The silent killer hiding in your old email list

“…details at eleven.”

351px-Villainc.svgIf you grew up watching local news broadcasts in the ’80s, you probably recall the teasers touting all sorts of hidden dangers that could affect your family. And of course, when the payoff came, there was a sigh of relief as we all realized the story was blown way out of proportion – merely a ploy to raise ratings. Fortunately for us, our pantries, medicine cabinets, and refrigerators were not just teeming with potential killers, and now we can all read our scary “hiding right in your cupboard!”-style headlines on Facebook or Twitter instead.

Even though those ’80s news threats were mostly imagined, there are some legitimate “hidden killers” when it comes to email marketing. For senders, one of the biggest potential minefields comes when you decide to send to an old list of email addresses. It’s probably happened to you: someone from another team (or a superior on your own team) brings you a list of addresses that is clearly outdated. They were acquired sometime during the Clinton administration, last mailed 2 years ago (or was it 3?), and probably haven’t been updated…ever. They gave you permission to send all those years ago, so sending to them now is no problem. You’ll remove the hard bounces, then you’re left with a good list of opted-in contacts just waiting to boost your sales numbers. Sounds like a win-win, right?

Not so fast. Even if you received permission to email these contacts, if it happened very long ago there are a number of reasons that permission may not matter. The address may have been abandoned, deactivated, reallocated to a new user, or even repurposed as a spam trap. Let’s look at each of these scenarios and how they can wreak havoc on your sender reputation.

Abandoned addresses

Email addresses, though personal, are a somewhat disposable commodity. With workers switching jobs more than ever, and freemail services providing a myriad of email address options, it’s not uncommon for a recipient to simply abandon an email address. The address remains active and accepts mail, but the user rarely if ever accesses the mailbox.

Most mailbox providers, as we’ve previously discussed, rely heavily on engagement metrics to filter mail. Senders who see good engagement rates from their recipients are more likely to reach the inbox. What you may not know is that many of these providers also look at how many “zombie” mailboxes you send to regularly. If you are frequently mailing to recipients who rarely if ever check their mail, that can have a negative impact on your delivery rates.

Deactivated addresses

This one tends to be the easiest to see: when you send to an address, the message is bounced and you receive a rejection response. Many senders simply gloss over this point because their ESP automatically suppresses bounces, so they know they won’t be mailing to them again. But even a single send to a large number of invalid addresses can cause delivery issues. Once you’ve damaged your sending reputation, the time and effort required to repair it are often much more than would have been required to ensure the list was clean before sending.

Reallocated addresses

If you haven’t mailed to an address in months or years, it’s possible the address was abandoned or surrendered by the previous owner and now belongs to someone else. If this is the case, that recipient hasn’t provided you permission so any mail you send to them is technically unsolicited. These recipients are much more likely to mark your message as spam or report it to a blacklist or spam filter provider.

This scenario is most likely if you haven’t mailed a recipient in well over a year: most webmail providers keep an address active for a minimum of 6 months before it is deactivated, and it’s not uncommon to see another 6 months or more lapse before the address is reassigned to a new user. If the address belongs to a corporate domain, though, the turnover time is often faster.

Spam trap addresses

Of all the problematic addresses, these have the potential to cause the most damage to your reputation and sending ability. Abandoned addresses (and sometimes entire domains) are brought back to life to serve as spam traps, either for the domain owner or a third-party provider like Spamhaus. These trap admins monitor all mail sent to their traps and take action against senders who are seen to be mailing traps with regularity. (For more on spam traps, check out Deliverability 101: Spam Traps.)

Spam traps are most dangerous because they are inconspicuous. They don’t reject mail or throw any red flags to indicate the address has been repurposed as a trap. If you haven’t sent to an address in more than a year, the potential risk of it being a spam trap is greatly increased. While there’s no hard and fast rule, it’s often said that addresses typically remain dormant for 6 to 12 months before being reactivated as a trap.

As a marketer trying to squeeze all possible value from limited resources, sending to an old list can be quite appealing. That appeal, however, vanishes pretty quickly when that old list causes spam folder placement, an ISP block, or even a major blacklisting – preventing all of your recent, engaged recipients from getting the mail as well.

