As a digital marketing professional, I am sometimes confronted by clients who do not understand the proper techniques in acquiring email lists. Typically, the client is under the impression that any email found is an open invitation to solicit or spam. Spam or spamming as it is known when done, is the act of sending unsolicited emails or messages to an individual or group of recipients without their consent. To acquire the emails from a paid list or website scraping is known as a “black hat” SEO technique.
In most situations I am able to convince the client that these techniques are frowned upon in the world of internet marketing. It is also not in the best interest for a business or organization to anger potential customers with the electronic version of “junk mail” that you typically receive at your home address. Most email campaign companies will also do their best to discourage users of this practice by asking where the emails originated from and if the receivers of your message have given their consent to email them.
The Clients Decision
In some cases the client wants what the client wants. In once such situation my client wanted to capture emails from businesses in the local area that would be in need of his product. This product is something that would benefit these potential businesses, but the method of scraping these company websites for email addresses falls into the realm of black hat SEO. To be honest, there is nothing illegal or unethical in the process of scraping websites to get email addresses. Google will “spider“, also known as a web crawl, websites around the world to create a searchable index we all use on a daily basis. This is how we find websites and blog of interest attained from the Google search. The difference is that Google does not solicit to the websites where my client wants to send them an advertisement.
Spamming by method of email has a low ROI compared to proper email techniques but can pay off for the solicitor. The University of California, Berkeley did a study and found that the response rate of 12.5 million emails was 0.000008%. Even with a poor response rate, the act of spamming is relatively low and in many cases, worth the effort. The act of spamming became so bad in the early 21st century that congress pass and President George W. Bush passed into law the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. This law is enforced by the FTC, Federal Trade Commission, but lacks the teeth to actually stop spammers.
My client not being dissuaded from wanting to move forward, demanded that our team follow through with the campaign. We acquired an app called Atomic Email Hunter from a company called Atomic Park. This international company out of Romania puts together a rather nifty program of scraping website of email addresses for only $79. From the technology side of things, this program works well and is fast.
Just to be clear, I do not recommend using this method to email market potential customers. In an effort to keep the bounce rate low and not get banned from our email campaign provider, we parsed and cleaned the emails as best as possible before inserting them into the queue. Still the bounce rate had reached a 15.5% rate and we attribute this to a few factors. Most newer websites today do not show or advertise their email address to the public. This is to protect them from exactly what we are doing. When the website scraper hits these site, it just passes by without picking up an email address. Older website were typically designed with a clear text email address in the back-end of the contact form or visible on the “contact us” page. These type of website are prime for scraping, but the email address may no longer be active or managed. An email box that is unmanaged or full will give a soft bounce and those accounts that are shut down give a hard bounce. A high bounce rate is a clear sign to the email campaign providers that the solicited list of email addresses were not provided by the email recipients. It is only a matter of time when the email campaign provider will shut down the account and ban the spammer.
Christopher Salerno is a Public Information Officer for Broward County Government, Digital Strategist Consultant for microfile.com and a Contributing Photographer on microfile.org. Chris has been in the Information Technology, (IT) field for over 30 years and is a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer and Microsoft Certified Trainer, (MCSE+I, MCT). He also has over 15 years in film photography and over 15 years in digital imaging. He specializes in visual storytelling and product brand marketing which includes ecommerce website design and social media buzz. Feel free to send Chris a message here.