Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Listing. Sinking.

For many years I've run a mailing list on my website. It's on the Contact page.

It's what they call a double opt-in list. That means that when you subscribe to it, you fill in your email address, it sends an email asking you to confirm and you only end up on the list if you do so.

Occasionally someone asks me if I can change their address for them as they've moved jobs etc. I decline because it seems to me to be bad practice to start adding addresses manually. While it's unlikely, they might be giving me their friend's address - or a stranger's address for that matter - and not their own. With the double opt-in mailing list, I know that everyone who's receiving the mail has chosen to do so. Every email comes with a working unsubscribe link - so it's dead easy for people to remove themselves, remove old addresses, add new ones, whatever.

Over the years the list has grown to over 10,000 addresses. I use a company called Bravenet for it - it isn't really possible for me to have that many addresses in my address book - and that way, I can visit a website, type an email out and hit send. Normally when I send an email, I get around 150 mails bouncing back to me. I delete those addresses from the list and try to keep things tidy.

But today when I sent an email to 10,119 subscribers... I had 4,493 bounce back to me as undelivered.

The problem seems to be that Bravenet's servers have been used to send spam... so now lots of other servers are blacklisting them. Including Hotmail and all their related domains. So about 45% of my mailing list won't have seen the latest email. Which is annoying. But I'm not sure what I can do about it.

I pay Bravenet for the service and over the last few years I've had more and more misgivings about the service they provide. Theirs is obviously a service that can be abused by spammers - and they can profit by allowing spammers to do so. Do they really care if a spammer pays them for a list or if I do?

But if their service ends up blacklisted they're no use to anyone. It's certainly no use to me.

If anyone has any expertise in this field and knows a reputable, affordable company, do let me know.

Meanwhile... here's the email I sent out today. It was announcing the 2012 tour extension - and letting people know about the presale link available from today:


Hello you, seasons greetings and all that.

Firstly, a big thank you to everyone that came to see the show on tour. I had a fabbo time. I genuinely didn't want the tour to end... which is just as well because it hasn't ended. The tour is going to continue in 2012.

There's a one-off at the Doncaster Comedy Festival in February and then we'll be back on the road with the show in May, June & July. We're returning to some venues where the show sold out and also visiting a whole heap of new places.

Most of the venues go on sale officially on Friday. But we wanted to give you first dibs... which is why, from 10am today - Wednesday - you can buy tickets for most of the shows if you're in the know. And you are. Or at least you will be when you read the next line of this email.

There. Now you're in the know. That's the link. You can find all the shows that are on presale available behind that link as of 10am today. Then from Friday they should pretty much all be on general sale - and the links and details will be on the Live Dates page of my site.

The full list of dates is as follows:
February 12: Doncaster.

Great Torrington (Devon), Wimborne (Dorset) Andover, Aldershot, Stafford, Durham, Colchester, Norwich.

Hayes, Dartford, Treorci (Wales), Dudley, Salford/Manchester, Swindon, Harrogate, Ipswich, Belfast, Tunbridge Wells, Bristol, Truro, Reading, Cambridge, St Albans, Kings Lynn, Cheltenham, Coventry, Yeovil, Guildford.

Dorking, The Isle of Wight.

I hope we're coming near you and that you'll want to pop along.

Oh... Belfast is already on sale as it's the re-scheduled gig for the show we had to move due to the industrial action.

Oh... and Norwich, Wimborne and Andover won't be on pre-sale but should be on general sale from Friday.

Oh... and Truro won't be on sale til December 30.

Oh... and... nope... that's all the 'Oh... ands' there are. I hope this email finds you well. If I don't email again between now and Christmas, I wish you the best of the season and of course, a very happy new year.

I look forward to our paths crossing...

Pip pip!




Rob said...

I don't know whether they charge for large volume, but I use Google FeedBurner for mailshots. If you're using Blogspot, you already have a Google account and therefore a FeedBurner account.

It has the same double opt-in facility. It's designed for delivering email updates on blogs/podcasts, but I guess you could set up a second blogspot blog, post your newsletters there, and then set up FeedBurner to email the update to your list.

Not sure how you would add people to the list without requiring them to re-confirm their addresses, though.

Paul Mitchell said...

I can highly recommend MailChimp.

They are great and have a lot of analysis stuff and automatically remove bounces from your list.

They also have some very good rules and limits for bounces to stop people using the service for spamming. They are also double opt in.

I use them cause they are free for under 2000 subscribers.

They even sent me a free t-shirt one time!!

They can be found at

Anonymous said...

Just adding my vote for MailChimp. Email done well.

Neil said...

We also use MailChimp, and have been very pleased with them, though we don't have anything like your number of subscribers on our list. (I also use to use one of Bravenet's other services and abandoned it.)
I've also noticed recently that a few of the lists to which I subscribe are using

Andy said...

I'd be careful with MailChimp. I've had to blacklist them on my mail server for sending SPAM.

Dave Gorman said...

A lot of people have been recommending MailChimp to me today. But they look very pricey to me. At over 10k subscribers I'd be in for either $150 per month or $250 per email.

Stuart said...

I'd like to add my vote for MailChimp. They have an excellent reputation in the web design world and a lot to loose by allowing spammers to use their service.

Stuart said...

I started writing before your comment was posted. That does seem rather expensive. The only other service I have any experience with is's service which is double opt in but provided as part of their hosting plans, so I don't think they do it as a standalone service.

