I don’t often write about behind the scenes blogger issues, but I felt my recent experience is one worth discussing. If you’re a blogger, building an e~mail list of subscribers who want to receive your posts and a weekly (or monthly) newsletter is the icing on the blog cake. We may worry about someone hacking our website, but have you thought about someone sending web robots to invade your email? It recently happened to me which was not a pleasant experience. I’m here to share my experience and the 7 things you must do if BOTs invade your email list.
Social media (you know who I’m talking about) can change its algorithms, its policies, or get into trouble with the powers that be. But our email is totally ours. Regardless of which email subscriber company you use, no one can change the algorithms or take it away. But as I learned recently, robots in cyberspace can be sent to invade your email list and wreak havoc with your good, hard~earned subscribers. And that can lead to you getting into trouble with those that monitor email subscriptions.
7 Things You Must Do If BOTS Invade Your EMail List
Disclaimer: this was my experience and I don’t claim to be an expert on email marketing or BOTs.
Your EMail Subscriber List
So let’s start at the beginning. You’ve placed your sign~up forms on your blog in several places to make it easy for readers to subscribe to your newsletter and/or your blog posts. You’ve created a welcome and thank you email to send. You may have special sign~up forms for free printables or giveaways.
When readers subscribe, your email subscription service sends you a notice: congratulations you have X number of new subscribers (and maybe some unsubscribers, too). You do a happy dance and think, wow, my email list is growing consistently.
Regardless of the traffic your blog receives, you probably have a good idea of the number of new subscribers you add on a weekly or monthly basis. The number may spike a bit when you offer a new incentive or freebie. But, as I found out, numbers have a way of being consistent. We hear of posts going viral or a Pin going viral (which is a good thing in the short run and if you are lucky, at very good thing in the long run), but have you heard of the number of email subscribers going viral? Nope, me neither.
But they can and that’s why I’m sharing these 7 things you must do if bots invade your email list. Here’s how you can avoid the situation I went through a couple of weeks ago.
I didn’t pay attention when my subscribers went through the roof in just a few days. The old adage of it’s too good to be true ~ well, it is too good to be true. If something seems unusual, don’t just chalk it up to good luck or good blog karma. A light should go off in your head that something is wrong.
My subscriber spike started on a Wednesday. And then a huge bump again on Friday. And Sunday. I didn’t pay attention the first few days; I was just so excited about the huge jump in subscribers that I didn’t stop to think; I didn’t question. I didn’t have a giveaway, I was not part of a blog hop, and it was the week before Easter. A spike occurred every time a new post went out, 4 times in 6 days.
Before my newsletter published on Saturday morning, I checked my subscriber lists. At this point, I was a little surprised that the new subscribers were in a list titled December Giveaway. That sign~up form had not been on my blog since the middle of December. A bit strange. I combined that December list with my main list. (It was Easter weekend so I was not fully engaged ~ shame on me.)
Watch Your Numbers
When you receive that new subscriber notification from your email service (mine is MailChimp), check the numbers of new subscribers. Is the daily or weekly growth consistent with your traffic and your subscriber history? For example, if your blog gets an average of 10,000 weekly page views and you have 7500 e~mail subscribers, then you may average 10% email growth each week. But would it make sense to get 50% growth? Maybe if you had a killer blog post and a big giveaway that you really promoted.
Or if you have 5,000 weekly page views and your weekly email subscriber growth is 20, would you expect your e~subscribers to grow by 200 or 400 or 1000 in one week? That doesn’t make mathematical sense. Numbers, relatively speaking, don’t lie. The “too good to be true” is too good to be true.
FYI: Remember, those emails aren’t real people; they are BOTs. This was the list after the first day.
Contact Your E~Mail Service
If the numbers are wacky, don’t wait until you get a notification from your email service. Contact them immediately so they can be proactive and help you avoid an abuse complaint.
Monday I received a notice that I had another few hundred new subscribers. Still I didn’t take action. Finally the wake~up call came in the form an email late Monday night telling me that I had an abuse complaint regarding subscribers. What? I’m one of the people who like to follow the rules and I don’t like “getting in trouble.” First thing Tuesday morning I replied to Mail Chimp for more information.
You might want to read this article about Abuse Warnings.
Delete The Sign~Up Forms
While waiting for a reply from Mail Chimp, I finally took some action. On my WordPress dashboard, I found the posts from December with the December Giveaway form. There were 6 of them and I deleted them all. In the future, it would be a good idea to removed any sign~up forms from your posts that are no longer valid.
Check Your List
Next I went to my MailChimp email list titled December Giveaway. I noticed a few things about the “people” who had signed up as subscribers.
- No first or last name
- Source was “unknown”
- The sign~up time was the same each day
Everyone on the list signed up at 4:13 PM and no one included a name; instead of “embedded form” as the source, “unknown” was listed.
I received a reply from MailChimp explaining what had happened. This was the first time I heard the dreaded “BOT” word. I immediately Googled it and read how Bots can be good, but they can be very, very bad. If you are not familiar with BOTS, check out this article.
Unsubscribe the BOT Subscribers
MailChimp recommended I unsubscribe all the bad BOT subscribers. You have to do a search with specific parameters to find all the bad BOTs. Mail Chimp sent me the specific criteria. Once I entered the search information, almost 2000 subscribers total needed to be unsubscribed.
- First search is for subscribed status
- Second is for signup source as unknown
- Third is for start date
There is a bulk unsubscribe option, but it’s time consuming. I found it easiest to just scroll through the search list and check all the emails that needed to me deleted. Your eyes may gaze over and your head may be swimming so take breaks. It took me 2 days of “here and there” time to unsubscribe. When I thought I was finished, I received another “abuse complaint” notice. I had to go back and redo my search. There were still 501 bad BOTs. This time I didn’t hesitate. I got to work deleting that final group.
When I received the message from Mail Chimp that all the bad BOTs had been unsubscribed, I felt a big sigh of relief. It took exactly a week from the the beginning of the invasion to the complete eradication of the invaders.
Monitor Your New Subscribers
Don’t just whoop it up and clap your hands when you have new subscribers. Since this incident, I have continued to monitor (Pay Attention, Watch Your Numbers) new subscribers when I receive a notice from Mail Chimp. As new subscribers sign up, I have looked for these items:
- Gave a first name
- Source is an embedded form
- Sign~up time is random
It’s been two weeks and I’ve had no more BOT invasions. I can tell you that those little bugs will not get the best of me again. And I hope that you won’t have to go through my ordeal. If you follow these 7 things you must do if BOTs invade your email list, then you can more quickly address the issue or hopefully avoid it completely. Swift action is required! I do have to say that Mail Chimp was very responsive and helpful in getting this issue resolved.
By the way, if you do want to sign up to receive my posts and newsletter, all the forms on the blog are legit and safe.
On a happier note, this is Week 3 of the One Room Challenge. Thanks to everyone who has commented on my dining room makeover project. Check back on Wednesday to see this week’s decor decisions and my progress.