag-and-drop template builder. As most of our customers already have HTML designers working for them, adding a drag-and-drop builder to Symphonie was never a priority.

Then, when we started testing the new interface, something surprising happened. We found it was both robust and easy to use. Sure, it’s easy to write the code for a basic HTML email, but the template builder was even faster. Best of all, the finished designs automatically include responsive media queries and those pesky conditionals so necessary for displaying your emails properly in Outlook and IE (example: <!–[if (mso)|(IE)]><table width=”100%” cellpadding=”0″ cellspacing=”0″ border=”0″><![endif]–>).

Suddenly the thought of creating an email from scratch again seemed challenging. Using the drag-and-drop interface it’s possible to create a multi-section email template (example: Logo, hero image, salutatory text, three sections with images, text, and buttons, and a footer) in a little over a minute (yes, I really did time this).

Now I’m firmly in the drag-and-drop editor camp. Even for simple emails, it is faster and easier to use. Additionally, we’ve added lots of ready-to-use templates (all included for free) to make the process even easier. We think you will enjoy the new feature as much as we have. If you want to see it in action, contact us for a demonstration.

Go to Goolara website

Pro Tip: Personalizing Emails for Your Sales Staff

Personalizing Emails
A powerful tool for any email marketer is the ability to personalize each email. Normally, when we think of this, we think of personalization for the recipient, but sometimes you may also want to personalize the emails for the sender. That is, instead of your mailings coming from one company source, they appear to come from your salespeople individually. You might see this as “faking” emails from your sales staff but it is a useful and important technique for any serious marketer. Here’s why.

Personal is Better

When we think of promotional emails, we think of colorful, image-laden messages that have been carefully designed by the marketing team. They catch the eye and entice the reader to visit the links. While there is certainly a place for this type of mailing in marketing effort, there’s another type of mailing that does well with recipients and offers more pull than push—that’s a mailing that is sent by a salesperson directly to the recipient. Take a look at these two “From” addresses:

sales@company.com
terry.martin@company.com

The first one is clearly a mass mailing, most likely promotional. The second appears to have been sent by the salesperson that is handling your account. Since this is the person you are most likely to want to speak to, this the email you are more likely to open and respond to.

Surveys confirm that emails that appear to come from individuals tend to be accepted better than obviously commercial messages. We may not be interested in the sales pitch, but if we feel like a person bothered to sit down and type us an email, we tend to be more receptive.

Having the salespeople send out personal emails might work for a small company with little or no client interaction, but personal emails can quickly turn into a burden for the salespeople—whose time could be better spent engaging in actual sales—and a headache for the marketing to keep track of. No marketing department worth its salt wants salespeople sending out unvetted messages to everyone on their contact list.

But what if you want to send mass mailings that will support each member of your sales team individually? These are emails that appear to come from specific representatives, with reply lines that go back to each rep according to which rep has been assigned to that individual. Can you achieve this? Yes, you can with the right email marketing software and an understanding of the mechanics of the process.

First, let’s address address the technology, and then we’ll offer some advice about how to structure the text of the email itself.

Assigning the “From” and Reply-to Addresses

Before you get started on the mailings, the first thing to do is to assign a sales rep for each prospect and store the data someplace the email marketing application can access. You’ll want a rep assigned for every prospect, but if you have situations where the salesperson is unknown you can choose a specific salesperson as your default choice. The prospect will expect to hear from that person again, so you’ll need to be careful to use that same sales rep for all further communications. For this reason, it’s best to save the sales rep information in the demographics for each recipient.

The best response rate comes from emails that appear to be “from” a specific salesperson. If the email comes in from sales@example.com, it is impersonal and will attract fewer people to look at the email. It would be a little better with a “friendly from” like “Betty Jones” ‹sales@example.com› but the email address is still the generic one. If the person is identified, the email feels more personal, and people are more like to engage. So make it from “Betty Jones” ‹BettyJones@example.com› whenever possible.

