Back in the day of direct mail, nearly all marketers had seed names on their lists in order to monitor the delivery time of mailed campaigns, as well as how authorized partners were using their list. Today, the only group I consistently hear speak of seed names are list vendors using them to monitor the number of times and how lists they rent and sell are being used.
Though most of us set up test groups—people within our organizations who will review our test sends—not as many of us have purposefully added names to our lists for monitoring the whole of our business’s marketing activity.
Seed names are fictional (or real) names you plant in your lists in order to monitor how often and how the list is being used. As the manager of an agency, you can pepper your lists generously with seed names known only to you and use these for monitoring your department. (If you share seed names with others, you may find they get omitted from sends.)
When you receive email sent to these seed names, behave as a customer might and complete forms, visit pages and start shopping carts in order to audit effectively. Inactivity on your part could cause your seed names to be omitted due simply to lead scoring and decay rules. If your marketing department has multiple people with permission to send, seed names play an important role in monitoring and it’s easy to set up.
Seed names are valuable incoming as well as outgoing. When you subscribe to other lists—especially those from peers who you’re using as a source of ideas for your own campaigns—monitor how those businesses are using your information by creating seed names. You may need your local IT guru for this, but by accessing a catchall email address, you can subscribe to lists with specificity such as firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com for Target Marketing Magazine and Amazon respectively. Using this method, you can easily see from where the subscription originated and whether or not these companies are using your data in the way you expected.
Today I received an email addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Clearly this address was algorithmically generated—or guessed—since I haven’t been a Klopfenstein since 1997 and cshaffstall.com has only been in existence since 2009. This address is telling: First in that it is clearly spam—I did not sign up for this list—but now that I’ve seen it used once, I am closely monitoring its use by other organizations in order to track how this list is being distributed or shared.
I will contact this original sender and ask to be removed immediately and request [demand] the source of the purchased or rented the list. I am very firm in this request. Since I am not a subscriber, a discussion about escalating my complaint to their ESP or ISP is usually sufficient motivation for the disclosure of the list source, but I’m often met with more than a little resistance.
Why is this important? Well, if I’m renting or purchasing lists (which we often do on behalf of our clients), it’s critical I know how these various vendors are compiling their lists. Algorithmically generated lists are typically low quality and will unceremoniously drop you into the spam folder of many recipients’ inboxes. Honeypot or spamtrap email addresses are not published, but with email addresses algorithmically created, generating them inadvertently becomes a distinct possibility. When you hit a honeypot or spamtrap, you’re no longer just a casual spammer, you’ll be upgraded to a full-fledged, get-your-email-blocked-everywhere spammer.
These inbound seed names also help in email management when you use rules that relegate the incoming email to labeled folders. With this, keeping an eye on the email can be a once-a-month process rather than adding to your daily influx of correspondence.
Astonishingly, I have tracked down the source of many algorithmically generated (or guessed) emails to two well-established list companies. After identifying the sources, I visited their websites and carefully read their privacy policies and terms and conditions. It was enlightening to find they not only outlined their processes for data collection, they were completely unapologetic about it. Needless to say, we have removed them from our approved vendor list.
Now, if I could just eradicate those email addresses from all the lists they’ve sold to other businesses …