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That Sound You Hear is my Head Coming Out of my Ass


By Ken Magill

After a piece ran here last week taking issue with the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group’s blanket condemnation of email appending, some readers politely let me know they thought my head was planted firmly in my ass on the subject.

They also offered to help me extract it. So I talked with a few of them.


Sniff. Wow. The air outside my ass is certainly more pleasant to breathe.

For those who don’t know, email appending is when a vendor takes a client’s postal list and matches it to its database of postal addresses and email names, and sells the client the email addresses it can match to the client’s postal file.

A Google search on “email append match rate” brought back companies claiming match rates of from 20 percent to a questionably high 55 percent.

MAAWG put out a statement saying appending is simply not an acceptable email marketing practice.

Last week I wrote that if an appender has a large database of people who have agreed to receive email from it, matches what data it can, and sends requests from its own servers on the marketer’s behalf on an opt-in basis—meaning recipients must respond in order to be added to the marketer’s file—it’s a permission-based endeavor and violates nothing MAAWG stands for.

Some readers said the scenario above is list rental, not appending. Others agreed appending could work the way I described and not violate MAAWG’s principles—the operative word there being “could”—but still took me to task.

“Can you name me one company that does things as you have described?” asked Laura Atkins, principal of deliverability firm Word-to-the-Wise, in the comments section of the article.

Come to think of it, no.

And that’s the point, according to Al Iverson, director of privacy and deliverability at email service provider ExactTarget. He said he has seen a slew of clients have their email files appended and the results are always the same.

“Companies [appenders] will talk about how they use 21 different data sources and how their service is on the up-and-up and invariably they’re still sending over spam traps and lists that have high complaints and high bounces,” he said.

Spam traps, complaints and bounces are three key metrics email inbox providers use to determine if email from a particular sender is spam. If they see too many of one or all three of those metrics, they will treat the mailer’s messages as spam by either pushing it off into the spam folder or blocking it altogether.

According to Iverson, appending on a permission basis is simply too costly to be economically feasible.

“If you’re doing a permission pass and it’s true opt in and you’re relying on clicks to get opt ins, think of what you’re best click-through rate is that you’ve ever had in any marketing campaign,” he said. “At the very high end that’s going to be 10 to 30 percent.”

“So you get this subscriber pool of addresses that have been matched, but [if a permission email is sent to which recipients must respond in order to get future messages] you’re throwing 70 to 90 percent of them away,” Iverson said. “That’s very unattractive to the client and the append vendor, probably more so to the append vendor because they give the client fewer records.”

Iverson said he has heard of one company at a competing email service provider who has tried email appending on a permission basis and has been satisfied. He said the company is a luxury brand and its customers’ average lifetime value may be high enough to make permission-based appending work.

However: “All of our clients who have tried it [appending] have had trouble with it afterward,” he said. “It is a practice that is not acceptable in the eyes of Yahoo! and we know specifically that it is driving spam complaints.”

Author’s note: If any appender wants to defend the process on the record, I’ll be happy to publish the defense here.


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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Tara Natanson
Date: 2011-09-29 07:30:57
Subject: Question for Brian Cardona

Brian, Thank you for sharing that. I would like to challenge anyone who has done an email append to setup an opt-out comment box on their unsubscribe landing page and see what types of comments come rolling in. Just curious.
Posted by: Brian Cardona
Date: 2011-09-28 15:52:59
Subject: Positive Email Append Experiences

Bill Kaplan does a good job of laying it out. When done properly, it works. Many Fortune 500 companies rely on it and their ESPs support it. TowerData will be releasing a case study within a few days featuring Financial Times' success with email append. By combining appended email with direct mail, their overall response rate has increased by 7%, plus they are saving money by avoiding additional postal efforts. With respect to opt-in vs opt-out, yes, things get turned upside down. However we have had clients run both statements and segment their welcome email series based on the action taken (opt-in vs no action). Finding a reputable provider and taking an "eyes open" approach are key.
Posted by: Tara Natanson
Date: 2011-09-28 08:43:31
Subject: Question for Bill Kaplan...

