Industry Updates

UPDATED – More Google Postmaster Tools weirdness?

Reports have been trickling in today that senders are seeing spikes in “Bad” reputation in Google’s IP Reputation Postmaster page. In checking my own instance, I found at least 3 major senders whose IPs have been 100% Good for months, then 75% or more in the Bad status for July 3rd.

The results appear to be spotty, but multiple industry folks have mentioned seeing similar behavior in popular forums today. No official word from Google yet, but we’ll keep an eye on this and update as news comes in.

UPDATED 1:45PM EST – After further analysis, deliverability to Gmail does not seem to be affected for clients I’ve checked, and a few others have reported the same. Domain reputation also appears to be unaffected for me, but some others have reported changes in domain reputation that may or may not be related. In any case, these blips certainly lend credence to the loudly-whispered theory that major US holidays wreak havoc on GPT data, with yesterday being Independence Day here in the States.

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Industry Updates

Google Postmaster Tools data update

As of now, data seems to be trickling into my own Google Postmaster Tools display, with some monitored domains showing current data (i.e. 2-3 days ago, as is standard in GPT).

The data is still spotty, though: some domain reputation listings show data points for each day while others show nothing between the 13th and now. IP reputation appears to still be missing for the outage period for the domains I’ve checked that are showing anything since June 13th.

Obviously the issue is not entirely resolved, but it’s nice to see something showing up after 2 weeks of dead silence.

– BG

Industry Updates

Another extended Google Postmaster Tools outage

There’s no surer way to have things break than to take a vacation, and it seems that adage again rings true in the deliverability world. During my own time away from the office, it seems Google Postmaster Tools has stopped reporting data for all categories.

In my own experience – and the experience of many others in industry forums – no data has been provided for any tab since June 13th. As usual, there is no official statement from Google but word is that a Google rep has acknowledged they are working on the issue.

While it’s not uncommon for GPT to miss a day or two of data here and there, an outage of this length is fairly rare. The last outage of this magnitude was (if I recall correctly) in April of 2018.

There has been some discussion around how these outages often correlate with major US holidays (Easter, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, and Mother’s Day have all been hit) but there seems to be no confirmation of why. Increased volume causing delays in processing? Resources allocated to higher priority areas? The API upgrade? Whatever the cause, it’s likely we’ll never know for sure.

– BG

Industry Updates

Verizon (Media Group) launches Postmaster page beta

Earlier today, VMG (the mailbox provider formerly known as Oath) announced via Tumblr that their all-new Postmaster page is live. The page, which will serve as a unified resource for all things delivery-related for AOL and Yahoo mail, will soon take the place of the venerable but languishing AOL Postmaster site.

At the top of the page, a message informs visitors the site is “still in beta mode. Things might not work.” Prominently featured on the page are the most recent posts from the provider’s Tumblr, along with some links to Tools, FAQs, and FBL resources.

I’m not alone in thinking AOL’s Postmaster site was one of the best and most informative around, and it’s nice to see VMG carrying on this tradition.

-BG

Industry Updates

Increased deferrals at Yahoo/AOL/Verizon

Over the past 10 days or so, many senders have reported an increased number of deferrals for recipients at Yahoo. These deferrals also affect AOL and Verizon addresses, since these are now all running through Yahoo’s mail servers. I’ve seen this firsthand for a few senders, and similar complaints are mounting within various industry channels. 

While most of the deferrals seem to be Yahoo’s common “TSS04” error, some senders are reporting other error codes citing limited resources that may or may not be related to this issue. Backing off mail sending (via MTA automation or manual throttles) appears to be having less impact than usual – significant portions of the mail continue to time out and never deliver.

Many senders also report that they are seeing no increase in Yahoo/AOL/VZ complaints to correspond with the surge in deferrals, and some even report a notable complaint decrease. But what changed?

