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Avoiding spammers in affiliate programs

How can companies avoid paying spammers and having their brand associated with spammers?
One of the easiest ways to avoid spam is to not pay for acquisition email. Simply don’t set up an affiliate email marketing program. There are a lot of folks who don’t like me saying that, and who have argued vociferously with me over the years. But email is not a good medium for acquiring new customers if you don’t intend to spam. Email is a great medium for talking with current customers who are engaged with a brand and a company, but currently it is a poor way to acquire customers without spamming.
There are ways companies have successfully used email to acquire customers. There are actually newsletters that contain content but also sell advertising in the newsletter. Look at the newsletters you are receiving, that are relevant to your business space. One example of a newsletter that did this successfully is Magilla Marketing published by DirectMag. Every week there were 4 new articles from Ken Magill, supported by advertising in the newsletter and on the website. These kind of ads will let you reach your target market without spamming.
Now, I know that there are a lot of marketing departments out there that are going to insist that there aren’t useful newsletters or advertising venues for their field and the only way they can acquire customers is to use affiliate programs. I’ve had clients tell me the exact same things. Often they came to me as clients because their own email marketing was blocked by a blocklist or a spam filtering company due to their hiring of spammers. They wanted to police and clean up their affiliate program without having to give it up.
Policing affiliate programs can be done, if the company invests the time and energy into screening the program.
For every company that wants to send email advertising your company ask them to provide information about their company and their email program.

  1. Company name, address, domain, opt-in policies
  2. Main website
  3. Outgoing mail IP(s)
  4. Domains used in email
  5. Where do they get their email addresses?
  6. Where can you sign up for their list?

If they have more than a dozen outgoing IPs, or use rotating domains, turn them down. If they refuse to tell you where they get their email addresses, turn them down.
The single most important thing you can do is sign up for their list. Take a new email address at gmail or hotmail or yahoo and sign up for their list. Watch what you get from there. Is this traffic something you want your brand to be associate with? Does the mail get to the inbox or is it filtered into the bulk folder? Are they using hashbusters or other scummy techniques to bypass filters?
Check to see if the IP they use to send mail is one of the IPs they told you about. If not, why not? Check reverse DNS for that IP, and the IPs around it. Does it look like a snowshoe range? Check the IPs against blocklists like Spamhaus and check the domains against SURBL and URIBL. Check the whois records for the domains in the email. Are they hiding behind privacy protection?
You don’t need to do a full, in depth analysis like we did on the AARP spam, but you should know what kind of company you are hiring to represent your brand. How can you afford to let spammers be that first contact on your behalf?

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