Another Reason To Get In The Address Book

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” — Mom

Good advice, and I’ll try to abide by it here.

To be honest though, that doesn’t leave me much room to discuss the puzzling move a major ISP appears to have made recently. You’ve gotta see for yourself.


Some time back we talked about what someone might see if you email them but aren’t in their address book.

As ISPs and spammers continue the war for all of our inboxes, new weapons inevitably come into use. Sometimes, those can seem a bit extreme to those of us on the sending side.

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do… Better?

Would it cause some to not open a message that they requested? Possibly, but on the whole AOL’s warning was done about as well as you can do such a thing.

Speaking comparatively, anyway. Hotmail’s following in AOL’s footsteps, but a different implementation. And although you may not agree with me, I actually dislike AOL’s approach less — er, like it more.

What’s Hotmail Doing?

By now, we’re all familiar with the idea that images will be disabled by default for many email users, particularly if you’re not in their address book.

Plain text links won’t be clickable in Hotmail if you’re not in the user’s address book.

AOL took things a step further by not allowing users to interact with the message content at all until they read the warning. OK, another challenge to get past, but not the end of the world… even if readers see that warning, once they give the OK, they can see and interact with your email.

Hotmail, on the other hand, decided to start disabling links — including plain text message URLs — until the user enables all message content. You can see the message text, and the URLs, but you can’t click them until you enable content.

What annoyed me initially about this is that the “Show Content” link in Hotmail isn’t prominent. Sure, it’s in a yellow bar at the top of the message (see below) but it’s not nearly as prominent as AOL’s warning. Users are more likely to overlook it.

But Here’s The Kicker:

The URLs? The ones users can’t click on to go to your site?

They’re blue.

Blue. Like a clickable link. Like countless other links you’ve been able to click on in the past.

Pretty confusing, and if they overlook that skinny yellow bar (easy to do), your subscribers may not even realize that it’s Hotmail that’s changing things — they may think you just screwed up your message.

Don’t Let This Happen To Your Subscribers

Make sure that your subscribers whitelist you immediately after signing up.

For details on how to do this, check out our Knowledge Base and blog.

So Which Do You “Prefer?”

Me? I’ll take the full-page warning — while offputting, it’s at least impossible to ignore. You just can’t miss it.

What do you think? Which method would you prefer (as a sender and as a recipient)?


UPDATE: Hotmail recently tweaked the way this is handled so that if a subscriber doesn’t have you in the address book, and tries to click the would-be link, a dialog box appears asking them if they want to enable links. If they OK it, then they’re taken to the link they clicked, and other links will become active as well.

19 Comments

  1. Peter Koning

    7/31/2007 2:41 pm

    One challenge I have is with "Make sure that your subscribers whitelist you immediately after signing up."

    If someone signs up, the confirmation email may have already been sent before they act on doing the whitelisting… if they bother at all.

    Has anyone tried giving whitelist instructions BEFORE allowing the person to sign up? Might look ugly but maybe it results in a better optin rate.

  2. Gary Harvey

    7/31/2007 10:47 pm

    Justin, would we avoid the Hotmail runaround if we did our links this way in text-only emails?

    <a href="http://aweber.com">http://aweber.com</a&gt;

    I’d test this myself but I dont bother with Hotmail.

  3. Justin Premick

    8/1/2007 8:06 am

    Peter,

    I haven’t heard of anyone giving detailed instructions prior to the signup, although I have seen some forms where people have a line of text below the form saying "to ensure delivery, please add (sender’s email address) to your address book."

    Gary,

    Interesting idea, but based on my testing those are disabled too (plus since the message is plain text, the user sees the HTML as you typed it above, with two non-clickable blue URLs).

  4. The Time Diva

    8/1/2007 12:51 pm

    What fun… Many AOL and Hotmail users would rather it the spam button instead of the unsubscribe link… Now in Hotmail they won’t even get chance to use. We can probably see an increase of spam complaint reports.

    There is a feature in Aweber that I absolutely love that solves this problem… for me anyway… The ban list. One of the reasons I use Aweber.

    For several years, I banned AOL and Hotmail accounts. They caused more problems and wasted valuable time. My target shouldn’t be using them anyway.

    Pretty soon we’ll need to give away instructions manuals on how to sign up for email 🙂

    I agree with you Justin, if an IP makes a drastic change like that, it requires a full page warning.

  5. Peter Koning

    8/1/2007 1:20 pm

    @Diva – for a while I’ve considered banning free email domains.

    But currently the screen they are greeted with is very negative.

    I wish I could explain to these subscribers the reasons why and give them the easy steps to get on our list, if they really want to:

    1) how to whitelist mail from xxx,
    2) signup with a primary (non free) email address from this page zzz,
    3) look for the confirmation email and click the link inside to get their access/ebook/etc.

    This would filter out freebie seekers but at the same time not upset the good leads who are truly trying to optin.

    But until aweber allows us to have a custom url to send those people too, where we can give this information in a positive voice, I don’t see a net benefit in banning anyone.

  6. The Time Diva

    8/1/2007 4:43 pm

    Hey Peter,

    That would be great if aweber did allow customization… they do for the already subscribed… that might be an option down the road (hint hint)

    On my FAQ page I do give an explanation and if anybody emails us about the error message, we send them to the FAQ page.

