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How SPAM filters work

by on Apr.22, 2009, under Email Marketing, Newsworthy, Website Promotion

Advice on not getting your email campaigns junked

Unfortunately, not every email you send in a campaign makes it to it’s destination.  You can expect 10-20% of the emails you spend to inevitably end up in SPAM filters and junk mail boxes, it’s the nature of the beast.  Even if you send email campaigns following all the rules and only to recipients who asked for them you can end up in SPAM filters.

Unfortunately, there are no simple ways to avoid this, best practice is to understand SPAM filters and how they work.

Believe it or not, SPAM filters do not *know* that your email is SPAM or NOT SPAM – they guess.  This sounds scary but they are surprisingly good at it.  However, they occassionally deliver what are known as false positives from time to time.  A false positive is when a message that is not spam is labeled as such and blocked.  This is demonstrated by the familiar conversation:

“I sent you an email, didn’t you get it?”

“No, I didn’t, are you sure you sent it?”

“Check your junk mail box”

“Oh, I don’t know why it went in there”

(the email probably had a subject “OMG!!!!!! DID YOU SEE HOW WE COULD SAVE $$$$ MONEY BY SIGNING UP ON TOTALLYFREESTUFF.COM?? ” )

SPAM filters operate on a set of rules that have been established by people in the know about people who send SPAM a lot.  The SPAM scanner (a program) analyzes each email as it comes into the system and runs a set of rules on it, if it accumulated too many ‘points’ it is labeled as SPAM and sent to the junk folder.  Here are a few samples of numbers that Spam Assassin assigns emails that it thinks look like spam:

  • Talks about lots of money (.193 points)
  • Describes some sort of breakthrough (.232 points)
  • Looks like mortgage pitch (.297 points)
  • Contains urgent matter (.288 points)
  • Money back guarantee (2.051 points)
  • Why Pay More? (1.249 points)

The number of points that send your email to the SPAM dungeon varies from server to server, it is configurable and ranges from very lax to very strict.  What people have their SPAM settings at is usually related to how much SPAM they get and how annoying they find it

What do I do then (or not do)?

Avoid these common mistakes:

  • Going crazy with the exclamation points!!!!!!!!
  • USING ALL CAPS WHICH IS YELLLING!!!!!! (exclamations thrown in to make it extra spammy)
  • Annoying bright colors and dubious offers like Click Here for a FREE VACATION
  • Intentionally misspelling ‘spam words’ like vi*gra FrEe HeRE, this might even work but it makes you look like an idiot.
  • Having a history of doing these things: a bad rap follows you and the server through organizations like spamhaus.org

How do I follow the rules?

Following the rules is easy – just don’t do anything to somebody else you wouldn’t want done to you.  Here’s a cheat sheet FYI:

  • Only send email to people who have agreed or signed up to receive from you.
  • Only send email that pertains to your business or something pertaining to your business (everybody hates those affiliate programs)
  • Send useful information or tidbits – if you wouldn’t want to read it, who else would?
  • Only send out to lists that have asked specifically for the material you’re sending.

And there you have it, SPAM 101

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What to Look For in a Web Designer/Developer

by on Mar.11, 2009, under What to Look For

What to Look for in a Web Designer…a beginners guide

Experience: If his/her answer to this question is “Yeah, I designed a website once” that should tell you something.

Online Portfolio: Your Web Designer should have some sort of portfolio online, take a look at it. Do you like what you see? Call up a website owner and ask about their experience with the developer. Did they get what they paid for? Was the developer easy to work with? Is the site doing what you need it to do? Etc.

Server Side Scripting: All but the most basic of websites have interactivity, without it a webpage is just an online brochure (which is fine if that is all you need it to do). However, to start working for you a website needs to have some sort of server side scripting. Do you want the website to collect information from people? Do you want the website to sell your products? Do you want the website to accept job bids, photo submissions, questions from customers? People’s needs are impossible to guess…here are just a few examples of things people needed server side scripting to accomplish.

  • One client needed a website with an online dating service for its patrons (a nightclub),
  • Another needed a way to upload and sell their photos online (a photography studio),
  • Another needed to take job submissions over the internet (a construction company).

