Episode 422 | Impact of GDPR on Mailing Lists, Keyword Stuffing, Shady Competition, and More Listener Questions

Episode 422 | Impact of GDPR on Mailing Lists, Keyword Stuffing, Shady Competition, and More Listener Questions

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Show Notes

In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike answer a number of listener questions on topics including the impact of GDPR, pruning e-mail lists, TinySeed and more.

Items mentioned in this epiosode:


Rob: In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Mike and I talk about the impact of GDPR on mailing lists, keyword stuffing, shady competition, and more listener questions. This is Startups For The Rest Of Us Episode 422.

Welcome to Startups For The Rest Of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.

Mike: And I’m Mike.

Rob: And we’re to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. How did you like my announcer voice today?

Mike: It was great. It was very…

Rob: I was working on it.

Mike: Are you taking voice acting classes so you can announce movies and stuff?

Rob: A voice-over guy? I could be more annoying with it. I was trying not to sound like a radio DJ. What’s the word this week, man? What are you doing?

Mike: It occurred to me that last week you were giving me crap for forgetting the intro. I will remind you of the time in MicroConf Europe, we were on stage, you completely spaced on the intro.

Rob: I did, actually, and I can’t remember anything. That’s right.

Mike: It’s not just me. We’re both getting old.

Rob: Indeed.

Mike: Or not just you.

Rob: A couple of weeks back in episode 420 when Einar and I recorded it, we got on the mic, we recorded it, and after I hit stop he said, “Do you guys do one of these every week?” It’s super funny. I said, “Yeah, but it’s easier blah-blah-blah,” and I couldn’t tell if he was just saying, “What a slog this was.” It was just a funny question and I was like, “Well yeah, we do it every week. For the last four hundred 420 weeks we have done one every week.” It was just a realization. I don’t know. I think it may have taken a lot of energy or a lot of thought for him to kind of be there, to be on a podcast, for not used to doing it all the time, it can feel exhausting. Remember the first 20 or 30 of these? How hard they were? I would go take a nap after we record it because I was so stressed and so anxious and nervous and not knowing what to say.

Mike: For the four listeners that we had at the time.

Rob: Yup and then eventually that all goes away. That leaning into hard things and then doing things that scare you and getting better at them.

Mike: Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t really have a problem with just getting on and talking at this point. I’m not self-conscious about it but I also don’t think that there’s 300 or 3000 people staring at me while I talk.

Rob: Right. It’s definitely different than being up on stage. How about you? What’s going on this week?

Mike: Well, I got into a couple of extremely angry emails from people who are unsubscribing from a couple of my newsletters. I’ve gotten two separate ‘F off’ emails this week, so I think I’m doing something right.

Rob: Why do you think that is?

Mike: Well, one person I think—

Rob: You probably…

Mike: I think I have explanations for both of them. One of them, he said he unsubscribed three times. I looked and there was only one unsubscribe there. Either it just wasn’t working or he wasn’t actually unsubscribing but he thought he was. The way it’s set up is it takes you over to the unsubscribe page so you can manage your subscriptions but just clicking the link isn’t like a one-click unsubscribe. My suspicion is he didn’t actually do it right.

Rob: And there’s a big red button on that page that says, “It says you have not been unsubscribed,” and there’s a big red button that says, “Unsubscribe from all,” and you have to click that. Just so you know, there is a setting in Drip, you don’t need to do it but you could flip it so that the moment they click that one link in their email, it unsubscribes them from everything. We’d had people who want to do both ways which is why there is a setting. And I say we, I don’t work there anymore. But when we built it, I really tough time with that, dude. I still say ‘we’ all the time about Drip and it’s like, “How is it technically ‘we’ anymore if I’m not there?”

Mike: Usually, the way that I talk about it is, if it’s something that I want to “claim” responsibility for but somebody else is going to do it, it’s ‘we’ as in ‘those people. I totally understand that but I don’t know what the whole deal was there. And then the other one I’m still tracking it down. It looks like I got bad data in terms of the name and apparently he was extremely upset that I said the wrong name in the email. But the way I got it was that, so call them a completely different name.

Rob: Yeah, that’s weird. I mean, that’s the thing. You can’t please everybody and you get one or two of these out of thousands. Some people are just jerks or idiots or had a bad day. There’s a lot of bunch of different explanations for it.

