Marketers Cautioned About Web-Based E-Mail

Use of Web-based e-mail is on the rise and online marketers should be wary about it.

That’s the thinking of Lyris Technologies, a subsidiary of J.D. Halsey that released a survey yesterday revealing 64 percent of consumers used Web-based services like Hotmail and Yahoo to check their e-mail compared to 37 percent who say they use a desktop client like Microsoft Outlook or Eudora to do it.

Robb Wilson, a vice president for the Berkeley, Calif., maker of e-mail marketing software, explained that the survey findings, based on a poll of 141 respondents, may reflect a trend toward adopting multiple e-mail addresses.

“It’s also potentially the effect of people getting tired of changing their e-mail addresses when they move or change ISPs,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “It gives them a free address that’s static.”

Yellow Flag Raised

Whatever the reason for increased use of Web mail, Wilson asserts that the trend should raise a yellow flag for online marketers.

“It should make them think a little bit more about the fact that they just can’t cater to Outlook when it comes to rendering [rich e-mail],” he said.

“As we’ve proven time and time again with customers, just because it works in Outlook doesn’t mean it’s going to render correctly in other e-mail clients,” he explained.

“What ultimately happens,” he continued, “is customers receive messages that are not legible or have table and alignment issues.”

The Unforgiving

That can have a dire impact on a marketer’s e-mail campaign. As Shar VanBoskirk, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research pointed out to the E-Commerce Times, “Consumers are very aware of e-mails today that don’t look recognizable, and they’re not very willing to give marketers a second chance.”

Even if marketers create messages to be perfectly rendered in a particular Web client, the electronic epistle could still be messed up when it arrives in a target’s inbox because the graphics have been stripped from it by the system.

“Yahoo, for example, defaults to not showing graphics,” VanBoskirk explained. “The user has to go in and reset the settings so they view graphics.”

Mangled Metrics

In addition to fouling up the look of a message, image blocking can distort a marketer’s metrics for an e-mail campaign, Wilson averred.

That’s because the images for a message are located on remote servers. When a message is displayed, it accesses those servers to obtain the image. Some marketers use that access to measure whether or not the message has been opened by the recipient.

“Companies are seeing their open rates decline,” Wilson noted, “and in a lot of ways it’s declining at the rate that adoption of image-blocking is taking place.”

Bigger Fish to Fry

The trend toward greater use of Web mail clients shouldn’t surprise marketers, according to VanBoskirk.

“This idea of consumers leveraging more Web mail clients doesn’t introduce anything to the marketer that they shouldn’t have already been thinking about before,” she argued.

How their messages appear in Web clients should be less of a concern to marketers than whether their missives will make it into inboxes at all, she maintained.

Because of the volume of mail they receive, she explained, Web-based e-mail systems have to filter out a greater number of messages. “From an e-mail marketer’s perspective, you have to be more diligent with your effort to stay on top of spam filtering techniques used by web clients,” she said.

E-Mail Ineffective

But for some marketers, the problems Lyris is airing about Web mail are just another reason for deserting the medium entirely as a pitch tool.

“Web-based e-mail is just as bad as any e-mail,” Alan Elias, president and CEO of THINK360 Marketing Solutions in Austin, Texas, told the E-Commerce Times. “Using e-mail as any type of marketing tool is completely ineffective because of spam.”

However, marketers aren’t ready to buy into that condemnation of e-mail just yet, according to VanBoskirk.

“Marketers are wizening up to be more strategic about their use of e-mail,” she said.

Smarter Marketing

In the past, she explained, e-mail was so inexpensive that marketers felt they didn’t have to be smart about how they used it so they sent out high volumes of messages.

“Now sending out high volumes of messages flags you as a spammer,” she observed. “It also irritates your target customer. And it decreases your response.:

“So,” she continued, “e-mailers are tuning into the fact that they need to spend some money on analytics and do more relevant marketing so they’re not sending everybody the same universal message but different customer segments messages that are relevant to them.”

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