Doing this sort of substitution can be done by storing two values in the demographics—one for the actual email address, and one for the “friendly from” name shown, which are then glued together using the mail merge features, or by storing the full address as one value. Not all email marketing software will allow you to mail-merge into the ‘From” and reply-to address, so check your software.

The Signature Line

The email should close with the salesperson’s signature line instead of the usual footer. Even a hand-written email would include the signature line, so this wouldn’t seem out-of-place. Signatures usually includes salesperson’s contact details and either the company logo, or the salesperson’s picture. Here are two examples of signature lines:

signature lines

In Symphonie, you would do this using a “content block,” which is a way of saving pre-formatted combinations of text and images for later use. At a minimum, the signature line should be a few lines of text with their name, address, phone number, and social media contact options. You can format this however you want. The key point here is that signature lines are defined for each representative in a form that can be dynamically substituted by your email marketing software. You could set this up using multiple mail merge fields, but it would be tedious to copy and more error prone. It would be far safer to create the signature as its own element and be done with it.

Once a Content Block is defined for each rep, the next step is to define a dynamic content rule that substitutes the proper Content Block for each rep based on a lookup table. Email marketing vendors may implement this in different ways, but in Symphonie it is easy to define a series of conditions that says if the demographic column holding the sales rep’s email address matches a value, do the substitution. So, something like: if demographic column SalesRepEmail = bettyjones@example.com then substitute content block BettyJonesSig.

You can define these rules once, save them in your email marketing software, and then easily apply them to any new content you create.

Once you have the mapping of salespeople to content blocks, you can test the system and make sure it is working for every sales rep you have.

At this point you should have an email that has a “from” and reply-to address that reference the salesperson, as well as a signature line from them.

CAN-SPAM, GDPR, CASL, oh my!

An email written by hand by a salesperson is less likely to have an option to unsubscribe, although, by law, it should. Emails that come in with an unsubscribe link may cause people to think the email is automated, but not including it is risky. CAN-SPAM says that automated emails must include an unsubscribe link, as well as a physical address for the company. Some email marketing software won’t allow emails to be sent that don’t have an unsubscribe link. Others, such as Symphonie, allow you to choose, although we always recommend including it. In our signature examples above, you’ll notice that we have included an unsubscribe link at the bottom of each signature as a simple text link. This is the safest and least obtrusive approach.

Driving the Process

Often the automation system is used for prospecting emails, but once the prospect has started to engage with a salesperson, the automated routines are stopped. The prospecting emails can be sent via a workflow process built into the email marketing software or can be driven by an external program using the API to tell the email marketing software what to do. If the process is driven by a workflow in the email marketing software, there should be some logic that will cause the process to be stopped. When a prospect engages, the recipient should be pulled from the workflow, so the automated emails do not conflict with the actual emails of the salesperson. Often this would be an API call or the ability to set a flag in a demographic that causes the workflow to terminate for that prospect.

Workflows can be as simple as an enhanced drip program that sends an email, waits, checks to see if the status has changed, and if not, sends the next one. Be sure you pay attention to the time of day that each email is sent. If your reps only work regular business hours, don’t send the salesperson email at midnight; your prospects could find this suspicious.

The Email Style

Hopefully you now have a sense of what it takes to automate sending emails that appear to be coming from a salesperson. Now we turn to how the emails should look.

The whole point is to make the emails look human-written, so making them too fancy will defeat that effort. One solution to this is to send plain-text emails. They certainly won’t be fancy, with no pictures or colors, but not even any fonts or basic layout elements. For this reason, HTML is recommended. Even salespeople writing their own emails will likely be sending their messages as HTML, so it is not a give-away that the process is automated.

Just because you can send pictures and style the content to no end doesn’t mean you should. Keep the content almost entirely as text. The only place a picture should be used is in the signature line, which can look a little fancy, but most people recognize that the signature line comes from copy-and-paste, so some better formatting is expected.

