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Email privacy now a top concern for 19 out of 20 i Saturday,August 9th 2008
How important is email privacy to your business? A new email privacy survey conducted by Relemail reveals it may be far more important than you expected. The survey presents some startling statistics about how email subscribers view privacy. Let's take a closer look at these statistics and reveal what it means for you and your organization.

The first statistic revealed by the study is that 96 percent of email subscribers view email privacy as important to them. This is a huge number. It essentially means that 19 out of every 20 visitors do care about your policy on email privacy. And as we will see in later statistics, it does make a difference in whether they choose to subscribe to your email newsletter or trust your company's email distribution policies. Ninety-six percent is a tremendous majority of the internet end user population, and the most likely reason for this number being so high is because virtually all internet users continue to be inundated with spam. Consequently, protecting their email address remains a high priority.

But a question remains: What kind of actions do people take based on their prioritization of email privacy? The answer is that if they doubt your organization's email privacy policies, or for some reason they don't believe they can trust your organization, they will refrain from subscribing to your email newsletter. The survey revealed that 83 percent of internet users have avoided subscribing to email newsletters because they weren't sure the organization would protect their email address. Eighty-three percent!

What we have, then, is a huge population of internet users who are visiting various sites on the internet, who are seeing offers to subscribe to email newsletters, and who are evaluating those offers in terms of email privacy. When the evaluation seems to indicate to the user that the company can't be trusted, or if it even raises a question about trust, they stand a very high chance of avoiding subscribing to that email newsletter.

Stated another way, if you are offering an email newsletter but you are not proving that you follow email best practices -- if you're not clearly demonstrating you can be trusted -- then people are going to avoid subscribing to your email newsletter, and you're going to lose potentially tens of thousands of subscribers who were very close to signing up. After all, they were on your page, they read your offer, but because they just didn't quite feel the level of trust they wanted, they decided not to subscribe.

At the same time, the Relemail study reveals that when people see evidence of reinforced email privacy practices, they are far more likely to subscribe. In the survey, the question was asked: "Are you more likely to subscribe to an email newsletter if its email privacy has been independently certified by an authoritative organization?" -- and nearly 3 out of 4 people said yes. A full 72 percent said they're more likely to subscribe under these conditions. So not only do we see 83 percent avoiding subscribing because of a lack of trust, we also see 72 percent saying they would be more likely to subscribe if the newsletter's email privacy practices were certified.

Email sender certification is gaining importance

The picture we're starting to see is the enormous value of obtaining independent certification of your email practices. Most companies are spending several dollars per visitor to bring them to their website and put them in front of an email newsletter signup offer. But then, because the company's email newsletter is not certified, the end user isn't sure that they can trust it. The user leaves the page without subscribing, and the money the company spent getting that person there is simply wasted.

In other words, certification of an email subscription offer goes hand in hand with spending money on search engines to bring visitors to your site. If you're spending $100, $1,000 or $10,000 a month to bring visitors to your site, but you're not getting your email newsletter certified, then you're potentially throwing away a huge portion of those visitors. That may explain why, if you look at your log files today, you're getting lots of traffic but not many subscription signups. Lots of people are seeing your offer, but they aren't handing over their email addresses and giving you permission to engage them in an email marketing conversation. This study helps explain why that's happening (and how you can improve your subscription results).

Why do email subscribers and internet users have such strong beliefs about email privacy? According to the Relemail study, it's because 87 percent have received spam that they believe resulted from a company selling their email address out the back door. We all get spam, but the question that's relevant in this case is: Where does the spam come from? Whether or not it is true, most internet users believe that spam comes from handing over their email address by signing up for an email newsletter. They start receiving spam, and, correct or not, they believe it came from that subscription. What companies need to do is resolve that distrust to avoid any incorrect perception that your organization might be selling emails out the backdoor. And the way to do that, of course, is to be independently audited and certified by a company like Relemail.

Here's another important statistic revealed by the Relemail study: when a company self-claims to respect end user email privacy and not sell their email addresses, a whopping 78 percent of internet users don't believe the claim. In other words, simply stating on your website "Yes, we protect your privacy, we don't sell your email address ..." is not enough. End users are savvy to the idea that even unscrupulous businesses are going to say the very same thing.

Simply making this statement this on your website is not enough to convince intelligent internet users. They automatically suspect everyone because they've been burned before. So 78 percent carry around the belief that they can't trust these self-serving statements by companies. This is why independent certification has now become so important for gaining the trust of readers -- only an independent, unbiased third party certification service can accurately convey that your organization follows email best practices and won't spam end users. It's the only way to gain that level of trust with end users.

