Category Archives: Blog

Why you shouldn’t buy email databases or mailing lists

You need people who you can email, and you need them quickly. Oh, and if you could get them pretty cheap, that’d be great, too.

That’s the mindset many marketers find themselves in when they’re on the phone with a list-purchasing company: We need new people to email to support our sales team. Acting on that moment of desperation, however, can cause them more harm than good.

Yes, thousands of contacts are a credit card swipe away, but your email marketing program, a critical part of a well-rounded inbound marketing strategy, can seriously suffer. Curious why buying email lists is a legitimate email marketer’s kiss of death? Read on.

Plus, we’ll give you a list of squeaky-clean and effective ways to build your email marketing list without simply buying one.

Methods of Acquiring an Email List

Before we get into the pitfalls of buying email addresses, let’s review three ways marketers are currently able to acquire their email lists:

1. Buy an email list

You work with a list provider to find and purchase a list of names and email addresses based on demographic and/or psychographic information. For example, you might purchase a list of 50,000 names and email addresses of people who live in West Midlands and don’t have children. There are several sustainable ways to use email marketing to grow your business. This isn’t one of them.

2. Rent an email list

Also working with a list provider, you identify a segment of people to email, but you never actually own the list. As such, you can’t see the email addresses of the people you’re emailing, so you must work with the provider to send out your email.

3. Own an opt-in email list

Someone voluntarily gives you their email address either online or in person so you can send them emails. They may pick certain types of email content they wish to receive, like specifically requesting email alerts when new blog posts are published. Opt-in email addresses are the result of earning the interest and trust of your contacts because they think you have something valuable to say.

When it comes to rented or purchased lists, you may come across vendors or marketers who say, “This email list is already opted-in!” This means the people on the list opted in to an email communication from someone at some point in time – the list provider, for example – by filling out a form or ticking a box to receive more content from that provider.

What “opt-in” lists don’t mean, however, is that email recipients opted in to receive email communications from your business. This is a critical distinction, and the next section of this post will go into more detail on why this type of “opt-in email list” (should be read with air quotes) is not a good idea for your email marketing program.

1. You’ll violate the rules of consent under GDPR.

Most email marketers around the world are legally required to allow recipients to opt out of emails they no longer want to receive. Contacts must be able to do this directly in the email message. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a European data privacy act that went into effect in May 2018, doubles down on the opt-in side of this relationship. And purchased email lists are simply not compliant.

The GDPR has revamped numerous aspects of a digital marketer’s use of customer data throughout Europe – on a website, in social media, and via email. You don’t even have to work in Europe to fall under the act’s jurisdiction; if your recipients live in Europe, they’re protected by the GDPR.

With the GDPR now governing all email correspondence across Europe, adding an opt-out option to your email template no longer cuts it. Under this act, you must have explicit consent from your contacts to send them emails. Explicit, in this case, means the checkbox a person must click to opt in to an email subscription isn’t pre-checked when they see it on your website. And when you buy your email lists, the people on it haven’t been given this option — making you non-compliant with GDPR before you send your first email.

Want some non-legal reasons to avoid the purchased email list? We’ve got those as well, below.

2. Reputable email marketing services don’t let you send emails to lists you’ve bought.

If you’re using email marketing software now or plan to in the future, you’ll find that reputable companies will insist that you use opt-in email lists. You might be saying, “I’ll just use a non-reputable email marketing vendor.”

Alas, ESPs on shared IP addresses that don’t require customers to use opt-in email lists typically suffer poor deliverability. Why? One customer’s ill-gotten email address list can poison the deliverability of the other customers on that shared IP address. You’re going to want to hitch your wagon to the light side of the email marketing force if you want your emails to actually get into inboxes.

3. Good email address lists aren’t for sale.

Unless your company is in the middle of a merger or acquisition, you’re not going to come across a high-quality email list you can purchase. If it’s for sale, it means the email addresses on it have already been deemed non-responsive or unqualified for marketing outreach.

While bought email addresses might’ve at once time had value, they’ve likely been spammed to the ends of the earth, otherwise they’d still be in the desiring hands of the company selling them. Think about it, would you sell or share the email addresses of those who have voluntarily opted in to receive email from you?

