Avoiding Spam in Your Ad Campaigns

A fine and distinct line

At one time or another we have all seen statements pertaining to spam which are admonishing in nature but designed to make us aware of the negative effects spamming can have on our promotional and marketing efforts. Such statements often appear in the form of short, two-to-three word directives like, “Don’t Spam,” “Avoid Spamming” and “Advertise, Do Not Spam,” along with other similar cautionary phrases. What is often left unsaid is what spam is and the various ways in which it is defined and interpreted; so in this article we will try to provide some clarification.

First and foremost it is necessary to point out that there is a fine line between advertising and spam, but unfortunately many business owners do not understand the things that distinguish one from the other, although understanding these distinctions is very important in the sense that a smart and well planned Web marketing campaign can help to attract new customers and keep existing customers loyal, spam will likely alienate potential customers as well as an existing customer base. Such alienation can be extremely damaging to profit margins for many business owners. So let’s begin by taking a look at three examples in which basic Web marketing activities – banner ads, email campaigns and message board posts – can quickly cross the line from smart advertising to spam and how it can occur in each instance.

Banner ads

Banner ads are some of the most popular ad placement strategies that can accompany a Web marketing plan. They usually appear at the top of websites, spanning the width of a standard website – which is how they originally earned the name ‘banner ads’ – but in today’s marketing environment banner ads can actually refer to ads of various different sizes and shapes (instead of the standard 468×60 and the larger leaderboard 728×90 versions) that appear in an array of different locations on websites throughout the Web. In many cases a business owner (merchant) might purchase advertising space on certain websites but the banner ad may also be placed as part of an exchange or an affiliate marketing campaign.

Exchanges of banner ads occur when one business owner (say merchant A) posts a banner ad on his own website in exchange for his banner ad being placed on the website of another business owner (say merchant B). These agreements may be made individually between business owners with complimentary businesses or as part of exchanges facilitated by a third party (an affiliate of one or the other). In the case of affiliate marketing it is often the case that an affiliate will post advertisements for a given merchant on his/her affiliate site in exchange for compensation when the banner ad produces a desired effect such as, traffic to the business site or product purchases. The terms of these agreements are determined and agreed to beforehand and are generally based on a scale of pay per impression, per click or per sale/lead.

Now that you have a better idea of what banner ads are it is just as important to understand how they can be overused and, as a result of such overuse, be interpreted as spam. For example, judiciously placing your banner ad on a few websites which are likely to attract an audience similar to your target audience is smart marketing; whereas placing your banner ad on any website that will display the ad regardless of the target audience can be construed as spam. Be assured that Internet users who think your banner ads are everywhere they turn regardless of the content they are pursuing will not likely take your business seriously, in which case they certainly will not purchase products or services promoted under that business name as a result of such pervasive distribution of banner ads.

eMail marketing campaigns

Email marketing campaigns can also be very useful tools in the industry of Web marketing as these campaigns may involve sending periodic eNewsletters filled with information as well as advertisements and short, informative email courses or discounts on product and service offerings. Loyal customers who opt into a marketer’s email list will likely not view these emails as spam and may purchase additional products and services from the marketer or merchant as a result of this marketing strategy.



Additionally, potential customers who have specifically requested more information on certain products and services will also find this type of marketing useful. However, email recipients who did not request information are likely to view such emails as spam. Similarly, harvesting email addresses in a deceptive manner and using these addresses to send out mass emails will most likely be always considered as spam. In fact sending unwanted commercial email to recipients who did not agree to receiving emails from the sender are considered one of the reasons for enactment of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, more of which are highlighted in the excerpt below.

The CAN-SPAM Act was implemented in the United States on January 1st of 2004 as a means of protecting the privacy of consumers. CAN-SPAM is short for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act. The act prevents the use of misleading “to” and “from” headers in emails. The law requires marketers to include their physical address in the email as well as an “opt-out” link in every email designed to give consumers the ability to reach the marketer and tell them they no longer want to receive information from them after which the email sender must remove this email address from their data base within 10 business days. Any email that contains sexual content must be clearly labeled and identified before the recipient opens it. Marketers have to get permission from the consumer in order to sell their email address.

Excerpt taken from Web Connections website. More about the legal aspect of spam can be obtained from, www.cauce.org.

Message boards

Message boards provide an excellent opportunity for business owners to obtain some free advertising where it will be noticed by members of a particular target audience; and if the products and services you or other business owners offer appeal to a specific niche, it is worthwhile to join message boards and online forums related to your industry of choice. Here you will find a large population of Internet users who may have an interest in your products.

