Shocker: FreshAddress Goes Opt-In
By Ken Magill
In a significant about face, email append firm FreshAddress has switched its business model to opt-in based—or at least as opt-in based as its executives believe it can go and remain a viable company.
The move comes amid an increasing amount of scrutiny the practice of email-appending has been under in recent months.
Email appending—where a marketer gives a data vendor a postal list to which the data vendor matches as many email addresses to postal records as possible and charges a fee for each one—has always been controversial.
The Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group officially condemned the practice in September.
“The practice of email appending is in direct violation of core MAAWG values,” the group of email service providers and ISPs said in a statement.
What is more, last week email service provider Experian CheetahMail, a long-time proponent of appending, renounced the practice. Experian CheetahMail is a MAAWG member.
However, it should be noted that in announcing CheetahMail’s policy shift in a blog post, Experian CheetahMail privacy and compliance leader Ben Isaacson used the term “opt-out appending,” leading some in email marketing circles to believe he left the firm some wiggle room.
“I can appreciate that many marketers have had success with email appending efforts, however, the opt-out appending process should be discontinued for the betterment of the entire email marketing community,” wrote Isaacson.
His wording begged the question: Well, what would opt-in appending look like?
Typically, email appending involves either the vendor or the client sending the matched addresses permission messages saying something along the lines of: “You are a customer of so-and-so and they want to add you to their email list. If you don’t want to hear from them, opt out.”
Then the marketer begins sending messages to all those who took did not opt out. Among the many problems with this practice is the addresses that showed no action could be old, abandoned addresses that have been turned into spam traps.
Moreover, as ISPs reportedly increasingly use engagement metrics, such as opens and clicks, to determine whether email is wanted by would-be recipients, sending email to inactive addresses becomes an increasingly risky proposition.
As a result, FreshAddress—one of the more well-known email appending firms—has switched its introductory messages to would-be appendees to opt-in based, according to Austin Bliss, president and co-founder of the company.
“We saw a lot of drama over opt-in versus opt-out, particularly in 2011,” said Bliss. “And we made a corporate decision that in 2012 we were going to switch to an opt-in model.”
Messages from FreshAddress to appended addresses starting two weeks ago and going forward say something along the lines of: “You are a customer of so-and-so and they want to add you to their email list. If you want to hear from them, click here to opt in.”
“We’re actively asking people to raise their hands and say: ‘Yes, I want to have an email relationship,’” said Bliss.
Significantly, however, FreshAddress’s clients will still receive all the addresses FreshAddress identified as that of their postal customers—those who opted out, those who did nothing and those who opted in, according to Bliss.
Then FreshAddress will consult with its clients on what to do with each group, he said.
By sending opt-in permission messages and segmenting the responders, Bliss said, FreshAddress is combating an industry perception that appended addresses don’t perform.
“This is helping identify the portion of the results that will really perform,” he said. “They’re the hand raisers.”
Also, unlike other appending firms, FreshAddress requires its clients to supply postal addresses of customers who have been active within at least the past 24 months, said Bliss.
“That’s by contract and it’s much stricter than anyone else,” he said.
He added that FreshAddress’s database of 835 million email addresses is permission based.
“These addresses aren’t scraped off the Internet. … So when we match an address, these are your customers who have raised their hands and said: ‘Yes, we want third party offers,’” said Bliss. “They checked a box that said: ‘Yes, and I want to hear from other people.’”
Previously, FreshAddress’s executives believed those safeguards were enough to justify sending opt-out based permission messages.
“Now, we’re flipping that,” said Bliss. “All of the messages we send are 100 percent opt in.”
Under current plans, FreshAddress will send one permission message to would-be appendees on clients’ behalves.
“Then we’ll have three buckets,” said Bliss. “We’ll have the recipients who said: ‘I don’t want to waste another second. I want in.’ We’ll have this bucket in the middle of people who took no action, and we’ll have this bucket on the side of people who actively opted out.
“We’re going to return all three of those buckets to our clients, because our clients are in the best position to send that second message or whatever they want to do with that no-action bucket,” said Bliss. “And our client is in the best position to immediately monetize those who opted in.”
He added: “What a lot of our customers will do is take that no-action list and they’re going to continue to hit it with maybe a second or third opt-in message.”
Bliss conceded that some email experts will be critical of FreshAddress delivering the non-responders to clients.
But, he said: “We have to do that. Otherwise we couldn’t compete in this business. All of our competitors are handing over those addresses. What we’re doing is handing them over to our clients and saying: ‘These people took no action. This is our recommendation about what you do about that.’
“This concept [held by some in the industry] that if they didn’t take an action, I can never ask them another thing is a little extreme,” Bliss said. “It is totally legal to mail these people. They’re customers, and they’re customers within the last 24 months. It’s perfectly acceptable to mail them and say: ‘Hey, did you miss it [the first permission message]?’”
When asked if he was concerned about Canada’s new permission-based anti-spam law scheduled to go into effect sometime this year, Bliss said FreshAddress doesn’t offer appending outside the U.S.
“That’s not what keeps me up at night,” he said.