153 posts categorized "Deliverability" Feed

Are We Putting Too Much Focus on Deliverability?

I was reading this post over on the Deliverability blog in which Andrew Kordek interviews Exact Target's Morgan Stewart. This particular paragraph got me thinking:

So what is wrong with email? I mean what are the biggest problems that are facing the email industry today? Morgan’s answer is simple and yet so relevant.

First, he thinks that there is a pervasive print mentality in the industry. I could not agree more with him in that email is not direct mail.

Second, he believes that there is too much focus on deliverability, that while deliverability is a crucial part of email marketing, the share of voice in the email space is disproportionate to the detriment of his last point. Morgan believes that email is too siloed in most organizations because we still have trouble communicating the value of email to the C-Suite.

Is the share of voice that deliverability gets in the email space really disproportionate? I'm not entirely sure. True, there is a lot of talk about deliverability in the industry. But a lot of the conversation is actually more about the (database) marketing side than about the technical side of things.

Deliverability is more often than not used as a stick to force email marketers to keep in line:

  • if you don't send relevant messages, then readers will mark your emails as spam and as a result your messages will get blocked
  • if you don't practice good database hygiene, ISPs will think that you are a spammer and your messages will get blocked
  • ...

What we are really saying is that email marketers need to be good database marketers. Email is not digital direct mail, agreed, but it IS digital direct marketing. And successful direct marketers need to also be good database marketers. Ultimately, applying good database marketing principles to email (together with having the right technical things in place of course) is instrumental to good email deliverability.

In Q4 last year I overheard someone saying: "in this economy, we won't be able to get more budget for email marketing, but we will be able to  get more budget for database marketing". Maybe the email industry should play the database marketing card in a smarter way so that we can get the attention of the C-Level executives?

What do you think?

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Soft bounces - the real causes

In this month's issue of Infobox, Dela Quist of Alchemy Worx looks at soft bounces in his article 'Think that soft bounces are caused by a full inbox? Then think again!'.

Dela dispels the myth that soft bounces are caused by inboxes being too full, claiming that this is an outdated notion. Whilst this used to be one of the mail reasons for an email to soft bounce, Dela says 'In this time inbox sizes have dramatically increased so 'mailbox full' messages are highly unlikely to occur; Gmail currently offer 7GB of storage!'

He goes onto say 'Soft bounces should be regularly investigated because we believe that they are more likely to be caused by temporary ISP blocking than temporary problems related to individual subscribers.'

Read the full article


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Return Path Partners with Yahoo Mail for Feedback Loops

Return Path has partnered with Yahoo Mail to extend its anti-spam feedback loop service to Yahoo Mail.
Under the terms of the agreement, Return Path will monitor Yahoo spam complaints and create anti-spam feedback loops to help track e-mails that have been flagged as spam.

Yahoo will send these spam complaints, via feedback loops at http://feedbackloop.yahoo.net/, to legitimate commercial senders to help them address the issues for Yahoo Mail users.

Yahoo also will now consult with Return Path's Sender Score Certified as one part of its e-mail filtering process.

Source: DMNews

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...and the toughest spam filter award goes to....

... your subscriber!

Stefan Pollard in his ClickZ post yesterday summed up why this is so and provides some advice. He says:

The toughest spam filter you face is not found at a major ISP or in a spam-reporting service. It's actually the one in your recipient's mind.

This "mind filter" determines whether an e-mail gets opened, marked as spam, or deleted without opening. No e-mail delivery service can guarantee passage past this most strict filter.

You get a head start, though, when you understand the conditions under which your recipients are looking at your e-mail and removing as many barriers as possible.

Your e-mail has to answer these three "W" questions in the first two to five seconds that a recipient looks at it, whether in the inbox or message body:

        * Who sent this e-mail?

        * What's in it for me?

        * What do you want me to do?

If your e-mail doesn't answer those questions right away, you risk failing the mind filter.


That leads to higher spam complaints, which hurts your sender reputation and drives down your deliverability. Besides increasing your list churn, readers who don't spam-button you might simply stop acting on your e-mails, which increases inactivity.

Read the full post

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12 Ways to Reduce Spam Complaints

If you get one complaint out of thousand emails sent, your dedicated IP address runs the risk of being blocked by one or more ISPs.