– BG

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Transactional email and the unsubscribe link

3542845394_68b995ff48_bThere’s been a fairly long-standing debate in the email industry about transactional emails and the unsubscribe link. The main point of contention is whether or not a transactional email should include an unsubscribe link and if so, what types of messages should be stopped when it’s clicked. With the renewed discussion of the Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL)* ahead of its pending changes, this topic has made its way back into regular discussions with clients.

You may already know that CASL requires all transactional messaging to include an unsubscribe link, even though transactional messages don’t technically require consent. So in essence, the CASL-compliant unsubscribe link is designed to allow recipients to opt out of other commercial messages from the sender, but not transactional ones. But what if someone really doesn’t want to receive any more transactional messages? As senders, are we concerned with adhering to the letter of the law, or with improving our customer experience? The answer, of course, isn’t always cut and dry.

For starters, not everyone means the same thing when they reference a “transactional” email message. While a receipt for a purchase is considered transactional by most everyone, some other types of messages can present more of a gray area. Under CASL, a transactional message completes a transaction (duh!), delivers a product or service, presents warranty information, distributes legally required notices, or provides information pertaining to an ongoing contract, membership, or subscription. Sounds pretty similar to the US idea of transactional, with one major exception: under CASL, any promotional content in the email makes it a ‘commercial electronic message,’ or CEM, and therefore potentially subject to consent requirements. This differs from the “80/20 rule” that is considered best practice in the US (80% transactional content, 20% marketing).

Whether or not it makes sense to include an unsubscribe link in your transactional messaging depends on a number of factors. Let’s look at some of the most important ones for most senders.

Location, location, location

If you’re based in Canada, or your recipients are, you’ll have to include that unsubscribe link in your transactional messages to comply with the law. You’re only required to remove clickers from your commercial emails, but be sure to remove any promotional content from those transactional messages!

Transactional or transactional?**

One of the biggest factors to consider is just how essential the message may be. If someone purchases a software download and your email provides them the link to the software, or the license key, you’re not ever going to want to allow someone to unsubscribe from that. These are often referred to as triggered transactional messages, and they almost always facilitate or record a transaction involving the recipient.

For messages that are more relationship-based, such as a monthly update on benefits available to members, it may be a good idea to allow recipients the option to unsubscribe. Most recipients won’t unsubscribe, but those that do were only going to drag down your engagement metrics (and your deliverability as a result). If you start to see a swell of unsubscribes from these types of messages, it’s likely a good time to re-evaluate the value they are providing to your recipients.

Your audience

Do you have a receptive audience who opens and clicks on each email with almost religious fervor? Or do you have recipients who only open an email when they want to make a purchase? Analyze your audience engagement and segment based on those recipients who rarely if ever engage. It may be a good idea to provide these non-engaged recipients with the option to unsubscribe from non-critical relationship messaging.

In the end, it’s up to each organization to determine their ideal policy for allowing (or disallowing) unsubscribes in transactional messages. Aside from the mission-critical type triggered messages, the question really boils down to what’s most important: getting your message out, or giving your recipients the choice of what they want to receive?

– BG

*Of course, since we mentioned CASL, we also must mention that nothing in this post is legal advice. I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. 

*Everyone who’s ever watched a cheesy mafia movie knows that when you say the same word twice, but with extra emphasis the second time, the distinction is being made between the literal and figurative uses of said word. Capisce?

Deliverability 101: Spam traps

It's a trap!Recently we presented a basic guide to blacklists using a rather colorful example ripped from today’s headlines. In that post we described what happens when you’re on a blacklist, but as a sender you probably want to know how to avoid getting blacklisted in the first place. And if you’re already blacklisted, you’ll certainly want to find out how you got there. Understanding spam traps can help with both.

What is a spam trap?

While the name might conjure thoughts of being lured into a sticky situation via canned meat, a spam trap is actually an email address. Sometimes referred to as honeypots, spam traps are addresses that exist for the purpose of identifying senders who are not following best practices.

A spam trap isn’t used by a real person to send or request email. Each trap is monitored by the trap operator (typically a blacklist or mailbox provider) and any mail sent to the address can cause the sender to be put on a blacklist. While the potential exists for blacklisting based on a single message sent to a trap, providers most often look for patterns of repeated hits. This could mean multiple mails to the same trap address, mail to multiple distinct trap addresses, or both.

