Anne Holland

Unwanted Email Hits Around 80% – Filters go into Overdrive

May 22nd, 2003

15 minutes ago I got a call from my Dad.

“I don’t want to bother you at work,” he said, “but you should
know the email you sent me this morning about getting a trainer
for your dog was flagged by my ISP as ‘Maybe Spam’.”

I flipped open my ‘sent mail’ folder and reviewed the note I’d
written him. Even with all of Sherpa’s research on how filters
work, there was nothing, nada, zilch, I could see that would make
any filter system think my little note was evil.

Over the past few weeks, you may have noticed the same thing
happening to much of your sent email – whether it’s bulk mail or
just individual notes.

Over-zealous filters are stopping a heck of a lot of non-junk
mail.

So, when AOL and MSN both announced this week that 80% of the
email their users are getting is unwanted junk, it made me wonder
what part of that 80% is misidentified good stuff – like my note
to Dad.

In the filter world they call it “false positives” and no one
admits how many of those they stop from getting to email users.

In reaction to this, I held a Sherpa-wide staff meeting this week
to announce a new Company policy: if a communication to anyone is
really important, always, always, always follow-up with a phone
call. Never assume email got through.

It so often doesn’t.

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Anne Holland

Unwanted Email Hits Around 80% – Filters go into Overdrive

May 22nd, 2003

15 minutes ago I got a call from my Dad.

“I don’t want to bother you at work,” he said, “but you should
know the email you sent me this morning about getting a trainer
for your dog was flagged by my ISP as ‘Maybe Spam.’”

I flipped open my ‘sent mail’ folder and reviewed the note I’d
written him. Even with all of Sherpa’s research on how filters
work, there was nothing, nada, zilch, I could see that would make
any filter system think my little note was evil.

Over the past few weeks, you may have noticed the same thing
happening to much of your sent email, whether it’s bulk mail or
just individual notes.

Over-zealous filters are stopping a heck of a lot of non-junk
mail.

Wen AOL and MSN both announced this week that 80% of the
email their users are getting is unwanted junk, it made me wonder
what part of that 80% is misidentified good stuff, like my note
to Dad.

In the filter world they call it “false positives” and no one
admits how many of those they stop from getting to email users.

In reaction to this, I held a Sherpa-wide staff meeting this week
to announce a new Company policy: If a communication to anyone is
really important, always, always, always follow-up with a phone
call. Never assume email got through.

It so often doesn’t.

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Anne Holland

The death of email is *highly* overrated

May 8th, 2003

“What’s next now that email isn’t going to work much longer?” was
a question I saw posted on a marketing message board last week.

Everyone is fretting, fretting, fretting about whether bulk mail
overload will cause their lists to stop responding.

In the meantime whenever I talk to marketers one-on-one, I always
ask, “Are your response rates plunging?” “Well no,” they
invariably tell me.

After 350 Case Studies, many of them on email campaigns, I can
tell you that the death of email is vastly overstated. Marketers
have gotten so much smarter about their messages, list selection,
segmentation, etc., that it balances out the worst of the email
overload.

A good campaign or newsletter will still work wonders.

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Anne Holland

Data on Requiring Online Newspaper Reader Registration

May 7th, 2003

Just found a very informative two-part article by Tim Archambault, New Media Coordinator at Bangor Daily News/Bangornews.com. He explains why they decided to require reader registration at their site, and how it affected things.

He notes, “An approximate 12 percent drop in page views occurred during the first month, but the number of pages quickly recovered
to its previous level during the second month. There was no extraordinary marketing efforts to increase our page views.”

Also, although the newspaper’s registration count of 90,000 is bigger than its print circ count of 63,000 circ for the print daily, just 10% of online registered users are subscribers to the print version. To get this fairly high registration rate, they did a promo with a sweeps for $50 worth of lobsters.

Archambault also noted that requiring registration means your customer service will rise dramatically. 66% of customer service
queries in the month of March were due to online reg queries, mostly people having trouble with passwords.

http://www.digitaledge.org/DigArtPage.cfm?AID=4693

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Anne Holland

SportingNews GM Reveals (Some) Online Business Data

April 29th, 2003

I’ve just interviewed Jason Kint, VP & General Manager Online at SportingNews. He wasn’t able to give me enough data for a full fledged Case Study, but he did share these interesting details:

- Over the past three years, SportingNews online revenues have shifted dramatically from 90% ad sales, to 50% ad sales and 50% “non-ad sources” the majority of which are subscription sales. Syndication and licensing are a small under 10% slice, and bookstore sales of digital and printed docs are another small slice.