Once you gain trust, by the way, you are far more likely to earn business from those end users. Another statistic revealed in the Relemail study is that a full 91 percent of end users are more likely to give their business to an organization that follows ethical email practices and respects their privacy. Not only are you going to see fewer people leaving your site and avoiding subscribing, not only are you going to see an increase in the number of people who subscribe right on the spot, but you're also going to see more business from those people. If your email certification has been independently audited and verified by an outside organization, the trust is solid and end users are going to act on that by subscribing with greater frequency and by increasing their interaction with your organization.

That's sort of like a reward policy. People like to reward companies who act ethically and who truly respect their privacy. So if you can prove that you do, you're going to be rewarded with more business. People love to give business to companies that are honest and do things right, and this 91 percent statistic demonstrates that quite well.

Email privacy is no longer optional

In all, what we're seeing with the Relemail survey is that the importance of email privacy is higher than it has ever been in the online community. We're seeing that internet users are skeptical of the privacy claims of companies, and that they will avoid subscribing to email newsletters if they don't trust that company, or if they have some reason to suspect that their email privacy won't be observed. We also see that people are far more likely to subscribe when privacy practices have been independently certified, and once they do subscribe they are far more likely to give that organization more business, because they trust that organization and they're happy to do business with an organization that acts ethically.

What does all of this mean for you as a company? It means you need to take a serious look at getting your email practices certified by an email sender certification company (Relemail or otherwise). At Relemail, certification is a flat annual fee of $395 and it means Relemail will come in and audit your email newsletter. The service will monitor your newsletter for 15 compliance items, including how you handle subscribe requests, how you handle unsubscribe requests and the nature and content of your outbound emails. You will be issued certification if you meet all 15 points. Once you have been certified, you can display the Relemail logo on your website right underneath your email subscription form, so that end users can click a link and independently verify that your email practices have been certified and meet the highest ethical standards that have ever been proposed for email marketing.

Speaking of best practices, I'm obligated to mention that I am the founder of Relemail. I created it out of frustration in seeing the email community fail to come up with realistic anti-spam solutions even after years of negotiation and bickering among the top ISPs. The Relemail service has been designed to enhance trust between responsible email senders and their email recipients.

What Relemail certification means to you as an organization is that you're going to get more subscriptions even when you don't have any additional traffic. You're going to get a higher percentage of signups, those people are going to stay with your email newsletter longer, they are a lot less likely to accuse you of spamming them, and, if these statistics hold out, they are also going to give you more business because they trust your company.

There are additional benefits to being certified that go beyond customer trust. You’ll also find that it's easier to defend yourself against unscrupulous spam complaints. You can go to your ISP or bandwidth provider, show them the Relemail certification, and prove that your organization has been audited for these 15 points and found to be in full compliance. This should also provide an easier time when requesting white listing status with organizations like AOL. Although there is no formal arrangement with AOL to recognize Relemail certification, having this certification status certainly helps support your contention that you are an honest email marketing firm.

In all, there are a number of important benefits to being email sender certified, which is why companies who are engaged in email marketing should look closely at these services.

Don't take my word on everything I've said here; do your own research. Check out Relemail, read up on the study or survey your own users and find out what they think about email privacy. No matter how you look at it, I am sure you will find evidence to support the same conclusions I've reached here. These are: that email privacy is now at the top of the list of concerns for internet users, that businesses and organizations are losing potential subscribers due to distrust, and that if companies would take the step to get independently certified, they would not only see an increase in subscription rates, they would see much higher loyalty from those subscribers as they continue to evolve their business-to-consumer (B2C) relationships.

About the author: Mike Adams is a natural health author and technology pioneer with a passion for teaching people how to improve their health He has authored more than 1,500 articles and dozens of reports, guides and interviews on natural health topics, reaching millions of readers with information that is saving lives and improving personal health around the world. Adams is an independent journalist with strong ethics who does not get paid to write articles about any product or company. In 2007, Adams launched EcoLEDs, a maker of super bright LED light bulbs that are 1000% more energy efficient than incandescent lights. He also founded an environmentally-friendly online retailer called that uses retail profits to help support consumer advocacy programs. He's also a veteran of the software technology industry, having founded a personalized mass email software product used to deliver email newsletters to subscribers. Adams also serves as the executive director of the Consumer Wellness Center, a non-profit consumer protection group, and regularly pursues cycling, nature photography, Capoeira and Pilates. Known by his callsign, the 'Health Ranger,' Adams
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