In this blog post, Neil Anuskiewicz shares a bunch of tips to reduce spam complaints:

1. Never harvest email addresses off of Web sites.
2. Even if it is opt-in, be careful when sending to an old list that has not heard from you in a while.
3. Do not just email every contact you have.
4. Do not purchase email lists.
5. Too many hard bounces (email addresses that do not exist any more) can get you blocked by a number of ISPs.
6. Do not send too many emails at once but ramp up.
8. Configure a Sender Policy Framework (SPF) record in your Domain Name Service (DNS) records for your domain name (company.com).
9. Make sure to do a plain text version of your email, too.
10. Very small fonts can get you filtered.
11. Consider putting the unsubscribe link at the top.
12. Maintain a good balance of graphics to text.

Read more here.

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Successful Deliverability Lies with the Marketer

Yep - you heard right. Back in 2005, George Bilbrey of Return Path wrote a blog "It's not your ESP - it's YOU!" and MarketingProf's also published an article recently "Email Deliverability is in Your Hands". This seemed to be the theme which was threaded through many of the presentations at both the London DMA's recent conferences. It appears that most marketers seem to think that they can buy deliverability - by changing ESP's or paying for accreditation. However, neither of these solutions will work unless the marketer is doing Best Practise.

From a combination of attending these conferences and with conversations with Dennis Dayman, Stephanie Miller and David Daniels, combined with my own experiences - I have come to the conclusion that deliverability is a 2 part process, both of which require due attention and ownership by the marketer:

Part 1 - Deliverability to ISP's - IP Reputation: This is a combined effort by the ESP and the marketer. The ESP needs to have everything ready and waiting for the Best Practise Marketer. Things such as the infrastructure, whitelisting, delivery monitoring, Feedback Loops, education about Authentication and enabling/assisting clients to become authenticated are all things which the ESP can do.

However, the main causes of emails not being accepted by the ISP is due to the percentage of spam complaints and bad addresses....and having a clean and up to date database is the responsibility of the marketer. This is where having a good Sender reputation is crucial and if you're on a dedicated IP address - well, hey..there's no one to blame but yourself if your reputation isn't as good as it could be.

Part 2: Deliverability to the Inbox - Brand Reputation. So, you got accepted by the ISP/mail server and they have delivered you to the recipients email client? Excellent - but will it be delivered to the inbox or the junkmail folder? This is where your brand, sender name, subject line, good clean coding, choice of copy, domain reputation, message relevance and things like image to copy ratio are taken into account - both by the spam filter and by the recipient.

ESP's can assist you with all of the above factors - but ultimately, the responsiblility of deliverability comes down to you, the marketer. Therefore, if your deliverability isn't as good as it should be  - look to implementing Best Practices rather than changing ESP's.

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Dealing With Spam Complaints

Another excellent article by Stefan Pollard - this time he talks about spam complaints and how to deal with them. Read the full article here.
clipped from www.clickz.com
complainers are the people who hit the spam-complaint button on the messages they actually signed up to receive
once you figure out which segments of your list are most likely to complain, you can work to reduce the problems that spur complaints
The first question I always ask a client when resolving a delivery issue is, "What did you change recently?"
Identify all the ways subscribers can join your e-mail list. Then, see if one source produces more complaints than others.
If you can determine a common complaint pattern, you can develop strategies to reduce frequency before complaints spike.
Sometimes, reducing frequency of messaging alone is enough to bring complain volumes down.
Encourage people who want to get off your list to unsubscribe by making it obvious and easy.
Pull every address associated with a spam complaint. If you keep pounding them, the ISPs will assume you're a spammer.
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IP Reputation, the Whitelist, and Inbox Delivery at AOL

In this article, Christine, Manager of AOL's Postmaster Team explains how AOL calculates IP reputation and what they do with it. Here are some clippings:
clipped from journals.aol.com
Each IP that delivers mail to AOL has a reputation -- roughly good, bad, or somewhere in between. Your reputation is a holistic view of your IP and takes into account a wide variety of factors including -- but not limited to -- spam complaints, not spam reports, spam folder deliveries, and invalid recipients.
IPs with a good reputation will benefit from better inbox delivery than IPs with a bad reputation. Moreover, IPs with a bad reputation will be subject to more temp deferrals, temp blocks, and permanent IP blocks.
The trick to a good IP reputation is to send mail to people who want it.
The standard AOL whitelist offers protection from certain spam filters. Being on the whitelist is in no way a guarantee of inbox delivery, and IPs on the whitelist can still be spam foldered, temp deferred, temp blocked, or permanently blocked if they have a bad reputation.
If your mail is being temp deferred, temp blocked, or your IP has been permanently blocked, you may not be on the whitelist.
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Getting Through the Postini Filter

