How can I increase my Google AdWords Quality Score?

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Google AdWords Quality ScoreFor those of you using Google AdWords, you’re likely wondering how you can optimize your campaigns and increase your overall results. One area that you should be focused on is your campaign keyword selections — and most specifically, your Google provided “quality score”.

The quality score is the basis for measuring the quality and relevance of your ads and determining your minimum cost-per-click (CPC) bid for Google and the search network. This score is determined by your keyword’s click through rate (CTR) on Google, and the calculated relevance of your ad text, keyword, and landing page(s).

There are several ways that you can improve your quality score, but here are ten good ways to do so:

Factors your can manage within AdWords:

1.) Split your keywords into smaller more targeted ad groups

By grouping your keywords into smaller more targeted ad groups, you can manage each subset of the overall campaign individually, and build small victories into overall campaign increases with a compounding effect. Consider using the built-in keyword grouper tool in Adwords editor to group keywords into 15 groups of 20 related keywords.

2.) Create relevant ad copy for each group

Once you’ve broken up your keywords into smaller more targeted groups, you must then focus on the ads for each group. If you have one ad group focusing on selling “Red Widgets” — then write copy specific to that product, or offer.

3.) Optimize Creatives

Create multiple versions of ads for each group that you’ve created. By doing this, you can test different ad variants and determine the best performing ads for each group to emphasize over time. Measuring the ad clickthrough rate (CTR) as the measurement for which ad creative is performing best.

You should consider turning “ad serving optimization” to the “OFF” setting so that you can accurately split test all 4 ads yourself.

4.) Experiment With Matching Options

If you are using broad matches for your keyword sets within the campaign, you may want to consider using “exact match” and “phrase match” keywords to each ad group. By doing this, you can measure which keywords generate the best quality score and lowest cost-per-click (CPC). According to studies that I’ve read, the exact match keyword groupings will achieve higher quality scores in most cases.

On-page factors you can manage:

5.) Link Building And SEO

As with any Google-related ranking, the number of inbound links and the quality in which your webpage or website is built will have implications upon your quality score. Essentially, if you don’t focus on organic ranking factors, the odds are that you will not achieve as high a quality score as you otherwise could.

Considering launching deep link building campaigns (paid links through third-party (relevant) websites, directory listings, and the like). Additionally, ensure that you have all of the factors in place that generate good organic rankings (title tags, alt tags on images and links, a well constructed and properly internally linked website, and so on). Ensure that your navigation structure works properly and include a site map to help accelerate the indexing of your website.

6.) Implement Keywords

For each page we implement most of the keywords into the copy used in your AdWords campaigns into the on-page copy.

7.) Split Test Landing Page

By doing multivariate or A/B split testing on landing pages used within your Google AdWords campaigns, you have a chance to measure which page is performing better. Ultimately, I always say that “a marketer’s intuition is trumped by cold, hard data” — there’s no way to arrive at that data unless you setup a control and a test version of your experiment.

8.) Meta Tags

Take your best performing keywords within your AdWords campaign and place them into meta tags within your landing page’s back-end file. Use the exact ad text from the best performing creative in the meta description. Also use the best performing and most descriptive keywords as the title of the page.

9.) Essential Site Pages

Ensure that your landing page (at least in the footer of the page) includes basic web page content, such as an “About us”, “Contact us”, or “Privacy policy” pages. This just helps build additional brand-specific keywords into your overall quality score ranking.

10.) Make Sure Google Thinks You’re Relevant

Use the Site-related keyword tool to make sure that Google thinks that your landing page is related to the keywords that you are targeting. Just simply type in your landing page address and double check that your selected keywords are included in the results found. If not, consider adding the results of your search into your campaign sets where appropriate.

I hope this helps all of you guys out there and you enjoyed the read.

— GC

How can I get better results from my banner advertising campaign?

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Banner Advertising

When it comes to launching a successful banner advertising campaign, you need all the help you can get. Here are 8 items that will help you to mitigate your failure rate and increase your chance of success.

I always find it funny that most people I talk to about banner advertisements still think that they don’t work. Whether or not a banner advertisement “works” depends upon what your objective is related to that advertisement to begin with.

As covered in a previous post (“What is the difference between marketing and advertising”), most online marketing efforts are measured specifically by return on investment (ROI). When it comes to advertising, you have to measure its success based upon how it lifts your direct response marketing channels (email, search, radio, etc).