Yahoo’s Postmaster Support has not been able to provide any official response. Some senders report a temporary reprieve after contacting support while others are receiving little to no information from their requests. If you’re experiencing these deferrals, know that you’re not alone. Keep your backoff protocols in place, your Support tickets open, and hold tight until more news drops. 

– BG

Best Practices, Industry Updates

Haunted by phantom clicks?

30934456975_ffeba8fb7e_bWith Halloween just around the corner, it’s common to see all sorts of scary surprises pop up in your home, neighborhood, or even workplace. But over the past few months, an increasing number of senders have been experiencing a more sinister surprise in their email metrics: phantom clicks.

What are phantom clicks, exactly? They go by various names – some in the industry call them “URL checks during the SMTP transaction,” while many senders refer to them as “bot clicks” or “link crawlers.” All of these terms are used to refer to clicks that are made not by a person, but by an automated anti-abuse system before the mail is delivered. When these systems receive a message, they will follow one, some, or all of the links in the message to determine their target. These checks are designed to ensure redirects are not being abused by spammers and scammers to hide the true destination of their links.

If you track clicks via ESP link tracking or another analytics solution, this can cause your metrics to indicate a recipient clicked in your email even if they never did.  And even worse, these phantom clicks can activate ‘single-use’ links like one-click unsubscribes or opt-in confirmations. Many senders have reported contacts being unsubscribed because of this type of link checking.

When a message is sent to a recipient using these services, the system makes a determination whether or not to check the links in the message. Depending on that decision and on the specifics of the service, they will check either certain links, all links, or no links in the given message. But how do they decide? As with most filtering algorithms, the specific methods are proprietary and well-guarded. Even so, there are a few practices and factors that are more likely to cause your links to be validated:

  • Multiple levels of link redirects. Are you using your ESP’s tracking link along with a separate analytics redirect? You’re likely to be targeted for link validation. Limit your link tracking to a single redirect if you must.
  • Single-use or encoded URLs. Links that are recipient-specific or otherwise unique from the other URLs in the message can be a red flag as well. If your links are encoded, the filter may see each link as a separate domain and therefore suspicious. Disable link encoding and avoid links that perform an action with a single click if possible.
  • Domains with poor reputations. This one can be tricky if you are linking to third-party websites. If the target of your link is a site that is known to be referenced in a lot of spam messages or has a poor web reputation, filters are likely to follow the link. If it’s your own domain that has a poor reputation, you’ll continue to see these issues until you resolve that. Otherwise, keep your links to third-party sites to a minimum.
    (Our Resources page can help if you need to check the reputation of a domain.)
  • Misaligned domains. The more different domains linked your message (including the header), the more suspect your message appears. When possible, ensure your message’s return-path, mail from, and link tracking domains are all the same. If you use an ESP, many allow a ‘whitelabel’ option that allows you to make this happen with only a few DNS changes on your end.

This is by no means an exhaustive list – hundreds of factors come into play for each decision made by these systems – but following these guidelines should help minimize your chances of sighting these phantom clicks.

– BG

Industry Updates

Google announces the death of Inbox

Not with a bang, but with a tweet: yesterday Google announced via Twitter that Inbox, their alternative mail client introduced in 2014, will shut down as of March 2019.

Screen Shot 2018-09-13 at 10.28.45 AM

The transition guide linked in the tweet notes that some of Inbox’s features will be integrated into the traditional Gmail product, including Smart Reply and snooze/nudge options for delayed follow-ups.

The closure of Inbox is not likely to have a major impact on senders. While messages were grouped slightly differently, the structure of Inbox is similar to that of Gmail’s tabs and labels. With that said, it’s always important to watch your own metrics and be mindful of any changes in Gmail response rates around the time of shutdown.

While Google never released solid numbers, it’s easy to infer that Inbox never gained the kind of traction they had hoped – or maybe it was a glorified sandbox that allowed them to test some of their ideas for the primary Gmail product. In any case, those of us who used it as our daily driver are left looking for an alternative before next spring.

