By Andrew Neitlich

A very disappointing marketing campaign — and lessons for you

By Andrew Neitlich

I’ve been curious about large-scale opt-in email houses and what kinds of results those sorts of lists generate, and so I tried two campaigns. I’m very disappointed with the results.

First, the house I use is based in the USA and works with high-profile corporate clients — brands you would recognize. They get their names via opt-in sites. They meet Can-SPAM requirements, for instance by listing the sender’s name and address on the email. So they are as legitimate as these firms get (go ahead — post away about how this is still SPAM; the point of this blog entry is to share results, not get into what’s appropriate and what isn’t).

I tested two messages. The first shared information about a free social networking site I run. It targeted 2 million opt-in small business owners.

The second shared information about two parenting sites I run.

Both emails made a soft-sell. They were educational in nature. For instance, the email to parents notified the parents about two great sites for busy parents that make parenting easier. Each email was brief and to the point, and invited people to visit the site(s).

I purchased 2 million email addresses on the first (online business networking site) mailing. The firm guaranteed that 30% would be opened, and provides tracking tools. The price was $700. Of the 30% opened, .27% clicked through.

In the second case, I purchased 1.5 million parents with kids aged 0-6, making at leat $75,000 per year. My cost was $500. Here, the results were horrible. Only .1% clicked through. Google costs me a lot less, although it reaches fewer people. Waste of money.

In contrast, the company shared their clients in the gambling world can achieve as much as a 4% click through by offering $100 or $200 in free chips.

There are a few lessons I draw from this:

1. Sometimes you have to test to know for sure.

2. Even though the “soft sell” feels better, to get results and attention in cyberspace, you have to make a great offer. My educational soft sell did nothing vs. $100-$200 in free chips, and I didn’t have anything comparable.

3. It is important not to continue with marketing vehicles that don’t work. It is tempting to be able to reach millions of opt-ins for a low cost per thousand. Therefore, one might consider changing the offer around and testing again. But I can’t see an offer that will get me the results I want, and I tried with two different products. As the cliche goes, insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.

I’d be curious if anyone reading has had success with this type of mailing and what lessons you have learned. That’s a more interesting discussion than the moral/SPAM implications of this entry, so please stick to that subject if you don’t mind.

  • insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting the same results

    I believe you meant different results…

  • The number of optins are impressive, but you would have to know with how much spam emails you are competing, aka how much spam does the company send out to your target audience.
    If those people get 10 spam mails a day you are not going to get through.

  • aneitlich

    hotgazpacho, thanks. Fixed.

  • aneitlich


    Yes, although this company GUARANTEES a 30% open rate. They keep sending things out until 30% X the original mail size opens the email. So clickthrough becomes the challenge.

  • brion1234

    So you got 150,000 click thrus for the 700 bones?

  • Aries Mars

    Is it not 1500 click thrus? .1%

  • aneitlich

    I rounded up. The first one was about 1200 click throughs. The second one was dismal — maybe 350.

  • Anonymous

    I wouldn’t be so sure those optins are legit and intentional. They simply might come from people forgetting to unselect a “Let us share your e-mail with appropriate third-parties” box on an online registration. I am pretty sure no mailing list has 1.5 million parents of kids aged 0-6 who have opted in by double confirmation.

    It’s obvious that the “email house” you use is as legit as “PharmaMaster” (I don’t give a crap that they respect the letter of the law). Just look at the clickthrough rate. No, people are not confusing your messages with SPAM; they consider them SPAM. I certainly do.

  • Gator99

    Opt in or dress it up in a suit and call it marketing, it’s still spam. That’s how users view it. The low conversion via spam marketing has been that way for years. The well is dry.

  • I have a very strict anti-spam-support policy: If I did not specifically and pro-actively request the email directly from the person sending it then I will not purchase, no matter what the product or service or how good the deal is. I believe that most people will discard anything they do not recognize and at least half of what they do. Affiliate marketing and viral marketing would be much more effective.

  • Afro Boy


    We use purchased lists to supplement our own contacts when sending out direct marketing pieces. The lists we puchase are very targetted and focused and there is guarantee that the mail house only uses each person a certain number of times within the given period.

    The response rate is reasonable enough that we keep using it.

    I think the challeng here might be around the targetting of the prospects and ensuring that they aren’t hit too many times.


  • Because of CAN-SPAM, I think any US company buying lists or having a third party send a list is playing a dangerous game. Now, I know that some reputable companies sell ad space in their newsletters; thats not what I am talking about.

    I have never heard any internet marketer recommend e-mailing through someone else’s list; they all strongly recommend building your own lists. Its hard, it takes a long time, and you won’t be getting millions of addresses — but the ones you have will be far more targeted than any purchased, over-mailed list will ever be.

  • aneitlich


    I agree completely. The point here was just to see what the numbers really are.

