Friday, 16 May 2014

Are You Buying Spam Leads?

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‘Spam’ the word that strikes fear into every performance marketer's hearts. Ask yourself this question:

Am I buying spam leads?

If you answered yes, skip the following paragraph, if no then read on:

So you don’t buy spam leads, eh? Are you sure your database is 100% clean? The only sure fire way to check you are free of spam is to talk to each user to confirm they are who they say they are. Obviously, you are not going to be able to do this so the likelihood is you are buying spam leads. Now let's find out why...

So here you are, happily collecting freshly generated leads, when you discover some of these potential buyers are in fact fake, fraudulent, fiction. Call it what you like, they are useless and they will cause havoc with email deliverability and mess up your marketing KPI’s.

So what does this spam look like? Well it can be served up in many equally putrid flavours, generated from these sources:

  • Users – people deliberately entering fake details, either because they are time wasters or are incentivised to do so.
  • Suppliers – a rogue supplier in the chain (often hidden) will happily flood your lead gen. campaign with spam. Unfortunately, email ‘services’ make this possible on an industrial scale with sites like fakemailgenerator or allowing the creation of millions of temporary email addresses on the fly!
  • Robots – or Bots, these automated scripts will hammer your forms, filling-in details automatically at breakneck speed.

So you might swiftly conclude that there will always be spam prospects in my programme. The trick is to mimimise the damage caused. Here’s how you can do this:

Audit traffic sources  

No source can guarantee to be spam free however premium the feel or the cost. Take Google Adwords for example, which have only recently detected and deducted fraudulent clicks from billing on an automated basis. Looking at spam by channel, you should be able to forecast a likely percentage spam value.

On-site verification

A.k.a. in-line validation on sign-up forms helps block users from entering fake details. For example, using a domain validation and look-up service you can force users to enter email addresses with valid domain and email syntax. Better to leave fake prospects waiting on the doorstep than invite them in for a cup of tea!

Processing validation

Most lead management platforms include validation processes which sit between the point of data collection and your CRM system. You can expect to lose between 5-15% of leads via deduping by IP address, PAF validating postal address and removal of invalid emails, hoax names etc. I'm sure Mickey Mouse is someone's real name but it is not worth risking their inclusion. More advanced validation can include the use of look-up tables to invalidate previously known fakes or can spot irregular sequencing patterns (e.g. rotating first names, repeat postcodes) that indicate automated hoax submissions. Check if your lead management platforms provide this level of spam blocking.

Lead Scrubbing 

Post automated validation processes, a manual sweep of leads is a ‘belt and braces’ approach to fake free lead gen. Just make sure your scrubbing process is fair, fast and transparent for your suppliers to follow. It is standard industry practice to physically return a list of invalids to sources within 10 days of month end so they can be deducted from the lead count and billing process.

Don’t pay for spam 

It sounds simple but if you pay for spam leads you are helping the spammers get rich. Spammers can only survive by being paid for what they do. Directly or indirectly paying them only legitimises their existence.

Unfortunately, these measure still won't eliminate spam leads. On the flipside, taking this approach can also create unintended consequences such as:

  • More Expense - It costs money and potentially lot’s of it from a budget you didn’t plan for - thereby negatively impacting ROI of your lead gen campaign
  • No Sales - It won't directly boost sales growth or revenue
  • Lost Prospects - More validation can make it more difficult for genuine prospects to sign-up. I have had a few instances recently where over-aggressive in-line validation resulted in the rejection of valid email domains.
  • Hitting Target - Hitting lead volume and budget targets quicker. Perversely, this may not necessarily be a bad thing if your marketing KPI’s are flawed!

However, the one big reason we all should be trying to eradicate spam leads is because they are unethical and have no place in the performance marketing landscape, full stop

(Note: This article is adapted from the original one I wrote for PerformanceIN - you can look it up here)