Postini, the spam filter owned by Google, is notoriously difficult to get past. Mathew Patterson shares some tips to get past their filters:

it seems clear that Postini is placing a lot of importance on the balance between images and text (or HTML) in an email.

  • Avoid repeatedly sending messages to full or invalid mailboxes. You can do this by tweaking your bounce handling settings for each subscriber list.
  • Minimize the use of these words and phrases in the subject line, message body, sender address, and reply-to address:
    • Use of the word Free (although "free" tends to have more leeway than most other trigger words), $$, XXX, sex or !!! (any excessive punctuation)
    • Subject contains "Double Your", "?", "For Only" or "Free Instant".
    • TOO MANY CAPS IN THE SUBJECT LINE
    • Email contains at least 70 percent blank lines
    • The from field appears to not contain a real name, ends in numbers or contains the word friend.
    • The email claims not to be spam
  • Monitor new subscribers in your lists. Set suspicious "spamflag" addresses such as "abuse@" or "spam@" as Inactive subscribers unless you know the subscriber is legitimate.
  •   blog it
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    How to Keep a Recipient From Hitting the Spam Button

    In this article over on MarketingProfs, Louis Chatoff, shares some tips on how to keep a recipient from hitting the Spam button:

    Before they open your message:

    1. Make sure the From address is easily recognizable; it should contain the name of your company or organization.
    2. Make sure the Subject line is relevant and truly matches your content.
    3. Send your messages in regular intervals so the recipient comes to expect them.
    4. Do not over-send. If you send monthly, do not start sending weekly.
    5. And, most important, send only to those who have requested to receive your message. Do not send to addresses that come from a third party, and do not add members who have previously unsubscribed. Remember, it only takes one complaint in 1,000 to get all your messages blocked.

    After opening your message:

    1. Consider adding a sentence to the top of mailing, such as this: "You are receiving this message because you have subscribed to list XYZ."
    2. Make sure the content matches the subject line and is relevant to the recipient.
    3. Make sure the Unsubscribe link is easy to find.

    Read the full article here.

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    Return Path's Q2 Reputation Benchmark Report

    Return Path recently released its  Q2 Reputation Benchmark Report. Here is George Bilbrey's high level take on what they found:

    1. Most of the servers sending email shouldn't be. Only 20% of the IPs we studied were legitimate, well-configured, static email servers. It's important to point out that this doesn't speak at all to the quality of the messages from those servers - lots of horrible spammers know how to configure a mail server. The other 80% of the mail is coming from servers that are either identifiably bad or unidentifiable and probably bad. No wonder ISPs and other large receivers feel besieged.

    2. Servers with good reputations get their messages delivered. Servers with bad reputations don't. This might seem obvious to those of you reading this blog, and of course it is. But again, having that empirical data is gratifying. We found a direct linear relationship between an IP's Sender Score and that IP's average delivered rate. Of course I have to point out here that it is not the low Sender Score that is causing the delivery problems, a common misconception. The reputation issues that give an IP a low Sender Score are what also cause that IP to be blocked from inboxes.

    3. Specific best practices have a direct result on an IP's delivery rates. We found a 20 point difference in delivery rates for IPs with just one spam trap hit. For servers with unknown user rates above 9% the difference was 23 points versus servers with cleaner data.

    4. Blacklists don't cause blocking, they predict it. We found that servers listed on any one of nine public blacklists (the lists studied are noted in the report) had an average delivery rate of 35% versus 58% for servers not on these lists. But the reason is not that those blacklists are used by receivers. In fact, some of them are not used very much at all. Much like with the Sender Score, the behaviors that land a server on the blacklist also cause that server to be blocked by many receivers.

    Read the full report now and check out Karen J. Bannan's 5 tips on how to increase deliverability here.

