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.