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Janet Roberts

Don't Get Duped
By Janet Roberts

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How well does your list-management software protect you against duplicating subscriber email addresses? This can be a serious issue now that you're required to remove a subscriber's address almost as soon as you get an unsubscribe request, and it could be critical if we ever have to deal with a do-not-email registry.

(Sometimes, when subscribers complain that they are still getting your ezine even after they unsubscribed, it's because they signed up more than once, using different addresses each time. See techniques to manage that below.)

Most basic list-management software programs automatically reject duplicate addresses. Some allow duplicates by default -- why, I don't know -- and have to have their settings changed to reject duplicates.

However, some other information-management services, such as shopping-cart software that also manages email contacts, don't always recognize duplicates.

If you use software that's designed to process subscription requests, either for free or paid subscriptions, as retail transactions rather than as additions to a mailing-list database, check it now to make sure it's set to reject duplicates.

Check with your software's tech support if you can't figure out how to determine whether duplicate rejection is standard or optional.

"Deduping" lists is a standard practice for email and other direct marketers before they send out their first mailings. It's absolutely required if you are combining two or more mailing lists into a master list.

This issue came up recently in three separate subscription attempts I made for other newsletters I oversee for

Two used shopping-cart software rather than list-management software to manage the free subscription sign-up. The third used an in-house system that in the past has caught and stopped duplicate subscriptions. This time, all three permitted duplicate registrations, with duplicate confirmation requests sent to a single email address.

Single Subscriber, Multiple Addresses

In the example I gave above, three confirmation requests came to a single address, the unique one I use to subscribe to other email newsletters.

The Lyris ListManager software we use automatically rejects duplicate addresses. However, we get on average two to three complaints a week from people who say they're getting duplicate issues, or that they unsubscribed but are still getting ezines.

In each case, the "duplication" occurs because the reader signed up more than once, using a different address each time.

Often, it happens because mailings get stopped for various reasons, and the subscriber signs up again with a different email address, such as a work address instead of a home one, or with a secondary home or work email address instead of the main one.

After a while, the ISP lifts the block, or the user cleans out a full mailbox, or some other miracle happens, and email starts to flow again to the first address.

(We're assuming you're not using one of those Web-based address-capture systems that automatically logs a visitor's primary email address as a way to save time and reduce typing mistakes in subscribing. Many people use a secondary address for subscriptions and information requests.)

Whatever the reason, you have to watch these developments on your list carefully and respond to complaints quickly.

How can you tell if someone really is on your list twice or just signed up under multiple addresses? The answer is in the email header code at the top of each email message, and sometimes in the footer if you repeat address info there.

  1. Search your subscriber database first to find any possible duplicates.

  2. Ask the subscriber to forward all duplicate copies of your newsletter to you.

  3. Examine the email header code at the top of each email. If you use a personalized link that repeats the recipient's email address somewhere in the body or footer, check that, too. (Don't assume your reader will see it.)

  4. You should see different addresses in the "To:" line. Some list-management programs attach a unique code to the subscriber's email address. If the codes are different, then the subscriber has multiple addresses.

  5. Sometimes, one address redirects to another. This is common with people who use EarthLink, for example. This where the user ID code comes in handy. Check all the header information for clues.

No matter how the duplicate came to be, though, you must remove it promptly after you ask the recipient which address to keep.

Ezine-Tips for January 13, 2004

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