  • Simon Griffiths

    You have forgotten to take one thing into account, the value of the clickthrough to you. Say of the 0.1%, 10% of these went on to make a purchase of $10k, on which you make 50%, then you have a positive ROI.
    I have to say though that I would never really look at lists too seriously. Making your own is just so much better practise.
    Maybe what you should run is a survey of readers that looks at the clickthroughs based on targeted emails from your own lists vs purchased lists.
    I know that people are going to hate this, but I have to say that if you are a small business wanting to get your product out there cost effectively, there are very few other ways to do it. The big question is though, is it really worth your while, and what sort of profit do you need to make on each click through to make some money.

  • aneitlich


    Yes, 0% made a purchase. 0% for crying out loud. Again, I just wanted to show the numbers. You are right as is everyone who posted; by any metric this campaign was not worth doing — other than as a learning experience.

  • wildscribe

    It all comes down to the type of audience you are trying to reach. Based on Andrew’s experience, opt-in email marketing apparently does not work well when the target audience is parents and folks interested in social networking.

    But based on the volume of email that I receive, I think it might work for marketers of drugs, gambling, and porn. I have never been involved with email marketing, but I suspect that if it didn’t work, the amount of email would decline, and so far that has not happened to me.

    Thank you for sharing your information Andrew. I have a good client who is showing an interested in opt-in email marketing and I plan to tell her about your experience.

  • Simon Griffiths

    I know this guy (don’t you hate any post that starts like this) who does this type of thing all the time. He uses a name squeeze page to get an email address and name, for say a free ebook then markets to them after that. His rule of thumb is that it takes about 14 (yes fourteen) contacts for the person to make a purchase, and to be sure of the company. What he does is alternates a salesy message with useful content. Firstly you get useful content, then a bit more of a sales message, useful content, more heavy on the sales etc etc. Fourteen of these, and then you start converting people.

    Personally I have not tried this as yet, and would probably only do it with suspects who have provided their email address to me via a Google campaign for example. I would say that you need your content well planned out before hand too.

    My suggestion would be offer a free few topics of your site for download perhaps via a name squeeze page, or just in your email, better still do both to see which works best. You could also try “7 things you don’t know about your child, but should”, what parent could resist clicking through on that?

    As I mentioned I have not got any experience at this, but there are people who make a very good living doing just this type of thing with affiliate programs. It is easy to write it off on the basis of a one off unsuccessful campaign, but you have to refine your technique, provide useful content, and be patient.

  • GG

    I think I’m right in saying the boasted 30% open rate is not a true reflection of people who actually viewed your email. Some email clients automatically show emails as opened even though the user never did. Users also often click on emails simply to delet them, increasing your apparrent open rate.

    Selling on this basis is clearly more impressive than offering a .1% open rate. That said if you were selling a $5 product and only 25% of your 1200 click throughs purchased then you’d make more than a 100% ROI.

    That how these spam lists work isn’t it? If you throw enough sh*t at people then some of it will stick.

  • GG

    “Selling on this basis is clearly more impressive than offering a .1% open rate”

    That should of course ead .1% click through rate, sorry about double post

  • IMHO, if you used a Subject line similar to the following you would have gotten better results for the email promoting the two parenting sites.

    Free parenting aids that WORK!

  • Steve de Vroom

    If you consider the notion that it probably costs at least 10 cents worth of person’s time to delete each unwanted email, your 3,500,000 emails collectively cost the targets $350,000 worth of their time to be pestered by you. How inconsiderate is that? Perhaps you should be paying $350,000 for the exercise instead of a few hundred dollars.

    Think globally. Look what it is costing the whole world in having to put up with this rubbish. If someone wants a loaf of bread they go out and get it. I don’t remember anyone dying of starvation for lack of junk mail or spam.

    Go find a real job!

  • Rich

    I understand your pain but I don’t see that your post has much to do with e-marketing. You didn’t say whether you were using html on your emails or just plain text. Your content is a big point as well. The first thing you will have to do is get past the spam filters on the servers not just the individual’s email. These are all main points when you are sending out an email blast. Also, you “puchased” a list and that is just not the best way to find your contacts. In the world of marketing online through emails you need to know who you are sending things to in order to get the desired response. If you don’t find the list yourself then you must know exactly what the list is and where it came from. Purchasing a list from people supposedly opted-in is only taking chances. Beware of any company that guarantees you that you will have a certain result. There are no guarantees and there is no way to determine the actual results of the email unless you are using the same type of campaigns and sending it to the same people on a consistent basis. Emails are a “dime a dozen” and easy to obtain. There is always going to be a percentage of bad emails and always going to be a percentage that get filtered (no matter how valid the email is). You take your chances when purchasing any list and you take your chances when sending out an email that was not professionally created. Max Media, Marketing Toward Your Future

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