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November 5, 2007

Permission Marketing is Still Best

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They say it’s much easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission. And while that little nugget may hold true for many of life’s funny circumstances (eating the last cupcake, taking a picture during a concert, etc), it is not true when it comes to managing customer relationship. I don’t care how polite you are during the act or how remorseful you are after, if you knowingly spam me and put my Web site in harm’s way, I will never, ever forgive you. And that goes for your brand as well.

Here are just two examples of companies employing "polite" spam techniques I encountered while traveling the Internets today.

Example 1: Making people opt-out instead of in

One of email marketing’s most basic principles is the notion of the double opt-in. Joey sees your newsletter offering, subscribes and then confirms that he subscribed via a follow up email that you politely sent him. This process seems to work well for most people. It allows your customers to get access to the information they want and it ensures that you don’t look like a spammer trying to deceive potential customers. Apparently, however, Dell missed that memo.

Seth Godin shared an email a friend of his received after purchasing a new computer from Dell. It seems that Dell was so overcome with emotion over this purchase that "as a gesture of gratitude" Seth’s friend was opted into receiving their weekly Dell Small Business E-mail Update. He was even advised to watch his inbox for the abundance of promotional emails that were sure to come!

Wait – what’s that called when you’re automatically opted into something you never wanted? Oh yeah, spam!

I can’t even count the number of companies out there expressing their "gratitude" through my inbox. It makes me want to stab them all with tiny little sharp objects.

Seth went on to share an example of how The Better Business Bureau uses bait and switch tactics to get people to purchase a membership. The irony of the BBB tricking people into shelling over the cash for a membership is delicious. It’s like Santa picking your pockets as you jump off his lap.

Example 2: Services that insert hidden links for you

This is one of my favorite forms of Web spam due to how prevalent it is. Never again will I copy and paste a piece of code without reading it in it’s entirely. Why? Because 7 out of 10 times there’s something in there that shouldn’t be.

Here’s a fun example.

I know you’re all really interested in your favorite blogger (that would be me, play along) so I’m going to embed a map right here so that all of you can see where I grew up. I decide to use CommunityWalk share a map feature to help me do this. Here’s the code snippet they provide me with. I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting the good parts:

<iframe src=”http://www.communitywalk.com/groups/set_commercial_domain/184956″ onload=”if (this.src.indexOf(‘http://www.communitywalk.com/iframe/content/184956′) == -1) this.src=’http://www.communitywalk.com/iframe/content/184956?zoom=-2′ + location.hash” width=”300″ height=”300″ frameborder=”0″ name=”ff_cw_184956″ id=”ff_cw_184956″ scrolling=”no”></iframe><a rel=”nofollow” href=”http://www.weddingmapper.com” style=”position:absolute; top: -1000px; left: -1000px;”>The best wedding planning tool</a>
<a rel=”nofollow” href=http://www.communitywalk.com/smithtown_long_island/map/184956 style=’display:none’>CommunityWalk Map – Smithtown, Long Island</a><img src=’http://www.communitywalk.com/images/blank.gif’ onload=”setTimeout(function() {document.getElementById(‘ff_cw_184956′).onload()}, 100)” />

Hmm, a link to weddingmapper.com that’s positioned far off the page? How did that get in there?

Surely, they can’t be trying to deceive me, right? I mean, they did tell me that I was free to remove the bad parts if I wanted. Well, at least that’s what they told me right before they changed their mind and instructed me to display the code in its entirety.

Take a look.


Methinks they’re confused.

But they’re not confused. They’re trying to take advantage of me. Putting that link in there has nothing to do with "helping the search engines", as they claim, it’s all about them trying to increase their backlinks while I go on not even realizing it’s there.

And even if they do give you "permission" to edit the code, it doesn’t make their act any less deceptive. It doesn’t make them any less guilty, nor does it help customers resolve that bad taste they got in their mouth when they found the dirty code in there to begin with.

Realize that no matter how polite you are about your efforts to spam your customers, you’re still spamming them and it’s not okay. By sending them that newsletter they never asked for, by opting them in to receive coupons and discounts they’re not interested in, and by inserting hidden links onto their Web site, you’re taking away their choice, showing them that you don’t care about them and potentially destroying your brand’s image.

Don’t do it.

It’s never okay to jeopardize your site’s reputation or to knowingly mislead your customers. This is how you find yourself with a giant reputation management problem when the search results are about what an evil spammer you are instead of how great/useful/wicked awesome your services are.

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One response to “Permission Marketing is Still Best”

  1. Jared writes:

    Lisa, came across your post through a google alert about CommunityWalk. We do indeed have the links in there to support backlinks for Wedding Mapper. Our thinking was that people who enjoy CommunityWalk and want to support it can do so by linking to Wedding Mapper and if we provide them a way to remove the links if they want to then there’s little harm in it.

    Still after reading your article and sleeping on it, I think we may have been a little too lenient on ourselves. I’ve decided to remove the Wedding Mapper links. They should be gone by the start of next week.

    Best,
    Jared
    CommunityWalk Founder



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