Recommend a Friend email, Refer a Friend, Tell a Friend (TAF), Share with a Friend, Forward to a Friend requests, whatever you want to call them, they can negatively impact your email deliverability and online reputation. Generally Tell a Friend links or words encouraging people to Refer a Friend or to share your email with a friend don’t really generate much quality traffic, but they sure can bring deliverability trouble. In fact, there are a couple of different ways that exhorting your readers to “tell a friend” can cause you problems.

Tell a Friend Links

Let’s start with the Tell-a-Friend forms that are on websites. The way these typically work is that they are a form where your visitors can input somebody’s email address, and send the URL for that particular page on your site to someone who may be interested. Now, three things can happen with this:

1. Very few people will actually use it, and so it takes up valuable real estate on your website, and often makes your website look cheesy, if not downright unprofessional, especially as there are so many good social sharing link options now – why would you not use one of those?

2. On the other hand, perhaps many people will use it. Then, as a result, the URL to your website will be, in essence, spammed to many people. From your IP address. This in turn can lead to both your website being featured on URL blocklists, causing all email containing your URL to be blocked by those blocklists, and your IP address being listed on IP address blocklists, causing your email to be rejected at sites that use those lists. Again, not good.

3. In addition, Tell-a-Friend forms are notorious for being abused by spammers, who look for them, and then send real spam through them. Now your IP address has been used to send out actual spam. If it wasn’t blocked before, it sure will be now. And none of your email will get delivered. Really not good.

Refer a Friend or Recommend a Friend Email

Ok, so what about suggesting in your mailings that your subscribers simply forward the email to a friend? That avoids all of the problems associated with having a Tell-a-Friend form on a website, right?

Well, it does avoid the website problems, but it’s not without problems of its own. For one thing, more and more inbox providers and spam filters deliver forwarded email to the spam folder. Gmail, for example, is well-known for this. And if by Recommend a Friend you mean that your reader should give you the contact information for one of their friends, well, that’s just all kinds of wrong.

The second problem is that whenever one of your subscribers forwards one of your mailings to someone who isn’t expecting it, you run the risk that the recipient will immediately report it as spam. Now, it’s true that the email will not have come from your IP address in this case, but it will have your name and domain and URL all over it. So there is still a danger of blocklisting, and of general damage to your reputation. In fact, the more successful your request is, the more identical email gets sent to people who ever requested it and, yup, it acquires a spam profile.

Then there is the problem of how you choose to word your request in your email that your readers “Tell a Friend”. This is because some spam filters will nail you if you word it wrong. And what makes a wording wrong depends on so many things, including context and, of course, the spam filter.

Generally speaking, Tell-a-Friend schemes just aren’t worth it. Now, there are always counter-examples, and your mileage may vary. But at very least, carefully scrutinize just how successful your Tell-a-Friend campaign has been, and then ask yourself if the benefits – if any – outweigh the risks.

"Recommend a Friend" Email Schemes are Not a Friend to Your Email Deliverability

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4 Responses

  1. Another problem of simply forwarding is that the forwarded mail content contains unique, personalised links e.g. to manage one’s subscriptions. You probably wouldn’t want anyone but yourself to mangage your subscriptions.

  2. Regarding links to manage one’s subscriptions – you can apply rules/code to your mailngs that will exclude such links in the forwarded email.

  3. I get this request frequently and have to spend a lot of time explaining the reasons this is not a good feature. Thank you for writing this so succinctly, now I can point people to this article and lend more weight to my arguments.

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