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    Top 5 Mistakes that Email Senders Make in Scheduling their Mailings

    I just stumbled on a new email deliverability blog by Anne P. Mitchell and found this great article:

    In all of the focus that email marketers, newsletter publishers, and other volume email senders put on tweaking their content, format, and other aspects of their email to help maximize deliverability, they often overlook the scheduling of their mailings - by which I mean when they send their mailings, and how often they send them. Yet this can have a definite impact on your deliverability! Here then, are the top 5 mistakes that email senders make in scheduling their mailings.

    1.  Sending email too frequently

    If you send email to your mailing lists too frequently, you can cause a number of unintended effects, all of which will affect your deliverability. First, you can tick them off, and they will hit the “this is spam” button. That’s really bad. Second, you can cause them to tune out and just ignore the email - this will affect your open rate which yes, make no mistake, will affect your deliverability rate. Think about it this way: if you were an ISP and a sender’s email never got opened, by any of your users, wouldn’t you start sending it to the spam folder?

    2.  Not sending email frequently enough

    Conversely, if you don’t send email frequently enough, then people will forget who you are, or that they signed up for your mailing list. Then, guess what happens when, suddenly, after two years, a user gets email from you, seemingly out of the blue, advertising your service? That’s right - they hit “this is spam” - because they don’t remember you. It’s important to find that delicate balance between sending email often enough that your users remember and follow you, but not so often that you get them upset by inundating their inbox.

    3.  Not sending email consistently

    This goes hand-in-hand with item #2. If the timings of your mailings aren’t consistent, then people can’t anticipate your mailings. If they aren’t anticipating them, they aren’t expecting them, and if they aren’t expecting them they - you got it - mark them as spam.

    4.  Sending an email just for the sake of sending an email

    Once you recognize the importance of sending your mailings consistently, it’s also important that you have something to say!  Don’t send an email just because it’s time to send another email.  In other words, do send an email when it’s time to send another email, but not just because it’s time to send another email. Have something interesting, and useful, to say. Because even if you send an email when it’s time - if your emails are just rehashes of other things you’ve sent, or yet another announcement of the same thing - your users will either get ticked and hit “this is spam”, or get desensitized to your mailings and stop opening them which, again, can affect your deliverability bottom line.

    5.  Not paying attention to the day and time that you send your email

    If you think that the actual timing of your email - whether it’s sent on a Monday or a Friday, in the morning or the afternoon or evening, doesn’t matter, well, you’re wrong. For some email senders, having their email show up at the end of the business week is the kiss of death - for others it’s the ideal time as it gives their users the whole weekend to look the email over. It depends - a great deal - on your target audience. The only way to find out the best day and time to send your mailings is to test it and carefully track your open and click-through rates.

    Source: Getting Email Delivered - The Email Deliverability Blog

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    Pass the Mind Filter and the Content Filter

    From another great article by Stefan Pollard:

    Even though a content filter might not punish your message as possible spam, the reader's "mind filter" might. That in turn will affect how content filters treat your messages in the future. 

    So it remains important to get on top of your content and understand what triggers a spam report, even if you e-mail only to a permission-based mailing list. Use this short list to help reduce the chances that your next message will be marked as spam:

     
    • Leave no doubts in the inbox. This is your first make-or-break checkpoint. It drives the spam-or-legit decision and sets your reader's expectations for what she will find in the message. You have two chances:

      • Brand the sender, or "from," line to make it clear who is sending the e-mail. Never use a person's name if it's not part of the brand or company name.
      • Use a clear subject that accurately sums up the subject line. No vague promises or hints about the content here.
       
    • Spam-check copy before sending. True, I did just say that content filters don't always catch what a mind filter would interpret as spam. However, many of them are based on what others have reported as spam, so the probability is high that a prelaunch check will highlight items that need to be corrected.
    • Use a deliverability-monitoring service. Your e-mail service provider (ESP) might already have one of these as a contract or add-on service, or you can investigate the best-known third-party services: EmailAdvisor, Return Path, and Pivotal Veracity. They also scan content before sending and can predict how ISPs will treat your e-mail: whether it will land in the inbox or the junk folder, or get blocked.
    • Design for the preview pane and blocked images. If your readers see just blank space or a bunch of red Xs where pictures should go, they'll more likely suspect it and mark it as spam.
    • Respect frequency and content preferences. A strong inbox presence and utter lack of spam signatures won't help you if you mail-bomb your list with irrelevant messages. Remember: people click the "report spam" button deliberately if they feel you're abusing the privilege.