4. People on a purchased or rented list don’t actually know you.

I referenced this earlier, but it’s worth going into some more detail on this subject. Rented and purchased lists are sometimes scraped from other websites, which, I think we can all agree, is a dirty way to acquire email marketing contacts.

But let’s say the email addresses you’re looking to purchase were not taken from another site but rather earned legitimately. Email list purchase and rental companies might tout that those lists are “opt-in.” Sounds great, right?

Not really. Email addresses that belong to an “opt in” list have opted to receive emails from, say, the list-purchasing company, not your company. Even if the opt-in process includes language like, “Opt in to receive information from us, or offers from other companies we think you might enjoy,” the fact is the recipient doesn’t recall having a prior relationship with you, specifically. This makes it highly likely for the recipients to mark you as “spam” when you arrive in their inboxes. After all, if they don’t recognise you or remember opting in to communications from you, can you really blame them?

This takes us to our next point.

5. You’ll harm your email deliverability and IP reputation.

Did you know there are organisations dedicated to combating email spam? Thank goodness, right? They set up a little thing called a honeypot, which is a planted email address that, when harvested and emailed, identifies the sender as a spammer. Similarly, things called spam traps can be created to identify spammy activity; they’re set up when an email address yields a hard bounce because it’s old or no longer valid, but still receives consistent traffic. Fishy, eh?

As a result, the email address turns into a spam trap that stops returning the hard bounce notice, and instead accepts the message and reports the sender as a spammer.

If you purchase a list, you have no way of confirming how often those email addresses have been emailed, whether the email addresses on that list have been scrubbed for hard bounces to prevent identifying you as a spammer, or from where those email addresses originated.

Are you really willing to risk not only your email deliverability, but also the reputation of your IP address and your company? Even if you find the light after purchasing or renting email lists and decide to only email those who have opted in with your company, it’ll take you months (or maybe years) to get your Sender Score up and rebuild the reputation of your IP.

6. You can come across as annoying.

How do you like it when you get an email in your inbox from a company you’ve never heard of? I bet that’s not the kind of company you want to buy from or work for.

If someone didn’t ask to hear from you yet, it doesn’t mean they won’t want to hear from you later. It’s your job to prove to them, through helpful content, good work or valuable offers, that they should stay up to date with your company via email. If you force your email content on anyone too early, even if you know in your bones they’re a great fit for your products or services, you risk preemptively losing their trust and their future business.

7. Your email service provider can penalise you.

Buying email lists doesn’t just damage your deliverability and brand reputation, it can also put your email account at risk. Email clients like Gmail, Yahoo!, and Outlook don’t want to be associated with accounts that recipients repeatedly flag as spam. Email service providers like MailChimp and AWeber go as far as immediately closing your account if it suspects you’re sending unwanted content.

How to Grow an Opt-In Email List for Free

Now that you’ve learned about a few ways to acquire email lists, let’s explore how you can acquire them through the third method stated earlier in this article, the opt-in method.

Generating your own list of email contacts who have opted in to receive content from you doesn’t just comply with legal regulation and protect your brand reputation. It also presents you with opportunities to grow this list through genuine relationships with new customers. But below are the basic best practices that have a very big bang for their buck when it comes to consistently growing an email list.

1. Create gated assets so there’s a reason for people to give you their email address.

Webinars, eBooks, templates, etc. are are all good long-form, premium content assets that people may find valuable enough to give over their email address. The more gated assets you have to put behind landing pages, the better. A wider variety of content will make it easier for you to attract a wider range of people.

2. Create useful tools.

If eBooks aren’t your jam, create tools instead. I don’t recommend a one-or-the-other approach, necessarily, but if you have more development talent than writing talent, this may be a more attractive option for you. These tools can be valuable enough to some of your website visitors that they’ll trade you their email address for a free demo of the product you built. Then, for your first email, ask them what they thought of the tool. It’s the perfect icebreaker.

3. Promote those gated assets on your marketing channels.

Now that you have some gated assets that can capture email addresses, spend a considerable amount of time making sure the world knows about them. You have plenty of channels at your disposal – social media, PPC, and email are common ones to turn to. But none will provide lasting returns quite like your website. Consider this scenario:

You promote your new gated assets by blogging about subject matters related to the content assets you’ve created, and then put CTAs that lead to the asset’s landing page on every one of those blog posts.

