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Reanimating the Dead, The Zombie Apocalypse, & Your Email List

by mturk

Day One – The Outbreak

Zombies in movies bring about the end of the world, the complete breakdown of society.  They do the same to your email lists: costing you money, lowering your response rates, and eventually resulting in the apocalypse – blacklisting from ISPs.

Make no mistake: The living dead have infiltrated your subscriber rolls and are eating your list from within.  If you don’t think that’s true, ask the person who manages your email program to give you a count of the people on your list that have not opened any of your last ten messages? Or any messages in the last 6 months?

These subscribers are the living dead.  Their email addresses don’t bounce, but messages to them are never opened. They have long since stopped responding to any effort to reach them.  Like their namesakes from the George A. Romero films, they amble along on your list, shuffling their feet and groaning, but they are oblivious to the world around them – your world.

In some zombie flicks someone might suggest keeping the zombies around until a cure is discovered.   That never works out well (see Survival of the Dead or The Walking Dead graphic novels for example).

Invariably the zombies get loose and attempt to wreak havoc on the survivors.

The living dead on your list are much the same.  Someone will suggest that you keep those people on the rolls – that you continue to send messages to them in the hope they’ll be cured of their apathy.

So they sit there.  They sit there quietly.  They don’t make a sound.  Then suddenly they strike.

Maybe it is a bad day at the office. The inbox is filling up fast.  They have a hundred deadlines.  Their boss is screaming for deliverables.  In the midst of all this chaos, your message arrives.

They have seen your “from” address dozens of times – generally skipping over it – but no this time.  This time they take swift and decisive action.  Do they open it up, scroll to the bottom, click “unsubscribe”, complete your verification process and await the confirmation of their removal?  Nope.

They hit “Mark as Junk” or report your message as spam.  It’s simply easier than the often cumbersome unsub process.

Now you’re infected.

The ISPs start to look at you with the same sense of dread and concern the survivors show when they think one of their own has been bitten. As more of the living dead hit that breaking point, and flag your messages, the more the ISPs distrust you.

Pretty soon the infection fully takes hold, and you are having trouble getting any messages through. Your only recourse is to spend considerable effort trying to show the ISP there are no bite marks on your arms, legs or neck.

Hopefully your ISP isn’t the jumpy sort.  Just like in the movies, it’s often easier to shoot you dead rather than wait for your list to turn.  When that happens, you’ve been blacklisted.

The sad moral of this story is your deliverability problems could have been avoided.

Over the next week, we’ll look at the impact zombies have on your list, and ways you can fend them off.  By the end of the week, you’ll be able to spot the living dead, try to save the ones you can, and bash the rest with a shovel.

Until then, try not to get bitten…