Take a look at my other post titled “The reason why you should continue using banner ads, even if the ROI isn’t there” to get a better understanding of how you should set your expectations regarding ROI on advertising channels, OK?

For those that “get” the value of banner advertisements, let’s take a look at an 8-point list of items that will help your banner advertising campaign be successful.

  1. Set campaign goals
    Any successful campaign will start with the goals and work backwards from there. Define the purpose of the banner ad campaign before starting on your creative, etc. If your message is built to increase sales, the odds are that it will vary greatly from one that is looking to increase brand awareness/recognition.
  2. Placement environment
    Although some research I’ve seen shows that animated banner ads can receive upwards of 2 or 3 times the number of clickthroughs, they are often limited by channel type. For instance, a static (non-moving) banner can be placed in an RSS feed, email newsletters/campaigns, etc, where the animated banner cannot be displayed in such an environment. By understanding the website’s native creative style and designing your advertisement to appear as content that BELONGS with that website as a piece of valuable content will always outperform some annoying banner advertisement with a flashing button.
  3. Call to action
    This might be the biggest mistake that most advertisers run into when they concept and implement a banner campaign. Don’t forget your call to action … if you don’t ask someone to take a step, why would they? Well, they might, but let’s drive them to click, OK?
  4. Visual appearance
    As previously discussed, camouflaging your advertisement as a piece of native content will work well, but if you can’t do that then lean on brighter color schemes. Stay within your brand guidelines, but know that it’s a natural instinct to overlook banner advertising as the web continues to age and become more commonplace with younger generations. You want to stand out from the content … get noticed with flashy colors.
  5. Messaging
    Keep the message simple, short and focused. Don’t provide multiple calls to action, or too much text. Just provide a simple message that when an audience member views, they can quickly determine to learn more and clickthrough to your landing page. Which brings us to …
  6. Landing page
    Don’t send visitors to your website with navigation to the rest of your website. When you have a fish on the line, it’s like setting down your poll and being content with the fact that you got a nibble. Real that sucker in! By mitigating the chance of failure (by setting up a single page, with clear selling value propositions and a conversion point, like a easy-to-fill out form), you substantially increase your chance at converting that person into a customer/donor. It’s important to note that minimizing friction/anxiety factors (like the length of your form, the design of your page, the copy being too long, etc.) – you can massively increase your conversion rate. If you’re trying to get people to opt-in to receive your email newsletter on your landing page – don’t ask them for their social security number, or mailing address. Some prospective customers would argue with me that this is critical information to have on their file, but you can have a strategy in place to collect that information later. Capture their interest now, engage later, move on.
  7. Content Freshness
    Refresh banner ads regularly. Some studies that I’ve reviewed have indicated that clickthrough rates of banner ads start to drop off after 2-3 weeks. Refresh your creative to provide a new fresh look and feel (even if your message is the same). This does two things: (1) appears new to the audience again, thereby giving them a psychological incentive to clickthrough to investigate (even if it is again), and (2) depending on the network, give your advertisements a higher level of priority in the server’s queue of ads to display (especially in a cost-per-click/CPC model). If you’re not getting clicks, ad networks will eventually stop serving your ads and will cut off your traffic.
  8. Testing and tracking
    Data/Analytics > Marketer’s Intuition. Whenever someone says, “I think that ___________”, my almost immediate rebuttal is “Let’s test it!” Look, nobody is a mind reader, especially not through a banner advertisement … so, build a couple of different types of content (which would be your experiment’s “treatment”) and serve it on the same network, at the same days/times, with the same budget setup (which will act as your “control”), and let it rip. Evaluate for at least 5-7 days, and then move forward with the better performing creative set and cut the under performing one. Do it again if you’d like against a third, forth, etc., etc. number of creative sets until you’ve got the absolute best performing ad creative/message. This is your business, make it work for you!

As Peter Drucker (and as repeated by Dr. Flint McGlaughlin from Marketing Experiments) once said:

“Adequacy is the enemy of excellence.”

Always strive for better things for you/your business and you will always be better than when you started.

I hope this helps in setting up your next banner advertising campaign – remember always to track your results (remember my credo, which is “If you can’t track it, don’t do it!”). Track it by medium (banner), or by individual sources (they websites in which your ads were served) to segment, optimize and re-prioritize moving forward.

