Clean out Your Mailing List

» Avoiding ‘Server’s Block’ and Cyber-Sinkholes

If you’ve been involved with e-commerce for a few years, congratulations. You’re an old-timer in the realm of cyber-sales. And chances are, you’ve got quite a nice database of previous buyers, opt-ins and visitors who found you by way of a link. That list is solid gold — well, sort of.

Remember GIGO — garbage in, garbage out? Well, if your current e-mailing list is full of garbage, you aren’t going to get the maximum benefit from this invaluable information. A list of satisfied customers? Of visitors interested enough to give you their e-mail addresses? These are people you want to talk to — again.

Marketing 101
Look in your mailbox today. Chances are, you’ll find a few catalogs from companies with which you’ve previously done business. Why? Because you’re a prime candidate to buy more. If you bought once, you’re much more likely to buy again. So, you get catalogs — lots of them. And, you get them for years after you make a single purchase. These mass marketers are expert at reeling in past customers.

Not so with many e-tailers. Customer retention is critical to growing a business and retaining customers is all about communication — keeping your company’s name, products and services in front of people who already know just how good you are.

What’s more, because these are previous customers or opt-ins who have volunteered their e-mail addresses, you can contact them via e-mail, which doesn’t mean you should be a pest and leave a daily hard sell in their in-boxes. But you can certainly keep them up to date on new products, special sales, free shipping and other promotions.

Studies have shown that it will cost you less to retain a customer then to make a new one, so if money is tight, spend your marketing dollars on keeping the customers you’ve already got.

By staying in touch with past customers and clients, while you continue to attract new buyers, you grow your business.

Bulk E-MailThis is the way to go for small e-tailers for three critical reasons.

First, it’s cheap. If you’re using your own database of past clients, then you don’t have to pay for a mailing list. However, even if you do buy a list of e-mail opt-in addresses, it’s a penny a name — tops — for a general list.

Second, it’s fast — as in immediate. You can reach thousands of customers in a few minutes. This is especially critical if you’re sitting on a pile of inventory stored in your garage and you have to move it — now! Regular customers will appreciate updates on these kinds of ‘cleaning out the garage sales’.

Finally, bulk e-mail is 100% trackable. Within hours, you’ll know your hit rate and whether your current promotion is a hit or a total miss.

Low- or no-cost, quick and trackable results. That’s why bulk e-mail works and that’s why you want to keep your e-mail database pristine.

Hello, It’s Me, Again
Auto-responders — automated e-mails — are an excellent way to keep in touch with customers and clients. Each should be different, each should provide new and useful information to your buying public.

A monthly or even weekly newsletter, is also a good idea, if it isn’t filled with hard sell content. Your customers will be much more willing to read your e-mails if there’s interesting, useful information instead of just the same old sales hype. Keep it fresh and keep them reading. They’ll come back.

Finally, free stuff is always an attention getter. Consider a free e-zine or e-book for your loyal clientele. Let’s say you sell imported foods from Italy. Great, send your past customers and opt-ins a collection of great Italian recipes and get them back to your site — buying.

Now, About That Mailing List
Your mailing list needs to be cleaned up and cleared out. Guaranteed.

Lots of people are reluctant to give a legit e-mail address for an opt-in give-away. So, they leave a fake address, or a second (or third) screen name used only for opt-ins.

Also, people switch screen names and addresses like clothes. They’re at AOL for a few months, then they’re over at Yahoo, then SBC Global. Digital gypsies. So the e-mail address you have on file is no longer in service for a lot of your customers. And that means trouble.

Consider what happens when you do an e-mailing to a thousand bad e-mail addresses. You create a Mad Hatter game of ping-pong between servers delivering ‘can not be delivered’ messages back and forth. The next day, your in-box is filled with a thousand notifications and the servers aren’t too happy about the time you’ve wasted.

The fact is, sending out e-mail to dead addresses uses up precious and costly bandwidth. It’s like throwing money down the DSL pipe. But, wait, it gets worse.

Many large servers will actually block receipt of your e-mails if you continually send mass mailings to inactive addresses. You can be subjected to the dreaded “server’s’ block”, meaning the mail won’t go through. And, more importantly, once you’ve been blocked by a server, it’s hard to get unblocked, leading to a cyber sinkhole into which all of your e-mails disappear. Get blocked by enough servers and you might as well put up the “Going Out of Business” sign because you are.

Checking Each Address
You’ve got three options in cleaning out your database and tossing out outdated and inactive e-mail addresses.

You can hire an e-mail management service to check your database for accuracy, to launch a bulk e-mail campaign and to track and report results back to you hourly, daily, weekly and even in real time. It’s a time saver, no doubt about it. But, these services cost money and if money is tight, consider the other two options.

You can use software to get the job done, or you can check each address by hand. The choice, naturally, should depend on how many names and addresses you have in your d-base, how much free time you have on your hands and how much mind-numbing, boring work you can take in a single pass. If you aren’t detail-oriented and/or you don’t have a lot of free time, skip hand checking and go with the software. It’s relatively inexpensive and it’ll save your time and your sanity.

Bulk E-Mail Management Software
You can avoid server’s block and an in-box full of bounced messages by using e-mail management software. You can buy the basics for as little as $29.95, or a big, bruiser pack that does everything short of sending birthday cards to database entries. Your choice should be based on expectations as well as your current situation. If you believe your e-biz is going to grow, with names of customers added daily, spend a little more to get some time saving features.

All management software checks the validity of every e-mail address in your file and it does it without the knowledge of the address holder — always nice not to bother your customers with bookkeeping functions.

The basic software will also sort your addresses by domain name, enabling you to more specifically target bulk e-mailings.

Also, look for an auto-register feature. This will save you lots of time and save bandwidth, i.e., money. This feature tracks new customers or opt-ins, automatically checks for a valid address on sign-up, routinely checks to make sure the address is still good and culls inactive addresses — all while you take a nap.

Another useful feature is the bulk e-mailer. This feature enables you to import your customer list in a variety of formats while using a variety of filters to sort out the ‘maybe’s’ from the ‘must haves’. It allows you to schedule mailings over time, to target your recipients and to even personalize e-mails. (Dear Bob).

Also, even the basic software allows you to track the success of your campaigns to one degree or another. If you just want the raw data, just about any bulk e-mail manager will do. However, if you’re looking for various types of slice and dice demographic information, the pricier software packages will give you more numbers to crunch, if number crunching is what you enjoy.

Several software makers offer free downloads. Check out DeskShare’s Automated E-Mail Verifier and take it for a free 30-day test drive. You’ll quickly discover the time-saving convenience of these packages.

Other similar packs include:

The ‘try before you buy’ option is great. It allows you to determine if the software has the features you’ll use now and in the future when you’re an on-line super mall.

So, clean up your database and prevent server’s block and cyber sinkholes. You’ll also save money on bandwidth costs, time on administrative chores and — most importantly – you’ll start to see improved results after a mailing or two.

Do you know where your customer database is? If not, time to find out.

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