There are two main types of spam traps in the wild: pristine and recycled. Pristine traps were created for the sole purpose of being a spam trap. These addresses have never been used by a real person and have never requested any emails. If you send mail to purchased lists or scrape addresses from the web, there’s a good chance you’ll run into this type of trap.

Recycled traps, by contrast, are the type most commonly seen by legitimate email marketers. These email addresses did, at some point in the past, belong to a real person. That person likely sent emails, signed up for mailing lists, and provided the address to others as their point of contact. Then, for whatever reason, that person abandoned the address – maybe due to an organizational change or migration to a new mail provider.

Once the recipient abandoned this address it sat dormant for some period of time (generally at least 6 months), during which time the address would have rejected all mail. After that period, the address was reactivated and became an active spam trap.

How do spam traps get on my list?

Since spam traps are designed to identify senders not using best practices, it stands to reason that failure to follow best practices typically leads to their presence in your database. Mailing to recipients who have not given opt-in permission, sending to old or outdated lists, and lack of proper bounce handling are some of the most common reasons spam traps end up within your list. In addition, typographical errors at the time of address collection can introduce traps into your list – particularly with less accurate address collection methods such as point-of-sale address transcription or collecting addresses via telephone.

What happens if I have spam traps in my list?

When you send mail to a spam trap address, the trap monitor will note the sender of the message and typically take some action against that sender. Most trap monitors also maintain their own blacklists, and in many cases these blacklists are publicly used by many ISPs and mailbox providers to filter mail. In short, sending to spam traps will probably get you on a blacklist, and that blacklisting will probably get your mail rejected by at least one major email provider.

I’m not being blocked. Why does it matter if I have spam traps in my database?

If you receive word (from your ESP, delivery monitoring service, or a trap owner) that you are sending to spam trap addresses, it’s tempting to gloss over the warning if you’re not seeing any large-scale delivery issues. A word of advice? Don’t ignore spam traps.

The presence of spam traps in your contact database is an indicator of an underlying issue with either your email acquisition practices or your list maintenance protocols. When you have spam traps in your list, you are sending mail to contacts that don’t want it or never requested it. This means that alongside the traps, you are also mailing real people who will (at best) ignore your message or (at worst) report you to their mailbox provider or a third-party spam filtering service. Even if the spam traps haven’t gotten your mail blocked (yet), you can bet the spam complaints and low engagement are keeping you out of your recipients’ inboxes.

How do I get the spam traps out of my list?

Removing spam traps from your list is, by design, a difficult process. A spam trap doesn’t (usually) bounce or reject mail. It doesn’t provide any signs or signals that it’s a trap. The trap operator doesn’t want you to be able to spot the traps in your list, because then you could simply remove the traps and not address the underlying issue.

If you have traps in your database, the best place to start is typically contacts who haven’t engaged with an email (opened or clicked) recently. Typically, we recommend targeting contacts who haven’t opened in 6-12 months. Send a confirmation request to those non-openers, asking them to confirm they are real and they still want your messages. Once that message is sent, you’ll want to suppress from your list anyone who doesn’t respond. It’s also a good idea to repeat this process at least once a year.

In conjunction with addressing spam traps already in your list, you want to make sure you cut off traps at the source. Check your list acquisition practices to be sure all of your incoming recipients have opted in for your mailings. Add CAPTCHA to any public-facing web forms to prevent automated sign-ups. Think about adding a confirmation step to your opt-in process. This could be a traditional confirmed opt-in (COI) where recipients have to click a link to be confirmed, or it could be a “soft confirmation” that considers an open to be a confirmation action.

If you can take actions that make it harder for spam traps to end up in your list, you’ll proactively decrease your risk of dealing with the difficult process of culling your list to get rid of them later.

Have a war story or questions about dealing with spam traps? Leave a comment or shoot me an email to chat!