All the best,

— GC

How can we customize our Facebook Fan Page to insert a call to action?

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I recently read a case study that showed how a large non profit organization leveraged a custom home page on their Facebook Fan Page to insert multiple calls to action for those visiting their page, including “signing a petition”, “liking” the fan page itself, or “give a gift”.

Of course, the campaign was highly relevant to some state legislation that was going to cut funding for the nonprofit, so there was a clear cause, message and goal in terms of raising the funds.

The campaign, when coupled with direct response channels (like email, direct mail and search marketing) ended up generating $950,000.00 over the course of several weeks. The Facebook Fan Page helped spread the message across the social network and generated (1) brand awareness, (2) cause awareness and (3) new donor dollars.

In doing some investigation on how to build custom home pages on your Facebook Fan Page to include a “call to action” for your marketing campaign, I found an article from Mashable that gives you a great step-by-step walk through on how to get one setup, which I’ll gladly regurgitate here.

Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Add the Static FBML App
    The tabs at the top of your Facebook Fan Page are apps. Some, like your wall and photos are built into Facebook. Others are essentially plug-ins where fans can view external content, like YouTube videos, Flickr photos, etc.The app you need for your custom page is called “Static FBML,” located here. If you’re logged into Facebook, you can add it to your Page. It is essentially a blank canvas where you can add whatever content you want, including custom graphics and links via standard HTML.

  2. Set Up Your Tab
    Once you’ve added the Static FBML app, click “Edit Page” below your company’s profile image. This will bring up all your settings and apps. Look for the FBML app and click the “Application Settings” link.

    The app can function in two ways: As a set of boxes, or as one dedicated profile tab. If you’re building a splash page, you’ll probably want to use it as a tab, so go ahead and make sure that the “Box” setting is removed, and the “Tab” setting is added. You can always experiment with boxes later if you find them more useful.

  3. Add Your Content
    Once you’re in tab mode, go back to your settings and click the “Edit” link under the Static FBML app. This opens a standard text field where you can add your content.

    “Box Title” will be the name of your tab, so you’ll want to change it to something appropriate, like “This Week’s Deals,” “Special Offers,” or simply “Welcome,” depending on how you plan to use your Page.

    The main text field is where your content goes, and you can add standard HTML to the page as you would any website, including images, text, links, and other formatting. No need for HTML, BODY, or HEAD tags.

    Note that your images must be hosted elsewhere (on your company’s website, for example) and only referenced in your HTML code.

  4. Make It the Default Landing Page
    If you want this new tab to be the “face” of your business Fan Page, head back over to your page settings and edit your “Wall Settings.” There is an option for “Default Landing Tab for Everyone Else.” From that menu, select your new tab.


    From now on, it will be the first thing visitors see when they arrive.

  5. Engage Further With FBML
    FBML stands for Facebook Markup Language, and it is the code used in Facebook applications to reference items on the social network, like user profiles, groups, feeds, and other data. If you’re really looking to integrate your landing page and get interactive with visitors, it might be worthwhile to learn this language.

— GC

Should our organization create a Facebook Fan Page?

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Should our organization create a Facebook Fan Page?

Recently, I was asked to compile a strategy document outlining how one of our faith-based non-profit customers could leverage a Facebook Fan Page.

They seemed on the fence as to whether or not they should build a Facebook Fan Page, so as a part of the strategy I developed, I wanted to justify the reasoning behind actually creating one. Below is the list that I compiled for them.

So, without further adieu — let’s take a look:

Ten reasons to create a Facebook Fan Page:

  1. 500MM+ global users on Facebook and counting
    With that kind of population, Facebook is essentially the 3rd largest country in the world.
  2. 100MM+ U.S. users
    American-based accounts make up 1/3 of all Facebook users worldwide.
  3. Average user spends 55 minutes per day on Facebook
    According to Facebook’s “Inside Facebook” study, nearly an hour per day, per user is the average – that’s translates to tremendous opportunity and reach.
  4. Nearly 80,000 websites are now using Facebook Connect
    According to ComScore, 50% of the world’s largest websites, and 66% of the largest US-based websites have implemented Connect, which is an integration point which allows for quick-sharing to personal profiles. This means that Facebook is positioning to become the central hub of the internet.
  5. The average Facebook user has 130 friends
    This is an indication of the tertiary level of reach that brands can connect with to position their brand and increase revenue.
  6. The average Facebook user will “Fan” 2 pages per month
    This is an indication of the likelihood in which you can attract followers, thereby extending your brand’s reach to connect with potential followers/fans of your brand that you otherwise may not have reached.
  7. Only 4% of Fan Pages have 10,000 or more fans
    In a study conducted by Sysomos where they evaluated 600,000 Facebook fan pages, they found that 4% of Fan Pages have 10,000 or more fans. This means that a strong strategy to not only collect fans, but to continue to engage with them consistently and provide them compelling reasons to return.
  8. Customized news feed
    A recent modification to the news feed algorithm that Facebook uses modifies the way in which news is displayed to Facebook visitors. The algorithm will now prioritize content updates to a higher level if visitors have interacted with that person/brand’s updates in the past. This puts a priority upon providing relevant and consistent content.
  9. Wall posts do not impact popularity
    The same Sysomos study showed that frequent wall posts did not positively impact the number of fans collected as much as additional content (pictures, videos, notes, etc.) did. This bodes well for your organization to engage consistently with potential followers.
  10. Real-time search changes have been made
    Facebook has opened their unprotected content/updates to be made available for search engines to index it for display. Google/Bing have already begun including Facebook updates in their results pages, which means that having a Facebook Fan Page will positively impact your organic search efforts moving forward.

I hope this makes you consider why you should create a Facebook Fan Page, but odds are that you already have one in place. Of course, the real intellectual capital in the strategy was centered around how they could use that to identify the following items:

  • Advocacy programs
  • Extended reach
  • Identifying new donors
  • Name acquisition campaigns
  • Collecting new donations

If you need assistance in crafting a customized strategy around how you can do these types of things with your Facebook Fan Page — drop me a note & I’d be more than happy to help.

— GC

What anxiety exists within the most popular marketing channels?

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Throughout the recent years, I’ve been asked by a number of different marketers (both traditional, brand marketers and online marketers) on how they can leverage some of the newer marketing channels (namely social and mobile) to their advantage.

The first step in understanding how to leverage these marketing channels is to understand that your potential customers have a certain level of anxiety associated with providing you with their contact information within said marketing channels.

Marketing Channel Anxiety

In your online marketing efforts, you must truly understand the anxiety that your prospective audience has when it comes to providing information about themselves. If you look at your available marketing channels, you can begin building plans around the marketing channel in an attempt to upgrade people slowly over time for optimum results.

In an attempt to properly depict how I view the building anxiety associated with providing you their contact information, I show in the chart above, the progression that dramatically increases when you get more personal or start infringing upon two factors: (1) where the person lives, and (2) when the target can start incurring additional fees associated with receiving marketing campaigns and messages from your company.

In an attempt to provide more information and detail, I’ll reiterate the information shown in the graph above, within the following paragraphs:

Little Anxiety: Twitter

Twitter is possibly the lowest anxiety marketing channel available to marketers to use at the time of writing this article, but it also has possibly the highest “noise” factor. According to a recent study published by Mashable, 80% of Twitter activity is classified as “conversations” or “pointless babble”, while 15% of activity is categorized as either “Spam” or “self promotion”.

Additionally, the report indicates that Twitter account usage has a 60% abandonment rate — where a user will register for an account on their first visit, then 6-out-of-10 new accounts will never be visited or used again. This means that marketers need to be wary about pumping too much time and energy into their Twitter account activities, but those engaged followers that do use the accounts consistently that choose to follow your brand will indeed be looking at your messages, or “Tweets”.

I list Twitter in the category of “little” anxiety due almost exclusively to the point that it is the truest form of “opt-in” marketing. Adversely, it is also the easiest marketing channel to “opt-out” of, as well. If someone wants to stop seeing your Tweets/marketing messages — they simply unfollow you and that is the end of your ability to connect with them through the channel.

Marketers should build strategies around how to easily opt-in followers (by offering special offers, or exclusive content), but then have a messaging strategy that is focused on driving the engaged Twitter audience to convert in another marketing channel (i.e. “… become a ‘Fan’ on Facebook and receive X”, etc).