Aesthetic Design: This is a very subjective one but you can be the judge. Are sites that this Web Designer has done pleasing to look at? Are they functionally designed? Are they easy to navigate? Do they load in a reasonable amount of time? Do they have purple backgrounds with yellow text and jumping clowns? (Hint, this is not a good sign)

CSS: CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets, a language developed to separate content from markup. Your web designer should use CSS in some form or another. CSS allows all the text and some of the design elements for the site to be controlled from one document. When you want to change fonts or colors on a site, it’s a matter of minutes instead of hours, which is time that you are paying for.

A Private Server: Ask your Web Designer if they have their own server or if they just rent space. I’m not saying every web developer has to have their own server, but if they do, this should tell you two things.

  1. They are serious about the business; nobody has their own server just for fun.
  2. Your website will get better performance. Virtual hosts (companies that rent space to people for cheap) often severely overload their servers to make more money. Downtime, email problems, slow page-loading, and a million other problematic things are the usual result. You are less likely to encounter this problem with a developer or company that has its own server(s).

Monthly Fee: This should be a reasonable number, no more than $75 a month unless you are getting free consulting time or your website has special needs. A range of $15 – $35 is pretty standard for just hosting, depending on the needs for your site and what comes with it (expect to pay more for consulting time, extra storage space, etc).

Cost: Every website is unique, and most of the time you usually get what you pay for. If you want your site to do everything but wash your dishes and your budget is $500, you are not being realistic. On the other hand, if you just paid $5,000 for a site that doesn’t really do anything, your getting ripped off.

A Content Management System: You shouldn’t have to pay your Web Designer every time you need a few words changed, modern sites should be built with some kind of Content Management System (CMS) which allows you (at least) to make basic text changes.

Features: What comes with the website?

  • Does the site include email accounts, statistics tracking?
  • Does the developer or company backup the site regularily? Can you make backups? (this is especially important if your site holds important information)
  • Can you make changes to the site without paying for them?
  • Do you get consulting time? How much? What’s the hourly rate?
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Building a Website

by on Mar.11, 2009, under Building a Website, Working with a Developer

How to get Ready for a Website…

Plan: What do you want the website for? How will it help your business? What can it do to save you time or money? This information is critical to the success of your website.

Gather: A common misconception is that websites can be made from nothing, this is not the case. A website is a container for, or in some cases, a medium to transfer, information. However, that information needs to come from somewhere. Here are a few things any web designer needs to get started.

  1. Logo – preferably in a vector format (adobe illustrator, eps, or macromedia freehand format). If you don’t have one, get one designed, it is usually the starting point for your websites design.
  2. Photography – an all text website is pretty boring, have photos ready or arrange for them to be taken.
  3. Information – Contrary to popular opinion your web designer does not know the details of your business, the history of the company, or what information you want on that contact form.
  4. A Needs List - What do you want the website to do? What information will it gather… or present? What aspect of your business can benefit most from the website?

Define Your Terms: How much are you spending each month? Has everything you need the website to do been spelled out? Is there anything you’d like to add? What’s the quote amount? Are you working on a quote or hourly basis? How long till the site is finished once everything is supplied?

Get your information to the designer ASAP to help get your site done ASAP: Stick to some kind of structured time schedule with the developer. All pictures need to be turned in by this day, text information needs to be turned in by this day. The site will be completed in x amount of time once all information has been collected, etc. The sooner the site is finished the sooner it can begin working for you.

  1. Check in with your web designer on a weekly or bi-weekly basis for changes or progress reports.

Get Involved: Check in on your website while it’s being built, voice what you like and don’t like. Ask about changes as soon as possible. Is this changeable? What if I want to add this? Will it cost more? Etc. A good web designer will keep you informed about changes or modifications they need to make to make the website function better from a technical or aesthetic standpoint. If you don’t like something, ask about it. Maybe it was done for a reason, maybe it is just a difference of opinion.

Build your Website in Stages: If you are not sure what you want but know you want to bring your business online – start small. A small basic website should cost you no more than $500 – $800. Start with this, wait a few months and see what you (or your customers) are requiring of the website. If you have already determined exactly what you need the website to do, make sure you relay all of this information to the developer.

* Taking care of these basic things will insure a better overall experience for both you and the web designer. It will help insure that your website can be working for you as soon as possible and doing what you want it to do.

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PPC

by on Mar.10, 2009, under White Papers

PPC or “Pay Per Click” is a staple in todays advertising world.  With millions of websites competing for the #1 spot on Google, obviously not everyone can have it… enter PPC – the Pay to Play option

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SEO

by on Mar.10, 2009, under White Papers

SEO is an art and a science…

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