– BG

A guide to blacklists, as illustrated by Donald Trump

Unless you’ve recently taken residence under a hardened mineral formation, you’re probably familiar with January’s U.S. executive order that effectively bans travel from several specified foreign nations. There’s been all sorts of political and humanitarian debate about the ban, and rightfully so…but we’re not here for social commentary at the moment. Regardless of your thoughts on the ban and its originator, its existence could prove useful as a tool to better understand one of the most common issues that senders face: blacklists.

Blacklists and how they operate are often a point of confusion for senders. To help aid in understanding, let’s look at some of the ways the recent ban mirrors the process of email blacklisting.

  1. Blacklist providers maintain a list of mail servers (usually designated by IP address) that are not considered “trusted” mail sources. This blacklist mirrors the list of countries included in the executive proclamation. The blacklist is designed to identify mail servers that have a history of sending spam or unwanted email messages.
  2. Mailbox providers (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc) use the data from the blacklist to check inbound mail. They check each message to determine if it originated from one of the listed servers, then determine how to proceed. In essence, each email provider is like a U.S. airport, receiving the messages and determining whether to allow them in based on the information provided by the blacklist provider (i.e. the Executive Branch).
  3. If the source of a message is one of the blacklisted mail servers, that message will be disposed at the mailbox provider’s discretion. Some providers may choose to route the message to the Spam or Bulk folder based on the listing. Others will reject the message outright, returning a negative response to the originating mail server. This response sometimes provides specific details (i.e. this message was blocked due to Blacklist X) or may be more generic. These differences in processing messages from blacklisted servers draw parallels to the disjointed communication that occurred around the implementation of the travel ban. 

Another significant similarity between an email blacklist and the travel ban is the mixed receptions received by both in the court of public opinion. In the email industry, there are no shortage of folks who believe that blacklists are crippling senders, unnecessarily complicating the lives of people who desperately need to reach their intended audience. And of course, there are those of us who realize that blacklists are a vital part of the email ecosystem (even if dealing with them occasionally gives us headaches). I’m not sure the opinions are quite as heated as those over the travel ban, nor do I believe they should be.

One of the closest parallels between the two situations arises when a sender’s mail is sent from a shared IP address/mail server. This often happens to senders who are using an email service provider and do not have enough mail volume or send consistently enough to maintain their own server. When one or a small group of senders using that server are flagged for sending spam, the entire mail server gets blacklisted. Because of that blacklisting, all mail from that server – even the mail from senders who never sent any spam – could be rejected.

If you’re using a dedicated IP address, the best way to avoid blacklisting is to keep your list clean and engaged by regularly targeting and eventually culling non-engaged recipients, as well as avoiding sending to any list that was obtained without a clear opt-in. If you’re on a shared server, your best bet is to follow those same practices along with maintaining a good relationship with your ESP. If you’re using a reputable provider, the likelihood of problems will be lower and they’ll be quick to respond when issues arise.

Of course, there is one major, glaring difference between the effects of a blacklist and the travel ban: emails are important, but they will never be as important as people. Thanks for allowing me to indulge a bit of tongue-in-cheek discussion around a serious issue, and I sincerely hope the comparison has helped clear up a little of the confusion around blacklists. If you have questions about blacklists or anything else delivery-related, please feel free to reach out

– BG

 

Deliverability and open rates

In this week’s Only Influencers newsletter, Gretchen Scheiman of L5 Direct provides 5 steps for marketers to follow to improve open rates. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend checking it out for some sound advice on how to drive higher open rates. (Go ahead, read it. I’ll wait.)

There are a lot of things I like in this article – primarily, I appreciate calling out poor content and lack of targeting as major factors in open rates. I’ve seen so many marketers make an immediate assumption that any dip in open rates is attributable to delivery problems – and they’re often wrong. Poor inbox delivery is likely to negatively impact open rates, without a doubt. But if you’re not sending the right content to the right people at the right time, they’re less likely to open no matter where the message ends up.

With that said, there is one fundamental disagreement I felt compelled to point out. In discussing list acquisition, the article calls out best practices for using purchased lists. While purchased lists may still be fairly prevalent, especially among B2B senders, avoiding these lists should be the number 1 suggestion to remedy poor open rates. Mailing to purchased lists has been shown time and time again to generate poor ROI and low open rates. It increases your chances of spam complaints and traps, and is actually illegal in Canada.

