Are You Damaging Your Email List with These 11 Rookie Mistakes?

by Paul Jarvis


So you’ve finally done it.

You’ve been thinking about it for a while, but now you’ve actually done it.

You’ve set up an email list for your blog.

Feels good, doesn’t it?

Because you just moved up in the world.

You’re not just a blogger any longer; you’re a list owner.

That means you’ve joined the ranks of serious bloggers who understand the value of a captive audience.

The same bloggers who know that email is still the best way of getting readers to take the action you want them to take. Like reading your latest killer post.

So you’ve put a sign-up form on the front page of your blog to catch new subscribers.

And each time you publish a new post, it automatically gets sent out to your list.

Job done, right? You’ve set it, so now you can forget it.

Sadly not…

Why So Many Bloggers Make Basic Blunders with Their Email Lists

Bloggers are so used to being lectured on the importance of having an email list that it achieves a kind of magical status.

It’s almost as if creating an email list is an instant cure for all blogging ills.

But in truth, most bloggers make some embarrassingly basic mistakes with their lists.

Any one of those mistakes could seriously damage your ability to grow your list and worse, your potential to monetize your blog.

Make a few of them, and you might as well not have a list at all.

So let’s call out these rookie mistakes, one by one. Because when you know them, you can avoid them a hell of a lot easier.

1. Your subscriber pickup line is mediocre at best

Just like asking someone out on a date, you’ve got to properly entice a person to sign up for your list. Telling someone to “sign up for my mailing list” is about as appealing as saying to a stranger in a bar, “Hey, do you come here often?”

So ask yourself some important questions:

  • Why should someone sign up for your list?
  • What can they expect if they do?
  • How often will you email them?
  • What topics, ideas or types of content will you send them?
  • Why is your email list valuable and worth signing up for?

Your reader’s inbox is precious and you can’t expect to show up there without a good reason. So you must trade that valuable space in their inbox with useful and interesting content.

So tell them why they should let you in.

Chris Brogan‘s pickup line is, “You want to grow your business? Join me every week for some magic. I promise this is the best of what I do.”

Marie Forleo‘s pickup line is, “You deserve a business & life you love. We can help.”

Brennan Dunn‘s pickup line is, “Learn how to get more clients, raise your rates, perfect your sales website, and so much more.”

Notice that they don’t mention “FREE” or even “newsletter” – you can tell from the form what you’re getting, and they’d rather talk about the value than the specific medium.

So explain why someone should sign up rather than simply telling them that they should. Lead with value and benefits instead of just asking them to perform an action.

2. Your free bonus isn’t worth the price tag

A lot of people think that they can add a free one-page PDF to entice signups and call it a day. But since almost all email newsletters now come with some free bonus for signing up, you must offer more to stand out from the crowd.

So think hard about your freebie.

How valuable is it really?

Does it line up with the content they get from the blog?

Is it something your ideal readers would be excited to receive?

There’s no one-size-fits-all freebie. Yours could be anything from an e-book to a free webinar, a discount on a product, or exclusive subscriber-only content.

The goal is to figure out what your own audience wants and give them that.

Use your blog stats to find out which posts perform best. Notice which topics get the most engagement. And pay attention to what people ask you on social media.

The most asked question I received from existing subscribers, blog readers and on social media was, “I know you write books; how can I write books?”

So I created 13 easy-to-consume lessons in an email course. I also used a few of the lessons as the basis for guest posts and even wrote about how I set up the course itself. I told my existing subscribers about the course and from there they told their own audiences and it snowballed.

Using this approach, I was able to grow my own list by 3,000 people in a single week.

I paid attention to the content they were interested in and created something I knew they’d immediately value.

3. You don’t have a landing page that’s just for your list

Landing pages are great to focus a user on taking one specific action. That’s why it’s smart to have a landing page for your email list, to persuade them to sign up.

Even if you have a basic sign-up form on the front page of your blog (and hopefully at the end of every blog post too), creating a subscriber landing page that you can link to from other places is still a good idea.

Use your landing page to extol the virtues of your list. Offer social proof about how good it is by showcasing some user testimonials. Link to your top-five best newsletters to show the type of content people will receive.

And make sure the biggest call to action is to complete your sign-up form.