The style of the content should be casual and direct and avoid letting the marketing department wordsmith the content too much. It should sound like something the rep would write. Remember, if the prospect does engage and the actual rep starts sending emails, we don’t want a large discrepancy in styles to come through.

You could consider allowing typos or poor grammar, as it seems more realistic. You might even consider statements at the bottom of the email with wording like “Sent from my iPhone”. A recent study showed how this helped people feel more comfortable with the content. It is not accurate, so you should consider the legal ramifications of this deception before employing this tactic.

Conclusion

Sending emails for prospecting is quite easy to setup if your software supports dynamic content across the “from” and reply addresses and “friendly from” information. You can define a salesperson’s details in demographics, and then use the features of the software to dynamically change the “from” and reply-to, as well as substitute a proper signature line. Drive the process using a workflow in the software or use the APIs to drive the process from your side. Make the content appear folksy and casual, written in HTML but using few features of HTML.

Go to Goolara website

Privacy Report 2020

data privacy
The second decade of the 21st century is shaping up to become known as The Privacy Decade. Recent legislation, both internationally and in the United States, is primed to change the parameters regarding what information about a person you can or can’t collect, and the limitations on what you can do with that information. One thing these regulations have in common is that they don’t restrict their data privacy requirements to emails sent from within their borders. If your emails are sent to subscriber inboxes within any of these states, you are deemed culpable for those violations and can be subject to hefty fines. Unlike previous legislation, such as CAN-SPAM and CASL, these new laws are not aimed specifically at email but are intended to address privacy issues across all devices, platforms, and services. They all do affect email because email involves the gathering of private data in the form of email addresses and, in some cases, names and locations. Each of these laws comes with its own set of restrictions, some more draconian than others.

More Restrictions

While some people might not care if everyone knows where they are every hour of the day, most of us value our privacy and like to have some say over what a company may or may not know about us. Accepting this and working with it is the best tactic for any email marketer. Try to game a subscriber’s private data was never a good idea, but all signs point to more restrictions and greater penalties for doing so as every country gets into the act. While there are no plans for upcoming legislation in this Congress, states such as California and Vermont have created their own stringent privacy laws and 2018 saw the passage of data breach notification laws in several states.

GDPR Arrives

The legislation that started the privacy protection ball rolling was the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This regulation set a high bar for an individual’s rights to access any data about them that a company gathers, as well as the right to have that data deleted (for more on GDPR, see our three-part series on the subject). It covers a staggeringly wide range of data—everything from a person’s email address to the geolocation featured in many digital cameras. It extends to any person living within the European Union, regardless of their nationality. If you send email to a person in the EU, you need to be GDPR compliant. Full stop.

California Picks Up the Torch

Taking its cues from the GDPR, the state of California came up with its own privacy regulation. Passed in 2018, the requirements of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) goes into effect January 1, 2020, and features many of the same restrictions as the GDPR, including the right to obtain one’s data from a company and the right to be forgotten. No other state has, as yet, passed such a strict law, but it looks like Washington State is set to follow suit with their Washington Privacy Act, which is also modeled after the GDPR.

As strict as the CCPA seems, it’s got nothing on the GDPR. The California law applies only to for-profit businesses, so nonprofits can breathe easy. Additionally, for-profit businesses need to have a gross annual revenue exceeding $25 million for the law to take effect, and your active email list must exceed 50,000 subscribers. It also only applies to tax-paying residents of California.

Brazil Follows Suit

In August of 2018, the Brazilian government signed into law the Brazilian General Data Protection Act (Lei Geral de Proteção de Dados Pessoais or “LGPD”). Like the GDPR, after which it was modeled, its scope is global, with companies in any country facing fines for violating its rules. As with the CCPA, the Brazilian law goes into effect in 2020. One notable difference between the GDPR and the LGPD is the latter’s inclusion of terminology pertaining to “non-discrimination”). It also addresses credit and health records with more specificity. Originally, the law had provisions for the establishment of an independent data protection authority, but the President rescinded that in a line item veto. The LGPD is more punitive than California’s law but less so than the GDPR. The maximum fine under the LGPD is 2% of a company’s Brazilian revenue up to 50 million in Brazilian Reals per infraction (about 13.4 million in U.S. dollars). Compare that to the GDPR’s 4% of an organization’s annual revenue or 20 million Euros (about 22.6 in U.S. dollars), whichever is greater.