Les said...

Hi Dave,

Really enjoyed your show when you came to Cambridge. The one next year is a new show?

Dave Gorman said...

@Les: no, I'm afraid it's not. It's an extension of the same tour.

Adam Dempsey said...

Two I've heard good things about but not sure on their pricing are Aweber and Mad Mimi

robyn larkin said...

we use an online email system called createsend - it is slightly more skewed towards design or web agencies but we have many clients who use it through us. cost per email is approx 0.7p per person you send to - so 10K people will be £70. you can also buy credits in bulk which makes it cheaper. I will DM you some more info if you want.

Darren said...

+1 for Mail Chimp, though I'm also a fan of MyEmma and Campaign Monitor.

Campaign Monitor charges $0.01 per message, so 10,000 would cost around $100 a month, minus some modest bulk discount.

What's your newsletter worth a month? Do you sell stuff (tickets to shows, merchandise) every month when you send it out? If the answer is 'yes', then it's likely worth spending $100 a month on it.

robyn larkin said...

sorry - createsend that i mentioned earlier is actually called campaign monitor and is great. #latenightnameconfusion

Dave Gorman said...

@robyn larkin: campaign monitor is very expensive. 10,000 addresses is one of their cut off points. The next size up is 10,000 to 50,000. So my list of 10,200 ppl would cost me as much as a list of 50k. It'd be something like $250 per month.

@Darren: I don't send out a monthly email - but I often send out more than 12 a year. Sometimes they're selling tickets. Sometimes they're letting folks know about free tickets to recordings and things. I try to give the people who've signed up to it, first dibs at things - whether they're "commercial" or not.

Stuart said...

Dave, I had a thought... there are Open Source programmes that will do what you want and for free. You have to provide the web space and database, and use your own email account (but you could set up a new one just for that), but it would be ideal for you. I assume that as you have a website you have web space and a web developer who does stuff for you. A couple of hours of his time to get one setup is likely to be a lot cheaper than 5 months worth of newsletters on the services you mentioned. Have a chat with your web developer about open source newsletter systems.

Dave Gorman said...

@Stuart: I don't have a web developer who does things for me... I run my own site. I wouldn't have a clue how to set this kind of thing up, though.

Stuart said...

It might be worth talking to one. It seems a sound investment given there would be no on costs once you've paid that initial amount. I'm sure if you were to ask on Twitter you'd find someone willing to do it at a very reasonable price. I'm a developer and would offer, but I'm snowed under until the new year. If you want to email with details of your hosting plan then I'll let you know if it's possible with what you already have.

Alan said...

Try Your 10.1K list would be EUR 22.5 per month. Reporting and tracking built-in. Easy import of your list. I have an account, don't work for them ;)

Dave Gorman said...

Well Bravenet have responded - and while I'm less than thrilled with their frontline customer services who could only spout platitudes, by pointing out that I was less than thrilled they've escalated the case and come back with something more meaningful.

I don't want everyone on the list to get another email and there isn't normally a way of sending mail exclusively to those with hotmail addresses but they're going to find a way of doing just that. And they're crediting me with an extra 6 months for free. Which is good if this sort of thing doesn't happen again - and pointless if it does. We'll see.

I've asked them for information on precisely why this happened and for details on what they do - and are doing - to prevent it. I think they might actually do so. Again, we'll see.

Come Back Brighter said...

For sending newsletters, I hear good things about, and mailchimp. I hope one of them might be more helpful than Bravenet for you.

TonyG said...

Nerd alert . You will need to start worrying about reputation defence. Whoever you use for mailshotting will constantly be trying to keep their email servers off known spam lists. In the old days this was simply firewall owners keeping black and white lists to block or allow domains – this was a manual task and very labour intensive. Also if you were mis-categorised it was a real pain to speak to a person to get off their list. Now-a-days this process is automated and firewalls and Spam filters use complex algorithms to work out if an email server is good or bad. A site such as this is good for checking your current reputation. So checking looks OK at the moment – however you might want to ask your ISP to register an SPF record (this record says to all mail servers in the world – if you get an email coming from it should have come from one of these servers – you will need list all of Bravenets servers in the list)
You can also get very nerdy and look at your mail headers and check the reputation of the servers that actually sent your email – the last one I have and again this looks OK at them moment.

The advantage of these automated systems is that servers which are used for SPAM will get blacklisted while the spammer uses them, but when they get board and move on, the reputation will be restored.

This is a constant battle for Bravenet and all mass senders.

I don’t work for any company listed above, but I can see the problem from both sides – annoying for you if your mails bounce, but really hard work for mass mailers to keep themselves squeaky clean, especially the lower cost ones as these will have less money to spend fixing the problem.


Neil said...

As above - I'd vote for Mailchimp. I use it for a school governor email newsletter and can't fault it, They're also really careful about not letting spammers use it so are less at risk from blacklisting. Having said that, you're right about the pricing but sending to lots of people is really quite a tricky business without getting blacklisted so I guess they charge accordingly.

Rjs said...

I wish every organisation used the double opt-in method.

There are at least 2 people on the other side of the world who think they have my email address so I often get subscribed to things I didn't ask to. I can tell they aren't random spam...I get their travel confirmations, restaurant emails...

Kenton said...

I would vote for MailChimp also - and it manages change of address so your list members can change their own details