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Diary Entry - August 18th, 2002

How the E-MailScopes are created...

I've been running web sites (mostly astrology and romance related sites) since 1996. At one point, I decided to open a new channel of communication with the visitors to my web sites to provide more interactivity.

The web sites I created already provide a lot of personal interaction however a regular email newsletter can provide a lot more. That's when the weekly EMailScopes came into being. They offer the same horoscope information as on the web site plus a lot more personal feedback.

Although there are many sites which provide free horoscopes by e-mail, most of those services are pretty generic and you don't get any additional value. My Scopers (= members of my horoscope lists) get a lot more than just their basic horoscope. The weekly messages tell them a little bit about my personal life, about any improvements I made to the web sites and anything noteworthy.

In order to have this personal channel of communication with my members, I needed a system which allows me to send personal messages to thousands of people. As it's impossible to write a completely personal message to everybody, a program was needed that personalized a standard template letter.

Over the years, I've tested many different programs, however I always came back to the same program called eMerge. It's fast and reliable. Although it doesn't offer all the fancy options like in other programs, I'm always sure that my messages go out in the way I intended. The list management is also quite easy. Every week, I get around 1,000 new subscribers to the free horoscope list and there are always around 100 people who decide to leave the list or whose e-mail address is no longer accessible. So every week the new members are added and the unsubscribe and bounced messages are removed from the lists to keep the mailings as compact and successful as possible.

Now let me tell how I create the weekly messages in my new office...

Ten days before the date of publication, I receive the weekly horoscopes from Rita Ann Freeman. I hired her to write the weekly forecasts for my web sites. As I'm not a trained and certified astrologer, I needed an outside professional to do this job for me.

Once we receive the raw version of the scopes by e-mail, my mother starts translating them into French and German for publication on my European web sites. Again, due to the complexity of the translation job and the time it consumes, I'm unable to do this job on my own and therefore I'm happy to have a reliable professional in the family to do this for me.

The forecasts on the web site and in the weekly messages always start on Monday and last to the next Sunday. Usually, the horoscopes on the web site are updated on Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. On Friday afternoon, I start preparing the weekly update of the site and also the horoscope mailing.

Starting the update means that I have to get the raw horoscopes written by Rita Ann Freeman from my mother's computer and then download the weekly update by Deborah Browning. Once I have both versions of the horoscopes on my computer, I put them into the correct format for publication on the web sites. In the beginning, this took more than 1 hour to do. However I wrote a few programs which help me to do the job and now that time is cut down to 15 minutes. The same programs also extract the correct information for the "CombiScope" and the "PartnerScope".

The standard horoscope, the combination horoscope and the partnerscope are then copied to the web server. I also make sure to update the back issues of all 3 versions. That way, my readers can check the accuracy of the horoscopes over a longer period of time or go back to the date of any important event in their life to see what their horoscopes said at that point in time.

As soon as the web site has been updated, I start working on the weekly mailing. First I have to import the latest lists of subscribers. On my own computer I have a total of 24 mailing lists: 1 list for each of the 12 zodiac signs in 2 different formats -- the plain text format and the colorful HTML format. After the new subscribers have been added, I apply the removal list. That way, I'm sure that only those people who want to get the horoscopes will get them. As I get a lot of unsolicited e-mail myself (around 800-1000 messages per day), I don't want to bother anybody with the horoscopes if they don't want them. Everybody who runs an email newsletter should honor any unsubscribe or removal requests. This is crucial for running a successful and rewarding mailing list.

After the lists are ready for the mailing, I begin working on the content of the messages. First, I read all the feedback I received during the last week concerning the pervious mailing. That will give me an idea about the current "hot" topics. I also think about any improvements I made on the sites in recent days. All this will then be compiled for my personal weekly message. I also write about anything important that happened in my life during that period as many people subscribe to the list just to get a glance at my own life (photos, travel stories, family information,...).

I run a spell check on the article and then this general message is imported into one of my custom programs. This program combines and exports my article with the weekly horoscope forecasts into 12 different files (one for each zodiac file). The result is the complete text which will be mailed to all members of each zodiac sign. This text is copied to the corresponding mailing lists. I run a first test of the weekly messages by sending a copy to myself. This is done to see if there is any problem or if I made a mistake (which happens once in a while). It's better to be safe than sorry.

Once the 24 mailing lists have been updated with the latest forecasts, those mailing files are copied to a fast mail server. That server is in charge of sending out the weekly messages to all members. Many other horoscope lists don't send personalized messages and therefore those mailings are processed a lot faster. However as I'm sending out 25,000 personalized messages per week, this takes a couple of hours.

However the job is not over after sending out the messages. As soon as the messages are on their way, I get the first replies. Usually the first couple of answers will show if there is any problem with the weekly EMailScopes (sometimes a link doesn't work or I forgot to change the date). If I notice that there is a serious problem, I will stop the mailing in process, fix the message and send out the corrected version.

Well, I guess this describes the whole procedure of creating, writing and sending the weekly EMailScopes. The update of the web site and the mailing usually takes around 8-10 hours, but I'm not counting the minutes as the personal interaction with my readers provides a lot of satisfaction.

I hope you like reading the weekly messages as much as I like writing them.

Best wishes,

Joe.

Sun: Leo * Ascendant: Gemini
webmaster@0800-horoscope.com
http://www.0800-horoscope.com

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