And Then There’s India

Also getting in on the post-GDPR drive for stronger privacy controls, the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEITY) in India has been hammering out its own privacy regulations—a process they started back in 2010. Following the 2017 Indian Supreme Court ruling declaring that privacy is a “fundamental right,” the MEITY finally got on the ball and drafted the Personal Data Protection Bill 2018 (PDP Bill), which contains many of the same features as GDPR, but with a few curveballs that already have companies crying foul. The main one is the requirement that all “personal data” on people residing in India must be maintained at a facility within India (although the bill doesn’t define what constitutes personal data—they’re leaving that up to the government). India isn’t the only country mandating such a restriction. China and Vietnam have similar restrictions, but neither of those countries could be considered free. Their governments exert a great deal of control over every aspect of data transfer and Internet use.

India, on the other hand, has a free market economy—some might say too free. It also has an online market second only to China in size, with close to 500 million Internet users. Restrictions making it harder for companies to conduct business aren’t welcome, and this requirement is already meeting with criticism and opposition. When the MEITY requested feedback on the bill, they received nearly 600 recommended changes, from both businesses and governments, including the United States.

Perhaps this is why, since its introduction, the government has had a few opportunities to pass the PDP Bill, but decided to wait until June 2019, after the new government is in place.

Congress Changes Its Tune

In 2009, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont tried to get his Personal Data Privacy and Security Act passed, but the bill never reached the floor. It was too much, too soon, and nobody had any idea yet the extent to which sites such as Facebook and Google would use personal data. Still, data privacy restrictions would be a hard sell in Congress, even today, if not for the increasing number of states tackling the problems on their own. All fifty states have laws concerning the reporting of data breaches, and 35 states have laws regarding the disposal of data. To complicate matters, the laws in each state are different. Some state laws apply only to business, while others only restrict the government, leaving private businesses to do what they want with your data. Some are quite stringent, while others are written in such general terms as to be virtually unenforceable.

Mostly in response to California’s legislation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and several other business-based groups are lobbying Congress to pass a federal omnibus privacy and data protection law that would pre-empt the CCPA and other existing and future state data protection laws.

Email’s Role in All of This

Unlike CAN-SPAM and CASL, this recent legislation doesn’t focus exclusively on email. In the case of GDPR, it regulates everything from website visits to in-camera geolocation. They all affect email marketing, although how much depends on your subscriber list. If your list is exclusive to the United States, and your gross revenues don’t exceed $25 million, then you can go about business as usual. None of the recent legislation will have that much impact on your email efforts. There is a lot more legislation on the books now concerning data breach notification, but that’s of more concern for the IT department than the marketing department.

If you have international subscribers or own a business that brings in over 25 million a year, we recommend you follow the rules of the GDPR. It is still the strictest of the current laws, so if you are in line with it, you should be fine for the others. For everyone else, there are a few things you can do to avoid problems. They include the following:

Make Your Terms Clear

Spell out in the clearest possible language exactly what you plan to do with the data you collect and make sure you include a statement to the effect that you will not use this data for other purposes or sell it to other companies.

Leave Boxes Unchecked

If you do any business in the European Union, this isn’t simply a suggestion, it’s the law. It’s less important in the States, but, like the single- vs. double-opt-in controversy, each approach has its supporters and detractors.

Respect the Privacy of Your Subscribers.

Email marketing is a double-edged sword. On one hand, we all like our privacy, but on the other, we also prefer receiving emails about things we are actually interested in. As an email marketer, the only datum you actually need is the email address, but, by itself, that makes for generic, “batch-and-blast” emails. Personal data helps improve the engagement and the receptiveness of your subscribers to your mailings. But don’t abuse it. Just because you can send an email saying “Hey Jill! I noticed you just visited our website fifteen minutes ago” doesn’t mean you should. It makes you look like a stalker, so avoid it.