Mike: Yeah, I’m not worried about it.

Rob: You bring up more to laugh about it than anything.

Mike: Yup.

Rob: You must be doing something right. We have some new iTunes reviews. We’ve got one in October from Will and he said, “Both inspirational and actionable. Most entrepreneurial podcast fall either in the inspirational bucket or the actionable bucket, but rarely is a podcast both. Startups For The Rest Of Us is an exception to this.” We’ve got another review from Greech Jay. Man, his mom must’ve not liked him, Greech Jay? “Top notch,” it says, “Wow. Clearly brilliant and useful info. Huge value.” You think Greech Jay is just an online handle? Or do you think I’m mispronouncing it and it’s Greech or something like that?

Mike: No idea.

Rob: No idea, don’t care, huh? But thanks for the amazing reviews.

Mike: I didn’t say that I didn’t care. I just have no idea. I don’t have it in front of me. I can’t see how it’s spelt.

Rob: Are you eating something while we are recording?

Mike: No.

Rob: Yes, you totally are. This is great. Ladies and gentlemen, Startups For The Rest—

Mike: …noon, so what do you want me to do?

Rob: That’s true, you’re starving. So, thanks for the iTunes reviews. If you have not left us a five-star review, I promise I will not make fun of your name and I will not say that Mike doesn’t care about you because I know that he cares about each and every listener. It would be great if you could log into the clunky iTunes interface, click the five star and leave us a sentence about, “Hey, these guys say things every week. Say something factual.” Even if you don’t like us, put five stars and be like, “Yeah, these guys really show every week.” That’s a thing, right? Five-star worthy.

Mike: I think the best five-star worthy, like you’re just showing up every single week for eight years. We’re going up on nine at this point, so that’s a lot of time, that’s dedication.

Rob: Yeah, stupidity.

Mike: And sandwiches.

Rob: There you go. We’re going to answer listener questions today. Our mailbag is full once again, which is nice. As usual, the voicemails went to the top of the stack. We’re going to start with a voice mail at the impact of GDPR on the value of mailing lists.

Paul: Hello, Mike. Hello, Rob. My name is Paul from Melbourne, Australia. Thanks for taking my question. You both espouse the value of developing and curating mailing lists. But I recently read an article from LeadPages, stating that, and I quote, “A required checkbox does not allow for freely given consent under the GDPR law. Therefore, it should be optional for a subscriber to consent to receiving marketing emails from you in order to receive a lead magnet, freebie, pay product, et cetera.” What do you think this means for the building of mailing lists going forward? And does this affect your view of the value of mailing lists in relation to the likely increase and effort required to develop enough traffic to make up for the loss of email signups due to this optionality? Thanks again and have a great day.

Rob: Thanks for the question, Paul. I appreciate that. I think you might be misunderstanding something. I just want to clarify that, “A required checkbox does not allow for freely given consent under the GDPR law.” That’s the quote you have and what that means is, if you force them to have the checkbox checked in order to proceed, you have not given them optionality. What that means is it needs to be an option when they submit your email for them. They put in their email, maybe their first name. But there is a checkbox there, I believe it has to be unchecked by default. That’s my understanding, not a lawyer, not a GDPR expert, but I believe it has to be unchecked by default, and you can’t force them to check it to submit the form. Does that makes sense? They should be able to submit that form. It doesn’t make any sense to me, but that’s how my understanding of the law is. If they check it and they submit it, then they have consented and now you can email them. If they don’t check it and submit it, then you need to figure out what to do with that customer because they have not consented to hear from you.

What they built in Drip—hey I just said ‘they’ finally—they’re kind of building it as I was leaving but I think they did a really elegant implementation and if that check, you can just add a GDPR checkbox. It’s a strongly-typed item in Drip’s settings and when you add it, if someone submits without that checkbox being checked, then they have a property on the subscriber that says, “GDPR permission given or something,” and that is either set to true, false, or unknown, and unknown is if they were added through other means, through an API or an import or maybe they were added before you enabled it or whatever.

But again, if they do check it and submit it, then it’s true and if they don’t, then it’s false. You as a Drip customer could just have a workflow or rule that says, “Anyone who’s added with it false, unsubscribe them from all, delete them, do something to get them out of your system.” Or you could keep them in your system, in the Drip account—I’m not sure why you would do that—and just make sure that when you send out an email to everybody that you exclude those subscribers from the segment.

