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Co-Registration and Your Inbox

by Wayne Porter, Jan Hertsens

Most users contend with spam overload everyday. Often they are confused and bewildered wondering where it all comes from. Sometimes their names are innocently passed on by friends, other times users sign up for offers or accidentally check one box that can lead to a world of unwanted e-mail.

In the marketing community this practice of gathering names and leads is referred to as "Co-Registration" or simple co-reg for short. Most users have seen websites like these. They offer something for free or a free newsletter and provide a wide range of filled or unfilled checkboxes that promise more information on healthcare, products, information, etc. By checking even one of these boxes the user has now doubled the load of e-mail they would normally get.

The reason they do this is simple- money. User?s names and addresses are worth a certain amount of dough depending on the quality of the lead, the type of list and information requested. The relative "freshness" or age of the lead also plays a factor in how much your e-mail address is worth. On a freebie themed site the going rate may be as little as .05 USD on an elite site with high end business shoppers it might go for several dollars.

Co-registration collectors will go through great lengths to get your name and interests. Let?s examine some of the tactics they use.


Beware of Checking The Boxes

Everytime you check you a box in the registration form of an e-mail you are probably opting in for a 3rd party offer or for the right for the e-mailer to send you an offer. When in doubt check as few boxes as possible. Everytime you check one of those harmless looking boxes you are only setting yourself up to get more e-mail. Think long and hard if you really want it in your inbox. Also be aware that the 3rd party may not have privacy practices that you find within your limits.

Beware of Sneaky Pre-Checked Boxes

You have probably seen this too. You go to sign up for a newsletter and you found dozens of boxes with more newsletters. The site simply asks you to check more boxes if you find something you are interested in. Sneakier sites have already taken the trouble to "pre-check" or fill out boxes for you. This is a favor that you do not need. If you see pre-checked boxes for newsletters you don?t want or you are not sure you do want- uncheck the boxes and be careful that you get them all unchecked. Those pre-checked boxes are there for a reason- your name and interests are worth money.

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Select or Submit ?All?

Another misleading tactic where the site provides a ?select all? or ?submit all? button right next to the subscribe button. If this is intentionally or accidentally pressed it will set off virtual avalanche of marketing messages into your inbox. Never select or submit all. Again double-check to make sure you are only signing up for what you wanted. Keep in mind that if a site is offering dozens of opt-in options there is the possability your name will be sold even if you only choose one. These people are setting up these sites with one mission in mind- collect and sell.

Below the Fold- Below the Belt!

The trickiest implementation of co-reg is putting the submit button where you can clearly see it and then burying a large number of pre-checked subscription boxes below the fold. Below the fold is the content you see in the middle or the bottom of a web page when you scroll or move down the page with your slider bar. Of course if you hit the submit button without sliding all the way down you might have messed those twenty or so pre-checked boxes at the bottom of the page and you will get to enjoy the thrill of instant spam! Be careful and look carefully before submitting a form. If there are boxes checked with information you don?t want- uncheck them, be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to make sure none are hidden there.
Be extra careful of "negative action offers". With these offers you are automatically signed up for a subscription like a magazine and forced to actively cancel the subscription if you don't want it.

Sharing with Marketing Partners

Perhaps the scummiest tactic in the book is the sale or swapping of lists. Sharing might have been nice when you were a child, but in the adult world sharing only goes so far. This activity goes on frequently and usually several different brokers are selling or swapping the same lists. Once a list has been ?hammered? several times and the response rates drop, the names are discounted and sold in bulk or compiled to CDs for ease of sale. Check a site?s privacy policy to ensure they maintain the right to share information with marketing partners. Unfortunately some dubious sites will do it anyway, be cautious with the sites you put your trust in.

Misleading Prizes

How often have you seen or signed up to get a free offer only to find out the goods are actually going to cost you some ridiculous amount in shipping and handling costs? These types of prizes are actually engineered to make the marketer money and many are paid partner bounties to reel you in. If a company will charge ridiculous shipping and handling fees or mislead you into thinking a product is truly free then you don?t want to do business with them anyway. More often then note free merchandise always has fees attached to cover the costs of the goods and to pay marketing partners!

Simple Steps Get Big Results

There are several, simple preventative measures users can do to avoid getting bombarded with marketing messages and unwanted spam when signing up for newsletters. While this won?t solve every problem they are good front-line defenses.

-Avoid Contests: By far most co-reg marketers bait their newsletter or offer signups with lottos, chances to win money or prizes and contests. A contest is more often than not a spam accident waiting to happen. Avoid them. Most people don?t win anyway.

-Avoid "Freebie" Websites: By now you might have guessed it- nothing in life is really free. Every time you accept a free offer or go after those free CDs you are giving up a little or large piece of privacy and inbox peace. The majority of the time freebie offers are used as lead generation tools to gather your name and information. There are legitimate things you can get for free online, unfortunately the most legitimate treats you get from taking offers from freebie sites are more marketing messages. There are some good freebie sites on the Internet, but use caution.

-Uncheck the newsletter Boxes: If you must go forward with a newsletter make sure to uncheck the boxes that ask if they can share the information with marketing partners or uncheck the boxes next to anything you don?t want. Be brutal. If is often easier to get on a list than to get off a list.

- Use E-mail Trackers: E-mail trackers are semi-permanent e-mail addresses that allow you to track if an e-mail address has been sold or harvested. We highly recommend the free (ad supported) or premium service at Mailblocks. This service uses challenge and response as well as e-mail trackers so you can pinpoint privacy violations and toss away abused addresses.

- Read the privacy policy: We know this is time consuming, but often you can read the privacy policy and reputable companies will disclose their activities up front. Meaning they will tell you they plan on sharing or selling your name whenever it suits them. If you see a policy like this just say no.

- Use an alternate e-mail address: There are a number of good solutions providers for this in our resource directory, but try to avoid the major freebie e-mail places like Yahoo or HotMail. These services are frequent targets for massive amounts of spam as well as hacking attempts.

- Never give out your main address: Use it only for personal use or business use. Naturally never post on a message board or the Web with this address either. The less it is found, the less spam you will get.

- Guard your e-mail address carefully: Use common sense when out on the net surfing around. These tips won't stop all the spam that marketers seem bent on sending, but it will cut down on the inbox overload!

- Use anti-spam tools: If spam is truly out of control in your inbox turn to technology and fight back. You can find many useful anti-spam tools at the SpywareGuide Anti-Spam Tools List.

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