The Ground’s Still Shaking

One thing is certain: This story is far from over. Right now, most of the fretting over the new laws has been a waste of time. How much they affect you is extremely variable. New legislation is cropping up in countries around the world every day and, as time goes on, it appears more and more likely that some national legislation in the United States will be enacted to bring the various states back into line. When that happens, we’ll take a look at this subject again.

Go to Goolara website

The Year in Email

Happy New Year
Here we are again. Another year has come and gone. As always, there was no shortage of email flubs this years and we’ve collected a few of our favorites. Interestingly, we saw fewer of the “Dear [customer name]” errors that used to plague email marketing. Either people have finally made sure that their name fields contain information, or they’re starting to use dynamic content more. Either way, it’s nice to see that one go away. We’ll start the list with the one thing that doesn’t appear to be going away: the inactive unsubscribe link and CAN-SPAM violations.

Don’t You Dare Unsubscribe

unsub failAfter receiving ten unsolicited emails in just a few days from a company pretending to be Dawgs—a purveyor of ugly sandals—I tried to unsubscribe. This is what I got. How much of this is the sender’s fault and how much is the fault of their ESP, I can’t say, but needless to say, all of their emails went straight to the spam folder.

Unsubscribe? Never heard of it!

no unsub
How do I count all the things wrong with this email? From the needless word breaks to the disconnect between the offer (car rentals) and the company offering the deal (North Hills Clothing), this email cries “spam” at every level. How it ended up in my inbox is beyond me. I never would have clicked on the unsubscribe link on such a suspicious email, but this one doesn’t even have an unsub link!

See, We’ve Got an Unsub Link. I Think…

inactive link
East Midlands Trains does a good job of providing their physical address, and it looks like they’ve provided an unsubscribe link, but click on that link and nothing happens. A look at the email’s source code show where the problem lies:

<a href=”<%unsubscribe_link_text%>” target=”_blank” style=”text-decoration:underline; color:#333333;”>How to unsubscribe.</a>

There should be an actual URL listed in this href. Somewhere along the line, the unsub link got screwed up. Whether this was the email’s creator typing it in and accidentally using the wrong number of percentage signs, or HTML that was copied verbatim from a different ESP is hard to say.

Click Here. Go ahead. I dare you.

spammerYou can click on that unsubscribe link all day and nothing will happen. This is an odd one. If you look at the email’s source code, you’ll find an unsubscribe link that works and a physical address (Royal Caribbean Cruises), but you won’t find either in the email when it’s opened. There is an unsubscribe, but the one that’s displayed is missing its URL. It’s a sloppy piece of coding that has the body copy closing before the final content. Add to all of this that the email supposedly comes from Amazon but clearly does not. This is either badly designed spam, or phishing or both.

We’re Experts!

white text errorThe above example is the bottom of the page on an email. Yes, that blank white area below the signup button is part of the email. At first it may look like the information required by CAN-SPAM is missing, but it’s there. The problem is that the sender decided to use a dark orange background image and set the overlaying type (the physical address and links) in white. This email looks fine as long as images are turned on, but not everyone turns the images on. When the images are off, you end up with a seemingly empty white space at the bottom of the email. This error is bad enough on its own, but this particular email came from another email marketing service provider. Out of professionally courtesy, I won’t name them, but the “Friendly From” in their sender line refers to them as an “Email Markeitng” (sic) service. As if all this isn’t enough, the mailing is filled with buttons asking readers to “Read More” or “Check It Out!” but none of these buttons are linked.

We Prefer to Call It…

sneaky unsubThis runs dangerously close to violating CAN-SPAM, which specifies that mailings must have a clear unsubscribe link. Here they’re trying to be clever. It didn’t help that clicking on the link went to an unsubscribe page that requires one to enter their email address. Guess which email went into the Spam folder?

