153 posts categorized "Deliverability" Feed

How to Fix a Damaged Email Reputation?

According to J.F. Sullivan, there is a simple three-step solution to addressing a negative e-mail reputation that will get you back in the fast lane in almost no time.

Step 1: Run a reputation assessment check. Yes, this seems moot. After all, you have already become aware of the problem. However, you might not know the extent of the issue, and that is where an assessment can help. You can never be armed with too much information, and the best way to get started is to gather up as much reputation data as you can.

Step 2: Address all the automated issues you can. Despite appearing to be advanced Harry Potter magic, it’s often a straightforward set of processes and interactions—such as implementing a Web site process or sending an e-mail—that addresses the problem. The key to figuring out which things to do, and in what order, lies in the reputation assessment. Almost all reputation assessments will clearly identify the problems encountered and the specific measures needed to resolve the issue.

Step 3: Prioritize your approach to additional issues. Finally, you should strive for a prioritized approach to resolving nonautomated e-mail reputation issues. Some issues are decidedly more important than others. Not all block lists are created equal; neither are all complaint systems. A reputation assessment will clarify which ones are going to affect your delivery the most and so should be made top priorities.

Source: BtoB

I've listed a number of tools that you can use to check your reputation and to check if your server or IP address is blacklisted or on a spamlist. Check them out at the Email Marketer's Club under the "Resources" tab.

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How to Ruin Deliverability in 10 Easy Steps

Here's Stefan Pollard top 10 list of sure-fire ways to ruin a sender's deliverability:

  1. Fail authentication checks. You should have the proper authentication records in place (SPF, SenderID, or DomainKeys) to give the ISPs a fighting chance to identify senders and use reputation data to make delivery decisions. However, a broken or incorrect record can do much more damage than not having one. Consider that authentication identifies the sender and IP address the message is coming from. When you fail the authentication check, you've just told the ISP, "This email didn't come from me. So don't deliver it."
  2. Use an unrecognizable sender line. Recipients use the sender address to help decide what to do with the email message. If they don't recognize your name, they're more likely to ignore it, delete it, or report it as spam. Go ahead and try to conceal your identity or pretend to be someone you aren't -- it's a sure trip to oblivion.
  3. Use a spammy subject line. If it reads like spam, odds are recipients will treat it like spam. Together with the sender line, the subject line is one of the most important elements in a successful email campaign.
  4. Let your list get dirty. A large list of invalid addresses is one of the metrics ISPs use to gauge a sender's reputation. Bad list hygiene can be the deciding factor in whether a message is delivered or blocked. Remove invalid addresses immediately, and regularly cull your list of nonresponders. Process unsubscribe and spam complaints immediately as well.
  5. Generate excessive complaints. This is one word-of-mouth campaign you don't want to initiate. ISPs use the number of complaints a sender receives about unwanted messages as the number-one factor for judging a sender's reputation. Remove any addresses associated with a spam complaint as soon as you receive it. But don't stop there. Identify how they got on your list and what common elements they share so you can improve your programs and drive complaints down.
  6. Ignore permission. While ISPs use sender reputation to determine whether to deliver your email, how you acquire new subscribers is still one of the most important ways to manage and reduce complaints. Always use permission-based methods, and let subscribers choose what content they want you to send and how often.
  7. Send irrelevant content. You're on the fast track to email hell if you give in to temptation and send messages that promote your own needs rather than match subscriber preferences. When was the last time you reached out to subscribers to ask how they liked what you send them and whether there's anything else you could do for them?
    Permission and interests change over time. Put yourself in your subscriber's shoes, and ask yourself, "What's in this for me?" whenever you consider sending an offer. Create a preference page to help your subscribers control the types of content they want. An all-or-nothing approach usually means you end up with nothing.
  8. Don't worry about rendering. If you can't be bothered to ensure your email shows up in a meaningful way no matter what platform your readers use, they might not bother with a message they know they can't decode.
    Proper design for image blocking and preview panes helps drive recognition. If the subject line got their attention but they can't read the email, see the logos, or figure out what the message says, recipients are much more likely to delete or report the message as spam. This harms your sender reputation. Don't rely on the "view online" link alone to solve all problems. Proper design is essential to success.
  9. Ignore unsubscribe requests. Federal law requires you honor unsubscribe requests. More important, you need a reliable unsubscribe process to build trust with your audience. If they tried to unsubscribe but failed once already, they'll probably go right for their email client's "report spam" button.
  10. Never test. Sending email with broken merge fields, non-working links, or the wrong offers sully the relationship with your audience and can drive complaints up. Always test campaigns before you hit the send button.