putting all else aside I'd be interested to know what % of your clients choose for you to send that first message as an opt-in (click here if you want to be added) versus an opt-out (you've been added, click here if you don't want to be). Also by claiming "Moreover, the file to be used for matching will be an opt-in only file " are you saying that every email address you have that is available to be matched has been given to your company by the recipient because they wanted to be appended to any marketers list who happened to have their physical mailing address? Really? how does one submit their name for this? I'd love to get email from all those companies who I purchased something from through a paper catalog before the internet came along.
Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2011-09-28 08:43:15
Subject: Paragraph Breaks

I'll get on it, Kelly.
Posted by: Kelly Lorenz
Date: 2011-09-28 03:17:05
Subject: By the way...

Ken is it possible to change the comment format to allow for paragraph breaks? It's hard to read otherwise...
Posted by: Kelly Lorenz
Date: 2011-09-28 03:16:22
Subject: Weighing in

1) I love that J.D. posts comments as "someone posting under the name J.D." I remember the article you wrote that used that phrase and it still tickles me. Carry on. 2) I would like one, just one, client to weigh in that has used e-appending to success. All I see are ESPs reps/Deliverability Experts (myself included) or E-Appending companies weighing in. Personally, I've had a few non-profit clients do e-appending through a "reputable" company that even claimed to send the opt-in message to the subscribers via their own system before providing the addresses to the client. For example, one non-profit I worked with had high donation goals and did this once with us before they were fired as a client. Three things smelled funny about this: a. There were over 250k subscribers handed over. Implausibly high for a purported opt-in campaign. That's better results than any opt-in campaign I have ever seen before. b. The first send through our platform resulted in enormous bounce rates and complaints. How is that possible if they are all opt-in and cleaned prior to providing? c. The e-append company was eager to send an opt-in campaign via their own IPs and servers, which smelled bad. If they do this for all of their clients I would be surprised if they had any healthy IPs at all. Just my two cents. But find a client, just one, to support your claims of success, please, e-appenders because I can find many that can't.
Posted by: Bill Kaplan (FreshAddress, Inc.)
Date: 2011-09-28 01:59:48
Subject: Email Appending