    Source: ClickZ

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    Yahoo!: 4 Steps to Get Your Email Delivered

    Yahoo! continues to try to squash spammers by making message-blocking tweaks to its email filters. A quick survey of numerous email service providers shows that the problem is hurting at least half of marketers. Emails are being sent to junk folders or getting held up in the Yahoo! system queue for as long as three hours as they usually wait for a busy server to ease up. Sometimes, emails end up getting coded as a soft bounce.

    In this interesting How-To article MarketingSherpa shares 4 steps to cope with Yahoo!’s new filtering tweaks:

    Step #1. Evaluate your email system
    First, look at your own email system and make sure the problem doesn’t begin and end with your processes. You need to systematically break down what’s happening on your end.
    Can you answer these five questions with a quick “Yes.” If not, the culprit may be you and not Yahoo!

    1. Is your team following best practices with each campaign?
    2. Do you have a reputation-management manager in your department?
    3. Are you sending from a dedicated IP address?
    4. Do you have your sender-authentication lined up?
    5. Do you have regular teleconferences with your ESP to discuss deliverability?

    Step #2. Monitor your email regularly
    If you use a full-service ESP, they can help you use their system to do inbox monitoring. Specifically, the program tells you how well your messages are being delivered to Yahoo!, AOL, Gmail, MSN, Comcast, etc.
    Typically, this is something your ESP does for you. But it never hurts to audit your service provider. Ask them about inbox monitoring, how to access it regularly and, if possible, actively check it yourself. Or, at least set up a weekly briefing on what the data looks like.

    Step #3. Adjust your timing
    Right now, delivery to actual Yahoo! inboxes can take up to three hours longer than usual. Part of the problem is that many emailers are sending at the same time – often the favored send time, 10 a.m. Tuesday. That clogs the pipeline.

    It’s important to keep this reality in mind. If it’s imperative that your emails arrive in the inboxes at 10 a.m. Tuesday, for instance, you might want to schedule the Yahoo! file a few hours earlier than the rest of the list. This way, even if your message doesn’t land exactly when you want it to in Yahoo! inboxes, you might still be able to beat the mid-morning rush. Test by using a Yahoo! email account of your own.

    Step #4. Talk to Yahoo!
    OK, you have evaluated your system, monitored your emails, and adjusted your timing for Yahoo! addresses. But your messages are still getting blocked or significantly slowed. Now what? Start pinging the heck out of the ISP’s postmaster team.

    Source: MarketingSherpa

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    Education is the answer

    Two articles recently have focussed on a survey performed by Q Interactive, which was published in Marketing Sherpa's Email Marketing Benchmark Guide 2008. You can read the articles here and here. A couple of the key points they found were:

    • Fifty-six percent of consumers consider marketing messages from known senders to be spam if the message is "just not interesting to me" and 50% consider "too frequent emails from companies I know" to be spam
    • 31% of respondents said that they consider "emails that were once useful but aren't relevant anymore,” to be spam.
    • 21% believe the 'report spam' button will notify the sender that the recipient did not find that specific email useful so the sender will "do a better job of mailing me" in the future.
    • The survey also found that 43% of respondents do not use unsubscribe links in email and simply use the ISP's "report spam" button to unsubscribe from an advertiser's list.

    The results of this survey confirm what most email marketers already know - consumers need to be educated as to what actually constitutes spam. However, there's more to it than that. The articles suggest that what is needed is for ISP's to offer more options to replace the 'report spam' button, such as 'unsubscribe' or 'undesired' button, so that the consumer can be more precise in conveying why they don't want to receive it anymore. Hotmail has already made a step towards this with their 'list-unsubscribe' tool, which many ESP's implemented late last year. These changes with the 'report spam' tools in turn, should also assist with educating the consumers as to what actually is spam.

    Of course, this isn't ignoring one of the most crucial aspects of email marketing - which is marketers remembering why they are sending the emails, and therefore sending targeted and relevant emails to the consumer. This month's DMA Email Marketing Council's newsletter, Infobox, contains a great article by Jeanniey Mullens, EEC regarding this subject as well as an article by Stephanie Miller, Return Path which also touches on customer expectations. You can subscribe to receive Infobox here.