Look at the following examples of great landing pages:

  • Austin Kleon keeps things simple and to the point.
  • Andrew Chen uses his home page as a landing page for his mailing list.
  • Nathan Barry has a dedicated newsletter landing page to drive subscriptions with his photo and mention of the 8000+ subscribers already on the list.
  • Kris Carr has a “freebies” page with lots of valuable resources you get when you sign up.
  • James Clear offers webinars about personal growth, and he links to the newsletter landing page at the start and finish of every article he writes. (And he’s grown his list by over 70,000 people in just 18 months!)

My own landing page talks about the type of content I send out, when to expect my emails, where the content has been syndicated and even includes an embedded tweet as social proof.

4. You let robots write your welcome messages

Too many subscriber sign-up processes use the default text that comes with the mailing list software to confirm your request and welcome you to the list.

Welcome messages often include the corporate, or royal, we, which only works if you start your blog written by more than one person. You can certainly make your messages more interesting than: “Your subscription to our list has been confirmed.”

Any serious mailing list software allows you to customize the sign-up experience. Most lists require a double opt-in (i.e., fill in the form AND click the confirmation email) and so your “please confirm” message needs to be just as compelling as your opt-in text, otherwise subscribers will slip through the net.

The confirmation message, the welcome message and even the URL new subscribers are directed to once the sign-up process is complete are all important parts of the overall experience.

Why not apply some of the writing skills gained as a blogger to your sign-up process?

Get creative, get interesting and get valuable. Do something completely unique and unexpected! Make every step in the process sound like the writing voice you use on your blog.

On my own list, my welcome message is a tongue-in-cheek story about how I was so excited that the reader signed up for my list that I ran to my local tattoo parlor to get their name tattooed on my arm.


It’s unexpected and I get replies every day about how funny, awesome, or interesting it is.

The message took me five minutes to write, but it’s something people remember.

5. Your email template is way too complicated

Some bloggers feel like their newsletter has to look exactly like their website.

But the easiest way to get subscribers to actually read your content is to strip everything out of your email template and focus on the content and a single call to action.

You don’t need a sidebar in your email template.

You don’t need links to six other things you think the readers might be interested in.

You don’t need to promote everything you do or sell in every email.

Subscribers are much more likely to read an email or click a link if it’s not full of other distractions.

And remember, more than 51 percent of people read their email on a mobile device. So make sure your newsletter template is mobile-friendly and isn’t full of super-tiny-magnifying-glass-sized text.

Luckily, the simpler the email, the more likely it is to be mobile friendly.

Not a programmer? Fear not, non-nerds! Almost every newsletter software program comes with pre-built, mobile-friendly templates to use. All you need to do is plop in your logo and pick colors that match.

6. You don’t keep regular hours

Be mindful of when you send your newsletters.

Even if your posts are published at different times in the day and on different days of the week, you can configure your email software to send at the same date and time each week.

GetResponse did some research that suggests Tuesday is the best day for open rates, but Friday gets the best click-through rates.

And since 24 percent of emails are opened within the first hour of sending, the time of day is important. Are you sending when most of your list is asleep? Wrapping up with their work day? Getting ready for bed?

Thankfully most email software tells you the geographic location of your subscribers so you can adjust your email schedule to suit the majority.

But be wary of making too many generalizations. You need to figure out what works best for your list.

Personally, I’ve found I get the highest list engagement on the weekend, so I send at 6:00 a.m. (Pacific time zone) every Sunday (and it gives me a good reason for it to be named The Sunday Dispatches).

7. You assume everyone remembers who you are

People often forget that they signed up for your list.

Or they might receive an email and not realize it’s coming from you.

In either case, they may quickly unsubscribe. They may even report you as a spammer.

So make sure your emails use the same basic branding as your website. Use similar wording, language and tone.

As we’ve already seen, you shouldn’t need a Computer Science degree to customize your email templates, and most email software lets you add your logo and customize the colors without touching any code.

And every email should tell the reader the reason they are receiving it. For example, “You’re getting this email because you signed up at (Thanks for that!)”

Gentle reminders of who you are and why you’re emailing will avoid giving your readers any nasty surprises, and minimize the chances of them unsubscribing.

8. You act like you’re not interested

Most bloggers treat their list as a broadcast-only platform. They even send their emails from an address they don’t even check, like How boring. It also says, “I just don’t care what my audience thinks or has to say.”

