Sandy Hershelman Designs
Volume 1, Issue 4
September 2003
Look closely before paying any Web "bill"

Lots of companies use snail mail solicitations to lure in new customers. And that's fine by me. After all, this is America and capitalism reigns.

What's not fine, in my opinion, is the way some firms are using mail pieces designed to look like a bill for an ongoing service.

I've recently received a few of these and I know some of you have, too. The journalist in me couldn't just pitch them in the trash where they belonged. I had to check them out first.

Internet Corporation Listing Service ( sent me one last spring and another in August. The April mailing had, in teeny-tiny print, "This is not a bill, invoice or statement of account due. You are under no obligation to make a payment, unless you accept this offer."

Click to view a larger .pdf of the "solicitation". (135KB)

By August, however, that sentence had changed to "THIS IS NOT A BILL. THIS IS A SOLICITATION. YOU ARE UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO PAY THE AMOUNT STATED ABOVE UNLESS YOU ACCEPT THIS OFFER." All in large, bold capital letters — about three times larger than before. A voluntary change of format? Perhaps. Or was ICLS asked/ordered to make it more obvious that it was indeed a solicitation?
I called to ask, and will let you know. . .if I get a call back.

Did you notice I even had a customer number? (Hard to see on the little "solicitation" above. Click on it to see a larger version.) That type of personalization makes it look even more like a bill for an ongoing service.

ICLS wanted me to pay $37.50 for it to submit my site to 14 major search engines. Which engines? The mailing didn't say. Online, ICLS gave a list of 14 that were "subject to change without notice". (Some were directories. . . and not search engines. A technicality, but still. )

ICLS would also come up with eight keywords for my site. Okay. . .so, I should be impressed? Reputable Web designers have already explored keywords for their clients and continue to analyze them on a regular basis, if requested.

The sample of a "quarterly search engine position report" ICLS has on its site was for Keyword "acrobat". It ranked high on various search engines. Well, duh. . .Adobe's Acrobat Reader is oh-so popular and Adobe's site is routinely searched.
(I made no assumption that Adobe was an ICLS client.)

If any of you have signed up for this, or a similar, service, I'd love to see a copy of the reports. I assume the company did a "before" ranking of your site, as well? If not, how do you know it did anything?

Another thing: ICLS only accepts checks. . .no credit cards, no PayPal. Money orders weren't mentioned. That struck me as odd for this type of Internet-based service that never sees its clients.

Searching online, I found tons of warning messages regarding ICLS. I, in turn, warned my clients, in July, to beware. One site also notes that ICLS is soliciting via e-mail.

Since I'm an eternal optimist, let's say ICLS is indeed performing the "service" necessary to keep the postal inspectors' fraud team from pounding down its doors. With the way so many of those search engines/directories are merging or forming partnerships, one could submit to one and easily appear on a bunch of them. Google's database, for example, feeds Yahoo!, AOL, CompuServe, Netscape, Excite, Dogpile, WebCrawler, MetaCrawler, and InfoSpace. . .and more. (Names from Google's press releases. ) A number of these are on ICLS' current list of 14. Google's a free submission and I've fed it my clients' Web sites already.

If you want to pay money for a higher position on a search engine, give me a call and we can talk about the most effective use of your advertising dollars.

Maybe it shouldn't bother me, but it also made me nervous that the address on the ICLS Web site and those on my solicitations were Mailboxes, Etc.

2530 Berryessa Road # 912
San Jose, CA 95132

245 8th Avenue #366
New York, New York 10011-1607

There was no phone number on the ICLS Web site, so I checked out the site ownership and found 905-948-0921 listed with the San Jose address above. A reverse directory search said it was probably unlisted. Calling it, I got the default answering/fax machine voice telling me to leave a message or send a fax. No business name was used. An added note: 905 is the area code for Ontario. . .Canada! That's a long way from San Jose.

If you ever get a questionable mailing, send it to me before you pay a penny.

Click to see a larger version of this "expiration notice". (225 KB) Slammers get slapped

Another sneaky mailing delivered via the U.S. Postal Service is the"Domain Name Expiration Notice". It looks like a bill from "your" registrar. It's not. It's a classic prospecting spam, known as "domain slamming". It may arrive via the mail or by e-mail. The slammers hope you'll move your domain to their company by replying to a domain renewal notice.

It's not just the consumers who are up in arms about domain slamming. The Federal Trade Commission has gone after VeriSign for similar marketing practices. (Network Solutions is a subsidiary of VeriSign.) A sample of one of VeriSign's "renewals" is still online.

Domain Registry of America (DRoA), which sent me the "renewal" above, was taken to court by won a stay against DRoA, whom it also accused using's brand and logo.

You can read a lot of irate messages regarding DRoA in "Dr. Bacchus' Journal". A Google search revealed a lot of webmaster warnings, from around the world, some alleging DRoA was using deceptive e-mails, as well.