Now let’s say, hypothetically, your blog posts get about 100 views per month, and your visitor-to-lead conversion rate on the blog is about 2%. That means you’d get two leads from a single blog post each month.

Then, let’s say you write 30 blog posts a month. That means you’d get 60 leads in a month — 2 from each blog post. Now keep doing that for a year. The work you did to blog that first month will continue to drive leads throughout the year. That means you’re actually getting 4,680 opt-in contacts a month by the end of a 12-month period because of the compounding effects of blogging — not just 720 opt-in contacts (60 leads*12 months).

4. Run creative email marketing campaigns.

Most people don’t think of email as a lead or contact-generating channel. But because people forward helpful emails to colleagues or friends, it can actually expand your database if you simply make forwarding or sharing email content easy for recipients. Include calls-to-action in your emails that make sharing an obvious choice for recipients, particularly with your most useful assets.

If you already have a pretty large database, you also likely have some contacts that have gone quite stale. If so, I recommend running a re-engagement campaign that can help you both scrub your list and prevent the kind of spam and IP issues I addressed earlier, as well as reawaken old contacts that might have forgotten about you, but would actually be great fits for sales.

5. Include sharing buttons in your emails.

Consider adding share buttons to your email so your email recipients can forward the emails they liked most to friends and colleagues they think would like it too.

Have a few different buttons on your email template: separate social media buttons that produce pre-written social posts linking to a webpage version of your email, and possibly an “Email to a friend” button that transfers the email into a compose window so your contacts can instantly forward the message. Just make sure your email has an opt-in button so each new viewer can subscribe to more emails from you if they like what they see.

 

I hope that this helps you to avoid becoming trapped in the shady world of email lists and avoid the often costly purchase of mailing databases. I hope too that this allows you to grow your client base steadily but efficiently (and legally!). 

 

Contact form spam and offers of cheap SEO!

contact form email spamI do get annoyed by the common website contact form spam from Eastern European and Asian countries (mostly India). My regular clients do too. These contact emails offer the promise of cheap SEO services which can often be attractive for businesses just starting out. There is a hidden price to pay though if you take them up on this offer. If you’re lucky, they’ll just do a bad job. If you’re unlucky, and many are, they’ll make your site completely disappear from Google’s search results and you’ll need to recruit a proper SEO company to put things right.
 

Preventing contact form spam

Unfortunately there isn’t much we can do to prevent this type of contact form spam while still allowing legitimate enquiries to come through. The spammers often use newly created free email accounts such as those from Gmail, Yahoo, Live etc. This is because their previous ones are caught by the email spam filters and it takes a while for their new accounts to get detected. We use various levels of filtering on websites that we create, but it’s a trade-off between getting those all-important enquiries and blocking everything that seems potentially spammy. Believe it or not, we get this type of spam through our website too, saying that our site is no good and that we urgently need an SEO company! It’s simply automated junk that fires off to every website that has a contact form, they don’t read or test your website at all.
 

Their underhand methods explained

spam gmailSpammers will use common SEO terms to make it look like they have something to offer but, when pushed, they really try to cover their lack of knowledge with more technical jargon to ‘blind’ the customer. Recruiting one of these companies to do your SEO work is a big mistake and we often pick up the pieces of poorly run campaigns which cost the client more money to put right.

Most of these ‘companies’ just throw lots of links to your website from very dodgy sources and these can get it quickly de-ranked in the search engines for attempted manipulation of the results. Some of them even run off with your money, never to be seen again, unless under a new name with more false promises.

In contrast, our link-building methods are natural and allow your website to grow over time with no damage to reputation or rank. And to answer common questions from our clients, yes, we monitor Google Webmaster Tools, we monitor website analytics and look for keyword trends and patterns and much more besides. We do every legitimate search engine optimization technique that the email spammers say they’ll do but actually don’t do very well.

 

How to find out if an SEO company is real?