If you are seeing low open rates, the first thing on the chopping block should be any purchased lists. Once that’s done, you will be able to focus on better content, targeting, and re-engagement of your valuable internal database.

– BG

 

If it quacks like a duck…

8374802487_3d1b775a34_bLast week on the Word to the Wise blog, Steve Atkins wrote about the ways that B2B spammers are often successful (to a degree) at getting mail delivered. It’s an insightful post that points to some of the unsavory practices many of us have seen occurring in the industry for years, and a good read for anyone in the email business.

While reading through I couldn’t help but think of another angle to Steve’s post: the acrobatics that many B2B spammers use to avoid or recover from account termination are often too similar to some of the strategies used by more legitimate marketers. As a marketer, I suggest you read Steve’s post very carefully and compare the methods described to those you use in your own mail program:

  • Do you make it hard or confusing for recipients to unsubscribe from your mailings (i.e. hiding the link at the bottom in small text or excluding it altogether)?
  • Are you splitting your mail stream among multiple ESPs at once?
  • Does your domain name, company name, or address information (or lack thereof) obfuscate the identity of your company as the sender of the mail?
  • Do you send the same content from multiple, non-associated domain names or mail servers?
  • Are you using a service that requires you to create a new Gmail/Google Apps account to send mail that does not clearly identify your organization?

If you can answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, it’s a good time to review your email practices. While an affirmative answer here doesn’t necessarily make you a spammer, it does mean you may be sharing some of their most common tactics.

If you are sending legitimate email, the last thing you want to do is use “spammy” practices. Email providers are constantly adapting their mail filtering methodology to stop mail that exhibits the most common characteristics of spam. Messages that exhibit these characteristics are more likely to be filtered. As the saying goes, if it looks, swims, and quacks like a duck…it’s probably a duck. When ISPs look at your incoming mail, do you want it to look even a little bit like spam?

If your recipients have opted in and asked for your emails, you shouldn’t have to employ these tactics to keep your list fresh and engaged. Build trust by being transparent. Build delivery rates by sending only what is requested. Build a reputation with recipients and providers alike, and you’ll likely see your inbox rates (and revenue) moving in the right direction.

– BG

Know your Role: Why you should avoid role addresses

dicerole I’ve had a lot of discussions with clients who have (or should have) concerns about the role addresses in their lists. Most discussions revolve around the presence of these addresses in the subscriber database and why Real Magnet prevents them from being loaded by default.

To provide some context, let’s clarify what we call “role addresses.” They’re typically defined as any address that is assigned not to a specific individual, but instead to a role within an organization. These addresses include, but are not limited to:

  • sales@
  • info@
  • admin@
  • hostmaster@
  • abuse@

…and the list goes on and on. There is no definitive list of role address prefixes, because domain admins can set up role addresses for literally anything. However, there are really just a couple dozen role addresses that are most commonly seen, including those examples above.

Even when these addresses are provided via a clear opt-in method, they are still more likely to cause delivery issues. As a result most providers block them from being imported into email lists. In fact, some ESPs have reported that role addresses are 2-3 times more likely to unsubscribe or bounce than non-role addresses, and lists containing high numbers of role addresses typically see sharp declines in engagement.

So what’s the big deal? Why exactly are role addresses problematic? Most (but not all) of the problems with role addresses hinge on the fact they often route mail to a group of people instead of a single contact. Let’s look at some of the biggest concerns:

  1. Permission is often impossible to confirm. With multiple recipients at the same email address, opt-ins are murky at best. Let’s say you get an opt-in request from sales@example.com, which includes everyone on the Sales team at that domain. That request was made by only one of the people who actually receives those mailings. Even with a confirmed opt-in, it’s possible that the other recipients of that address do not want to receive your mailings. They are more likely to report the message as spam or unsubscribe, which brings us to…
  2. Unsubscribes get applied too broadly or reversed too easily. With a role address, one of the recipients of the message may choose to unsubscribe even while others want to continue receiving your mailings. If you use an unsubscribe method that is linked to a custom recipient ID (as most ESPs provide), that person will be unsubscribing the group instead of just his own address.In addition, recipients often send an email request to unsubscribe (or report spam). This email will likely originate not from the role address, but from their personal address that actually receives the mail. If the recipient fails to include message headers or the headers have been distorted by their email client, it is sometimes tough to know what address actually received the mailing. The personal email address may be added to a suppression list, but the recipient will continue to receive your mailings.
  3. Roles (and the people who fill them) change regularly. Let’s say you have a role address that directs to a team of employees, and let’s also say that each of those employees has made it clear they want to receive your emails. Great! Now what happens when a new person joins that team? Or a member of another department is added to that role address group to be kept abreast of team-related emails? To avoid all issues, you’d have to get a new consent each time someone new joins that address. That’s certainly possible, but not really practical and nearly impossible to track.
  4. Bounces are more difficult to process. If one of the recipients of your email leaves the organization and their address goes dark, there’s a chance the bounce response never reaches you (depending how the org handles bounces and routing). But even if you do receive the bounceback, you may not know how to process it. The address returning the bounce will not be the one that’s in your mailing list, which will cause most automated bounce handling to choke. If you continue to send to invalid addresses domains may block all your mail or, even worse, one of those addresses may roll over into a spam trap and get you blacklisted.

Now that you know the problems with role addresses, how do you avoid these issues? If you’re building a new list, you should require that recipients enter a non-role address. There are a couple of ways to do this depending on your technical resources. The most effective method is to implement real-time address checks that will reject role address submissions, but this also requires the most technical overhead. Many senders choose instead to simply inform their subscribers that role addresses cannot be used. Then, those addresses will be discarded upon list import and will not receive email.

For senders who already have a list containing role addresses, the next steps may be a bit less clear. If your list contains only a few of these addresses, it may be best to reach out to the individuals to ask them to provide a different address. This can be accomplished through a one-to-one email, phone call, or even a face-to-face conversation.

When you have a larger number of role addresses, we typically recommend sending a bulk campaign asking these recipients to update their information. Most senders do this via email (outside their ESP in many cases) or a postcard encouraging users to update their preferences to continue receiving mail.

Typically, recipients who want your emails will be willing to update their information. However, if you have some recipients who can only use a role address, many ESPs will evaluate on a case-by-case basis whether or not those addresses can be allowed in your list.

– BG

Is my ESP lying to me?

Collodi_PinocchioIf you use an email service provider, you most likely have tracking reports that tell you the disposition of each message you send. These reports usually indicate the message falls into the broad categories of “delivered” or “bounced“. While many ESPs use more detailed categories, you just want to see if your email made it to the recipient or not…right?

Of course. So what happens when you send out that nice shiny new email and you get a response rate far lower than what you were expecting? Naturally, you check in with some of your best recipients to make sure they got the message. Your tracking shows delivered, but when you reach out they say they didn’t see the message at all. Not in the inbox. Not in the spam folder. Not even in quarantine…now what?

Why is your ESP telling you the message was delivered when it clearly wasn’t?

To answer this common question, let’s dive a bit deeper into what that “delivered” status really means.

When you hit the Send button at your ESP, your mail server will attempt to hand off your message to the mail servers for each recipient. The initial contact between the sending mail server (your ESP) and the receiving mail server (your recipient’s email provider) is often referred to as the “handshake.”

At the time of this handshake, the ESP server will attempt to hand off the message to the receiving server. When this happens, there are a few potential outcomes:

  1. The receiving mail server rejects the message due to the address not existing, the sender being blocked, or other errors considered permanent. These are hard bounces, and usually the receiving server returns a code in the format 5xy, where x and y are additional digits that indicate the specific type of hard bounce. This error typically causes a bounced status in your ESP reporting.
  2. The receiving mail server returns a temporary bounce or deferral. These bounces indicate the mail cannot be delivered at this time, but the sending server should try again later. These are soft bounces, and are typically accompanied by a 4xy error code. These can generate a bounced status in your ESP reporting if the subsequent delivery attempts are not successful. If the later sends do make it through, these will show as delivered. 
  3. The receiving mail server accepts the message for delivery. This is considered a successful delivery, and is accompanied by the code 250 OK. These are reported by your ESP as delivered. 