If you can foster two-way communication, your mailing list will feel appreciated and heard.

So instead of just blasting out your latest blog posts, send the occasional subscriber-only message too.

Ask your list questions.

Invite their feedback on what you write or create.

Open up a dialog to gain insight into what they’re working on, struggling with or have questions about.

Ask them to submit their own stories and ideas where appropriate.

This not only makes them feel you care about what they think, but it also helps you get ideas for new blog content, new products you could create, new affiliate products you could promote or new services you could offer.

Chris Brogan asks the question of what people are drinking in every email he sends. He’s not collecting marketing data, but he’s trying to stimulate a conversation. Even if you have nothing to say about what you’ve just read, you can probably give an answer to what you happen to be sipping on.

(By the way, Chris has 70,000 people on his list.)

9. You’re overly familiar and it’s a little creepy

For a little while, I would insert the first name field into paragraph text in my newsletter. So right in the middle of a paragraph, I’d mention the subscriber by name, as if I were writing the email just for them.

Some people found it neat and were tricked into thinking the email was just for them. But many others found it to be a creepy way to use information they had provided me.

Needless to say, I stopped that practice.

Just because you know a subscriber’s name doesn’t mean you should use it often. These days, most people see through the cheap trick of newsletter personalization anyway.

If you do use subscriber information like this, make sure your fall-back value (what shows up if they didn’t fill in their name) works. No one wants to read an email that starts, “Dear FIRST NAME.”

10. You grow your list like a jerk

For shame! You might think adding people to your list that didn’t subscribe is the perfect crime, but they’ll realize what you did the minute they get your first email.

It might sound obvious, but you should only add people to your list who have specifically asked to be added.

If someone sends you an email, it doesn’t mean that they want to be on your list.

If someone gives you their business card, it doesn’t mean they want to be your list.

If someone buys something from you, it doesn’t mean they want to be on your list.

And just in case you were wondering, adding someone to your list just because you’re subscribed to theirs is also dirty pool.

Your mailing list numbers are meaningless if you’ve achieved them through shady tactics. Keep your list on the up-and-up by only having people on it that honestly subscribed to it.

This also keeps complaints to a minimum and prevents your email provider flagging you as a possible spammer.

11. You’re way too shy about promoting your list

Simply having your mailing list form as a widget in your sidebar isn’t going to cut it for increasing subscribers. You need to mention, promote and link to your list as often as possible if you want to increase subscription rates.

So think of all the places you can link to your signup landing page:

  • Link to it in your email signature.
  • Include it on social media profiles.
  • Show it after every blog post (and tell people why they should sign up).

You can also add your sign-up URL to tradeshow banners, business cards, and in the byline of any guest posts you write.

In a nutshell, anywhere you can promote yourself, you can also be promoting your mailing list.

I also use Twitter cards to promote my mailing list on Twitter. You can see an example of one here; they’re free to use and easy to setup.

People can sign up with a single click from within Twitter and you don’t need to spend a dime on advertising to use them either.

Are you ready to get smarter with your email list?

If you’re serious about building an audience for your blog, an email list is a must.

Sending regular emails to your readers forges a much closer bond with your audience than social media and, post-for-post, it drives more traffic too.

But too many bloggers think getting into email simply means slapping a sign-up form in their sidebar and funneling their latest posts straight to their list.

It’s never that simple.

By avoiding the rookie mistakes laid out in this post, you can get your list working for you and start reaping the rewards you keep hearing about from other bloggers.

So choose a mistake to fix today. Fix another one tomorrow.

And before long, you’ll be the one raving on and on about the importance of email.

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Paul Jarvis

Paul is the co-founder of Fathom (affiliate link) — a privacy-focused website analytics company. If you're looking for an alternative to Google Analytics, check them out.


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Photo of author

Written by Paul Jarvis

Paul is the co-founder of Fathom (affiliate link) — a privacy-focused website analytics company. If you're looking for an alternative to Google Analytics, check them out.

55 thoughts on “Are You Damaging Your Email List with These 11 Rookie Mistakes?”

  1. Paul – I absolutely *hate* it when my name is used in emails. It seems far too insincere as I know I received an email that was sent to the masses – adding my name in the body of it is plain insulting.