Asking a few key questions should quickly expose their legitimacy. One look at their email address usually is enough to show that they don’t have a registered business, often using free Gmail or Live email addresses that close down when things get awkward between them and their clients. If they include a number it’s often just a throwaway one too.
 
As a guide here are some things that you should check:
 
  • Has the company got a registered business address?
  • Do they have a UK company number?
  • Does the company have verifiable client testimonials?
  • Does the company have any websites they can show you that rank for difficult or competitive search terms?
  • Can you hear call-centre noise if you actually speak on the telephone with them (many work in call centres by day and spam websites by night)?
  • Are your questions answered in plain English or are you given more technical jargon as a response?
  • Did you contact them or did they contact you?
  • Is their email address a free one, eg Gmail, Live, GMX etc.?
  • Are there spelling and grammar mistakes in their email and would you want them creating content on your behalf?
  • Do they have a website that doesn’t look like a generic, unfinished template (if they have one at all)?

 

While not an exhaustive list, this has hopefully made you more aware of what to look for and the potential hazards of recruiting an unknown and unaccountable company to drive your business presence on the web. You have been warned…

We are happy to chat about your company’s business requirements by email or telephone. Get in touch now to see how we can simplify your Search Engine Marketing.
 

Removing image location and extra information (EXIF data)

Photographs taken on modern cameras and smartphones often contain supplementary information such as the location where the photo was taken, camera or smartphone model, aperture settings and more. This is called EXIF and stands for Exchangeable Image File format.

In compliance with GDPR, and also as good data protection practice, it is often necessary to strip this EXIF data from images we use and share on websites or social media. Even passing a client’s image to a print company means that you are sharing location data and maybe other details that wouldn’t be desirable.

An example of the bad sides of EXIF

Imagine that you run a security company and that you have taken an image of a hidden override switch fitted to an alarm system. This was fitted on a property with half a million pounds of jewellery stored in a bedroom. You share that image online, with no written details of where it was taken, and comment “We saw this today, some people never learn LOL. £500k in jewellery at this pad too, lol”. You think that surely nobody would be able to guess where the property is just from the photo of a switch. Well, think again. The photo gets downloaded, analysed (with free tools) and the location extracted. Mr Burglar McBurglarface is on his way in 5 minutes…

OK, so this is not always going to happen, but it’s an example of how you need to protect data that gets stored in the background without you knowing.

How do I strip the EXIF data from my photos?

You can use a free tool and it’s one that I recommend for my clients. IrfanView image viewer and editor installs on PCs (not Macs) and it’s a fast, lightweight image viewer. It has great resizing functionality, so easily cropping images and keeping file sizes down is it’s main use. By default, it will save EXIF data, so you need to change this behaviour. Here’s how:

Load any image file into Irfanview and then ‘Save As’. Once there you’ll see a grey window to the right of your Save dialog box, something like this:

 

how to strip exif data irfanview

 
Make sure that you have no boxes ticked (checked) and that the quality is set to 100 on the slider at the top.  If you have anything ticked here, just untick it and select “Save” (* Note that I mean the Save button in this grey window that I have pictured, not any other one!).  Close everything and on the next ‘Save As’ you’ll now see the new settings permanently applied.
 
Don’t forget, the area that stores the location and other phone/camera details is called EXIF so you are stripping this off the image when you save it. You can also check the EXIF data by opening the image in IrfanView and clicking on the blue ‘i’ button on the toolbar at the top. There you will see another button marked “Exif info” which will give you all the data attached to that image. If you don’t see this button then it has been removed already.
 

Summary

You are now hopefully more aware of the need to be vigilant about important data connected to images stored both online and on your computer system and/or network.
 
For completeness, you should be aware that EXIF is also available for audio files so these need to be treated the same way for data protection using different software tools.
 

Stop unwanted phone calls and junk postal mail

Stop junk mailDo you want to stop unwanted phone calls and the influx of unsolicited mail through your post box? For a long time now I have been on a list of people who “Opt-out” of marketing telephone calls and junk postal mail. Many people are unaware that this can be done, so I thought I’d share it with you. And the price for this? Completely free of charge!