Source: ClickZ

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6 Key Areas That Affect Deliverability

by Darren Fell

The 6 key areas that affect deliverability are Reputation, Content, Building trust, Timing, Data and Creative:

1. Reputation

The first and most important area in deliverability is the reputation of your sending servers or those of your ESP.

Many think that the reputation or 'sending history' is associated with the sending domain name, but in most cases it isn't. As we know with 'phishing' attacks, sending addresses can be faked so reputation systems look at the root delivery address that can never be altered; the IP addresses of the delivery servers.

So, have you got a good reputation?

There are a number of services out on the internet that allow you to interrogate the IP addresses you are using to deliver your campaigns. If you don't know how to find your IP address that, you'll see it within the first four lines of the email header when you view the 'source' of the email campaign.

Services like Sender Score give a rating of between 1-100. For an incredibly simple rule of thumb, scores above 80 are good and anything below 30 indicates that the reputation of your sending servers could be pretty poor. If it's this bad it will instantly have an effect on your deliverability and it's highly likely your emails will be blocked across numerous ISPs.

So if the score is low, how on earth did it get into this state?
 

Continue reading "6 Key Areas That Affect Deliverability" »

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DKIM: What is It and Why is It Important?

DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) uses digital signatures to authenticate messages. These signatures allow you, or your email service provider, to verify that a message claiming to be from your bank is really from your bank. Without authentication, if I receive an email saying that my account has been compromised and requesting me to verify my personal details, it's a pretty good bet that I should ignore the message. But if I receive the same message and I can prove to my own satisfaction that it came from my bank, then I should probably pay serious attention.

DKIM can offer this proof, and it has just been published by the Internet Engineering Task Force--the group responsible for technical standards on the Internet--as an official Internet standard.

But just as no one wants to buy a radio if no signal is being transmitted, and no one wants to transmit until someone can hear it, DKIM needs cooperation from both senders and receivers. Senders will drive adoption of DKIM because they have money and their brand reputation at risk.

One way phishers profit is by tricking victims into divulging personal bank account details by impersonating the bank behind that account. This is of huge concern to financial institutions, many of which have already started deploying DKIM. And because DKIM runs on the email servers provided by the enterprise or service provider rather than on the desktops of individual users, it doesn't require upgrading every machine on the network.

Still, a digital signature by itself isn't enough to prove that a message is valid. Phishers will undoubtedly sign mail using domains that they own. Sometimes these domains will be chosen to resemble the names of legitimate institutions.

You can compare authentication to a driver's license, which proves who someone is, but tells you nothing about their safety record; for that you need to know something about their driving history. In the email world, we call this "reputation," which is essential to assessing the value of a message. The next big step to restoring trust in email will be the creation of reputation servers so we can see the "driving history" of the multitude of lesser-known sites.

While DKIM by itself is a valuable technology, to really shine it will need to be used in concert with other technologies, some still in development. But we must start with DKIM.

Email senders should start using DKIM as soon as feasible so that they and their customers can reap the benefits. Email receivers should start verifying DKIM signatures so next-generation antispam and antiphishing tools can leverage that information to deliver better results. And end users should ask their email providers what they are doing to deploy email authentication and restore trust in Internet e-mail.

Source: News.com via The Email Wars

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An Update on Blacklists

According to Al Iverson, Spamhaus has really taken the place as the leader at the forefront of the spam blacklist movement. Their lists are still widely used and anybody on the business end of a Spamhaus listing will find significant negative deliverability issues as a result. Al's own testing shows that the Spamhaus lists are very accurate, block much spam, while very rarely (if ever) impacting legitimate mail, and I suspect many large ISPs use the Spamhaus lists for this very reason.

Other lists that are used less often but may still impact your ability to deliver mail are NJABL and SORBS. NJABL (“Not Just Another Bogus List”) is usually known for being responsibly run and is used by a significant number of sites to block mail. SORBS is a more aggressively run list from Australia. It may not always be easy to resolve a SORBS listing. These are the ones Al recommends checking, as far as IP-based blacklists (DNSBLs) are concerned.