- They’ve done lots of price testing on their eDocs (PDFs) and subscription offers, including emailing surveys to registered members and testing prices on live offers. Results have shown they can charge a variety of prices for content. Some products are $5 and others as high as $39. Publishers who just pick a price that sounds good and use it uniformly across the board may be losing out.

- Bundled offers are working well. For example, SportingNews offers three different products for NFL fans, including a pre-season countdown, a “draft central” kit and “pro football matchups” which you can buy separately or bundled together for a discount.

On the other hand, SportingNews is not offering a mega-bundle of everything they sell, mainly because Jason says the price would be too high to be sexy to prospects (at a certain point it’s easier to sell several small things than one big one), and because baseball and football fans don’t overlap all that much.

- While news itself is lower value online, Jason says because SpsortingNews’ editors get it online so quickly, it’s worth the subscription fee to people. The value in that marketplace is the speed.

- Open and response rates to team-specific newsletters blow more generic newsletters out of the water. It can be worth the extra investment to create separate newsletters for each marketplace slice.

- Although SportingNews has enormous offline presence (4.5 million print magazine readers, and 13 million radio show listeners), the Web site with “close to 3 million registered users” is definitely reaching some different people. There’s less overlap than you might think. Jason says, “A very, very high percent of Web users we’re introducing to the magazine and providing a lot of benefit.” The site is a good print sub feeder.

- Just like every publisher I’ve talked to, Jason is ready, willing and able to sell ads by the daypart, but no one has bought any yet. He can’t understand why not, “There’s no question if you’re a beer or pizza company, you should advertise just before the game starts.” I agree, but the only mention of daypart sales I’ve ever been able to find online is in search marketing PPCs. (If you know of another example, email me!)

- Also following a distinct trend I’ve noticed, Jason firmly limits the site’s email list rentals to sponsors. He doesn’t want to wear out his brand’s welcome in the in-box, and only allows about two rentals per month. He says open rates are distinctly better for names that have been on the site and/or registered recently. This might seem like a “duh” but in my experience most email renters don’t think to ask about recency segmentation when they buy.

- I think of SportingNews as “Mikey” in that old Life Cereal TV ad (you know the one, “Let Mikey try it. Mikey will eat anything”) because it seems like whenever I hear about a neat new online publishing format, SportingNews is inevitably mentioned in the press release as one of the beta testers.

I asked how the tests, especially their ActiveBuddy IM test and their Serence NewsKlip, and of course their wireless news distribution.

While Jason was positive about usership for all of these, recipients love them, he said of all three, “How we execute on that to make money is the part we haven’t done yet.”

No matter how cool tech is, you gotta have a biz model to make it work.

http://www.sportingnews.com

http://www.activebuddy.com

http://www.serence.com/site.php

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Anne Holland

Strange But True: Editor Forced to Resign Blog

April 24th, 2003

It’s long been accepted that if you are a publishing company, your writers and editors will moonlight doing various freelance
articles, writing the great American novel, or perhaps blog. As long as it doesn’t cut into actual daylight working time, or help your direct competition, nobody cares.

Except the proud and wonderful Hartford Courant newspaper who are being remarkably silly. You may ask: For whom the Blog tolls? It tolls for thee.

http://www.denishorgan.com

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Anne Holland

Warning: Text-Heavy Sites Being Hijacked

April 24th, 2003

Matt Mickiewicz at SitePoint just emailed his readers that his site has been the victim of a content hijacking scheme by an online casino. The Casino spidered his site, sucked up all the text, planting a replica of it elsewhere and then took advantage of all the traffic that came pouring in when search engines such as Google began picking up the site and mentioning it in organic (free) listings. He warns that “Text heavy sites are most at risk. The easiest way to know if you’ve been a victim? Run a [Google] search on some of your page titles with quotes around them.”

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Anne Holland

How Great Branding Can Kick You in the Teeth

April 10th, 2003

I am sitting here drinking out of my official Google mug feeling
incredibly guilty yet righteous.