Those are nuts and bolts that I’ll cover before. This question is not about that. It’s more about how do we think this is going to impact it but I kind of wanted to clarify that. I’m using Drip as an example because I know intimately the implementation. I think it’s a good one. I’m pretty sure MailChimp and ActiveCampaign and Infusionsoft have all done similar kind of related implementations.

Now, over to you, he actually had a question. What do you think this means for building of mailing list going forward?

Mike: I don’t think that it changes a whole lot in terms of building a mailing list but I do think it probably has an impact on what you do with it once you have those email addresses because you’re going to have to make a decision about whether or not you’re going to send them email or not. If they’re submitting it and they haven’t provided consent or anything like that, do you still email them anyway?

Rob: Isn’t it illegal if they’re in the EU? I mean, you’re breaking EU law if you do that, right?

Mike: Yeah, you are, or at least I believe that you are. The question is, do you care? I’m not saying that you should or should not, I’m not a lawyer here, you’ve got to make your own decisions here but at the same time, if they’re submitting that, what’s the instance your company want to take on this? Do you want to be hardline? You […] comfortably comply with GDPR and were going to take that extremely seriously and we won’t email you unless you click the check box? If you do that, it’s like organ donor cards. Whatever the default is, that’s what most people are going to tend to.

Me, I probably wouldn’t check it because I’ll be like, “Okay, it doesn’t apply to me. I’m not in the EU so I don’t have to click this checkbox and it doesn’t matter. I’ll just click and submit.” But does that mean that you shouldn’t send an email to me? And the answer would be, “No, because I live in the US. It’s not applicable.” But you as a marketer have to decide where does this person come in from? Can you figure that out technologically? And even if you can, where do they receive their email? Where are they actually based? Are they using a VPN? You don’t know any of that stuff.

I feel there’s still going to be some things that come down the line where some of these things are going to change a little bit, maybe GDPR is going to be modified to say that, “If you don’t get consent upfront, you can turn around and send them an email to ask for it,” and if you don’t get it then, okay fine. But that’s not really any different than double opt-in at that point.

I feel that with any laws that are written, inevitably they are never written by people who are technical enough to understand what they’re trying to implement. That kind of stuff is going to happen. Because this was the first pass of GDPR, expect there’s going to be many changes. I would hope that that’s one of them but I don’t know. Ultimately, it blows down to what is your risk tolerance moving forward with your company and how likely do you think you are to be brought to court for over something like that?

Rob: Yup, that’s it. There is a setting in many of the ESPs, and Drip is one as well, where you can show this checkbox but then there’s a setting, this is where I feel again, Drip point the extra mile. There’s a checkbox that you can check in your Drip console to only show the GDPR checkbox on your forms if client’s browser registers to the EU, meaning, it’s doing IP lookups, I’m assuming that’s what it’s doing and geolocating them.

You and I know as technologists that, that’s not 100% foolproof. Just like you said, maybe they’re on a trip, maybe they’re on a VPN, maybe whatever. There’s a bunch of ways that that could be spoofed or incorrect or whatever. But here’s the question. If GDPR or if the EU actually came after you, your little, small business which I just don’t think that they’re going to do and you said, “Look, we implemented all this stuff. (a) Are the auditors going to even be smart enough to realize that there’s this setting, they’re not smart enough is not the right thing but technical enough to understand it, and (b) if you say, “Look, I did this. I did the best I could.”

This is the kind of stuff that is such a gray area that I think fretting about it is, I don’t know. I think it’s been given a lot of wasted thought to GDPR that I think could have been spent doing productive things, I think is my opinion. Like you’re saying, it’s risk tolerance. It’s much like filing your taxes. You can go super conservative and you can go super liberal with your taxes. If you go liberal and liberally interpret things, yes, if you get audited, you may run the risk.

It depends on the auditor because it’s not black-and-white. As much as we want all these things to be black-and-white, they’re not. They’re shades of gray and there’s levels of interpretation and there’s precedents that’s here but not there. It’s kind of a tough thing because you have to make a judgment call on it but I don’t think that GDPR is going to really impact the ability to build email lists.