He also recommends checking your “from” domain, bounce domain, image link and redirector domains on the two Domain/URL based blacklists: SURBL and URIBL. You can check both of those here: http://www.rulesemporium.com/cgi-bin/uribl.cgi

Note that if somebody is a B2C sender with an average list composition, then blacklists shouldn’t be your biggest worry. Blocking by the top ISPs (AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo, Juno, Earthlink, etc.) is generally more likely to cause greater issues, or happen more often, than a third-party blacklisting of a sender’s IP address.

Anybody working with an ESP to send their mail should ask their ESP what they are doing to monitor, discover, and resolve blacklist issues.

Source: Email Insider

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What's the Difference Between a Hard and Soft Bounce and How Do You Tell Them Apart?

Simply put, a bounce is a notice from the receiving ISP or domain that the email you attempted to send has not been delivered. Knowing that much can help assess general campaign performance, but it doesn't begin to tell you how to improve your results or give you the information needed to manage your list or rectify the practices that may have caused the bounce in the first place. You need to drill down into your hard and soft bounces for those answers.

The ISPs and other domains return a code and text message to the sender when an email isn't delivered. What's commonly termed a hard bounce tells you that the reason for non-delivery is due to a permanent condition, whereas a soft bounce indicates that the condition is probably temporary. You may encounter a soft bounce when a customer's mailbox is full due to vacation or even when a domain is temporarily not accepting mail because of technical problems. A soft bounce is telling you the email address is probably good but that delivery can't be completed right now. You should try sending again at a later date.

But don't assume the opposite is true with a hard bounce. A hard bounce does not automatically signify a bad (undeliverable) record that shouldn't be attempted again later on. Unlike the postal world where returned mail clearly equates to an undeliverable address, such as 'moved, left no forwarding address,' a hard bounce in email can mean many things. For instance, some hard bounces, such as a spam block, tell you that the record should not be re-tried until the underlying practice problem has been addressed. Others may relate to your technical infrastructure, such as your DNS, authentication protocol or sending speed. And still other hard bounces, such as an unknown user, signify that the record is truly undeliverable, and should be corrected or invalidated and replaced.

Without visibility into the reasons for their bounces, email marketers risk invalidating good records while keeping bad, and not addressing the underlying practice deficiencies that imperil their email deliverability, brand reputations, and bottom lines.

Source: Multichannel Merchant

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Gain Control over Your Reputation with a Dedicated IP Address

All email originates from an IP address, a unique identifier for the computer sending the message. Many email marketing software companies offer two means of message delivery – either via a pool of shared IPs or a dedicated IP address.

In a shared IP scenario, your outgoing mail originates from the same group of IP addresses as other customers, subject to the fluctuating reputation of the senders in the pool. Alternatively, a dedicated IP isolates your mail – and only your mail – to a single, private IP address.

Reputation is everything. The history of good and bad email messages originating from the sender’s IP address continues to be an important deliverability factor. In fact, 77 percent of delivery issues occur because of the sender’s reputation, according to leading deliverability and reputation firm Return Path.

By choosing to send your email through a dedicated IP address, you gain control of your reputation and ensure it will be influenced only by your sending activity and history. In doing so, you realize the benefits of your strong reputation and eliminate the possibility that another sender’s activity will influence your deliverability.

However, it also means that you must consistently employ best practices in your email marketing to ensure maintaining your good reputation.

A dedicated IP address requires no special set-up on your part. If you use a hosted email marketing solution, your provider will generally take care of the initial implementation and will establish feedback loops and whitelist relationships with major ISPs

Source: DMNews

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Use Throttling Techniques to Avoid Getting Blacklisted

One of the simplest ways to avoid getting blacklisted is by using throttling techniques, which keep you from over-saturating your prospects’ e-mail servers.

Throttling is exactly what it sounds like: managing the flow of e-mail going out of your servers and into another company’s. This is important because one of the ways a company can get placed on a blacklist is by sending too many e-mails from a particular IP address to particular servers.

Most corporate servers as well as ISPs set limits as to how many e-mails they will accept from an individual IP address within a set period of time, he said. “Once it crosses that threshold, the mail server starts blocking your IP address,” Ashery said.

Corporations and smaller ISPs may set that threshold between 1,000 and 10,000 messages within a 10-hour period, while larger ISPs might have much higher limits, such as 50,000 per day per IP, he said.

E-mail marketers can get around this limit by segmenting their lists manually or having their ESPs send out staggered groups of messages. “It’s a very big undertaking, but if you have a large list, you really need to do this one way or the other,” he said.

Read more here.