Once this handoff takes place, the sending server (your ESP) has no further visibility into the delivery of the message. There could be additional spam filters in place after the message is accepted, or individual user settings could cause the message not to be delivered, with no further notification to the sender.

While it’s not extremely common, even major ISPs have been known to have messages “dropped on the floor” if the sender’s reputation is not up to their standards. This is the (highly technical) term for a message that is accepted by the receiving server, but then essentially disappears. It’s not returned to the sender, but it’s also not delivered to the recipient’s inbox or spam folder. It’s simply deleted.

So how do you find out what really happened?

That can be the tricky part. Since the information is not shared with the sender or ESP, the only way to find out for sure what happened to one of these messages is to check the mail logs for the receiving server. In most cases, this will require working with IT staff on the recipient’s side who can search for the message(s) in question and provide a definitive answer on what happened to the message and why.

If the recipient’s IT team isn’t an option, you can also check the content of your message, as well as the reputation of your domain and the domains of any links within the message body. In many cases the initial handoff looks primarily at the reputation of the mail server (IP address), while the subsequent filters can include message content, link URLs, domain reputation, and other factors.

Check out the Resources page for links to some of the most popular reputation tools, and feel free to comment with any additional questions.

– BG

That old ESP magic

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Eva Paris via Flickr

Recently I was involved in a mostly-serious conversation with some industry folks that centered around political mailings and how they get routed to the spam folder vs. the inbox. As the conversation went on, some of the points discussed got me thinking on the unrealistic expectations many senders (political or otherwise) can have when it comes to working with an email service provider or consultant.

These expectations usually revolve around what I like to call “ESP magic.” The term refers to the mystical ability to get mail routed to the inbox, regardless of the quality of the list or the engagement of the recipients. Many senders are convinced that every ESP deliverability expert wields this extraordinary power, and with that power comes a great responsibility – to get their mail to the inbox, period. I couldn’t count the number of times in my career I’ve heard a client say, “it’s your job to get my email delivered” – but that’s only half true. Every deliverability expert is tasked with getting the best possible delivery results for their clients, whether they work with an ESP or separately, but for many senders that’s where their view of the delivery team stops. It’s often “fix my spam folder placement or else.”

What these senders fail to realize is the other (and arguably more important) part of the delivery pro’s responsibility: education. No one can get you to the inbox consistently if you’re sending to outdated, purchased, or scraped lists with no engagement. That blacklist isn’t going to remove you if you keep sending to spam traps – no matter who reaches out to ask. As delivery folk, we can look for common symptoms and take necessary steps (blacklist delisting, ISP remediation, etc.), but often the root of these problems lies in the quality of the lists or the sending practices of the marketer.

The real “ESP magic” comes from years of experience, research, testing, and even failing that have taught us all what to do (and not to do) to reach the inbox. The hours of industry conversations at various events and in online discussions that once had the effect of meeting the “right person” to resolve issues at a specific ISP. Now they help shine light on best vs. worst practices, ISP requirements, and advances on both the sender and receiver sides of the aisle. It’s our job to compile that knowledge and present it to senders in a way that helps get mail delivered while also improving the email ecosystem.

If you want to reach the inbox, you have to start by learning how to reach the inbox. And if you’re ready to learn, we’ll be happy to teach you.

– BG

Shield your sender reputation

capshield05UPDATE: The webinar is over, but don’t worry! You can download the recorded version here. 

Do you know how a blacklist works? How about a blocklist? Did you know there’s a difference?

Or that complying with anti-spam laws doesn’t guarantee a good reputation?

If not, don’t worry – most senders have lots of questions when it comes to sender reputation.

Chances are, you’re probably doing something right now that could get your IP address or domain blacklisted, which could have a major impact on your email deliverability. And even if you’re not, there’s likely more you could be doing to safeguard your sender reputation.

Tomorrow afternoon, I’m hosting a webinar designed to break down how blacklists work, what happens when you’re listed, and some steps you can take to help ensure your reputation is in top form. It’s at 2pm EST, and you can sign up at the link below.

http://www.realmagnet.com/land/protect-sender-reputation-tips-trends-avoid-deliverability-pitfalls-2/

If you can’t make the webinar but still have questions about reputation or blacklists, feel free to post in the comments here or email me!

– BG