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How not to use email auto-responder technology
Technology helps make our life, jobs and day-to-day tasks easier. Calculators help automate our mathematical tasks, computers help automate our organizational tasks, and email auto-responders help automate our communication tasks.
Can technology and automation ever do business harm? Absolutely. When misused, email auto-responder technology can wreak havoc on your business.
Let me tell you a story about the well-respected company (Overture) and how its poor use of email automation made me bristle.
For those who don't know, Overture is the world's leading provider of Pay-For-Performance™ search on the Internet. They enable advertisers (like me) to bid on keywords for placement within its network of search engines and portals.
We secure top placement for hundreds of keywords, bidding anywhere from $4 to $.05 per click to drive traffic to www.WebSiteProfitDoctor.com.
And yes, $4 per click can be quite risky.
After routine analysis, comparing our website traffic reports against Overture's click-through reports, I decided to raise concern with their customer service department.
Support seekers are asked to select a "support subject" from a pull down menu before submitting their web-based query. Here's my initial note...
Does your application screen for erratic user behavior?
Feb. 1st to date, our log file reports show two occurrences for the key phrase "Blank Blank Blank." The Overture click-through report shows 8 occurrences.
Is it possible for a user to dance in and out of our website repeatedly -- forcing us to pay for each foolhardy click? (We track this regularly, and believe these clicks happened on the same day). And if so, how can advertisers protect themselves from... say... competitors looking to distract one another.... or worse waste their money.
About 5 minutes later, the first auto-responder hits my inbox. It reads...
Re: Case #14191XXX; erratic user behavior
Your recent inquiry has been received by our Client Services department. We respond to each inquiry as soon as possible, usually within 24-48 hours.
Since multiple submissions regarding the same inquiry can delay our response time to all inquiries, we appreciate your patience in allowing us to respond to this inquiry as soon as possible.
If you need to contact us again regarding this inquiry, please reference the above case number.
Overture Client Services
This type of auto-responder is common practice for large organizations. Overture has 80,000 advertisers.
One day later I receive an email from Jane, an Overture client service representative. It's fairly lengthy, so I've used bold words to emphasis the important areas. Here's what she wrote...
Thank you for contacting Overture.
First, I'd like to inform you that Overture has very sophisticated click review software, which we call our "Click Protection System". This system ensures advertisers don't get charged for invalid clicks. It uses a variety of techniques to filter the clicks on a near real-time basis. This is one of the most important issues we face at Overture, which is why we have a dedicated Loss Prevention department that is vigilant in protecting our advertisers. We realize that this is essential to ensure the integrity of our marketplace.
To verify the effectiveness of the Click Protection System, you must have a Overture tracking URL in place on all of your listings. As you may know, we provide our advertisers with traffic from many sources: Yahoo!, Lycos and AltaVista to name a few. This means that an advertiser's Web logs often show a click or a pageview as coming from Yahoo!, Alta Vista, Lycos, or CNET rather than from Overture. This can be confusing to advertisers because they are scanning Web logs for the phrase "Overture" in the http referrer field.
A Overture tracking URL removes the possible source of confusion.Suppose you are the advertiser who owns the site http://www.joescookies.com. You sign up with Overture and provide Overture with the URL, http://www.joescookies.com. You bid yourself to the top position for the word "cookies" and you start receiving hundreds or thousands of clicks per day.
You look at your Web logs and you only see 50 or 100 clicks coming from the Overture domain. You get worried that Overture is billing you for invalid clicks and you call Client Services to request a refund. The Client Service Specialist explains to you that almost all of our traffic comes from affiliates such as AltaVista and the great increase in clicks you observed from the AltaVista.com domain is due to Overture. The Client Service Specialist advises you that you should use a tracking URL.
You like the traffic but are skeptical, so you change your URL to a tracking URL. Your new URL looks like: http://www.joescookies.com/?source=Overture. Now you are able to review your Web logs for the phrase "source=Overture." Then you will be able to see that Overture is delivering you lots of targeted traffic, including lots of traffic from AltaVista.
While reviewing your account, I noticed that you do not have a Overture tracking URL. Without a tracking URL, your logs may not give you an accurate account of the traffic you've received from Overture. While searches from our affiliates return Overture's results, your server logs will not always reflect Overture's URL. In fact, your logs will sometimes show our partner's URL, not ours. This may be why there's a discrepancy between your logs and your Overture click activity reports.
In addition, some third party tracking software, such as Webtrends, count unique users differently. Webtrends, for example, simply counts one IP address for every half-hour interval as a unique user. The problem with this counting technique is that the Webtrends software is not taking into consideration the existence of proxy servers.