Readability is So Last Year

GucciGucci likes to stay fashionable, but sometimes fashionable and readability collide. Pink and gold might be an interesting combination for apparel, but it makes a lousy combination in a text box.

Did You Say &⁠#38 or &⁠#48?

weird codingThis one confuses us. The HTML clearly shows that special characters labeled “&⁠#38” were inserted between each word in this headline. That’s the HTML code for an ampersand, but there’s no reason for for ampersands to appear between each word in the headline. The most likely cause is the code was copy and pasted from one program to another, leading to the insertion of this character for no good reason.

Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?

bad buttonsIn the grand scheme of things, this is a pretty minor infraction, but it’s if you are going to make a table cell in your email look like a button, it’s better to put the <a> tags around the cell instead of the type. In this example, you’ll only activate the links by clicking directly on the type. Clicking within the boxes has no effect.

We’re a Real Company, Honest!

stock photosWe can’t tell whether or not the way the words “social media” run down the left side of the image is some misbegotten design idea (we think not), but the CanStock watermark on the image is unforgivable. If you plan to use an image, either pay for it, or create your own version (paying for it is usually cheaper). Sending out email like this makes a company look suspiciously like a fly-by-night affair. Marketing Knowledge Cloud isn’t such a company, but you couldn’t tell it from this email.

Even Alt Tags Can Be Wrong

bad code
This one nearly caused my brain to explode. You can see in the text I’ve highlighted in yellow that the HTML codes for the right and left curly quotes are displaying instead of the curly quotes. That might have been okay, except that below it on the right, another article on the same page is displaying curly quotes in the same content. It that weren’t enough, as soon as I choose “display images” the HTML code disappears. A closer examination of the code revealed that this text appears as part of a styled alt tag (for more on stylized alt tags see The Finer Points of Styled Alt Tags). The code for the right curly quote reads: “&amp;#8220;” which will display as “&⁠#8220;” which is the correct code for that curly quote. Either somebody really wanted this to look exactly wrong, or they got confused. The right curly quote on the headline to the Page-Turner article has a value of x201C, which works, but it is hexadecimal code instead of the more common HTML code. If I had to guess, I’d say that the two article were written and formatted by different people and then assembled in the newsletter. One of them knows more about HTML than most people, while the other needs to go back to class.

All Tests Are Not Created Equal

media query errorThis looks pretty bad doesn’t it? The code contains media queries to make sure the content adjusts its size across various devices. The problem is, it’s wrong. This screenshot was taken from an iPhone. The first table is behaving as it should, but then the rest of the email goes all cattywampus. We suspect the person that created this simply tested the responsive results by resizing the window on their browser—a kind of poor man’s test environment. If you do that, this email looks fine, proving that there’s no substitute for the real thing.

I Are An Expert!

Speaking of testing, here’s an email from a company that that specializes in providing testing environments for all the various browsers and phones. Either they missed one, or they decided that the Mail program in Microsoft’s Windows 10 wasn’t worth worrying about. Either way, this isn’t something a company whose raison d’etre is testing email should ever be guilty of (to prevent further embarrassment, we’ve removed the company’s logo).

I Heard You the First Time

Amazon errorAmazon likes to send out notifications about newly available movies and TV shows. We’re not sure what happened here, but suspect that the API call that was suppose to register that the email had been sent wasn’t receiving the proper information and decided to keep sending until it was told to stop.

There’s Always One More Typo

misspelled glassTypos are the bane of every writer’s existence. So what’s worse than a typo in your content? How about a typo on the actual product you’re selling. This glass, offered by Bourbon & Boots, has what should have been a clever quote by Mark Twain, but we’re sure Mr. Clemens knew the difference between “then” and “than.” This error has gone uncorrected for over a year now.

Hey Everybody! We Value Your Privacy!

GDPR goofWhen the GDPR came into effect, lots of businesses scrambled to make sure they were compliant. Sometimes, these efforts were counterproductive to say the least. One of the worst came from Ghostery, who sent out an email explaining the steps they’d taken to ensure GDPR compliance. Too bad the included everyone’s email addresses in the “To” field.

