PURLs of wisdom

January 1, 2008

Johnson’s World by Steve Johnson

To read this story, you must understand a few terms. If you are hip, hightech or both, you may skip the over the glossary and dive right into the exciting part.

Why are printers interested in PURLs?

Marketing, my dear Watson. A properly constructed PURL lands me on a Web page that has been personalized just for me. It should contain information that has been targeted to my needs and allow me to verify (and augment) my contact info.

The mere act of following a PURL alerts the marketer that I've read its mailing and cared enough about what I read to follow the link. Wow! An actionable, quantifiable use for variable-data printing! What a wonderful opportunity for digital printers.

Of course, this also is a wonderful opportunity for email marketers. If you or I digitally print a batch of postcards, each with a unique PURL variably printed and matched with the mailing information, we have some hoops to jump through that the author of an email message never will face.

Challenge No. 1: Getting mail to the recipient. In my office, my secretary intercepts my mail and discards much of it. My email comes directly to me, overcoming my gatekeeper.

Solution: The value of print. A well-printed, well-written mail piece will pique my assistant's attention, so much so that she calls it to my attention instead of throwing it away. My spam filter is not nearly so discriminating. In fact, a PURL in an email greatly increases the chance that antispam software will delete the message.

Challenge No. 2: Once mail is in the addressee's hands, he or she must actively go to a computer and enter the URL. Not everyone opens mail at a workstation. My assistant and I often go through my mail at a conference table. I also read my mail while eating in the lunch room. I might intend to follow an interesting PURL but lose the postcard before I get back to my computer.

Solution: Once again, the answer is quality, quality, quality. If your mail offer is good enough, I'll make sure I don't lose it. If your piece is really good, I'll get up and act on it right away, no matter what I'm doing.

Challenge No. 3: Your recipient has to type the URL correctly.

I work at a company called Copresco. Our internet domain should be easy: copresco.com. Every day, people I've dealt with for decades send emails to coppresco.com, copressco.com, compreso.com and other, even more bizarre misspellings.

We printers know typos are embarrassing. If we misspell a word, we'll hear about it forever, but usually the meaning of the word or sentence comes through.

The PURL, as with any URL and all computer code, is not so forgiving. One wrong keystroke, and you've lost your prospect.

Solution: One answer is to use good PURLs. Which would you rather type: “www.PURLs.com/smith?j042.cfm” or “www.PURLs.com/joesmith”? The former was created by a programmer; the latter by a marketer. Which are you?

An email marketer doesn't need easy-to-use PURLs. The prospects don't retype the PURL in an email; they just point the mouse to the “click here” line with the instantly recognizable underlined blue type.

It seems foolproof, but it isn't. I'm shocked by the amount of emails that I receive with bad hyperlinks — not just PURLs, but simple Web links. If I type a PURL into my browser and I make a mistake, I probably will try to retype it more carefully a second time, and I'll laugh at myself for getting it wrong in the first place.

If an email link doesn't work properly, I laugh at the sender. Why would I trust your product or service if you can't even get a Web link correct? Ninety-nine percent of the recipients will not take the time to “debug” the link. With email, the “delete” key is just one click away.

In general, print communications are of a higher quality than email communications. This is true in spades when using PURLs. Next month, Johnson's World looks at the good, the bad and the ugly of PURLs in emails and in print.