    We do offer suggestions on how to obtain a non-banned address on that page.

    For those who do sign up, right after they hit the submit button, they are taken to a page with audio and screen shots on how to confirm along with the email addresses to whitelist.

    But your 1-2-3 step gave me an idea on how to set something up like your suggested

  7. Rick D

    8/6/2007 1:16 pm

    Justin-

    Perhaps aweber can program logic into the sign-up form that looks at the email address of the subscriber and then send them to a "thank you" page with instructions that are specific to their ISP?

    Subscribers from Hotmail, AOL, etc can each have different pages with details informing them what steps to take for whitelisting.

  8. Justin Premick

    8/6/2007 1:58 pm

    Hi Rick,

    Interesting idea. As I noodle it I keep coming back to one thought:

    The best thank you pages tend to be ones that keep the subscriber on your site and provide a personal thanks along with instructions for whitelisting and (when using Confirmed Opt-In) confirming their signups. Any thank you pages we would host wouldn’t be on your site and wouldn’t offer the same degree of customization as a thank you page on your own site, because we’d need to make them available to all users.

    One thank you page tactic that many people use is asking subscribers to whitelist your address, and offer links to instructions on how to do that in several major mail programs (web-based and software-based). This gives you the opportunity to show them how to whitelist you while keeping them on your site.

    You’re more than welcome to use the whitelisting instructions from our Knowledge Base for your own thank you pages!

  9. Ambrose Duperon

    8/13/2007 3:01 pm

    I have a question, is it really worth all the effort to appease AOL and Hotmail users? Most people that I know of that are truly interested in my products do not use a free account. Usually the ones using free accounts are just freebie seekers.

  10. Justin Premick

    8/13/2007 4:00 pm

    Ambrose,

    As far as providing specifics for AOL or Hotmail, that’s something each sender has to decide for him/herself.

    I think it’s worth noting that while those are the two examples we’ve covered here, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the only ones that treat mail differently when it’s from a sender outside of your address book. Even if it were at this moment in time, that doesn’t mean it’ll still be that way in 6 months – others could easily follow the lead of AOL or Hotmail.

    More and more, reputation plays a dominant role (even more than content) in determining how ISPs handle messages (see my post on relevancy and deliverability). Making sure readers add you to their address books may not seem worth the effort to you, but I think it pays to do so now (and if it doesn’t yet, it will in the future).

  11. Rick D

    8/13/2007 7:45 pm

    Hi Ambrose-

    Our customers are mostly teenagers (we sell rollerblades). The overwhelming majority of the kids have free accounts on Hotmail, AOL or Yahoo.

    So yes, for us, it’s very important and worth the effort.

  12. Tamara

    8/21/2007 9:16 am

    Hi all I have a pretty simple question.
    I have instructions after and during verification for people to add our email to their address books. HOWEVER I need to confirm WHICH email should I Have them confirm. OUR email or the Aweber email. Please advise.

  13. Justin Premick

    8/21/2007 9:21 am

    Hi Tamara,

    You’ll want to have them add your address to their address books, since that’s the one that will show up in the "From" line of your messages.

  14. Carlos Caridad

    11/16/2008 10:06 pm

    Great stuff all you guys!!

    Eventhough I’m a beginner on all this, i noticed internet marketer gurus, like Rich Schefren, advising opt-in subscribers how to whitelist his e-mail address for hot mail and other free e-mail service, right after opting-in.

    I wouldn’t know why Rich was doing that, if I haven’t read this post.

  15. Christine

    5/17/2009 12:46 am

    I don’t see how banning anyone for using a free email account could be a good thing, I still use my aol account, even though I have 10 websites, because I’ve had it forever, since 1991, and everyone knows it, besides, it’s easy to remember aol.com, instead of mynameinlightsbecauseI’msogreat.com. And while we’re at it, I’m new to aweber, and I’m here because I have an ezine, that I’ve been trying to deal with for about 10 years, all on my own, and so I really am glad that there are so many good ideas out there for me to learn from, as it was, so many of my people weren’t getting their ezines, and now I know why. So, I really appreciate the information, but just because I have an aol account, I don’t think it would be a good idea to ban me, because I buy alot of things on the internet and will continue to do so, for those who will actually take the time to get me their ezines. Thank you aweber, for this wonderful service.

  16. Pete Stuart

    7/18/2011 12:47 pm

    I think I understand what you are saying and telling us to make sure we do AND it does make sense.

    However, your examples are to tell them when they click to get the information etc. my ques: If this happens as you have indicated, then it would appear that the FIRST email to them would not have “active” links do to this problem. Therefore, it becomes a “wasted” email and the receiving email provider would have already done their thing. HOW do we get through that process and not have our links deleted?

    thanks

  17. Justin Premick

    7/19/2011 9:27 am

    Hi Pete,

    As noted in the update at the end of this post, this was changed so that the first time someone clicks on a link from you, they’ll be asked if they want to enable links. That made enabling content a more prominent and easy-to-do process than what was originally implemented.

  18. Tam

    11/27/2013 12:08 pm

    Just wanted to check and see if things have changed about hotmail now in 2013 since this post was 2007? Thanks!

  19. Rachel Acquaviva

    12/2/2013 8:48 am

    Hello Tam,

    Hotmail is actually now displayed through Outlook. For more information about how Outlook handles displaying links, visit their site here.