The contact phone number on the DRoA Web site is another 905 area code. . .Canada, remember? Personally, I think that kind of clashes with the U.S. flag in their logo. DRoA's Buffalo, New York mailing address is. . .you guessed it, Mail Boxes, Etc.

If you registered your domain name with DreamHost (through me, or at my instruction), one free domain name registration is included in your annual fee. If you get a notice from anyone else, let me know before you pay!

Your latest reading lesson

"Aoccdrnig to rseeacrh at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmotnat tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae.

"The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm.

"Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig, huh?"

I wasn't able to verify the authenticity of this statement at the University of Cambridge site(s), but decided it really didn't matter. You just have to read it to know the concept is valid. Even Google can read it. When I googled for "Aoccdrnig to rseeacrh at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy", it asked me, "Did you mean: According to research at Cambridge University?"

(Update: Since this newsletter first came out in mid-September 2003, Matt Davis, from Cambridge, started snooping around on his own. Check out his posts.)

A client wrote. . .
Chimacum School Matters, June 2003

"Sandy Hershelman is a creative professional, who has repeatedly crafted an effective marketing tool for Chimacum Schools. As the editor of our award-winning newsletter, Sandy's suggestions have added great punch to the final product. She is very personable, has great communications skills, and is always there when I need her. Sandy was well worth every dollar we've ever spent on her!"

Dr. Mary Lynne Derrington
Chimacum Schools (1995-2003)

Copies of Chimacum School Matters and other newsletters may be accessed through this link.
Keeping Mr. Mac happy: Turn off gzip
A happy Mr. Mac! No gzip!
Last October, Jon Muellner (Winds Eye Design) gave me a heads-up. He couldn't access my newsletter.

"On IE 5.2, on the Mac, it is just a bunch of odd text characters. Trying to then go to just, it asks what application I want to use to open the file because it can't recognize it as HTML. I think it believes it's a compressed file," Jon wrote. "Netscape 6 works fine as a clickable link, (as does) going directly to the site through the URL. I use Eudora Pro for all mail. Not sure what's happening, the code looks fine..."

YUCK! I quickly e-mailed my other Mac tech-friends and asked if they had any issues/solutions. It seemed to be strictly an issue with Internet Explorer 5.2 for the Mac. We bounced around some possible explanations, but nothing really came of it.

As frustrating as it was, I finally had to let it go. . .until March, when I had an e-mail from Bob Little (Little & Little Construction). He couldn't access the Jefferson County Home Builders' site with IE5.2 on Mac OS10. Bob stuck with me, answering all my questions, as I tried valiantly to fix HTML code that wasn't broken.

He then sent the key. This image to the right allowed me to find an answer.

"Internet Explorer doesn't know how to handle the type of file you have selected. You can choose to save this file to your disk or you can configure a Helper Application for this file.
MIME Type: application/gzip compressed"
Internet Explorer doesn’t know how to handle the type of file you have selected. You can choose to save this file to your disk or you can configure a Helper Application for this file. MIME Type: application/gzip compressed

I didn't know what the heck gzip compression was, but I did know that was the phrase to use when I went "googling".

I found clues within Google's search results:
". . .example isn't valid for IE for the Mac, as it doesn't support gzip-encoded content."

"Sometimes MSIE says that it's receiving an unknown MIME type and wants the user to download and save it (I don't have it in front of me, but I think the MIME type it's seeing is application/gzip-compressed or application/x-gzip-compressed). These should be text/html -- and that's how they show up when I turn compression off."

There were a few other comments, as well; very few, but enough to have me ask my host if they used gzip compression. The answer was, "Yes, this is because of the gzip compression we use on our servers. We don't know exactly what are the conflictions, but I've seen a few other customers having the same problem. You can go over your codes and try to track down the problem, but if you'd rather have us turn off gzip compression, we can do that, too. It will increase bandwidth slightly, so it's up to you whether you'd like to do that."

I knew the problem wasn't in the HTML code. I had them turn off the g-zip compression to the Home Builders' site. Bob tested it. "Hooray, it worked, and thank you," he wrote. YEAH!!!

A different tech turned off the gzip compression to the rest of my sites. He added a comment to my observation that, "Research indicates the newest Mac IE cannot handle gzip compression easily (at all?)."
He said, "I wouldn't characterize it quite like that. I used to use Mac IE quite a bit, and rarely had problems with this (though mod_gzip is used rather often). I would say that it is rather 'spotty', but I'm pretty sure Mac IE works in some cases and not others. For best results, though, it's probably best to turn it off."

Do note he "used to use" Mac IE. If this was a new issue for both Jon and Bob, both longtime Mac users and faithful upgraders, perhaps it's the latest version of IE running on the newest Macs that is the issue? I honestly don't know for sure.

I present this to you all for two reasons: 1. The Mac users amongst you will probably run into this again with other sites, living on hosts using gzip compression. 2. There was very little about this issue online and compiling such data online allows it to be found by others. . .and this is a good thing.


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Sandy Hershelman Designs
P.O. Box 521
Port Hadlock, WA 98339

© 2003. All rights reserved.