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Three Keys from this Episode

  • How to save money building your email list by only paying for valid data
  • Unverified data can cause your email service provider to suspend your account, or worse yet, cancel your account.
  • Cleaning your company data and email lists will improve deliverability and sender reputation.

Click to Tweet: Bad data and attacks will kill your email deliverability. See: http://bit.ly/2xjKIwj

Meet Krista Barrack from Xverify

Krista is a senior account manager for a company named Xverify, they’re part of VCN Media. They specialize in email deliverability. They do this by verifying your data. They help digital marketers improve communications with their customers through instant data verification. Their tools include email address verification in milliseconds that eliminate hard bounces, reduce SPAM complaints, prevent typos and minimize fraud. Now, Krista has had a passion for technology for most of her life and she started even at the age of 13 teaching herself HTML so she could build websites because she thought that was a fun pastime. She’s worked in the data verification technology business with Xverify from the ground up and enjoys the challenges and the many changes in the industry as they come along.

What else does Xverify do?

We do specialize in email verification, but we also provide other services around verification such as address verification and phone number verification. We do focus more on real-time, but we also do verifications in batch processing as well.

Can you give us an example of why somebody who’s already building a list would want to use your services and how they might use a verification service?

Yeah, sure. Let’s say, if you’re a marketer, whether you’ve had 10 years of experience or you have two days of experience, when you set up your landing page you’re ready to accept traffic, but just because you put it on the web doesn’t mean visitors come unless you have an SEO super-friendly site, which is very hard to achieve page-one rankings in Google. Therefore, you have to go out and you have to buy web traffic, and buying web traffic is not cheap. Most of my clients are paying over $1 per lead that they acquire, and that’s generally on a simple email capture/submit. If you wanted to acquire 5,000 leads, per se, that’s $5,000.

Now, if you’re getting all those visitors going to your website and they’re getting on your page, entering the details, and hitting the submit button, there’s a lot of leads that are going to sneak through the cracks, which are valuable. Now, based on our findings, we found that between 15% to 18% of incoming leads is invalid. Imagine that portion of the money that you spent on acquiring 5,000 leads. You’re losing out on over $1,500. So to at least verify data when it comes initially on your landing page, you’re able to reject bad leads in real-time so that way you can cut down on your marketing expense.

What are the typical reasons why a lead would be invalid?

Well, that’s a very good question. If you think about it, one of the factors is, I think we can all relate to Groupon. I think probably every one of us has been out on Groupon’s site. They used to have it so that before you could even see anything that they were offering on their page you had to plug in your email address. This is the main reason why people were skeptical about giving their actual email address because as soon as they plugged in just any random string of characters at whatever-domain.com, they were granted access to then see the product and the offers that were available on Groupon. They were tempted to just put in any random fictitious information. But some of the other reasons why people put in invalid contact details is, a lot of what we’re seeing now, is by accident.

Users don’t even come to realize that they made a mistake. A lot of users have now switched over to mobile. Just because your website is now mobile responsive does not mean that you’re going to get fewer errors on your site. You’re actually going to intake more inaccurate data because people are trying to type with their thumbs on their mobile devices. People are texting and driving, and that’s a problem too, but that’s a whole other topic. But yeah, if they’re putting it in on their mobile phone and you don’t have any verification in place, again, you’re going to get invalid leads coming in through your front door. Also, another big stopper here for invalid data is spambots that get on the site, like, crawlers that come to your site and will just kind of push invalid contact details in.

What’s the downside for a marketer who already has a list and they’re not scrubbing their data regularly?

Well, when you have a database, that database, you might have either collected it over a long period of time, and good email addresses go bad over time. For example, you might have a user come to your site where they were working at one company and they gave you their email address, and then they changed jobs. Well, that email address is no longer going to be valuable. If you were to go and send an email to it, it’s going to create a hard bounce for you. Hard bounces are detrimental to your sender score, which impacts your email campaign deliverability. As an email marketer, you want to make sure that your list is as clean as possible so you don’t have deliverability issues.

Your email deliverability is derived from your senders’ score. Things like hard bounces, spam complaints, soft bounces, infrastructure, all of these things make up that sender score. If you want to make it to your user’s inbox where you can actually get engagement with that user, where the user can see your message, they can read it, they can click, then that converts into sales. That’s what you want. You don’t want to be stuck into the spam or the junk folder. This is why it’s essential for you to take your entire database and clean it on a regular basis. Depending upon … just to give a good rule of thumb here, we say if your database is over 50,000 records then you want to clean it every three to six months just to regularly weed out email addresses that have gone bad over time.

Does that still apply if you’re using a service that will delete the hard bounces? Is there going to be other issues aside from hard bounce that would affect the deliverability score that you can help the marketers with?

Well, when you look at one aspect of it, depending on what type of email campaign service that you’re using, whatever ESP that you’re using, if it’s sophisticated it’s going to automatically remove the hard bounces from your list. However, you’re already impacted by that negative notch off of your sender score.