Did I Say Mail Merge Errors Were Gone?

mail merge errorPerhaps I spoke too soon. Just when I thought I’d see a year without mail merge errors, this one landed in my inbox. It’s such an easy error to avoid with the careful use of dynamic content.

Our Next Speaker: Wyatt Earp

dead speakerOne of the more amusing apologies came from b8ta—a tech gadget store than sponsors meet-ups with inventors and start-up founders. We’re not sure how you’d confuse Ben Holt with Ben Einstein, but we guess it could be worse: They could have announced that Albert Einstein was going to appear at the b8ta store instead.

Don’t Do This. Not Ever.

fake oopsApology emails have a higher open rate than other emails, so one can see why a marketer might want to use this to their advantage. But apologies are a serous thing and pretending to apologize for the sake of sales puts you just one step away from being labeled a spammer. Don’t do it.

Okay, that’s it for this year. We hope you enjoyed that. In the end, the lesson to be learned is always the same: Test, test, test.

Go to Goolara website

It’s Holiday Season again, and in keeping with past Holiday Seasons, here’s this year’s email game. This one is based on the classic “Shut the Box” but with an email delivery theme. We’ve modified the rules slightly to reflect aspects of email marketing and we’ve added a rule that simulates the difficulty of getting email delivered during the holiday season. It’s a very easy game to play and lots of fun. Enjoy!
Email Game

Rules

Players: Can be played by any number of players but will require additional printouts for more than two players. It may also be played as a solitaire game in which the player tries to beat their own score.

Requirements: Two dice.

Object: To get the most emails delivered. The winner is the person with the fewest remaining undelivered emails at the end of a round.

Before you begin: Print out the game, then cut out the player cards and the individual “Delivered” tags. Each player should have one player card and ten “Delivered” tags.

Start: Players choose who goes first by rolling one die. The player with the highest die roll goes first.
The first player rolls both dice and covers the numbered envelopes with the Delivered tags so that the total number on the covered emails matches the number on their dice roll. They may cover any number of envelopes as long as the total matches their roll. For example, if a player rolls a three and a six, they may cover the #9 envelope or cover smaller numbers to total nine (e.g., 5 + 4, 2+3+4, etc.).
It is then the next player’s turn to roll.

A player’s game ends when they cannot make any more moves. For example: If the player rolls a two and a four, but none of the remaining envelopes can be marked delivered to make a total of six (e.g., 2,5,7,8,9) that signals the end of their game. If the other player(s) can still roll and deliver emails, they continue until they have no moves left.

Scoring: At the end of their rounds, when no player can deliver any more emails, the players total the number of the envelope that has not been delivered. The player with the lowest score wins that round.

NOTE: In some versions of the game, the total number of points left are added to determine the score, but the goal here is to get the most email delivered, so the points don’t matter as much. A player who only had the #10 email left undelivered (total = 1) has a better score than the player who has the #1 and #2 emails left undelivered (total = 2).

Optional Holiday rule: From Thanksgiving until Christmas, getting your email delivered is notoriously more difficult. Mail that got through in October suddenly is landing in the bulk folder as the Holiday Season nears. To simulate this effect, we’ve created the Holiday rule. If you play the game using this rule, after you’ve finished your move the player on your right (or opposite player if two are playing) has the option of removing the delivered tag from one of your delivered emails. Using this rule does increase the strategic potential of the game.

Go to Goolara website

GDPR and Email: Part 3, Data Portability

data portability
NOTE: This is the third in a series of articles addressing the GDPR and its effects on email marketing. For an overview of the subject, see our previous article: GDPR and Email: Part 1, an Overview.