Kind of like what you said. Everyone kind of shrugs their shoulders. If I see the checkbox, I check it. Maybe it’s going to be really hard for B2C. Let’s say you are Verizon or some selling to consumers. They’re the ones that are gonna accidentally forget to check some checkbox and that you’re then going to miss out of half of your people. I think the more tech-savvy people that we deal with, they’re going to know it, they’re going to eyeroll, and they’re going to check the box when they need to.

Mike: You brought up taxes. That was actually the direction I was going to go in as well and mention that because I think if you’re filing your taxes, chances are really good that you’ve prolly violated the law in some way, shape, or form and can be theoretically be nailed to the wall. At that point when you are audited, it comes down to intent. Were you actively trying to evade the law or did you make a mistake?

If you make mistakes, technically ignorance is not a viable defense in the courts but at the same time, these government agencies realize that you got a lot of things going on and some things are going to slip through the cracks, mistakes that could be made. It’s not that big a deal. It’s not a criminal offense, so it doesn’t matter. If you are actively doing things that are trying to circumvent or subvert but the intent of their legislations or regulations, yeah, they’ll nail you to the wall and that’s what it comes down to.

Rob: Yeah. It’s the difference between a mistake and fraud. Fraud, they prosecute you for it, put you in jail, and the fines are tremendous, if you did it on purpose. If they think it’s an accidental miscalculation, that happens. They will still sometimes have leniency and sometimes they’ll do a penalty or they’ll certainly go back and say, “Well, you didn’t pay us 10 grand and then we’re going to add $1000 penalty, but still, it is 10 grand that you owed them anyway. I don’t know.

Mike: But this discussion is really why entrepreneurs hate legislations where people are making rules about stuff they don’t understand. It’s just like, “Please go away and let us do our thing.” I get why they’re trying to do it, I get the intent, and maybe it really does work that way in reverse. I’ve never had my business brought to the courts for stuff like that, and hopefully it will never happen, but I feel they take intent into account when they look at that stuff.

Rob: I’ll say it again, it’s my soapbox. This is my charge more. Patrick Pence has charged more, I have. GDPR should have excluded small businesses. In the US, there’s this lobby that excludes small businesses from tough regulations that will be hard for them to live up to. Typically, if it’s 25 employees or less, or 50 employees or less, there’s some number where you’re exempt from a lot of things because they know they put undue pressure on. GDPR, I believe, should have done that.

Mike: That’s 50 employees, I think, for most things.

Rob: Cool. That was a good question, Paul, thanks. Our next question is another voicemail. It’s actually a question about Tiny Seed, based on episode 420 from a couple of weeks ago.

Mike: Can I answer this one?

Rob: You get to answer this one.

Chris: Hi. My name is Chris and I’m from San Antonio. I have a question for Rob and Einar about Tiny Seed. I wanted to ask you about managing risk for both you the investors and the founders being invested in since obviously, both sides are assuming risk in such an investment. It seems to me that with your business model, where you invest in companies that already have some traction, that the biggest risk is instead of outright failure like a VC-backed company might have where they just run out of money, instead the biggest risk might just be mediocre growth, where the question of whether you keep investing or if you need to bail out or not, isn’t really black-and-white.

If you agree with that premise, I’m curious about what you think about the risk for the founder, rather than for the investors? Assuming you want the founder to work full-time in the product that’s being invested in, at what point are the founders allowed to explore other options if […] who wants out and do not really making enough to have a living salary like if they have a family? Are they allowed to freelance? Will they be expected for that freelance income to go into the company being invested in so you get a piece of that revenue? Or does the relationship simply end to that point? And even looking out past that runway, if the founder’s company is floundering two or three years later, what’s the responsibility that the founder has to you?

In other words, success is obviously a good problem to have for these companies that are investing in, but I’m really curious about the different ways that the companies or that the investment may fail, especially if it’s not a very black-and-white failure scenario. Thanks.

Rob: So, what do you think about this, Mike?

Mike: You could probably just confirm these for me.

Rob: Cool.

Mike: My inclination is to believe that obviously, there’s the ones that do well and those are successful. There’s the ones that burn out and they are shut down and close out. Neither are those are you really worried about. It’s the ones that are floundering for, I’ll say, extended periods of time. I think in those cases, not just Tiny Seed Fund but funds in general, are just going to say like, “Okay, well, we put money into it. It didn’t really go anywhere.” And until the business is legally shut down, it doesn’t make any difference because nothing changes. The investors do not have enough equity in the business to make any business decisions or force anything to happen. It’s kind of out of their hands, so why worry about it?

