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A special thanks to reader “Erin” this week, who sent in a link to Crain’s New York, and a horrible unsubscribe story of her own. Much like last weeks complaint about Codemasters, Crain’s unsubscribe policy made her jump through hoops in order to opt out of receiving email. Always eager for an excuse to go hoop jumping, I decided to sign up and… well… jump in.

For those of you unfamiliar with Crain Communication, it is a publishing house based in Detroit that publishes a series of trade weeklies. They’re also the people behind one of my favourite sites: Advertising Age.  Wikipedia also tells me that they publish American Coin-Op, American Drycleaner, and American Laundry News, for people working in the fast paced world of laundromats.

Now this week is actually going to be a little different. Crain’s of New York is a great example not because they are an example of an especially bad campaign (on the contrary it is really very good) but rather how even people with very competent email marketing departments have a tenancy to break CAN-SPAM, and do other very annoying things.

The first thing that I noticed while signing up was that it gives you exactly two options for email sign up: News Alerts and Special Offers & Promotions. It then give you the option of creating an instant account (using the limited amount of information it asks for) or continue on to create a full account. Kudos to them, it can be very hard to convince companies to ask for less information on their sign up forms. Completing a full registration requires complete address information and more, the kind of stuff I don’t want to give out for the sake of a blog post, so I opted for a quick registration.

Checking my account options I found the following checked:

But then it gets a little fishy:

I decided to double check by creating another account, and whether you choose to receive promotional messages or not, creating an account opts you in to receiving “direct mail correspondence from carefully screened third parties”. In other words, they sell your mailing address. I’m happy I didn’t complete a full registration. Too bad there isn’t a CAN-SPAM-like act for direct mail.

Now one of the things that Crain does very well, and which is especially interesting, is that it allows you to customize your alerts based on departments and companies that you’re interested in:

I haven’t selected any because I am more interested in what their base email campaign is, and within a day I find out:

Two emails a day is way too many. Just waaaaay too many. Further, that’s with minimal alerts and no promotions. Even the thing’s that look like promotions are actually the Crain’s “alerts”. I’d hate to see what I would get if I also selected a series of companies.

But then, just as oddly, the emails stop. Since the 8th I haven’t received one, leaving me to wonder what happened. This is bad news in an email marketing campaign. First you overblow the ones who don’t want too many emails, then you stop and the people who want lots of email no longer get it.

Why not implement a summation of news articles that get sent out once a day or once every few days, or once a week—at the users preference? Crain’s obviously already has the infrastructure for generating messages based on user preference, so why not let them select how frequently they want to receive mail?

Finally, the unsubscribe process is, once again, in violation of the CAN-SPAM amendments:

(1) an e-mail recipient cannot be required to pay a fee, provide information other than his or her e-mail address and opt-out preferences, or take any steps other than sending a reply e-mail message or visiting a single Internet Web page to opt out of receiving future e-mail from a sender;

What gets me about this, though, is that it seems like they are halfway there. Clicking unsubscribe takes you to your subscriptions, no password or login required. However, if you click “update information” and you aren’t already logged into Crain’s New York, it asks you to enter your email address and password. If you’re logged in (your cookie hasn’t expired) then there’s no problem, it takes you straight to subscriptions, but if you’re not then it’s back through the hoops of finding what password you used or getting your password reset. Easier just to hit “mark this message as spam” quite frankly.

Why not just let a user who is coming from an email change subscription settings for that address? Have a sessionid or some such, and use that to identify the user as having come from said email, then let them change their subscription options. Not only is it a great feature, but it’s a standard feature in most bulk email platforms and it’s the law.