Last time on this blog, we looked at the issues of forgetting and unsubscribing, and how the General Protection Data Regulation (GDPR) affects email marketers. That particular portion of the GDPR has received a lot of press, but there’s a far thornier issue lying in wait a few paragraphs further down in the regulation. I’m referring to the “right to data portability,” which gives the subscriber the right to receive all the data a company has collected on them.1 Compared to the other features of the GDPR, the right to data portability seems haphazardly drawn up, or, at least, drawn up without ever considering the difficulties and problems that its simple request could generate.

Acceptable Formats

Briefly put, the right to data portability says a subscriber has the right to receive any data about them in a “structured, commonly used and machine-readable format.” They don’t specify what this format is. “Commonly used” would suggest a comma separated values (CSV) file, XML, or something similar. Even then, there’s no guarantee that the data can be formatted in a useful manner. Every customer relationship management system (CRM) and email-marketing service provider (ESP) has its own structure, order of operations, and, to a certain extent, terminology, so porting the data from one site to another isn’t as easy as transferring the file. Try opening a Microsoft Word file in a text editor and you’ll see what we mean. Even when the two system can read each other’s data, it doesn’t mean than one system will have a place for all the data from the other. There is no standard for formatting things like click-throughs or deletes without opening. In Recital 68 (separate clarifications to the GDPR), the regulation states that “data controllers should be encouraged to develop interoperable formats that enable data portability,”2 but they make no suggestions as to how this would be accomplished. It is the bureaucratic equivalent to a mom’s admonition for kids to “learn to get along.”

Privacy issues

CSV and XML certainly qualify as commonly used formats, but they are also as easy for humans to read as they are for machines, which raises other privacy issues. If the “Right to Erasure,” presents the danger of someone other than the subscriber making the request, the Right to Data Portability is even more of a threat. With erasure, you’re simply asking to have your data removed from a system. Most people wouldn’t cry if to learn that their data has been accidentally erased by their ESP, but would hit the ceiling if they learned that their data was sent to someone else. Anything sent out in an email has a risk of being seen by others. Even if the format is not easily read by humans, the “commonly used” qualifier means anyone looking to steal someone’s data probably has a program that will have no trouble deciphering the information. But there are other dangers waiting in the wings.

Identity Issues

There are plenty of examples of people pulled aside by the TSA at the airport because their names matched people on suspicious person lists. This isn’t a big concern in the email marketing field, because every subscriber already has a unique identifier: their email address. Even if someone enters the wrong email address, the email will go to the person who has the account and they can choose to ignore the message. There is some danger that if an email account is hacked, the identity thief can now request all that person’s data from the ESP, and the ESP will, by law, be required to provide all the personal data for that hacked account. Depending on the data that is kept, this could provide the thief with a wealth of information about that person. Security on an email account is even more critical than ever.

Here Come the Lawyers

It’s ironic that a regulation designed to help protect an individual’s private data might be the very thing responsible for the theft of that same data. This speaks to the rather haphazard nature of this particular clause. This is why the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names (ICANN) has filed a suit against EPAG, its German affiliate, in an attempt to get better clarification of the GDPR’s restrictions. EPAG recently informed ICANN that when it sells new domain name registrations it would no longer collect administrative and technical contact information, as it believes collection of that data would violate the GDPR rules. For ICANN, this presented an untenable problem since maintaining this data is central to ICANN’s purpose. It’s a thorny issue, for sure. Right now, no one is sure where the balance between private data and public records lies. The courts have their work cut out for them.

While ICANN’s lawsuit is aimed at clarifying the regulations, other lawsuits are aimed at companies that are seen as already violating the GDPR. As of this writing, the only major lawsuits filed against companies under the GDPR are ones against Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and LinkedIn. These were filed shortly after the law went into effect and are intended as test cases. The outcome of these cases will determine what happens next.

Stay Frosty

We will keep watching the events involving GDPR as they unfold and keep you posted if anything changes. In the meantime, as long as you’ve followed the rules of the GDPR that we laid out in part one of our GDPR and Email Overview, you should be alright.

(This concludes our three-part series on the GDPR.)

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1. Chapter 3, Article 20: Right to data portability

2. Recital 68: Right to data portability