    But some marketing agencies swear by it.

    It’s a case of trial and error I guess.

    One thing I found that grew my list is is having a landing page specifically for each guest post I wrote. It personalised the message for newcomers and converted really well.

    Awesome post.

    – Razwana

    • Razwana, thanks for the comment! We’d rather not piss off people on our lists for the sake of a tiny bit of personalization, right? 🙂 And that’s a great idea, a landing page for each guest post. The guys at are big advocates of that and see great results from it too.

    • My take on this is that it’s pretty obvious that a list is being sent out to the masses. Making it generic without the first name doesn’t hide or change that fact, but at least it looks like the list owner is trying.

      I would unsubscribe immediately if it addressed me as “Hi subscriber,”

      There’s no sound sweeter than the sound of your own name.

      • I 100% get that some folks really like seeing/reading their own name. But some people find it creepy and insincere. You’d still read something if it wasn’t addressed specifically to you, but if you were creeped out, you’d probably unsubscribe.

  2. Great tips. My technology sites have generated 120,000 email addresses over the years but it’s nice to remember that I have to be passionate about that list again.

    It’s harder when you deal with larger numbers and easier to just make every subscriber a number.


    • Onuora, thanks for the comment! The good thing about a list that’s so massive is that you can make it sound personal and speak to individuals without writing 120,000 individual emails. The power of mailing lists! 🙂

  3. Hey Paul,
    The very first thing I did after signing up for Aweber was removing the “first name” stuff from everywhere. I HATE when I get an email from someone I have never had direct contact with that opens with my first name… much less first and middle name.

    I’m definitely guilty of nr.1, and I honestly don’t have a bribe yet because I suffer from perfectionism in that specific area. (I hate signing up to receive something that seems cool and useful, only to discover it’s rehashed crap all dressed up.)

    You’ve given me some, no, many things to think about for sure. And reminded me to sign up to your email list so I don’t forget about your website. Hopefully non-rat people are allowed? Haha. Really enjoy your writing style.

    • Thanks Ragnar! I’ll break it you gently: if you enjoy my writing style, then you’re my “rat people.” You don’t have to specifically like rats (although I obviously think they’re cute).

  4. I’ve recently stumbled upon your content and am finding your posts extremely helpful. I’m new to the online content creation aspect of my business so I really appreciate all of these veteran tips!

  5. Hi FIRST NAME, Just kidding Paul, thanks for the great post. I started my email list a few months ago and finally released my “bribe,” an eCookbook. Since I don’t know if it’s truly compelling, I’m always trying to think of something better to offer instead. Immediate actionable items I can take away from your post, though, include developing a better pickup line, making sure all auto messages are more warmly written, and promoting my list more. So thank you. I know I need a dedicated landing page too, but that is going to take more research. I appreciate your post and expertise. Thanks again for the article!

  6. This is really great advice. Thanks so much. I’m in the process of building my first email list ever. I’m starting with asking friends, family, colleagues, and other folks I have in my contacts to join. But it’s not always easy to know what to say and how to express the value in every email you send out. Even though I’ve been a writer for years, writing as a marketer is a whole new learning curve.

    • Cheers MJ! It is definitely tough at first. Thankfully, the more you’re in contact with your list, the easier it is to figure out what they want, what they value and why they’re on it in the first place.

    • Thanks Dave! I’m surprised how many folks don’t use Twitter cards for their list or for their website. I think people assume you’ve got to pay for ads to use them (which isn’t the case at all).

  7. Good updates on many of these topics—i.e. name auto-fill, overstuffed templates, and the lame one-page PDF tease. How quickly things move.

    • Exactly, once a “tip” or “tactic” is established, written about and implemented it quickly moves to an over-saturated and possibly un-useful tip or tactic 🙂

  8. Hi Paul,

    I really enjoyed this post. I think I’m pretty good with most of the items on my list, but I’m uncertain of if my “bonus” is good enough. I’m not getting much traffic to my website yet so it’s hard to tell. Any chance you would be able to provide me with a little bit of feedback on mine? I have a specific landing page for the list under “free online marketing course.”

    I’m using iContact but the sign up form is extremely ugly as it uses just very basic HTML. Do you think switching to MailChimp would solve this problem?