Low Anxiety: Facebook

Facebook is becoming the darling of social networks — and rightfully so. In a recent demographic report that I read online, Facebook has grown from 1/4/2009 – to – 1/4/2010 by 144.9% in the United States alone, to reach an overall network size (just within our country) to a total of 103,085,520 accounts. On the network, potential targets provide a number of different pieces of information that can be leveraged by smart marketing professionals for behavioral purposes. Identifying the “fan” page’s favorite music, television shows, books and movies in conjunction with the creation of the Facebook Fan Page gives marketers the opportunity to quickly an easily provide content onto the homepage of every “fan”.

Additionally, you can easily provide “fan” page members with the ability to, within a single click of a “Like” button, to post to their home page (where all of their networked contacts will see updates in their own homepages) your message, post, or Fan Page URL. It is a true viral network that is still increasing the level of its sophistication and opportunity.

The anxiety, albeit listed at “Low”, is still higher than Twitter in the fact that a large portion of people on the network will guard personal information (pictures, videos, etc.) from those that they do not know. This personal information will create pause in the mind of the target before agreeing to “fan” or “like” your content for just a moment. It is also listed at this level due to the fact that they can quickly and easily remove you from their follow list with a single click to remove you from their profile.

Marketers should leverage this marketing channel for advocacy purposes, allowing those that feel passionate about your cause, product, or company to share it with other like-minded friends and family members. It’s essentially the digital version of the most effective kind of marketing of all time: word-of-mouth marketing.

Medium Anxiety: Email

All of you marketers out there that have been developing name acquisition campaigns, or more specifically, online marketing campaigns to capture email addresses that you can continue to cultivate purchasers/donors from, you know of the difficulties associated with email capture. In fact, Convio released their annual Nonprofit Benchmark Study, which showed that the email registration rate from 2008 to 2009 across all nonprofit verticals dropped from 3.22% to 2.12% (which represents a 34.16% decline year over year).

That means that 97 of 100 website visitors will not provide you their email address. This is an extremely high number and usually is an indicator as to the fact that most organizations are not providing compelling enough reasons for website visitors to provide their email address and information.

If you’ve owned an email address for any extended period of time, you know how much unsolicited email you receive on a daily basis. People are tired of inbox clutter … and they’ll become far more picky as to who they will provide their email address to as we continue through the next decade.

To a marketer, email addresses are great. This is not a new concept — it’s been this way for the better part of this past decade. We can deliver highly personalized, well designed and email campaigns into the inbox of hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people at once and analyze click behavior and provide follow-up analysis of how to reengage with anyone that interacted with your message. The only problem is that most people don’t prefer to get your email correspondence, and they’re proving it by declining year after year in terms of their email registration rate.

To collect this valuable information from your prospective customers/donors, you will need to provide a value exchange that is worth it to them. Offer incentives, free resources, access to special areas of your website, etc. in exchange for the email address, but understand that you’re likely going to fail more than you will succeed (unless, of course, your direct response marketing agency is KMA Direct Communications … yes, I know … a very shameless plug).

Moderate Anxiety: Physical Mailing Address

If you don’t know who I am — would you give me your address if I asked for it? Of course not, and in fact, people online are less likely to provide you their home address unless you’re shipping them something, they’re buying something (and have to in order to complete a transaction online), or they’re providing you a donation.

This one is quite obvious, but you would be surprised by those that I speak with that insist they need it. If you do not absolutely have to have it — I repeat, HAVE TO HAVE it — do not ask for it online.

Again, many organizations that I talk to will try to fight me tooth and nail on why it’s imperative that they have the mailing address of someone that wants to opt-in to receive their quarterly newsletter.

I can assure you … people looking to sign up to receive your newsletter email campaign don’t see it the same way.

If you feel like you have to have the mailing address, ask for it in a subsequent follow-up email. Look, if someone has given you their first name, last name and email address — you have the means through which to connect with them a countless number of times moving forward. So, collect that information now … and back fill the other information that you want to collect (mailing address, number of kids, household income, social security number … or whatever else it may be) at a later date.

Don’t force them to give it to you all at once. The odds are against you if you try to collect too much information too early. Play the odds.