– BG

 

Industry Updates

The not-so-official end of summer recap

081006-f-7824s-1131Now that the little ones are back in school and the neighborhood pools are locking their gates, folks everywhere are heralding the ‘official’ end of summer. While the temps here in NC might disagree, all signs seem to point to the email industry’s slight summer lull coming to a close. Calls from clients are picking up, my unread mail counts are creeping up, and 250ok’s Matt Vernhout is already talking about holiday email.

Before we dive right into the time of the year when marketers burn the candle at both ends, let’s step back for a moment and review some industry updates and notes from the summer months. My own summer was so busy that my writing schedule dropped off, so here’s a few nuggets of information you might have missed.

Deliverability InfernoChris Arrendale of delivery consultant firm Inbox Pros actually released his first book in March, but it really started to pick up steam with readers over the summer months. Deliverability Inferno: Helping Email Marketers Understand the Journey from Purgatory to Paradise introduces both basic and in-depth deliverability knowledge gleaned from years of industry experience. The book progresses through the 9 levels, or challenges, each marketer faces in the journey from email purgatory to the glorious inbox paradise. It even features a brief interview with yours truly – but it’s worth picking up nonetheless.

250ok Deliverability Guide – If you’re in for a shorter read (or something to casually hand your decision-makers to help them understand your challenges), 250ok has you covered. In July, the deliverability solutions vendor released their new Deliverability Guide. The 38-page book shares core deliverability insights that are perfect for getting your feet wet or building on basic concepts you already understand. Best of all? It’s free and doesn’t even require your email address to download.

OMG, look at those domains – Along with the merger of AOL and Yahoo into the new company Oath, a new acronym was formed to reference the “big 3” mailbox providers of Oath, Microsoft, and Google: OMG. Laura Atkins of Word to the Wise coined the term, and Al Iverson’s Spam Resource blog gave us an exhaustive list of domains that fall under the Oath umbrella. Could be very useful in rolling up metrics by email provider (even though AOL and Yahoo email are not quite fully integrated just yet).

Need a job? Marketing agency Merkle is looking for an experienced professional to manage deliverability for a large client. Check out the job description and requirements on Merkle’s site.

More business moves – Earlier I mentioned Chris Arrendale and Inbox Pros, and just this week they made the news again in a big way. Digital marketing agency Trendline Interactive acquired Inbox Pros to become the only agency offering end-to-end marketing support including deliverability consultation and remediation.

– BG

Industry Updates

Oath update: AOL, Yahoo, Verizon MTAs and FBLs

Last week, the Oath Postmaster blog published an update on the status of their email migration. AOL (who previously absorbed Verizon’s email) and Yahoo are moving closer to their end goal of a unified email platform under the new Oath brand.

According to the post, all mail sent to either brand is now “handled by…OATH MTAs.” So when you send to any address at aol.com, aim.com, verizon.net, yahoo.com, or any other domain controlled by these providers, the mail is all routed through the same system – including spam filtering. Reports have been surfacing on some industry forums of AOL bounces for Yahoo addresses and vice versa. As a sender, this also means you should start aggregating these domains for your reporting purposes. Monitoring complaints, bounces, and other metrics for anomalies should consider Oath as a single entity – word on the street indicates most ESPs have already begun this process for their customer monitoring.

In addition, spam complaints for AOL recipients will soon be received via the existing Yahoo feedback loop. Since Yahoo’s FBL is domain-based, all mail to AOL addresses must be DKIM-signed to participate in the FBL (if it isn’t already). If you use an ESP that hosts your DKIM, they may need to double-sign to ensure all FBL complaints are received.

So far, the Oath Postmaster blog and their participation in various industry channels have provided regular updates on the migration. Let’s hope that pattern continues as the two current Postmaster sites are combined into an upcoming Oath Postmaster resource.

– BG