    I also agree with Dave Nordella’s comment, the Twitter card thing is really interesting. I need to look for more ways to promote my list and the think about the bonuses and ways to monetize.

    • Hi Jonathan, thanks!

      Mailchimp let’s you customize the form a little, but I’m not entirely sure how much (I’m a programmer so I just use the code and make it do my bidding).

      For your own course, here’s my cursory insight (take with a grain of salt, since I don’t know your business or audience):

      “Free marketing course” is vague. Marketing what? For whom? What does it solve or help with? Marketing is too generic.

      I don’t understand the waterfall and what it has to do with your course.

      There’s way too much writing and it’s not specific enough with user benefits.

      What’s included? How long does it take? How many emails will I get?

      Again, just a few things off the top of my head. Hope that helps!

      • Paul – thanks so much for responding to my question and taking a couple of minutes to give me some feedback – much appreciated and very insightful!

        You’re right of course, I’m not being specific enough with my list and it is too wordy. I feel overwhelmed with options right now and can’t figure out what to focus on. I think that I really need to take some time to sit down and put a plan in motion that addresses what essentially are your points, in a much broader scope.

  9. Great article Paul

    I tried most of the items you mentioned with great success. I didn’t know about the twitter cards. Definitely something to look into. Learn something new every day.

    All the best.

  10. You are so right Paul. What a great résumé on the fact that we should all treat our email list like it’s gold and avoid those mistakes! Our email list is our private connection with our audience; it is where we get to build a great relationship with them.

    Another mistake that people do is not to communicate regularly with the subscribers. As you said, people can forget that they even registered on your list. If on your thank you page you tell your subscriber that you will send emails once a week on Sundays, well, you have to do so. Or else, it shows that you don’t keep your word.

    It is suggested to send emails more frequently, like every second or third day, when someone just opted-in on your list. For the first 7 to 10 days. The thing is that you want to keep your prospect in « excitation mode » since the subscription is « fresh ». What you offer them might be something they were really looking for ! It is of great value to them. So they are anxious to read more and more about it. And it is recommended not to let more than a week pass by without communicating with your subscribers.

    I am registered to a few email lists and I can tell that I usually receive an email every 2nd or 3rd day or so. Some are more active and send something every day. Of course, depending on your audience needs, you will adapt. The most important thing is to constantly keep in touch.

    • Hi

      I understand that you want to keep the momentum going in the first few days, and that’s great.

      I can tell you that sometimes it can be annoying. Somehow I feel bombarded.

      If you don’t mind me asking, does this tactic increase your unsubscribe rate?

      I guess that it will filter out longer term subscribers. Not sure really.

      Thinking about it, this tactic may be better suited to a course rather than site updates.

      What are your thoughts on this?

      • I agree with Dee, I hate getting bombarded with emails right when I sign up as well. It tends to make me unsubscribe unless it’s been EXPLICITLY mentioned that I’m going to get a lot of emails at the start (like the bonus is an email course).

      • Hi,
        You are right, the subscribers have to know what they sign up for. Of course, you make your content really valuable for your audience; you truly want to help them solving a problem or answering their questions. Then, they will read it. I am not talking about selling to your subscribers every day or every time you send them an email. That would definitely be annoying.

  11. Hullo, Paul! I remember when I first saw the first name thing while reading one newsletter I receive then.

    At first, it was great. The person also knows his craft and has it so well-structured you’d start thinking it was a message personally for you. I knew better, but I still loved the feeling.

    Then, it wore off and I started feeling nauseous. It was just too insincere and ‘salesy.’

    You hit so much right chord with this post, and I already have it converted to a pdf. Must revisit it soon.


  12. Hey Paul,

    Great post. I totally agree with the comment about being overly familiar. I did subscribe to a list that had my first name popping up all the time and it wasn’t long before I unsubscribed.

    Keep em comin!


  13. Paul, These are excellent tips for once we make the leap. But, what if we are unsure about making the leap and starting a mailing list.

    There are successful bloggers who still use feedburner and don’t go the mail list route like Leo Babauta and The Minimalists. OK, we do not necessarily have superpowers like they do. But still, do we really, really, really need to have a list to be successful?

    I don’t like getting too many emails. I tend to unsubscribe quickly from anything I subscribe to. Aren’t there others like me? Plus, it costs money to invest in a mailing list service! How do we move beyond the resistance?