High Anxiety: Mobile Phone

Just about every marketer nowadays wants to know how they can incorporate mobile (most notably, SMS/text messages or MMS) into their marketing campaigns. It usually starts by providing an opportunity for visitors to your website to provide their mobile device number into your database, at which point you need to have a system to administer and send a mass SMS/MMS campaign to those numbers. There are a number of FCC hoops that you will need to jump through, but more notably — you’re going to have a difficult time in getting those numbers from your website visitors.

Why? Because the cell phone carriers will, in most cases, charge your audience an additional fee to receive your SMS/MMS message(s). If you send several appeals or messages per month — those fees can stack up quickly and you’ll have a very disgruntled recipient, who will be far more likely to opt-out of receiving such messages than to clickthrough or convert for your campaign.

With the creation of smart phone (iPhone, Blackberry and Droid) applications, you can make special offers and send “push notifications” via your application to those that have downloaded it. You can connect with them efficiently this way, but as is such with any new technology, the pricing and capabilities for an application development firm can vary wildly.

As such, the cost to administer, run and promote mobile marketing is extremely high for most marketing organizations. Yes, you will have about the lowest amount of “noise” in this channel (most organizations are shying away from this until later down the road), but you will also pay a premium fee to reach those contacts via this channel.

On top of all of that — this definitely reigns supreme as the highest anxiety channel. I ask you: What SMS/MMS marketing lists are you on? Probably none.

I hope you found the post to be informational and enlightening and are now prepared to think about your marketing endeavors in a different light now that you fully understand the anxiety associated with receiving information from your organization via each of the aforementioned marketing channels.

— GC

Why marketers need to believe that clarity trumps persuasion

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Clarity Trumps Persuasion

When it comes to any marketing, but most specifically fund raising for non profit organizations, we need to force ourselves to remember that clarity always trumps persuasion in our marketing efforts. Transparency and honesty will always prevail.

Some of you may know that I’m a big fan of MarketingExperiments, and more specifically their Director — Dr. Flint McGlaughlin. One of the things that he touts frequently when teaching and educating young marketing professionals is that clarity trumps persuasion.

He argues that marketing professionals do not need to be a genius at persuasion, so long as you can simply take the time to study your processes and achieve genuine clarity.

How many times have you been to a website that cites they’re the “… world leader in __________“, or the “… recognized global leader in __________“?

The odds are that these organizations are not the leader, or recognized at all, but rather they are being led by marketing professionals that are practicing persuasion tactics.

This same approach should be applied to nonprofit organizations, specifically with regards to their fund raising efforts. Think about how you approach your audiences (existing and/or prospective donors). Are you leveraging persuasion or clarity in your marketing themes and messages?

Our friends Jill and Chay were being married a week or so ago and while attending the rehearsal dinner (my wife was one of her bridesmaids), I found myself in a long conversation with the soon-to-be bride’s mother. We had not had a chance to talk much in the past, but in the flow of the conversation I found out that she was a donor to one of the organizations that we here at KMA Direct Communications manage and execute fund raising campaigns for (whose name I will not include in this article).

I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and her recommendations, as it was essentially a one-off donor survey. She was very candid with me and honest/forthcoming.

In our conversation, she told me that she would highly consider giving more often to the organization if they would simply show her how her (and other) donations were being allocated and what impact they have had. Because this client is so young (not even a year old yet), we have not had a chance to implement a “here is what your dollars are working for” type of message… but, her recommendation follows the theme for this message.

By providing her clarity and insight into how we are using her gift towards furthering our cause and making an impact on the world we live in, she is more likely to give more donations and more frequently.

In this case, there was no example of persuasion (we are, after all, good marketers and follow the principles that we preach … :-)), so I cannot identify how she was dissuaded from providing another gift due to it.

Strategically, we are planning on adding additional clarity into our messaging to share with donors the exact impact their gifts had regarding this nonprofit organization’s cause.

To close, and to echo the thoughts and direction of  Dr. Flint McGlaughlin, I will ask each of you to remember that clarity in your marketing process should always answer three things to your prospective donors:

  1. Where am I?
  2. What is your offer?
  3. Why should I give a gift to you?

If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.

– Jesus Christ, John 8:31-32

All the best,

— GC

Is it legal to send email campaigns to a purchased list?

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No SPAM

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, signed by President George W. Bush, requires certain elements to be included in unsolicited email correspondence to make it legal and to protect the sender from lawsuits, but how do you feel ethically about sending to a purchased list?