As you know, if you read the Special Issue we emailed you on
Monday afternoon, we just outed Google for possibly overstating
the success metrics of its new ad unit, and for doing business on
an opt-out basis.

Thing is, neither of these failings are a huge sin in the overall
scheme of things. Certainly many other companies (including
some of Google’s competitors) are equally or more guilty
of them.

Why bother reporting on it in this instance; and, why do I
feel so guilty? Blame branding.

Google’s the warm, fuzzy brand-of-the-year. I’ve been trained by
their brand to expect specific types of business practices from
them.

When competitor Overture announced a deal to put ads on much-
maligned Gator this week, I shrugged it off, but when Google, a
company that refuses to take ads linking to sites with pop-ups,
were a little too hopefully positive about their new ad unit
conversion figures, I was stunned.

It wasn’t fair of me.

I guess that’s the hard reality behind great brand marketing.

If you do such a good job of making people love and trust your
brand that they go out and buy the mug, then you’re judged
against higher standards.

This is an especially important lesson for those of us working
for Web-based companies. If you’re a pure-play, your brand is
critical. After all, people have no other palpable experience of
your company to judge by.

As we reported a few weeks back, less than 12% of online
shoppers make buying decisions on price alone.

Yes the Web is a fabulous direct response medium, but
branding matters now more than ever before.

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Anne Holland

How Great Branding Can Kick You in the Teeth

April 10th, 2003

I am sitting here drinking out of my official Google mug feeling
incredibly guilty yet righteous.

As you know, if you read the Special Issue we emailed you on
Monday afternoon, we just outed Google for possibly overstating
the success metrics of its new ad unit, and for doing business on
an opt-out basis.

Thing is, neither of these failings are a huge sin in the overall
scheme of things. And certainly many other companies (including
some of Google’s competitors) are equally or more guilty
of them.

So why bother reporting on it in this instance; and, why do I
feel so guilty? Blame branding.

Google’s the warm, fuzzy brand-of-the-year. I’ve been trained by
their brand to expect specific types of business practices from
them.

So, when competitor Overture announced a deal to put ads on much-
maligned Gator this week, I shrugged it off. But when Google, a
company that refuses to take ads linking to sites with pop-ups,
were a little too hopefully positive about their new ad unit
conversion figures, I was stunned.

It wasn’t fair of me.

But, I guess that’s the hard reality behind great brand marketing.

If you do such a good job of making people love and trust your
brand that they go out and buy the mug, then you’re judged
against higher standards.

This is an especially important lesson for those of us working
for Web-based companies. If you’re a pure-play, your brand is
critical. After all, people have no other palpable experience of
your company to judge by.

And, as we reported a few weeks back, less than 12% of online
shoppers make buying decisions on price alone.

So, yes the Web is a fabulous direct response medium … but
branding matters now more than ever before.

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Anne Holland

Salon Hits 62k Paids; 1/10th Rule for Sub Sites

March 31st, 2003

From a press release I received at 4:38 A.M. on Saturday, “Salonalso announced that it surpassed 60,000 active Premium subscribers this week and continues to enjoy an annual renewal rate of 72%.”

Which is about where I expected them to be. Patrick Hurley over there just confirmed to me that these are all Premium people paying for access to content vs. folks paying for online communities such as The Well that Salon also owns (in the past these numbers were sometimes combined in releases). He adds, “Our first quarter has been far and away our best ever. We actually queued the press release up a few weeks ago and since then have actually added a few thousand more subscribers so that we’ve actually eclipsed 62,000 active paying subscribers.”

This fits in with a general trend I’m noticing in sub sites. There seem to be four tiers in terms of size, each roughly a tenth the size of the next one up:

1. Biggies: Half a million to two million and growing. Low cost, mainly B2C. I have the feeling these will even out at 1-3 million.

2. Mid-sized: 40-75,000. They are roughly 1/10th the size of the biggies. I get the feeling they will stabilize around 100,000.
About same price as biggies, but slightly more niche in topic, or offer much more free content so it’s hard to convince people to pay.

3. Niche or entrepreneurial: 4,000-5,000. Again, about 1/10th the size of the next tier above them. Often run by very small companies.

4. Tiny but profitable: 400-500. That 1/10th rule again. Tend to be higher-priced B2B sites. I’m counting subs not seats (seats could be many more).

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