    • Great question Sandra. For any tip or piece of advice or guaranteed-to-work-tactic there’s proof that the opposite works. So figure out what’s best for you and growing your audience. You don’t *need* a list, but if you selling or going to sell something at some point, that’s where most of your sales will come from.

      If you simply feel resistance, tackle it like you tackle resistance to any writing. By acknowledging it then acting any way. At least that’s how I do it.

      PS: Mailchimp is free up to 2,000 subscribers.

  14. Thank you for this super helpful list! I think I’m guilty of just about every one of those mistakes! ha (but I’m new to the whole *intentional* blogging thing.)

    I will for sure be taking your advice!

  15. That was one hell of a list and if you were to closely examine all the points, they usually point to one aspect – developing a real relationship with your list. Many people don’t put in as much effort in what goes on after someone has subscribed as they do in getting them in.

  16. Hi Paul,

    Great post. I’m setting up an email campaign at the moment. I was going to the first name tag in MailChimp, but I think I’ll just stick to saying “Hi there,”

  17. Great post, Paul!

    A general rule of thumb when sending emails is to think about what you don’t like about the emails you receive. And reading my name in an email newsletter is definitely something I don’t like.

    I usually go with “Hey you”, “Hey there”, etc. Let’s me inject a lot more personality in my next sentence.

    When it comes to pick up lines, I believe they’re a great way of attracting the kind of subscribers one wants.

    I recently started email marketing earnestly and the subject line of my first email auto-responder is “Hey, I just met you. And this is crazy…”

    This Carly Rae song has turned into my official ice-breaker song. It has a very high open rate and gets my subscribers to email me back.

    I want subscribers who get my brand of humor – not ones who’re turned off by it because I’m not comfortable changing myself for the masses. So the email subject line is a good way for me to tell people early on what to expect.

    • That sounds great Samar, humour is a great way to break the ice. I’m not sure who that is, but I bet it’s someone your audience is familiar with, connecting them that much more to your list. Good job!

  18. Hey Paul, great blogpost. By the way, here in the UK it’s not Tuesdays, it’s Thursdays. It varies from country to country, city to city.

    Plus 70% use mobile devices (UK has highest % of mobile users globally), so responsive optins are fundamental.


  19. Great stuff here, Paul! Practical information that sadly, many bloggers still just don’t understand.

    One thing I’d like to add about #4: you don’t have to leave the auto responses in just text format! If you are able to insert a picture of yourself smiling, “pointing” at the text, giving a thumbs-up, etc., suddenly everything’s more real. The reader sees your face and knows you’re definitely not a robot. They become more vested in the email list and blog if they see you’re not afraid to show your face, and are more likely to open the next email blast you send them.

    Again, thanks for this wonderful post! I’ll be sharing it with any of my blogger friends who are looking to get started with email.

  20. Hey Paul,

    I’ve been into list building from a month and i’m trying to do every possible thing to increase my subscribers, i’m not talking normal subscribers, i’m talking about subscribers which would turn into customers.

    I’m offering free incentives to my subscribers and have wrote pretty good pickup lines but i haven’t placed a landing page yet. I know it’s importance and i’m planning to place it in a day or two.

    Thanks for writing such wonderful article.

    -Siraj Wahid

  21. Hi Jarvis, thanks for the post. It’s about people really, rather than just list-owners. Who’d want anyone, blogger or not, rookie or not, this mistaken, for a friend?

    Nothing a good dose of Vitamin B1 – essential for making friends – couldn’t deal with, but they are high on RedBull.

    • Exactly, the value of an actual connection is important. There’s always a slippery line of being friendly vs. being creepy with someone you don’t know though.

    • Use a double opt-in or talk to your mailing list provider about how to fix your signup form (for example MailChimp has several anti-spam things built into their signup forms).

  22. Excellent post!

    Two things I really appreciate are:

    1. Your emphasis on an email landing page (so important).
    2. Your mention of your email course (I’m devouring that post too).

    Thanks for over-delivering!

  23. Hi Paul,

    Its very informative , some may like they would be more generic mails , some may not like as they are unknown. For me if mails sent with generic names would look more professional . Thanks you for this article and very usefull.


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