You need to visit the TPS (Telephone Preference Service) website and register your details. Once done, they send you a confirmation email and you are registered free for 12 months. When the expiry date is reached, they email you once to advise it your registration requires renewal. And that’s all there is to it. You should see an immediate drop in your unsolicited marketing calls.

TPS website:

http://www.tpsonline.org.uk/

 

For the mail side of things, over 3.6 billion postal mails are directly sent out every year.  You can use the same organisation as above to prevent this, but you need to visit here instead:

http://www.mpsonline.org.uk/

 

Finally, if you run a business, you might want to look at the free corporate tps here:

https://www.tpsonline.org.uk/tps/index.html

 

The theory is that any company carrying out marketing calls or delivering marketing mail has to, by law, check if you are subscribed to TPS (Telephone Preference Service) or MPS (Mail preference Service) first.  If they don’t do this then they can be reported and heavily fined.

 

Unaddressed Postal Mail

With over 13 Billion unaddressed postal mails being sent out yearly, this needs to be canned too.  Unfortunately, the mail service above doesn’t stop the post sent via Royal Mail to “The Occupier” or “The householder” etc.  For this, you need to write to:

Freepost RRBT-ZBXB-TTTS
Door to Door Opt Outs
Royal Mail
Kingsmead House
Oxpens Road
OXFORD, OX1 1RX

Alternatively, send an email to [email protected] asking for their door to door opt-out form to be sent to you.  You can also call them on 08457 950 950

 

You are welcome to point your friends to this article, it might help them too.

Google’s mobile index set to roll out

mobile device google indexAt the time of writing, Google are about to launch a new mobile index. Since over half of Google searches are now driven by mobile devices, the new mobile index is destined to become Google’s primary index, which is definitely a major change to be taken seriously.

This switch to a new mobile index means that mobile content will be ranked far more effectively than it currently is. Where we currently determine mobile ranking by looking at data from desktop content, this new index will definitely be a game changer if you optimize for mobile. In theory, users will see better and more relevant content that is strictly coded for mobile devices such as phones and tablets.

Old ranking factors just got promoted

Consider the ranking factors that this now promotes:

  • Lower webpage load times
  • Better mobile user experiences
  • Fully optimized responsive designs or parallel dedicated mobile designs

Yes, the above were all important over the last few years, but they are even more important to get right now. Google will still keep its desktop index but this will eventually take a back seat as mobile connectivity drives change throughout the web.

Achieving a high search ranking for your website

These new algorithm changes make it even more crucial that websites offer a high-quality mobile experience. By ensuring that your landing pages are optimized and mobile friendly you can expect higher ranking in the SERPs. Constant feedback from Google’s Search Console and Analytics tools will help to detect any necessary changes. Be prepared to quickly carry out these changes to remain competitive and create better user experiences.

New report states half of homes in UK vulnerable to hacking

A new report states that over half of all homes are vulnerable to WiFi hacking.  More shocking to many people is that nearly half of all home Wi-Fi networks in the UK could be hacked within five seconds, according to a report by CPP reasearch.

When we setup or install a wireless network, we always encrypt it for these reasons.  Some encryption can be easily broken so we always add the strongest settings possible.

Wireless router setup Sutton ColdfieldUsing proprietary software on one of our laptops we can break into an unsecured network in seconds and many secured networks in less than a few minutes.  Obviously we do this for penetration testing and audits when required, but the effect of having an unsecured wireless network can be costly, annoying and time consuming for private individuals and businesses alike.  We have seen networks where neighbours unknowingly (or knowingly) connect onto the client’s WiFi and effectively share their broadband.  Worse still, a malicious person could redirect all of your traffic to another site first, stealing credit card and password details easily.

Please ensure you always have your wireless network secured and that your password is never simple to guess (eg “password”, “abc123”, “letmein” etc).  A combination of non-dictionary words, numbers and greater than eight characters makes breaking in very difficult.

Employees spend more time online

Employees plan to spend nearly two full working days on average shopping online from a work computer this Christmas, according to a survey conducted on behalf of ISACA, a nonprofit association of 86,000 information technology (IT) professionals. One in 10 plans to spend at least 30 hours shopping online at work. Convenience (34%) and boredom (23%) are the biggest motivators, according to those polled.