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 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.
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.