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You Can't Buy a Good Reputation, You Need to Earn It

According to Pivotal Veracity’s chief executive Deirdre Baird “The misconception around reputation is that for some reason people think they can buy it, or that paying someone will change it,” she said. “And that’s not the case.”

Reputation boils down to three primary metrics, she added. “This doesn’t mean other metrics are not in play, but there are three primary metrics most large ISPs use in establishing what your reputation is.”

They are the following:

  1. Spam complaint rate: the percentage of people complaining that that a marketer’s email is spam.
  2. Unknown user rate: The percentage of the mail going to email addresses that no longer exist.
  3. Hitting spam traps: ISPs often turn unused addresses into spam traps. Hit these, and there is going to be trouble.

“A spam trap is an email address that theoretically has not signed up for any email,” said Baird. “It’s posted on the Web somewhere. It’s out there on chat boards. If you email to it, it means you [or someone you’re doing business with] harvested that email address. It indicates, to be polite, lackluster customer acquisition policies.”
 

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International Email Deliverability: What You Don't Know Could Hurt You!

by Chip House

Internet service providers stateside have greatly developed and adapted their spam filtering tools and allowed more visibility to their inner-workings, with access to complaint feedback loops, friendly bounce messaging, whitelisting and sender support lines. The access to most ISPs around the globe, however, remains murky.

A threat lurking under the surface is the diverse international legal environment. Whereas some joke about our CAN-SPAM Act as being the “you can spam” act, some international laws have more teeth to them. Take the EU Privacy Directive, which specifies a required opt-in when mailing consumers. Australia also has an opt-in standard per their SPAM ACT 2003. Ignorance of your list make-up or opt-in policies could be a threat when sending to either locale. More details can be found at www.spamlaws.com

Another trend is e-mail providers such as Yahoo, AOL (AIM), Hotmail and Google increasing their share of the global demand for personal e-mail, and in turn their mix of a typical global business-to-consumer list. One example would be Yahoo that also manages e-mail delivery for the SBC Global and Rogers Cable in Canada.
 

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Always Consider the Human Element

In this article, Stefan Pollard tells us to always review our messages to make sure they're immediately recognizable by the recipient:

Use a recognizable sender line.
The sender line or from name can make or break you in the inbox. Readers look for familiar identities; if they don't recognize you, they'll delete and possibly report your messages as spam. Always format your sender line to show the most recognizable name, usually your brand or company name, not the person who hits "send."

Write a clear, concise subject line.
Brand the subject line with your company, newsletter name, or product brand, whichever is more relevant to your readers. Also, consider context. What else is in the reader's inbox? Do your subject lines stand out? Do they look like your competitors or, worse, the spammers who operate in your market niche?

Optimize your presence in the preview pane.
You have about two seconds and maybe 4 square inches of message-body real estate to convey your identity or brand and to describe clearly what the message contains. If you fail this test, the reader may delete your message without opening it or may report it as spam.

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Are You Removing Good Addresses From Your List?

I am slowly catching up on my reading and found this interesting article about soft and hard bounces hidden deep down in my to read list.

In this article, Derek Harding tells us to put aside convenient yet misleading concepts like hard/soft bounces and look beyond to the untidy reality that is email delivery. Your marketing metrics and your list hygiene will benefit from the simplification and the complexity this entails.

Why?

Because there's no agreement on hard and soft bounce definitions. The email delivery protocol, SMTP, classifies failures as transient or permanent. Some people consider a soft bounce to be a transient failure and a hard bounce a permanent failure. This is an excellent, accurate definition, but it doesn't address future deliverability for an email address, which is what marketers usually try to determine with the hard/soft distinction. Also, many email systems don't record transient failures unless they persist for several days, then most are pretty much permanent.

Other people suggest that a soft bounce is a condition such as a full mailbox. Yet such situations are often indicated by SMTP permanent failure codes, as ISPs consider these to be permanent. For example, Yahoo's delivery instructions specifically cite "mailbox full" as a permanent condition that should cause removal of an address from a mailing list. Read the full article here.

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MAAWG Best Practices: Top Six Areas to Focus On

You and your team should definitely take the time to review the new MAAWG Sender Communication Best Practices document and discuss how you can implement the practices. But because he understands it can be hard to find the time to do this, George Bilbrey listed the below top six areas to focus on in this post.