Thanks for stirring up an always interesting topic, Ken. In my mind, there are really two completely separate issues that you, MAAWG, and others are arguing back and forth here and it's important that each of these be considered separately. Issue #1: Is it ethical to perform an email append for your customer/donor lists? This issue lies at the heart of the discussion with some vocal participants arguing that it's not proper to take a customer/donor relationship established in one channel and try to transform this into a multi-channel relationship through an email append service. Ken's response - "Okay, but can they at least ask" - certainly holds merit although others would argue that the email channel is a sacrosanct channel and should never be violated. I think Ken’s response to that would be “Maybe it’s time to get off your high horse!” Now, I hate spam as much as the next person but individuals, companies, and nonprofits can benefit greatly from building online relationships, and oftentimes an email appending service is the spark that’s required to initiate and build these relationships. On the other hand, I get direct mail all of the time that I don’t want from companies I’ve never done business with. It takes trees and energy to create these pieces, it’s costly, time-consuming, and annoying for me to dispose of this trash on a daily basis, and I still don’t understand how all of this paper ever really gets destroyed and at what additional cost to environment. An email, on the other hand, can get deleted in a split second. And, if the only emails we received were from companies we already had relationships with and that honored opt-out requests, I bet there would be very few people complaining about the spam in their email boxes. And I’ve got a pretty good history with betting! Issue #2: What are the risks and rewards to performing an email append? And how do you properly vet a vendor? MAAWG raises a number of issues here that are valid. Many of the email append providers simply don’t have the experience, expertise, or integrity to perform this service in the careful and conscientious manner necessary to ensure the significant ROI that can be generated through regular email appending. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. An ethical email append provider will vet their clients carefully to ensure their customer/donor databases constitute only those individuals with whom they have a business or donor relationship. Moreover, the file to be used for matching will be an opt-in only file that has been carefully vetted and screened for suspect and malicious email addresses, possible spamtraps, closed but unmonitored domains, FCC’s Wireless Domain blocks, the DMA’s ‘Do Not Email’ file, the Utah/Michigan Child Suppression registries (where applicable), and the client’s own opt-out file to name just a few of the suppression processes that should be utilized. Then the matching should be performed tightly to the individual or family dependent on the nature of the underlying client relationship. After the matching process is complete and before the deployment of a confirmation email, the matches should be hygiened again to ensure the most up-to-date suppression databases have been utilized. Then an approved confirmation email (opt-out or opt-in, depending on the client’s wishes) should be sent to verify the matched email addresses and to give the recipients an opportunity to vote with their fingers as to whether they want to receive future email communications. As MAAWG suggests and Ken has previously written about, there are many so-called email appending companies that are willing to cut corners every step of the process without caring about the ramifications for their clients. Fortunately, there are also those in the industry that place the interests of their clients above all else and these are the email database service partners you want to work with as they will stand behind their results 100% of the time to ensure a successful outcome. Contrary to Al Iverson’s experience of not knowing any clients that have seen success with email appends, we have performed email append and other related email database services for thousands of clients (some of which have run projects with us on a quarterly basis going back 7 years) who consistently achieve ROIs that far exceed any other marketing programs they have ever implemented. So first decide whether you believe the email channel is so sacrosanct that even asking for your customers’ email permission is blasphemy. If this is not an issue for you, then the key to your success lies in the proper vetting of the service provider. If you’re not willing to make the investment to properly research what you’re buying or if price is your overriding criteria, steer clear of email appending - it’s certainly a service where you get what you pay for. But if you believe that email can play an important role in broadening and building the relationships with your customers and donors in a cost-effective manner, then you better get on the phone right now as the holiday season is right around the corner. And if you’re not touching your customers/donors on a regular basis through email, you can be sure your competitors will be.
Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2011-09-27 19:09:56
Subject: Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group

Fixed, JD. Thank you.
Posted by: Amy Temple
Date: 2011-09-27 17:24:39
Subject: Email Append

It is very difficult to make a blanket statement about email append in general. Marketers should be working with Email Append Vendors that are reputable, follow bet practices, and can speak openly about thier match logic and email hygiene practices. There are variables that can be tested by industry vertical that will have an effect on response rates and liftime value that would need to be considered. And most importantly, it is up to the marketer to engage these newly appended records with a well-planned cultivation strategy that delivers what was promised to the end user in their original opt-in or opt-out welcome message. I work with many advertisers who have had great success with Email Append.
Posted by: Butt Nothing
Date: 2011-09-27 17:20:45
Subject: Welcome to spam

"There are companies that will offer email append using a Welcome Email that include an option to opt-in. I offer that service for client's that want to go that route." Hey Dan, that first 'welcome' message? That's spam too. Sorry.
Posted by: someone posting under the name J.D.
Date: 2011-09-27 17:12:53
Subject: correction

MAAWG is the Messaging (not just Mail) Anti-Abuse Working Group.
Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2011-09-27 17:11:51
Subject: No sweat Dan

Talk to you Friday.
Posted by: Dan Babb
Date: 2011-09-27 16:55:34
Subject: Email Append

Gee, if I had actually read the article, I'd have noticed where the author actually said he was willing to talk to somebody willing to defend the practice on the record. DERP
Posted by: David Chitester
Date: 2011-09-27 16:20:15
Subject: Appending

Good info. I agree that it would be difficult for an appender to throw away most of the data, probably at LEAST 90% who would not opt in.
Posted by: Dan Babb
Date: 2011-09-27 16:14:58
Subject: Email Append

There are companies that will offer email append using a Welcome Email that include an option to opt-in. I offer that service for client's that want to go that route. it would be nice to read an article where the author takes the time to interview Append Providers to learn what is available and not just write extensively about the point of view of those who are vocal about their opposition to the service.