Proxy servers are computers that act as agents for multiple users. The effect of proxy servers is that thousands of truly unique users can all share the same IP address. The best example of proxy server traffic is America Online. America Online routes all of its subscribers through a limited number of IP addresses, so any one America Online IP address can map back to tens of thousands of separate America Online users. Software companies, like Webtrends, fail to take the proxy server condition into account.
To more accurately track the amount of traffic you receive from Overture, we recommend that you change the URL you have listed with us to a tracking URL. Once you've changed your URL to a tracking URL, you will be able to view the amount of traffic you've received from Overture listed on your Web logs, and compare this information with your Overture click charges in the Reports section of our DirecTraffic Center®.You will also be able to verify that you have not been charged for any excessive click activity.
I hope I have adequately addressed your concerns and that this information is helpful. If you have any additional questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us. You can email us through our Support Center Tab found in DirecTraffic Center® at https://secure.Overture.com/s/dtc/center/.
Overture Client Services
After reading what seemed to be "War and Peace" online, I thought how nice. It didn't quite address my concern, but I did learn how proxy servers handle multiple IPs. She was close, but didn't quite understand my problem. I decided to send her another note through the Web-based support form. Here's what I wrote...
Thanks for your response, but it doesn't quite address my concern. Please re-read it. (Sorry if that sounds callous).
I understand Overture provides listings to partner sites and Web Trends estimates based on IP. Unfortunately, for me, your advice did not address my problem.
We do not scan Web log files for the phrase "Overture" in the http referrer field. We know Overture traffic comes from all over -- partner sites, etc. We don't really care "where" visitors come from. We care about which "search terms" they use, and those we pay for.
I don't see how adding a "?" to the url (for tracking) will prevent erratic behavior. Our reports capture all referring search terms regardless of referring page.
So if our reports show 2 for the term "Blank Blank Blank" and your report shows 8, which report represents legitimate user activity? And why didn't our reports pick up the other 6? Could it be ... because users dance in and out repeatedly -- or within a 30-minute period, as you put it?
Also, we rank #5 or #6 for that term, and have never before seen 8 occurrences in the same month, let alone on the same day. How can we be assured our advertising dollars are really "protected" from users with malicious intent?
Yes, a little harsh and very direct. But I'm not upset at all. However, here's where their use of email auto-responders infuriates me. Just as before, a confirmation auto-responder hits my inbox and then another follows 24 hours later. It's from Jane again. Hurray! I can't wait to read it. Here's what she wrote...
Thank you for contacting Overture.
First, I'd like to inform you that Overture has very sophisticated click review software, which we call our "Click Protection System". This system ensures advertisers don't get charged for invalid clicks. It uses a variety of...
I'll spare you the rest. It was the same, word-for-word, "War and Peace" email I received two days prior. As it turns out, when a support seeker (like me) selects a "support subject" from the pull down menu, the Web application fires off the most relevant auto-responder (associated with the subject) 24 hours later. Hoping to address my concern, they wrote the lengthy email resolving the most common concerns of others. Unfortunately, didn't work for me.
Since you've read this far, I'll share my final note to Jane. I must warn you, it's not very nice. Don't let your children read this. And no, I haven't heard back. Here it is...
Surely you're kidding me ...
This is the same canned email you sent two days ago. Maybe I should automate my concern and have our Web sites bounce emails back to one another all week.
Wouldn't that save us both time? How about showing a heartbeat or a sign of life?
Now you're buying AltaVista? I sure hope the acquisition comes with more support personnel.
Frowning on your use of email automation,
I'm sure Overture focus groups are already underway. I wouldn't be surprised to see a lawsuit come my way either. Once this article sees heavy circulation, I'll be lucky to get support from an auto-responder.
In its defense, Overture has an excellent product and will most likely continue to perfect its customer service and auto-responder technology. And if they've studied consumer psychology, they'll recognize my complaint as a cry from a customer that wants to stay a customer.
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The Website Profit Doctors are a Chicago Area Website Help Company who can transform your “information only” website into a profitable customer acquisition tool.
Primary website help services include: Website Improvements, Website Redesigns & Makeovers, Custom Website Development, Responsive Website Development, Google AdWords Advertising, Bing Ads Advertising, Google Analytics Set Up, Strategic Planning & Coaching, Competitive Intelligence & Research, Purchase Process Assessments, Lead Capture Assessments, Website Maintenance & Support Packages.
Primary website help products include: Small Business eCommerce Website, Small Business Blog Website, Small Business Website.
Blog information and opinions herein reflect the most accurate information at the time of publication and are subject to change. Readers are free to forward this article in its entirety, but may not sell, barter or leverage it for commercial profit or gain.
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