1. Make your unsubscribe process clear, easy and fast.
If there is any one thing the average marketer could do to reduce complaints and increase deliverability it would be this. I'm constantly stunned at how difficult it can be a get off the list of a Fortune 500 company. MAAWG also recommends allowing email based and offline unsubscribe request. Basically, if someone asks you to stop sending them email – no matter where or how they ask – it is in your best interest to stop.
 

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DomainKeys Identified Email Becomes Standard

The Internet Engineering Task Force has approved DomainKeys Identified Email (commonly known as DKIM) as a technical standard for email. This clears the way for emailers to implement DKIM and for ISPs to potentially use it to either block or allow email through its system.

This means that DKIM will eventually become the replacement to DomainKeys (DK) as the primary cryptographic-based authentication standard. DKIM has some great advantages over DK, but the biggest one is "third party signing," meaning it allows a domain other than the "From:" domain to sign the messages. There are many cases where the person sending the mail doesn't control the "From:" domain. Third party signing solves that problem, and as a result makes it much more likely that large companies can sign all their mail, even when outsourced to an ESP.

So what's a mailer to do?
 

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Reputation, Not Content, is Key to Deliverability

What you put into your email marketing messages may not be as important as you once thought -- at least in terms of deliverability. According to Lyris Technologies’ EmailAdvisor ISP Delivery Report Card Q1 2007, reputation is the No. 1 factor that ISPs use when processing your emails.

“We’re seeing that delivery is still clearly a challenge, but it’s not what you’re including in the content; it’s about hygiene and reputation,” said Stefan Pollard, director of consulting services at EmailLabs. “The ISPs are looking at who’s on your list, are they clicking through, what are they doing with your email when they receive it and are you following up and cleaning your lists often and well?”

The answer, according to the study, is no. Only 83.88% of all ISP mail gets delivered, while only 74.57% of messages make it into the in-box. And it’s often the top ISPs that have the worst delivery rates; for example, Gmail sends 28% of messages to junk folders, while Yahoo sends 19% of messages to the bulk folder.

Pollard said marketers should heed the following advice to make sure their messages aren’t shuttled aside.

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MAAWG's New Set of Best Communication Practices for Bulk Senders

The Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group's (MAAWG) new set of best communication practices for bulk senders is a great resource to help you ratchet up your email message delivery. It covers just about every issue that crops up between senders and ISPs and explains clearly what needs to be done to achieve higher deliverability.

MAAWG, an industry group formed to fight messaging abuse such as spam and fraud email, said its first set of best practices was intended to both help legitimate email from high-volume senders, like email marketers, stand out better from spam and phishing email; and reduce the ISP's burden of sorting good messages from bad.

Although you might bristle at the idea of outsiders telling you how to run your email business, the recommendations have been endorsed by the bipartisan Email Sender and Provider Coalition (ESPC), which seats bulk senders and recipients at the same table.

Also, the best practices closely reflect the standards email senders have developed over the last 10 years or so and explain some technical requirements in fairly plain language. This should help you see the benefits better and be more able to discuss implementing them with your IT department.

In this article, Stefan Pollard provides us with highlights of the five recommendations.

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AOL disables images in AOL.com & AIM.com

On May 22nd AOL officially introduced and rolled-out a new interface for customers who access their email using AOL.com & AIM.com. In addition to a number of other changes to the interface, AOL has decided to disable images in both of these web based email clients.

As a reminder, images have always been OFF by default for AOL 9.0 (AOL's desktop email software) but, prior to today, images were ON by default in AOL.com and AIM.com. The new interfaces for AOL.com and AIM.com now turn images OFF by default exactly like AOL 9.

Turning Images Back ON

Just like AOL 9.0, images will be turned back back ON in AOL.com and AIM.com by any of the following:

  • the recipient enables the images by clicking the SHOW IMAGES link for THIS MESSAGE or THIS SENDER that appears for each email, or
  • the recipient adds the mailer's from-address to their address book, or
  • the mailer's IP address is on AOL's Enhanced Whitelist.

Implications
Expect to see a drop in open rates due to the new interface. Since open-rates are typically tracked via an invisible gif (image), when images are disabled, this method of open-rate tracking will result in no opens recorded when images are disabled.

Be proactive in getting images back on! Encourage your recipients to add your from-address to their address book; if your from-address is in the address book, your images will automatically display. In addition to an explicit add-to-address book campaign, strive to keep your spam complaints and unknown user rates low so you qualify for AOL's Enhanced Whitelist.

Source: Pivotal Veracity via the EEC newsletter

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