In my past life, working for a large, privately-held, ESP (Email Service Provider) here in Dallas, TX — I learned quite a bit about the legality and ethics associated with email marketing. I would often receive questions from prospective customers regarding the legal aspect of sending “unsolicited” email campaigns — or as we more commonly refer to it — SPAM.

SPAM email is one of those things that businesses don’t want to be associated with, but they always seem to creep closer and closer towards (especially in tight economic climates, or when their name acquisition efforts are not working as quickly as they would like).

So, in today’s blog, we’re going to review the legal aspects of sending campaign messages via email to purchased email lists.

This debate is really an ethical vs. legal one. As someone that previously purchased marketing lists and distributed email campaigns to them, I can tell you this — everyone that is on the list thinks that they can sue you for sending them your email.

I’m here to tell you that they can’t, so long as you cover your bases. So, let’s look at the legal aspects of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003.

Definition:

SPAM is the use of electronic messaging systems (including most broadcast media, digital delivery systems) to send unsolicited bulk messages indiscriminately.

Summary of CAN-SPAM Act of 2003:

  • Signed into law by President George W. Bush on 12/16/2003
  • Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003
  • SPAM is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
  • Commonly referred to as “You Can SPAM Act”, as it legalizes most email spam, in particular it doesn’t require permission prior to marketing
  • Prohibits states from enacting stronger laws against unsolicited mail

If you do not want to be sued or shut down by the FTC, here is what you need to include in your message(s):

Legal Requirements:

  • Sender must provide physical mailing address in unsolicited messages
  • Provide recipient with a valid opt-out request
  • A recipient cannot be required to pay a fee to opt-out
  • A recipient can do as little as replying to the sender requesting opt-out
  • Opt-out requests must be honored within 10 days of receipt
  • A few other elements that are too geeky to worry about here (false headers, open relays, etc.)

So, in summary — so long as you include those items, you’re good to start carpet-bombing every email address you can buy, right?

Wrong.

This is where the ethical aspect of the debate comes into play.

You see, major spam monitoring services (services like Barracuda, SPAM Assassin, etc.) are not legally bound to deliver your email to their recipients (even if you include all of the legal requirements). They can (and do) run every email through a rigorous series of tests in an attempt to weed out even potentially SPAM email messages.

Here’s a chart from the Barracuda website that indicates all of the measures a single email message will go through to reach one of their recipients:

Barracuda Spam Architecture

Once you get on a spam blacklist, it can be a rigorous and time-consuming process to overcome. In fact, most ESP’s will not allow their clients to upload purchased email lists for the simple fact that it creates a massive headache for them to “clear their names” again with those said blacklist management companies.

From an ethical standpoint, I would (and will always) advise against buying email lists for sure fire marketing initiatives. That said, there are always exceptions (and I suppose you can persuade me that it is acceptable for certain scenarios and with certain businesses), but not for non-profits and their fund raising efforts.

It’s worth mentioning that there is a very clear difference between “rented lists” and “purchased lists”. The rented list is one that is provided to you by a reputable firm, that has double-opted in their audience and asked them if they would be willing to “receive advertisements from their affiliates” (you’ve seen these lists, right?). These names are rented for a certain period of time (or number of sends) by the marketing organization (and are never truly in control of the marketer).

A purchased list is either manually or automatically scraped (via a program/script) over the internet to collect email addresses (usually on “contact us” forms, or directories, etc). More often than not, a purchased list seller will relinquish control of email addresses/names to the marketing organization to own and market to an unlimited number of times.

It seems like a hard mountain to climb, but the journey of a thousand miles starts but with one small step — so, I would always advise that the funds you would spend on purchasing a list are better spent on advertising and growing your email house file organically.

With proper targeting and A/B testing, you can actually get to a point where your cost-per-acquisition (CPA) is not that much (a few dollars) for a name/email address.

We actually have one client here at KMA that makes at least $5.00 every time someone gives them their name/email address (because they subsequently turn into donors so quickly thereafter).

In conclusion:

An organically grown list will always outperform (some of our tests show between double to triple the results) of a purchased list and will not jeopardize your overall email marketing efforts (or leave you offline for a period of time due to grappling with SPAM monitoring services that have blacklisted you as a SPAMMER).

The moral of the story goes back to an Aesop Fable about the Tortoise and the Hare — slow but steady wins the race.

— GC

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