Do-not-reply? Do-not-send.

Using a do-not-reply email address is putting up a not-not-disturb sign.

When you get an envelope or package in the mail, you expect to see a return address in the upper-left-hand corner, right? I’m not talking about something that just arrived from Amazon Fulfillment Services or the nearest Netflix distribution center, but any standard piece of mail sent to you from another human being – you expect to know where it came from and where you can send it back to if the recipient is no longer at this address, or you want to write a thank-you note, or you want to give the sender a piece of your mind, or … well, you get the idea.

Your email marketing should be the same way.

Let’s be honest: No one (or, at least, only a few people) believes there’s an actual human being on the other end when you get an automated email update from John Smith (or insert your favorite From name here). But we’ve been talking for years about the need to send smarter and personalized communications in order to treat subscribers well. And instead, what do many senders use as John’s reply address?

Sending from this kind of unmonitored, do-not-reply address is just wrong on multiple levels, because it tells your subscriber a few things:

  1. A robot sent the email.
  2. If there’s something wrong in the email, he or she isn’t able to tell you.
  3. And if subscribers can’t talk to you, it tells them you just don’t care to hear from them.

I’ve said it time and again that your email subscribers are the digital equivalent of precious metals, and when you tell them, especially in such a blatant way, you have no intention of providing them a channel to communicate with you after they receive your email, you’re treating that digital gold like used cat litter. It doesn’t matter if it’s the most basic transactional email or a complex, personalized newsletter based upon prior purchase history: If you don’t give your recipients a way to reply to you, you’re doing it wrong.

It isn’t just wrong from the perspective of treating a user poorly, it’s also wrong because it creates a blind spot in your email marketing program that has literally no reason whatsoever to exist. Readers have frequently heard me say you should not only welcome the opt-out / unsubscribe on your email, but you should be proactively monitoring those opt-outs and the reasons given for the opt-out (and if your email service provider doesn’t offer subscribers an opt-out reason, you should ask them why not). That’s legitimate, honest intelligence you can’t get anywhere else – whether you’re sending too frequently, not sending enough, sending weak content, what have you. Remember the Marketer’s Mantra: We are not our audience, so we need to listen to them.

The same applies to sending from unmonitored addresses. If you’re artificially closing that line of communication, you’re cutting yourself off from getting as much intelligence as you can and should have.

I’m not saying you need to have the intern who clicks “send” on your email as the person who sets his or her address as the reply-to. But, in this hypothetical example, it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to create a address and set it as the reply-to. Next, create a filter to put “Out of Office” and other similar automated replies into a folder. Establish internal protocol the inbox has to be checked one, three, six, 24 and 48 hours after an email goes out, just to see if a subscriber has emailed you with something you totally didn’t realize – your email suddenly isn’t rendering correctly on iPhones running iOS6, you’re sending to someone deceased, etc.

Additionally, and finally, there’s one more aspect to consider: Deliverability. We all want to make it into the inbox, right? However, testing has shown delivery and inboxing statistics are very, very poor when messages are sent via non-existent email address. If they’re delivered at all, the chances are high they will land in the junk / spam folder. The reason for this is many ISPs and inbox providers not only can, but do, use address validation (meaning they check if the sending address is an actual, legitimate address).

It could also potentially be a violation of spam laws to send using a non-existent address. For example, the U.S. CAN-SPAM law says, “A message cannot contain a false header.” From / reply-to addresses are transmitted as header information … so if a from / reply-to address is bogus or otherwise nonexistent, then the message hasn’t come from that person, (if you’ve used a person’s name as the From name), and you could be potentially considered in violation of the law.

Just because effective email marketing is automated doesn’t mean effective email marketing should be robotic. Don’t just do email marketing … do email marketing the right way.

Tim Brechlin
Inbound Marketing Manager, WhatCounts


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