Until the business is shut down because when the business is legally shut down and the entity goes away, there’s probably close out conditions or things that are in the paperwork that say, “X, Y, and Z is going to happen,” but beyond that it kind of doesn’t matter. If it’s floundering that badly, their time is probably better spent working on the dozens or hundreds of other startups that were invested in, where some of them are being successful, and they’re going to take away the focus from those to put it on something that’s floundering, versus spending that time with a business that is doing well and could be doing substantially better by focusing on it, you’re basically going down the wrong path as an investor.

Rob: Yeah. I don’t think that’s a bad sentiment. To be honest, I have not thought about this, I’m glad he’s sending the voicemail so it’s totally off-the-cuff. I have not discuss this with Einar but what do most funds do? They do basically what you’ve said and there’s a reason for that. If the business is floundering and the founder wants to shut it down, then you let him shut it down. If they don’t want to shut it down and they want to keep it, I have an angel investment where the founder just took a full-time job to keep this startup alive. He’s taking some of his money and pumping it in there because he still believes it still has merit and he still thinks he can grow it, that it kind of hit product market fit now. What “responsibility” does he have to me or to the investors?

I mean, he has a responsibility to do his best but honestly, if he has said, “Look, I’m going to sell this for parts,” or if he said, “I just can’t do it anymore and it’s totally floundering and I’m going to shut it down,” then he should do that. I would honestly want to have heart-to-heart with him before that, like, “Is this really which wanted do you have built this to a certain point?” I mean, that’s the thing is, unless the relationship goes south, which most don’t, the investor-founder relationship.

I’m in touch with every founder I’ve ever invested in, our relationships are good. If they just told me honestly, like, “This sucks. I’m out,” and they don’t burn it to the ground and they don’t screw anybody, but they’re like, “Look, this isn’t growing. We’re going to have to shut it down,” it’s like, “Okay, it’s an angel investment.” That’s what I thought it might go to zero. The odds are decent that it’s going to go to zero.

I guess all I’m saying is, it’s kind of the same way that most investments are. Some founders will feel like they have more work to do on their product even if it hasn’t hit traction yet, and would I encourage a founder to go freelance and then try to keep a business alive that wasn’t working? If it’s not working, probably not, but it tends to be that weird gray area where it’s not working but the founder thinks it’s going to work in the next couple of months. They have this deal that’s going to close or they have this feature that’s going to go live or they have something game-changing, and In that case, I would just talk like each situation is going to be different, I guess is what I’m saying.

So it’s going to be hard to make a blank statement about what you’re going to do and allow or not allow. I don’t feel I’m going to not allow much. This is all seat-of-the-pants. “Building startups is building the parachute as you jump out of the plane on your way down,” as Reid Hoffman says, so each of these things is like, “Well, let’s have a conversation. What’s the actual situation here? And then, let’s troubleshoot this like smart people who gets things done.” Thanks for the question. I appreciate it.

Out next question is about iTunes keyword stuffing. Actually, it isn’t a question. It’s a statement. It’s from Chris Christiansen. He says, “In your last podcast, you made a comment, suggesting doing keyword stuffing in podcast descriptions for iTunes on the Libsyn podcast called The Feed. They’ve been talking a lot about all the different podcasts that have been banned from iTunes for doing keyword stuffing. Don’t try it.”

We should definitely clarify. We weren’t saying do keyword stuffing. We were saying it does work because the way that the algorithm is not very advanced. They fixed that longer term but you’ve been able to keyword stuff and rank for searches relatively easy on iTunes. Now whether you do that, because if you do it, you could get banned. If you are a successful podcast, and you’re driving users, and you’re do little bit of it, meaning, a little bit of SEO. I’m not saying your stuff in 20 keywords that have nothing to do with your podcast, try to rank for all these topics that you don’t relate to, but if you do intelligent SEO on your podcast.

We’re a show about startups. In the description, I want startups at least a couple of times in plain English, in essence it’s not startups-comma-business-comma, mix – all this stuff, but it’s an English flow that makes sense. I don’t feel like you’re even walking a line there. I feel like that’s a pretty reasonable approach to this. So, stuffing is not what I would recommend and it’s not what we do but it is thinking deliberately about how you write the description, the subtitle, and the title of your podcast.

