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We see fewer and fewer sites with Tell-a-Friend (“TAF”) forms and links these days – and we see fewer Tell a Friend links in email, as well – and there’s a reason for it. Generally Tell-a-Friend links don’t really generate much quality traffic, while they 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 refers to asking your readers to, well, “tell a friend” about your article, page, etc., and providing them with a mechanism to easily tell a friend.)

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). Not good.

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 blacklists, causing all email containing your URL to be blocked by those blacklists, and your IP address being listed on IP address blacklists, causing your email to be rejected at sites that use those blacklists. Again, not good.

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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 really nasty spam. If it wasn’t blocked before, it sure will be now. And none of your email will get delivered. Really not good.

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?

It is less problematic, but it’s not without its own problems.

The first problem is 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.

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 blacklisting, and of general damage to your reputation.

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.

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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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