    Hopefully, if the above suggestions are implemented by marketers, ISP's and consumers, then this should reduce the wrongful and inaccurate reporting of emails as being spam. If this type of inaccurate reporting by the consumer were to continue, then down the road they're bound to start complaining, as the false positives increase and the offers and emails they're eagerly waiting for don't arrive...little realising that much of the problem has been caused by themselves.

    The education process needs to begin now. Marketers can begin clarifying their subscriber's expectations, ISP's can begin clarifying what their complaint procedures actually do and start to put in place more accurate spam reporting tools and consumers can learn and become aware of how hitting the 'report spam' button haphazardly, can and will impact them in the long run.

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    Reaching Out to Yahoo's Postmaster Team

    The MindComet blog reports:

    If you manage your own email campaigns and you've noticed your Yahoo! bounces rates to be higher than usual, then there's good news coming your way. First off, reach out to their Postmaster team and explain your current issues. There are 3 different forms to fill out, depending on your persisting problems... There's the Delivery Issues Form, the ISP Issues Form, and the Bulk Senders Form.

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    List Hygiene and Relevance Are Key

    In this article Ken Magill reminds us that if enough recipients think our e-mail program is garbage, no e-mail service provider in the world will be able to prevent spam complaints, and the resulting delivery troubles. Likewise, if we refuse to clean dead addresses off our list because one of those addresses just might, maybe, someday make a purchase, there isn’t a single ESP out there who will be able to stop Yahoo, AOL, and Microsoft from diverting our messages into recipients’ spam folders or blocking them altogether.

    He's dead right! So is this quote:

    That we still have marketers—the majority of them, apparently—who believe that the ESP they choose will have a significant effect on their deliverability means some ESP reps are selling marketers on lies, or the marketers are deluding themselves.

    Source: Direct

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    Your 10-Point Quality-Control Checklist

    It's every email sender's nightmare to launch a bug-filled campaign where everyone will see your mistakes. But, if you exercise strict quality control all along the production line, you'll reduce your potential exposure and send campaigns with confidence, even the last-minute ones.

    Stefan Pollard shares this 10-Point Checklist:

    1. I am sending to the correct list.
    2. I proofread all the text in Notepad before having it coded for my HTML messages.
    3. I verified that the offer or other purpose for sending the message is the correct one.
    4. I included an unsubscribe link and street address as required by CAN-SPAM. (Or, I included all the elements my country's commercial-email regulations require.)
    5. These identifying elements are present and accounted for:
      • The subject line is filled in with text that accurately represents the email message content. --
      • The "from" line shows my company or brand name, not an email address. 
      • Any dates, especially copyright, reflect the correct year. 
      • My company contact information, including name, street address, telephone numbers, Web site and email address for questions or concerns.
    6. I clicked every link and link-connected image to make they all work and checked to make sure each image has an alt tag describing the content.
    7. I previewed the message in my preview pane and with images disabled, in different browsers and on different computer platforms.
    8. I proofread my text message and included the link to my message on the Web.
    9. I had one other person look it over before I hit "send."
    10. I tested my body copy and HTML coding with a delivery monitoring tool to make sure it doesn't trigger spam filters.

    Source: EmailLabs

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    AOTA Reports Email Authentication Has Reached 'Tipping Point'

    The Authentication and Online Trust Alliance (AOTA) announced that adoption of email and domain authentication has reached its tipping point, exceeding 50 percent in several key metrics. AOTA research highlights the top Fortune 500 and Internet retailers who have realized the business value of protecting consumers and their brands from forged email and phishing ploys through adoption of Sender ID (SIDF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM), the leading standards of authentication.

    Spam, phishing, and other forms of fraudulent email are ever-increasing threats to the safety of consumers and brands. Up to 80 percent of email from leading brands, banks, and ISPs is spoofed. After a five-month review of over 100 million emails from Fortune 500 brands, AOTA reports that over 50 percent of legitimate email sent worldwide on a daily basis from over 15 million domain holders is authenticated.