Mike: I don’t remember whether it was you or me that said that but I probably would have referred to it as keyword stuffing and saying to do that but it’s not exactly right or at least it’s not an accurate description of it. What I mean by keyword stuffing when you’re doing a podcast is being very strategic about what you name it because the search algorithms and most of those podcast directories are really, really dumb. So, it’s not and I responded to this via email as well.

It’s not an accident that our podcast is named Startups For The Rest Of Us. We did some basic research and found it like those engines are just stupid. They’re not very good. They look at the title, they may look at the subtitle but those things count much higher than anything else. It made a lot of sense for us to call it Startups For The Rest Of Us and plus, we have the domain name, so it just worked out. But it is a good distinction to point out the difference between being strategic about that versus what is legitimately keyword stuffing where you’re just repeating the same words over and over again.

Rob: Yeah. There’s a reason we still rank high for that term even though there’s the Gimlet Media startup podcast and then there’s Mixergy, and there’s Jason Calacanis. There’s a lot of competition for that term and yet we’ve always ranked in the top whatever 7-10 of those, depending on what area of the world you’re in.

Our next question is about shady competition and how to handle it. It’s an anonymous email. It says, “Hi, Rob and Mike. First of all, thank you for all the work you guys do with the podcast and the community. Rob’s book, Start Small, Stay Small was the beginning of my life as an entrepreneur and your podcast made me quit my job and start to work full time on products.” Hey, we should add him to our list, Mike, right now our success list. “Right now, I’m one of the two co-founders of a profitable SaaS business.”

Earlier this year, we did an AppSumo deal and during its promotion, a competitor spread false rumors about us in several private Facebook groups. He said that we had sold the business and that the app is going to close up shop right after the AppSumo deal was over. ‘Here’s some evidence,’ and he sent us a screenshot of the person saying this. This is crazy. We decided to completely ignore this and do nothing about it. In hindsight, this was a good move because in some Facebook discussions, it completely backfired on him and right now he has stopped this as far as we know. Im worried about facing this situation again now that we are growing bigger. What would you do in situations like these? Thanks for all your hard work.”

It’s a good question. It’s a tough question.

Mike: It is a tough question and I think it comes up as your business gets bigger and as you’ve been in business for longer, these situations come up more often just by virtue of being around. I think in most cases it comes back to like, what is likely the north star for your business and how do you conduct your business? Are you really shady about it or are you pretty honest with your customers, upfront, and transparent with them? Then, that has to be contrasted against who is making these types of claims, what people think of that person, and what they know about him versus what they think about you and what they know about you.

It boils down to the audience themselves and how much they like or trust the source of their information. I think in cases like this, most people are going to be pretty—at least—objective enough to say, “Yes, that’s true or false or that goes against my fundamental beliefs about what I’m hearing,” and that’s the way that they’re going to side.

If you know that you run your business on the up and up, I would totally not worry about that stuff. You might make one comment or response and say, “Hey, that’s totally not true,” or you could just ignore it. The people who know you well enough are going to ignore that and they’re probably not going to apply any credibility to it. There’s going to be people who don’t like that person already and is not going to take much for it to backfire in their faces, which will stain them basically in that person’s eyes forever.

I’ve seen this happen in a bunch of different cases. Some people get into fights on Twitter or Facebook or wherever. There were some of them are just personalities and they clash. The audience of one person’s side with that person. The other one’s side’s the other. It’s just going to happen because those audiences tend to be siloed. It’s based on their relationship to them and their trust. If you develop that trust over a long period of time, it’s not going to go away. I would not worry about it.

Rob: Yeah. I think you kind of have three options when this happens. You can do nothing. Intentionally decide, “Hey, I’m going to let this person burn themselves down and makes them look dumb.” Also, I would say most people who do this stuff don’t have very large audiences. You and I dealt with trolls over the years. I’ve had some pretty gnarly ones and all of them, except for maybe one or two, had 80 followers. I mean, there’s just nobody who cared what they were saying and they were trying to pull me into a fight because as soon as you engage with them when you have 13,000 or 14,000 followers, or 50,000 or 100,000, then you’re giving them attention.

