How to Avoid Being Accused of Being a Spammer

According to our Terms of Service, if we receive complaints of Unsolicited Bulk/Commercial Email (UCE, or commonly "Spam"), your account is subject to immediate closure and penalty fines per incident. Please realize that this is not just a threat - we are compelled to enforce this policy of zero-tolerance for Spam because if we allowed it, our business and that of thousands of our users would be in jeopardy.

We do not want to close your account for any Spam complaint, but we must act quickly in all cases to protect our business and more importantly the businesses of thousands of other users on our system. If they know how to press their case correctly, even a single complainant can get an entire ISP blocked. Unfortunately for many Internet merchants, the people who get most violently angry about UCE are the same people who know how to press their case correctly. They may consist of only 1 in every 10,000 Internet users. It is highly unlikely that your account will be shut down for a single complaint, nevertheless sending out Spam is effectively playing Russian roulette with your entire business.

WHAT'S THE RISK?

If you're closed down for Spam, can't you just start up elsewhere and continue on? Maybe. Getting closed down for Spam is the Internet equivalent of a felony. Trouble is, the trial is by mob appeal to one of the web providers, such as UUNet/WorldCom, or a major ISP. Sometimes, a single complaint is all it takes to persuade your ISP, or their service provider, to cut your site off permanently. If it becomes known that you have been closed down for Spam previously, it is likely you will find yourself cut off again, and without warning. It's a case of diminishing returns. Not to mention the truly bloodthirsty individuals who would like to see you not just shut down, but incarcerated in a solitary confinement for sending them unsolicited email.

"THIS IS NOT SPAM"

But just what IS Spam? That depends on whom you talk to. Some radicals would insist that all email with marketing content is Spam. But you can get an approximation by defining what is NOT Spam. An email from your friend is not Spam. An email that you asked for is not Spam. An email from someone to whom you gave an open-ended invitation for them to send email to you, based on the quality of their content, is not Spam - unless you have previously withdrawn that invitation. An email from a friend or associate of someone to whom you gave permission to send email is Spam - unless you gave them permission to send you email as well. Obviously, an email from someone you never communicated with previously, with marketing content, is definitely Spam. It does not matter how many state statutes or unsubscribe links you provide. If they did not give you permission - or perhaps as importantly if they don't remember giving such permission - and you send them email, you will get reported for Spam.

Wait a second. There's a big gray area here that we're missing. What if I tell a company that I want to hear from a number of companies about a particular topic, product, or industry. Why would I do this? This is one of the ways people are harnessing the 'power of Spam.' I want to comparison shop, so I let the advertising come to me. Why go out from store to store, or even from website to website? Let the ads come to me! This variety of bulk emailing to 'opt-in' lists is becoming very popular. Unfortunately, while it can be very effective, it can also be very risky to send mail to any addresses that have not been well-qualified.

CHOOSE YOUR ADDRESSES WISELY

The best way, the most foolproof way, to protect yourself from being taken down because of Spam complaints is to build your own list. This is the traditional way. You have a website, and a link somewhere (or a popup) to a 'Join Our Mailing List' form on your site where people can opt-in to your list. When they do this, they are giving you permission, an invitation actually, for you to send them updates on your products or services, because they want it. This makes it easier for them, since they don't have to visit your site every time. The better the content of your emails, the more they will want to hear from you - and buy from you. 1ShoppingCart.com gives you the tools necessary to build your list this way.

The only problem with building your own list is that it a) takes longer and b) requires traffic to your site. Of course, if you get a lot of traffic, your list will grow quite rapidly. This is where tools like Start Blaze, Search Engine Commando, and other search-engine optimization tools can help you. If you want to be as sure as you possibly can be of anything on the Internet that you do not get taken down for Spam complaints, this is the way to do it. There are scores of Internet Marketing experts out there who can tell you that this method does work fantastically well.

The next level down is the use of opt-in list providers. This is becoming increasingly popular, and this is where 99% of the Spam complaints we receive come from. Opt-in lists are lists gathered by someone else for you, with contact info for people who have 'opted' to receive information. The quality of such lists varies quite a lot. The best are lists gathered by someone you specifically hired to do so on your behalf, and consist of double-opt ins. This means that the people on that list not only opted in, but confirmed their opt-in status as well. If you have a third party collecting leads for you, double opt-in is certainly much safer. The worst are lists consisting of addresses for people who neglected to uncheck an option to opt-out of mailings from related companies, for example on some sort of free registration. Don't even bother using this sort of list. Worse yet are so-called opt-in lists which are actually just addresses collected by the Spam harvesters. Avoid all opt-in lists except the best variety. It may cost more, but spending a little extra is worth preserving the future of your business. If your business is even remotely successful, you'll lose a lot more in lost business by getting blacklisted for Spam complaints.