The whole idea of cleaning your list regularly is to reduce as many potential hard bounces as possible. Now, keep in mind, with a service like what we’re doing we’re verifying that the individual user ID is a real mailbox at the domain before you send to it. We are going to know that this is not just a database lookup that we’re doing. We’re actually making the connection to that mail server to ensure that that username is an active account over there. This way we’re giving you the most accurate results so that you can decide, “Okay, this is not a good email address.” And then automatically unsubscribe it from your list.

In fact, since we’re talking about database and mailing list, we’re just rolling out a brand new feature where we’re integrating with many of the major ESPs out there so that way if you have an account with us then you can just automatically connect your email provider, choose the list that’s already inside of your ESP, and then we would have the capability to clean that list and then send all of the bad email addresses back to your ESP to unsubscribe them from your list so the next time you go to send out your campaign it’s already clean and ready to go so you won’t have to worry about that invalid data damaging you down the line.

One other point on that is that if you start creating hard bounces and your hard bounce exceeds a certain rate that your ESP doesn’t like, they’re going to shut your account down and kick you off of their system. Even though you’re paying them money, they’re going to get you off of their system because a lot of times your bad data hygiene practices are damaging their reputation. If you damage their reputation or their IP addresses, they can’t deliver as well for their other customers. That’s why they’re so tight with their requirements. They don’t want you having high hard-bounce rates. Then again, like you mentioned earlier, Doug, when it comes to too many spam complaints, they notice those things as well and they’re not going to toy around with that. They’ll just pick your account off if that becomes a problem.

At some point there will need to be a change in the threshold being that a lot of the spam complaints aren’t legitimately complaining about spam, it’s just people are looking for an easy way to get off the list.

That’s the number one reason why many people are marking messages as spam. A lot of times from what we see, especially coming in from Yahoo accounts, I don’t know why it’s Yahoo specifically, I can’t tell you the statistics on that, but Yahoo tends to have a majority of the spam complaints. The reason why is because from what our theory is behind it, is that these are some of the older users and they don’t really understand the unsubscribe process to be removed from a list, so instead they just hit that “Mark as Spam” because it’s no longer going to come up at the top of their inbox anymore.

However, if you are getting a lot of spam complaints it’s a best practice to set up a feedback loop so that way you know who has marked your message as spam and you can actually unsubscribe that recipient, because if you continue to just email to them and it’s constantly going into the spam folder, then that, again, is taking away from your sender score.

Share with us an example, a case study of somebody that was struggling and you were able to help them see some immediate success.

I had a particular client, I’m not going to name who they are, but they were doing periodic database cleanings with us. They’re actually a very big retailer, so they have a big online eCommerce-facing store. They started to get, their web form was under attack by a spambot. In fact, it wasn’t just the typical spambot who comes in and just punches in bad information occasionally, it was actually a DDOS attack on their form to potentially bring down their server. They were getting hit by hundreds of thousands of requests coming in through their signup page and they were … Every time, the way that they had their infrastructure setup was, when a new lead would come in they would automatically send out a welcome email.

So imagine if your page goes from maybe getting, let’s say, 5,000 new signups a day, and suddenly it’s getting 25,000 signups a day. I mean, that’s a huge jump. And all of a sudden it’s garbage information that’s coming to the forefront of your form, and that’s automatically sending out hard bounced emails. That’s out of your control. They burnt their entire reputation, and that was right before the holidays. So that caused a critical problem for them, and then they came to us and they’re like, “Well, what can we do about this?” And we’re like, “You need to immediately put verification in place on the forefront of the form because when it’s right up front in the form, the lead can be rejected, or you can at least make the business logic on the back end through an API to say, “If this email address is not valid then do not add it to your marketing campaign.””

Is this a service that they would set up themselves, or would they have their web guy get a hold of you or whoever manages their CRM? What is the process for an entrepreneur that says, “Hey, this sounds good, but I don’t understand APIs and all that stuff? I just use Infusionsoft or I just use,” whatever the service they use, “And I don’t want those problems because I’m trying to grow my business”?

You definitely want to take the precaution in advance to have some level of verification on your form, even if you start with some very simplistic verification without even using a service. For example, putting in just a JavaScript verification to make sure that the email address or the phone numbers are in the right format. Then, if you’d like to use a service like this, it’s really simple. We do have a JavaScript, which is just a plug-and-play piece of script that we have, which you can throw on your site as long as it’s in the head of the HTML. Then, you would just modify a class name to recognize the email capture field on your site. That’s how our system is able to recognize that specific field is an email ID, then we would verify off of that.

Immediately when using the JavaScript, we would instantly display a red error message and disable your submit button, so this way the lead does not get sent if we’re saying that the email address is invalid. Our responses happen in usually less than a second, so it’s really fast that the error message would pop up if they try to provide you with a fictitious email address. We do also have an API, so if you are a little bit more advanced or you have a tech person, a developer who works on your website regularly, our API is very straightforward.

