ISPs are trying to protect themselves from cold-hearted spammers that have threatened to break their networks and to render email useless for everyone. Good deliverability is the result of good relationships, both with your recipients and with the ISPs who deliver their mail. ISPs are telling you all the time what they think about your email marketing practices, but you need to pay attention.
In this article, Wendy Roth offers four tips to have great relationships with the ISPs and ensure deliverability.
1. Clean up your act
ISPs will be monitoring if your list hygiene stinks and your bounce rate is high. A high bounce rate occurs for several reasons, none of them good. For legitimate marketers, the most typical reason for a high bounce rate is neglect. If a sender neglects to scrub the list of bouncing addresses, the bounce percentage will increase over time. Sometimes, this neglect is due to inaccurate reporting or poor bounce-management by their email marketing software.
But more often, the failure to remove bounces lies squarely on the shoulders of the list owner who resists anything that reduces the size of their list. Bouncing addresses may also be addresses that were never any good to begin with. If users on your website need to register with an email address, they may provide a bogus one if they don't trust that you'll respect their mailing preferences. Some ISPs have identified what they consider to be a high bounce-rate. AOL considers a 10 percent bounce rate excessive, but I have seen mail blocked by other ISPs for much lower bounce rates. A frequently mailed and well maintained list will have a bounce rate in the low single digits.
2. Be a good listener
When you're sending email, you're not only having a conversation with your customers, but with your customers' ISPs. They're telling you how things are going, but you have to know how to listen so you don't end up getting dumped. Several ISPs have established feedback loops or whitelisting programs to inform you when recipients are labeling your email messages as spam. By participating in these programs, you may be able to send higher volumes of email to these ISPs before being rate-limited or slowed down.
But if the complaint rate gets too high, they'll block your email. Microsoft Live Network, which includes hotmail.com and msn.com addresses, advises complaints should be lower than 0.3 percent. AOL is even stricter; it reportedly is looking for a complaint rate below 0.1 percent. When an ISP blocks due to complaint levels, they're just alerting you to what your recipients are saying about your email. Ignoring the message or blaming the messenger won't reduce complaint rates by themselves. Senders who change their practices to reduce the percentage of complaints can ultimately restore their deliverability.