Finally, there is the use of Spam lists. These are usually advertised as something like '1 million email addresses on CD ROM for $69!!!!!!!!!' There is one thing to say about these: avoid them like the black death. For that's exactly what they are to your business. You will be crucified, sooner or later, if you succumb to the temptation of using them.

Also, you must realize that many so-called 'opt-in' lists are actually Spam lists of the "black death" sort. They are equally risky. If you use a list provider of any sort, be absolutely sure that their practices are 100% ethical, that their list consists of double opt-ins, and that you know exactly who to contact if you're accused of spamming one of the addresses on that list. Lists derived from FFA sites are poison to your business. A common revenge tactic on the Web is to put up someone's email address on an FFA site. This is sufficiently common that using these sites at all could spell doom.

Similarly, DO NOT capture addresses or post marketing content to a newsgroup or to a mailing list service such as Yahoo Groups, eGroups, GlobeLists, and so on. The exception here would be in the unlikely event that every single member of the list knowingly gave you confirmable permission to send them such content. This too is Spam.

THE "SPAM STYLE"

Some common traits of Spam messages include:

  • Extremely excited language, with lots of exclamation points (!) and/or capital letters
  • Poor spelling and/or grammar
  • Declarations that the message is not Spam
  • More declarations that the message is not Spam

Open a free mail account with Yahoo or Hotmail. Go to an FFA site, or somewhere similar where you will submit your new free email address. Then, over the course of a few days, watch the Spam first trickle in, then flood your inbox. Examine these messages, and avoid sending messages that look or sound even remotely like that junk.

There are many ways to avoid using the 'Spam Style.' Mainly, you should keep it 'persuasive, but professional.' Possibly even give each message an official 'header' with a note - something like this:

YOUR NEWSLETTER TITLE
ISSUE:
DATE:
SUBSCRIBED EMAIL ADDRESS:

This message is for subscribers only. If you did not subscribe to our list, please use the unsubscribe link at the bottom or contact us directly at YourAddress@YourDomain.com or call (000) 000-0000.

Run a spell-check on your message before sending it, and if possible a grammar check. Rather than declaring that the message is 'not Spam,' prove it by providing high-quality well-written content. If you are not a skilled writer (I certainly am not!), hire someone to do the writing for you, or contract with other newsletters to use their content in exchange for ad space or something. Lastly, avoid all declarations such as 'THIS IS NOT SPAM.' Don't even use the word - for one thing such declarations are implying that your message is 'very much like Spam, sufficiently so that we need to reassure you that it is not Spam.' Anyway, it's up to the recipient to decide whether it's Spam or not. Many recipients' answer as they submit your message to SpamCop would be, 'smells like Spam, looks like Spam, sounds like Spam, must be Spam.'

AFFILIATES

Affiliates can be absolutely fantastic for your business. But they can be quite risky. Every affiliate who signs up with your affiliate program on our system agrees to the Terms of Service - to view this, go to your Affiliate Sign Up page as listed in your account and click on the TOS link just above the actual signup form. However, some affiliates choose to ignore this, and send out Spam with their affiliate link to your account with us. If this happens, you will be held responsible. Because the affiliate is effectively acting as your agent, it is your responsibility to ensure that they engage in ethical marketing practices. Feel free to copy this guide and send it to them if you like.

SUMMARY

When all is said and done, just remember to mail unto others as you would have them mail unto your personal irreplaceable golden email box. While you may not have such a 'golden' email box, and you may realize that email accounts are less than 1/20th of 1 cent to a dozen, nevertheless treat every address you send an email message to as though it were that person's treasured family heirloom, and you should rarely if ever have trouble with complaints of Spam.

Now that you have read all this, you should know one more thing: you will never be entirely safe from Spam complaints. No matter how well qualify your lists, no matter how scrupulously you purge bad addresses, even if you meet people face-to-face and add them to a paper list, someone will forget that they subscribed. When you get your first accusation of Spam, it is extremely important that you handle it gracefully. Be very conscientious, personally contact all parties involved and most certainly remove the address from your list entirely. If you acquired the address from a list provider, contact that provider and do everything in your power to get the address removed from their lists too.

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