E-MAIL MARKETING: Beware the spam blockers

Mar 01, 2000 10:30 PM  By

Catalogers reaching out to their customers by e-mail have a new obstacle in their way: spam blockers. At least three e-mail providers – Yahoo!, Hotmail, and Netaddress – have offered incoming-mail filters to their e-mail subscribers.

These filters act as bulk e-mailboxes, collecting the online equivalent of third-class mail. And while the e-mail providers claim that their filters divert mostly unsolicited e-mails from subscribers’ inboxes into separate folders, there is no guarantee that newsletters and special offers that subscribers have opted in for aren’t getting lost in the paperless shuffle.

Santa Clara, CA-based Yahoo! launched its Spamguard filter in November ’99, according to Lisa Pollock, senior producer for Yahoo! mail. “It’s a technology we created inhouse to greatly reduce the spam that gets delivered to our subscribers’ inboxes,” she says. Although the product was created in response to customer demand, she admits that not all e-mail subscribers want their spam moved into a different folder. “We offer the filter as a service that users can set up according to their own preferences.”

Netaddress and Hotmail also feature filters as e-mail service options. Just as with Yahoo!, users can select certain phrases, such as “act now” or “limited time only,” for the filters to identify within e-mails, and the user chooses whether those e-mails will be diverted to a folder separate from the inbox or sent right to the trash. The filters comb the text and subject fields of e-mails for those certain phrases. If users choose not to set up preferences for their filters, then select e-mails with key phrases that the e-mail providers have chosen, such as “special offer,” will automatically be re-routed to the bulk mail folder.

According to Pollock, messages placed in the Yahoo! bulk mail folders will still be identified as new, unread messages – though what happens next is up to the reader. “The messages will still be in the user’s mailbox,” she says. “They’ll just be in a separate `bulk mail’ folder, that’s all.” Pollock notes that the e-mail messages are rerouted automatically, without human review.

Will filtering block marketing?

Many of the marketers contacted by Catalog Age declined to comment on the effect of mail filters on e-marketing response rates. “This supposedly helpful service still requires you to read all of your bulk e-mail to decide what is useful,” says David Wahl, Website/catalog manager of Seattle-based novelties marketer Archie McPhee, which e-mails monthly newsletters to opt-in subscribers. Based on the current filter systems, Wahl believes the catalog’s e-mails will likely still reach his audience. “You have to ask, why filter it off in the first place when you are going to have to look through it anyway?”

In addition to consumer e-mail providers, many corporations also use filters to screen e-mails that come through their systems. But there are still ways to reach buyers by e-mail. Jay Schwedelson, corporate vice president for Boca Raton, FL-based list firm Worldata, suggests avoiding standard direct marketing copy phrases such as “free” or “50% off” in e-mail subject lines. But even if the e-mails have to go into a bulk mail folder, “I think subscribers will continue to read what they opted in to receive,” he says.

Spam blockers nothwithstanding, Schwedelson says that catalogers sending HTML-based e-mails are showing “strong” response rates. “Many subscribers to browser-based e-mail systems view their e-mail over the Internet, and HTML-based e-mails are more receivable through broswer-based systems than through regular text e-mail systems,” he says. HTML promotions, he adds, generate a much stronger click-through rate than text-only messages.