 

You might consider including a link to your marketing website in your signature or posting the link when it is applicable to the conversation. However, care should be taken to closely review the message board guidelines so you can avoid doing anything inappropriate while employing a technique which many consider to be smart marketing. Conversely, replying to every message with a link to your website when it is not relevant to the conversation is likely to be construed as spam by other members. Once they begin to view your posts as spam, they are not likely to visit your website via the links you post.

Key to Building a Subscriber List: Trust!



Trust earned begets loyalty

Let me begin by saying that there are many elements of a home-based business that are specific to that business type in the same way that there are those elements of a Web-based business that are specific to that business type; but there is a set of elements shared by both business types in today’s business landscape and many of those common elements have been discussed in many of the posts of this site. One such element is trust.

While the rest of the world have developed many barriers and protections to keep their email accounts spam-free, there are also those who subscribe to emails that promote their products, services and websites because this particular group of subscribers want to know more about what these sites are offering that may be beneficial for them. They subscribe because they wish to be kept informed about marketplace aspects that interest them as well as new trends and developments in the field they’ve chosen.

Most businesses would be fortunate to have this type of subscriber as representative of their customer base; but attracting and cultivating such subscribers would require the business to demonstrate the one basic element needed to do so. That element is trust. However, it is a known fact – offline as well as online – that before consumers will entrust a business with their time, information and money they must first know and like that business. Only then will consumers trust the business, after which they will reward it with their loyalty.

Enhanced security steps

This is evidenced by the fact that many internet users have gone to great lengths to protect their email accounts from spam mail, supported by the steps taken by some free-mail internet providers and internet service providers (ISPs) to offer spam protection while others incorporated the added step of screening the incoming emails of their users. These considerate and well meaning steps taken by the free-mail providers and ISPs have led businesses and email marketers to adopt guidelines set forth by the CAN-SPAM Act and require anyone wanting emailed information to authorize such emails by providing their name and email address via an “opt-in” (subscriber) Web form.

An opt-in or subscriber email list therefore consists of members who have agreed to receive email sent by the business or email marketer which might contain promotional material such as newsletters, catalogs and marketing media which should be permitted through by ISPs (although some are still held up). When intended recipients are able to read and view email sent by the business it is considered a successful transfer of information; but it starts with securing the trust of internet users not previously known to the business, and vice-versa.

Credibility begets trust

The entire process of getting consumers to know, like and trust you and your business is no doubt a huge accomplishment and, in the realm of Web marketing, major achievement; but it is worth every minute spent in doing so. That having been said the following paragraphs provide a few suggestions as well as some steps a business – both Web-based and home-based – can take to gain the trust of potential list members.

Although described above as a process it does not mean that getting the trust of website visitors should not be too difficult a task, especially if you have a legitimate business; because part of getting your customers’ trust is undoubtedly based upon your expertise, and people tend to rely on professionals who know what they are talking about. So demonstrating credible knowledge, trends and industry norms about the business you chose is a good first step in getting consumers to pay attention to your business; and if you are not yet in an established business, a display of such know-how and industry savvy could go a long way toward that objective.

Put another way, show your prospective subscribers and customers that you know what you are talking about by provide them with helpful hints and guidelines that pertain to what you are promoting and/or selling. Talk about how to install a roof if you’re into hardware products, or provide articles on insurance settlements if you’re a settlement lawyer. You don’t have to be a big corporation to make use of an subscriber list. If your customers see you as someone who knows what s/he is doing and saying, they will trust you quicker than otherwise.

Trust builds reputation

Be true to your customers in the sense that if you want to hype your products/services it enhances your credibility to provide guarantees, because the more satisfied your customers are the more of a probability that they will recommend you to others; and those recommendations and referrals would help to build your reputation in the marketplace since it is a known fact that most people tend to trust someone they know and when that someone recommends you there is a greater probability that you’ll be more of an acceptable choice. Some of these recommended folks will go to your site just to check it for themselves and others will go to make a purchase.

Another tip in getting a customer to trust you quickly is to provide them an escape out of any agreement or contract they signed with you. This shows them that you are not there to trap them into something they really don’t want. A good example of how to do this is by providing a link at the bottom of each email you send that would enable them to unsubscribe anytime they want. In addition you can modify your web form by providing information on how to unsubscribe from the list. Guarantee them that they can let go of the service whenever they want to, thereby removing any reason for them to be wary (leery?) about signing up in the first place.

It may help to keep in mind that when you get the trust of your website visitors and potential customers and clients you must do everything within your power to keep that trust, because if you don’t cherish (place the highest value) on it, chances are you won’t have it for too long. For example, if you do anything with their email addresses like sell them or farm them out to others who should not have them, you will lose many members of your list as well as members of your customer base. The quickest way to degrade the quality of your subscriber list and collapse your customer base is to disappoint those who have recommended others to you. So keep the trust.