That’s one thing, I would say is these folks tend to be to not have a big audience and then I totally lean towards completely ignoring because it just makes more sense to do that because no one’s hearing them anyway. But if they’re that rare exception and they are reaching people—in this case, probably Facebook groups—is tough because they are at least being heard. You can do nothing and if they’re being torn down in a group and people are saying, “I know that’s not true or whatever,” then I don’t need to say anything. You could just post one post and decide that you are not going to reply.

Someone like this is probably going to be a troll and is going to say things intentionally, that are going to try to make you respond because that’s a big thing that trolls do. That’s one of the good skills. If you have good troll game. You know what to say things to make people mad but you say things that make them want to respond, and you responding is actually losing. That’s how I think about it. That you’re giving in and you’re letting them have power over you, to make you respond to something that you probably know you shouldn’t.

Back to the three options, it’s do nothing, it’s post one thing that says, “No, this is not true, this is completely false or whatever,” and then don’t respond again. So you have come out, said it, been clear, and say nothing. Or the third one is to go on a full-on war with them right in. We’ve seen this on Twitter but you spend of time, you spend a bunch of energy, you just waste a bunch of things, and both of you look like idiots. People sit there, watching, and think, “What are these fools doing?”

You can obviously tell where I land. Its number one or number two, depending on the circumstance. But no, it sounds like in this case, you made the right call and then moving forward, I think you just got to use your judgment on that. But it’s a tough one, tough one when this happens because it feels crappy, especially when something is this false. It sounds just coming complete manufactured, something that wasn’t true. It’s bizarre.

Mike: Yeah. It’s very easy to take it personally, too, because it’s your business and then there’s making comments and you don’t want people to believe them. The reality is people are going to believe kind of what they want to and what they’re inclined to anyway. Interjecting yourself is not going to do yourself any favors in most cases.

I think Rob’s advice of either do nothing and ignore it, or one post and that’s it, do not re-engage. If any sort of protracted engagement, especially publicly, is never going to fall in your favor. I don’t know of anyone that has.

Rob: And our last question of the day is about pruning email lists. It’s from an anonymous emailer. He says, “Hi, Rob and Mike. We’ve got an email list focused on WordPress development. It’s currently around 6000 subscribers. It has a 20% open rate. I believe that we should regularly purge non-engagers. People who are not opening, has a Drip lead score of 0 or less, et cetera.”

But my business partner disagrees. I think that pruning non-engagers helps our list health, which keeps us in the best hub of Gmail, et cetera. He thinks that non-engagers may reactivate and also pad our numbers for sounding impressive to prospective advertisers, et cetera. What are you think? Is there a right answer? What would you do?”

Mike: That’s tough because it sounds like there’s two different things going on. One is how are those subscribers impacting your business itself and the sales. Then there’s also the padding the numbers to sound impressive to advertisers. That’s a tough call there. I think that if you’re going down the route of purging them, I would put together a re-engagement campaign instead of outright purging them. That way, you reach out to them and say, “Hey, looks like you haven’t been engaged with our emails lately. Click here to stay on the list.” You can send a couple of those and if they re-engage, great, keep them on the list, and if not, then purge them.

I don’t think that I would go down the route of just blatantly getting rid of them. The other thing I would question is how got on your list and this is something for you to think about is, was it double opt-in or single opt-in? If it’s single opt-in, they submitted something or you got their email address from some place else, you just added them and they’re not opening the emails, then chances are good those are totally bogus and you’re not getting through them anyway, doesn’t matter. Those are the two things I would consider for that.

In terms of the trying to pad your numbers for advertisers, I don’t know if I could go down that path, either. You could give them the top line number and then caveat it. Your open rate is really what they’re going to be interested in anyway. You can just do the quick math on it and say, “Well, what’s the actual reach?” If you’ve got a 6000 subscribers and a 20% open rate, then you’re reach is actually 1200. It doesn’t matter how many of those subscribers you purge. You’re still going to have that 20% open rate and a 1200 reach. It doesn’t make a difference even if you purge half of them. You’re still going to end up with the same numbers.

I don’t know if I would worry about that too much. Just be honest enough and prompt with whoever your advertisers are and say, “Here’s what we’ve got for subscribers, here’s what our open rate is, and here’s what we believe our reach and impact is for you as an advertiser,” because if you aren’t doing justice to your advertisers, then they’re not going to come back. And that’s actually what you want? It’s hard enough to land an advertiser or a sponsor for your podcast or your email list or what have you. Don’t destroy your trust as well, because if you do, they won’t come back.

