Practical Ecommerce

Email Marketing: Avoid This "Deadly" Mistake

Over the years, I’ve seen many ecommerce store owners make one simple but deadly mistake when they get started with email marketing: They send emails to old, obsolete email addresses.

Does this sound like you? You started your ecommerce store a few years ago. Even back then, you had the foresight to start collecting email addresses because you knew you’d be sending marketing emails someday. Finally, you locate an email service provider (ESP). You spend hours designing and testing your first campaign, and you hit the send button.

You’ve been blacklisted

Then your email service provider shuts down your account because you’ve been blacklisted by all the major Internet service providers (ISPs). What gives?

For one, people change email addresses all the time, such as when they get new jobs or switch ISPs. Or they get inundated with so much spam at one email address that they create a fresh email account, so all those emails you sent to them will bounce. Too many bounces tell the ISPs that your list is old, dirty or purchased. So they block you. If you have any unused email addresses on your system older than one year, delete them from your list to prevent major headaches.

Secondly, people forget. If they bought a trinket from your store three years ago, they’re not going to remember you, especially if you’ve changed your store name or designed a spiffy new logo since then. So when they get your email, they’ll immediately click the “Report Spam” button in their email program. This in turn sends a complaint to their ISP, who will in turn block your future emails if you get even a handful of these complaints.

Finally, some ISPs turn old, abandoned email addresses into “spam traps.” They figure those dormant accounts shouldn’t receive any emails anymore, so the second you send an email to a spam trap, you’re blacklisted. We’ve seen it happen, and the results are instant and awesome, since blacklists are often shared across different ISPs around the world.

Delete the old email addresses

So if you’ve been sitting on an old list of customer email addresses, you should take a moment to delete any emails older than six to 12 months. In your first campaign, make sure your company name is included everywhere (subject line, from-name, reply-to address), and remind recipients how they got on your list. This will keep you from getting blacklisted and ruining your company’s email reputation.

Ben Chestnut

Ben Chestnut

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  1. Legacy User April 15, 2008 Reply

    Not sure if I'd recommend deleting email addresses simply because they are over 12 months old, these are most likely still very good prospects. I have faced this exact situation before, and needed to move ISPs largely because of it.

    What you need to make sure you have in place is automated bounce management. Look at the return codes 5XX for hard bounce backs and mark these users as having bounced. Next time around you do not mail to them.

    Not only is this a generally good practice going forward, it will help you immediately clean your list after the first few sends. ISPs tend to give you some time to get your bounce rate under control so you should not face immediate blacklisting.

    — *Doug*

  2. Legacy User April 15, 2008 Reply

    Isn't it better to unsubscribe them?

    — *cricket*

  3. Legacy User April 15, 2008 Reply

    I disagree, Cricket. The problem is the instant Blacklist issue in the "Spam Traps". I fell into one of these myself, just by sending a message through my guest book program to one user. My host demanded I remove said program so that it didn't happen again.

    So just sending that first email can get you blacklisted and cause issue…unwanted ones.

    I recommend a test run through one of the free email accounts companies, such as yahoo or hotmail before sending directly from your own domain name if you want to clean up your list.

    — *Pete*

  4. Legacy User April 15, 2008 Reply

    Sorry, my comments were directed to Doug

    — *Pete*

  5. Legacy User May 13, 2008 Reply

    As you know, ISPs are trying to stop spam — they don't care about you, unless you're doing things the spammers do.

    Pete, what you've suggested — sending "a test run through one of the free email accounts companies" — is something the spammers do. And ISPs try very, very hard to stop it. I suspect that any legitimate marketer won't want to get dumped into that same bucket.

    — *J.D.*

  6. Legacy User May 14, 2008 Reply

    I could not agree with Ben and J.D. more…

    As I mentioned last week – "If you continue to send email to customers that is random and unexpected, there will be consequences."

    dj at bronto

    — *DJ Waldow*

  7. Legacy User May 22, 2008 Reply

    There are plenty of ways to avoid the ISP issue described here and send as many as you would like. Certainly the points are great about addresses being too old etc. I might recommend doing 2 emails…. an email for under 1 Year and an email for over 1 Year. But then again it may just be better to spend that time making 2 emails for the under 1 year prospects.

    — *A.H*