The difference between the two, I would say, between the JavaScript and the API is that the JavaScript is more front-facing where the customer can see their information is getting verified. One of the benefits of that though, is when you prompt a user that they made an error and their email address was incorrect, they’re going to go back and fix it nine times out of ten, whereas with the API it kind of happens behind the scenes, but you have an indication of should you submit it into your mailing database, or should you just reject it and still allow the user to carry on to the next page. But again, [inaudible 00:19:04] with API. You can configure it however you want to. You have more control over that.

What’s the most exciting technology or advancements you see as it relates to in your field in the next six to twelve months? What do you see coming down the pipe?

Everything is advancing around security. With all the things that are going on in the world like the whole election system here in the US, and the whole talks about hacking, and more retail shops getting hacked, everybody is really concerned about security. Kind of the next step is to have more online businesses implement dual-factor authentication onto their website. Dual-factor authentication is a great way to avoid the wrong kind of password reset, or even during the signup process you could use dual-authentication to verify users.

What do you mean by dual-authentication?

Dual-authentication, just to break it down for you, I’m sure every one of us has experienced it, maybe you just didn’t understand what it’s actually called. Dual-authentication is when you go to log into your mobile banking site, and when you go to log in on a new device it doesn’t recognize that device so it says, “We’re going to send you a code on your cell phone to verify.” Then it sends you a code via text and you have to plug that code they send you back to the site and to confirm that you’re the actual user. Does that make sense?

This is why it’s so important to have an added level of security on your page because a lot of pages don’t have very much security on them. With everybody thinking of security, I think that’s really the wave of the future, to add that more into password resets. You don’t want the wrong person getting access to your account.

Talking about data security and privacy, we’ve recently taken the added steps to get our solution Privacy Shield certified, so we’ve taken those extra steps because our customers are the most valuable asset to us, clearly, and we want to make sure that they know that we’re taking their data very seriously. We’re not sharing any data. We’re not doing anything with that data. That data does not even sit on our servers. That data just comes in for the verification purpose and then we clear it out.

What are the major hold-backs for people? They look at this, they go, “Yeah, okay. That sounds good. I should probably verify my data.” Is there any one reason why people don’t immediately embrace this?

Well, I think it depends on how you look at things. I think a lot of people just misunderstand some things. They feel like, well, they have an ESP and that is working for them, but they don’t foresee the future of a potential security issue like I mentioned with that client that had the spambot come onto their site. You just don’t think of those things happening, but when they happen they’re going to hurt you real bad, and they’re going to potentially take down your business because, for that client that I had, they burnt that entire IP that they had out of that mailing campaign. In the last minute, they had to get together, come up with another ESP to work with and rebuild, and that takes time to warm up IPs and get things started again.

It’s better to be safe than sorry. When you think about lead buying, because building a list, it does cost a lot of money. Like I said, most of my clients are paying over $1 for each lead that they capture. If you think of adding a verification cost at less than one cent for each of those leads, it’s kind of a no-brainer just to have that added protection in place.

I think the biggest opportunity I would hear during our conversation here is really with the auto-responders. Every new lead that comes in that’s bad that I send my auto-responder is going to bounce, hard bounce, affect my sender score, and then eventually, over time, is going to continue to degrade my senders score to a point where I can’t deliver email. Or, like you said, get suspended.

Right. Or, you know, you could even, for example, if you have bad quality data, because sometimes when you’re working with various affiliates and you’re driving traffic to your page from several different sources, those sources are making money for sending you that lead, so some of them, they’re kind of like rogue affiliates out there that might be motivated to just send you more garbage, or they scrape the web, they scrape the internet with scraper tools and then they collect email addresses and they just try to push them into your list to squeeze some extra money out of you and make you appear that they’re sending you more leads. Well, the other side of the coin to that is that when you scrape email addresses off the web you run into potential trap problems. You run into email addresses that never really authenticated to sign up for your services, and it’s just going to lead to more problems down the road.

Like I mentioned, we do some advanced filtering through the email addresses rather than just verifying if they’re valid. We look for email addresses that have been harvested. We look for email addresses that are linked to online fraudsters, known litigators in the space as well, just to kind of prune your list and get some of those rotten apples out of there.

Where can people find you and Xverify?

Krista: Just go on over to Xverify.com, or if you want to take the easier route, I think Doug’s going to have the link in his show notes that you can just click on and jump on over to our page. We do also offer free list assessments where we’d be more than happy to run through a portion of your list absolutely free and just kind of go through those results with you to kind of give you an idea of where your data quality currently sits.

Doug: Excellent. I highly recommend it. I have worked with Krista over the years with clients who have purchased businesses, and before we take them on as a customer and manage their email, it’s a requirement that they clean their data because I don’t want to deal with the issues that we’ve been discussing today because it’s a long expensive road back to being whole and being able to deliver email.

Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day as your company’s growing, expanding, adding staff, and moving, to share with our audience. Please make sure you check the notes. I will have Krista’s information and details and a link to her website, so if this is something you’re interested in, if you’re running a database, check it out, get your list assessed, and see how you can improve your email deliverability and make more money.

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"Innovation isn't just thinking outside the box; it's about setting the box on fire and building something extraordinary from the ashes."

Doug Morneau