Reality is, the money that you get from any one email or podcast or whatever sponsorship, it’s not going to even compare to the trust that you lose and the potential revenue that you lose from them talking to other people and say, “Yeah, these guys screwed us.”

Rob: I think those are all good sentiments, Mike. I think that’s exactly what I’m going to say about re-engagement and if you search for Drip Workflow Re-engagement, there’s a one-click blueprint that is a fully-built out workflow. With one click, you can install it into your account. I believe it was designed by Anna way back in the day and it’s really good at re-engaging people. You can obviously add more emails to it or whatever.

We ran this on the Drip list, let’s say, it’s got to be 2015, because over time, open rates go down and down and we probably hit 25%. I was, “You know? I like to keep above 30%,” because it does. The lower your engagement rates, it will put you in the promotions tab. Sometimes it will get you in spam, but mostly it can impact your sending domain reputation as well, not the IP address that you send through.

This is a little bit of a tangent but we actually have customers come to us from MailChimp or Infusionsoft, and they would say, “Well, their deliverability wasn’t very good,” and I was always like, “That’s a little bit of a red flag. I know MailChimp’s deliverability is quite good.” It turns out the IP addresses stay with Infusionsoft and MailChimp but the domain you’re using, your ‘from address’ in essence, if you’ve kind of burned that domain by having really crappy open rates, then no matter where you go now with that domain, there is going to be a ding against you in the blacklist. That’s the real struggle. Once you lose that, it’s like bad credit. If your credit score drops, it takes a long, long time to get that back.

All that to say, I like to keep my open rates up. I mean we have customers come in with 3%, 5% open rates and they were trying to juice the numbers thing. My list is 100,000 people. But literally, there is 3000 or 4000 that would open emails and it was nuts. Eventually, you do have to intervene because if you’re on shared IPs, that can negatively impact other customers and such.

All that to say the re-engagement thing, I tried it and it had re-engagements for people who aren’t opening emails already, they’re very, very unlikely to open any additional emails. I remember the results were trivial and almost not worth doing. But you should totally try it and track it because you see in the workflow how many people get to certain steps, and you can just run the numbers.

I’m going to put in all 6000 or I guess not 6000 are unengaged. It’s only 4200 are unengaged. See how many get down to the bottom and re-engage. It tends to be, if I remember correctly, it’s between 5% and 10%. If that’s worth doing to you, then do it. Dump them on the workflow and when it gets to the bottom, poof, you just unsubscribe by default after a certain delay if they haven’t clicked anything. It’s really easy to do.

I agree with you, Mike. I don’t think you need to prune down only the 1200 who are opening—that’s ridiculous—but if someone hasn’t opened 10 of your last emails, very, very, very unlikely they’re going to open any email ever. I like more—thinking about it—if you’re going to do advertisers, instead of saying, “We have an email list of 6000,” you could say, “We have an email list of 4500,” if it does mean that’s what it is after your pruned. “We have an email list of 4500 and our engagement rates are 35% or 40%,” because that’s what will happen. It will send those numbers up.

If you’re talking to prospective advertisers, tell them that, “If you’re looking at other places to advertise, ask what their open rates are like.” Specifically, start pointing this out. I think people should pay more attention to this personally just across the board. If I were going to advertise on any site and they give me an email this size, first thing I would do is I would say, “Show me your open rates. I want to see a screenshot of your MailChimp account. I need you to prove to me that your engagement is not crap,” because again, I just seen too many people with 10%-15% open rates who say, again they have a list of 100,000 but that list might as well be 15,000 or 20,000 person list. It’s just not worth it.

I agree with you, Mike, I think that the results are going to carry the day. I would absolutely prune it. I wouldn’t prune all 70%. That’s not how it works. You kind of go into Drip or whatever email tool is and say, “We’ll have to open the last, what feels comfortable, 10, 12 emails, 15,” you can beyond that, it’s ridiculous. I mean, it’s just too big of a number that they’re never coming back. That would be my opinion on that.

Mike: Well, looks like we’re out of time. I think we’re going to wrap today’s episode up. If you have a question for us, you can call into our voicemail number 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at questions@startupsfortherestofus.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt, used under creative commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript to each episode. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.

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