Thursday, July 12, 2007

FBL: What's Not To Like?

"Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after." ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh, US Author, and Pioneering Aviatrix, (1906-2001)
If I told you there was something as important to marketers as getting whitelisted, that would improve the communication between you, your subscribers and the ISPs... would you do it?

Of course you would... what's not to like?

If you haven't guessed it, I'm talking about feedback loops, (FBLs).

FBLs not only help with list hygiene and deliverability but are an invaluable communication tool and source of additional data on your subscribers.

It's a very simple concept...

A feedback loop, as the name suggests, is information about the result of an action that is sent back to the original source in the form of input data. Simple right? (SIC)

For email marketing we're talking about a mechanism whereby an ISP will let you know when one of its subscribers reports problems with your email. In other words, spam complaints. List owners finally can get data on spam complaints sent to ISPs.

For example, if an AOL member clicks "this is spam" when it receives your e-letter, you normally would not know about it, nor would you know what individual subscriber wants off the list. Oh sure you'll learn about the number of complaints when AOL blocks you, but you would've never known who the complainers are.

Puts the list owner between and rock and a hard place, eh?

But that's par for the course in today's online world... even if your list is 100% "opt-in", you're still going to get a substantial number of spam complaints.

Remember spam is more about perception than reality. And don't be surprised when you learn from the FBLs that your complaint rates are much higher than your list's unsubscribe rate. I'm talking scary high...

Side Bar: Have you ever wondered why readers don't just unsubscribe?

Subscribers often don't unsubscribe because they either are afraid of a virus or don't what to validate the email with an "open." So in the alternative they just hit the "this is spam" button. Either way, it's the list owner that takes the hit, even though the complainer did indeed sign-up for the e-letter.

BUT if you had a FBL in place you would be notified when a member clicks "this is spam". You would get an AOL email that will contain the complete email and header information which will allow you to unsubscribe that complainer.

How do you get an FBL?

You must register for it just as you would a whitelist. Some ISPs compel that you use their FBL as a requirement for whitelist approval. Reason being that this will assure the ISP that you, the list owner, are aware of complaints against your email and that you are taking steps to correct them.

Sounds good, eh?

It gets better.... smart marketers use the FBL data in differet ways. Here are four way I incorporate FBL data:

First is for list cleaning.

An FBL allows for prompt purging of complaining subscribers from your list. It's urgent that you stop mailing to these names even though you have evidence of permission and they have yet to request to unsubscribe.

You are asking for trouble... no, you are asking to get blocked and/or blacklisted, if you don't make the removal of these names a priority. AND don't mess around with the complainers. Don't try to save them, or do a special mailing to them - you'll just get more complaints. Just get rid of them quick will save you time and money.

The second is to establish a historic complaint rate. Too many marketers dismiss complainants as troublemakers, when if fact there's a wealth of data in who complains and what they complain about.

Create your own base line, (% of complaints per mailing), and stay below your chosen threshold. If you can do that, you'll avoid being disabled from certain whitelists, and be clear of future blocks.

Now that you have a base line of complaints, third, you should establish goals to reduce that number... and how do you do that?

Write better copy.

I've found that most complaints are caused by a failure to meet expectations. In other words, the subscriber either didn't know they were going to get your email, or they didn't recognize it. As such, there may be a problem with the language you are using to sign people up.

Take this as an opportunity to improve the clarity of the sign-up process. Each name you collect must know what to expect from your e-letter... they must know what they will get, when they will get it, and how often.

For more on avoiding the perception of spam to new-to-file names, read the CVoD issue entitled: Spikes, But Sorry, No Mulligans

I promise... if you improve the copy at the time of sign-up your complaint rate will decrease.

And that brings us to name collection. The FBL data acquired will not only help you evaluate your sign-up process but will also help review your name accumulation process. If your complaints are high, the source of your names are no doubt poor. You'll need to re-evaluate where you are getting your names.

That is an issue worthy of a CVoD post of its own... as such, I'll leave it at that.

So... what do you think of FBLs?

Establishing AND applying the data from FBLs will result in more satisfied subscribers, happier ISPs, improved deliverability, and ultimately more revenue.

Like I said, what's not to like?