In Fall 2003, America Online (AOL) released its brand new AOL Version 9. (Have you noticed all the TV ads?) AOL estimates that up to 50% of their users were using the new version by the end of December 2003.
The biggest new feature with AOL 9 is its aggressive method of reducing unsolicited e-mail (sp^m) for its users. Basically, AOL wants users to customize their own inboxes and view or receive only the messages that they choose.
While the crackdown is a noble endeavor, it puts legitimate e-mail publishers in the crossfire — people like us who have worked hard to ensure that everyone on our list has opted-in and given us permission to contact them repeatedly.
To make sure that your AOL subscribers are receiving YOUR e-mails, here are a few things you should know.
- All Your Graphics Are Blocked by Default
AOL has taken the drastic measure of blocking all graphics from being displayed in HTML e-mails, as well as deactivating the links for any new messages sent to an AOL 9 inbox. The system is also designed to “learn” what messages are repeatedly marked as sp^m, and they will eventually be sent to the junk folder automatically, once it maps the user’s behavior.
When an e-mail is received in AOL 9, users have to click a link at the top of each message to view any graphics within your e-mail (“Show Images & Enable Links”). If this action is not taken, images (e.g. pictures, logos) and links will not be displayed or enabled.
- Your Open Rates Are Likely Affected
If your e-mail publishing system uses “open tracking” to count how many people open your e-mails, you will start seeing lower numbers because the new AOL 9 also blocks open tracking tools by default. (Read on to learn how to improve your results.)
- Ask Your Subs to Add You To Their Address Book
At the top of each issue you send, remind those AOL folks to put you in their AOL address book. For example, “AOL 9 users: Please add Alexandria@EzineQueen.com to your address book so you’ll be sure to receive every issue of our e-zine”.
Once a user puts you in her address book, all your future e-mails will automatically show images and functioning links. This will also allow the e-mail to be tracked properly as “opened” on your end.
- Make Sure Your FROM Address is Consistent
This shouldn’t be a problem unless your list server/e-mail publishing program generates a different FROM address with each e-mail you send. For example, today I got an issue of an e-zine with this FROM address: email@example.com. But when I looked at the LAST issue of the same e-zine two weeks ago, the return address had some different numbers in there.
This is BAD, because even if the AOL user adds you to her address book, every issue you send will be categorized as from a new sender. By having a consistent FROM address, you’ll allow your AOL 9 subscribers to add your e-mail address into their address book, and all future e-mails you send will be easily received and tracked.
NOTE: There is a difference between your actual FROM address and what some call the “from LABEL”. My e-zine’s actual FROM address is Alexandria@EzineQueen.com, but it’s labeled as from “E-zine Queen”.
If you use Outlook or Eudora, you know what I mean. In your inbox list, you see all the from LABELS and not the actual e-mail addresses.
AOL does NOT show its users your from label, it only shows your true FROM address. You can usually access and change these settings in your e-mail publishing program. If you’re not sure how to do this, talk with your vendor.
- Bottom Line: Never Rely on Images to Convey Your Message
You can be sure that not all your AOL users will bother to put you in their address book, or understand how easy it is to do.
So here’s the bottom line: Have fun with graphics and images in your HTML e-zine, but never rely on them to get your message across. Once each issue is complete and ready to send, look at it and pretend all the graphics are gone. Can your readers still instantly recognize it’s a publication? Do they see it’s from you? Is it obvious to them this is what they signed up for? If not, be sure to add text at the top to make things crystal clear.
I also recommend that if you don’t have AOL yourself, get an account and put that e-mail address on your subscriber list. This will allow you to see how the new AOL 9 works and how your e-zine appears.
(c) 2003 Alexandria K. Brown