    AOTA said those compliant brands are seeing significant benefits, including brand protection and enhanced deliverability. Brands that have not authenticated, it added, are at a competitive disadvantage and are unnecessarily exposed to spam and phishing attacks from cybercriminals.

    AOTA has issued a call for compliance of all consumer-facing e-commerce and online financial services sites to adopt one or more forms of outbound email authentication for their top-level corporate domain within the next six months. While many companies have adopted authentication for their marketing sub domains, they need to focus on consumer and brand protection.

    Also, all ISPs should implement inbound authentication verification, in addition to existing messaging hygiene solutions, to maximize consumer and brand protection within the next six months. This commitment by the entire Internet ecosystem is required to preserve trust and confidence in e-commerce.

    AOTA reports that adoption has exceeded 50 percent in the following key industries:

    • 51 percent of the Fortune 500’s consumer-facing brands
    • 52 percent of the Fortune 500’s consumer-facing financial service brands
    • 54 percent of the Internet Retailer top 300 brands

    The Fortune 500 leaders represent top brands spanning many industries, including financial organizations BB&T, Charles Schwab Corp, MetLife, Nationwide Mutual Insurance, Progressive Corp and Wells Fargo; consumer brands Amazon, BlockBuster, Home Depot, Nordstrom, OfficeMax, Target and Walt Disney; and technology leaders Dell, eBay, IBM and Microsoft.

    The report is available at http://aotalliance.org/resources/authentication.

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    A Panel of Humans Tell Microsoft Which Emails are Spam

    In his latest column on ClickZ, Stefan Pollard explains how a panel of humans tell Microsoft whether they believe an email is spam or not:

    We usually think of spam filtering as a highly automated function that fends off the millions of spam messages trying to force their way into inboxes. Yet even the most sophisticated spam filters have a human component, often a network of e-mail users who click the "this is spam" button in their e-mail interfaces or vote on a message's spamminess through services such as Cloudmark

    Microsoft's Hotmail takes the people factor one step further with a little-known but highly valued panel of humans who tell Microsoft whether they believe an e-mail message is spam or not.

    This panel's aggregated responses make up a data pool called the Windows Live Sender Reputation Data, which is folded into the decision-making process to better classify more e-mail messages correctly.

    A bit more information about the panel:

    1. Members are active MSN Premium and Windows Live/MSN Hotmail customers who agreed to participate in the Feedback Loop Program after being contacted by the e-mail service.
    2. The program asks participants to rank a random piece of e-mail as "junk" or "not junk." This e-mail is a message that was addressed to them but that Microsoft plucked out of the stream and reassigned with subject line "Junk E-mail Classification." It could be spam, permission commercial e-mail, or personal e-mail.
    3. The users' feedback is aggregated into a giant pool of data and fed to reputation or spam-filter programs, such as Hotmail's SmartScreen and Return Path's Sender Score Certified program. It's then applied to automated e-mail programs to improve the application's ability to properly classify e-mail.

    Sound like a panel you'd like to serve on? Unfortunately, you can't volunteer. You might get invited if you have a qualifying account for at least six months and respond to Microsoft's random invitation.

    The feedback loop includes users in 200 countries, 60 percent of whom use a Hotmail interface in a language other than English. This diverse background, coupled with an invitation structure rather than a volunteer program, helps reduce pro- and anti-spam bias in the decision making. It's the same methodology pollsters use to find survey participants who represent the polling population as closely as possible, rather than rely on volunteers who may have a bias one way or another.

    This human factor adds an important element to Hotmail's spam-scoring systems, which already include Sender ID for reputation scoring and IP reputation scoring, among other tactics.

    Here's the impact Microsoft's panel could have on your own e-mail:

    • How likely is it someone in this feedback loop ruled on a message you sent? Fairly likely, if you're a large-scale sender who sends regular e-mail.
    • Remember, too, these are Hotmail's own customers reporting which e-mail messages they feel are spam and which aren't. If your permission e-mail message doesn't clearly convey that it belongs in their inboxes, they'll more likely classify it as junk mail. Are you doing all you can to demonstrate your trustworthiness and value by sending relevant, identifiable e-mail?

    If you'd like to know more about Windows Live Sender Reputation Data or the feedback loop that generates it, see the Sender Score Certified Web site. This service, through Return Path, incorporates the data into its own reputation-scoring program.

    Source: ClickZ

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