Delivery Essentials, Random

Pass It Along: the State of Knowledge Sharing in Email Deliverability

E-ZPass Toll PlazaOver the weekend I heard a great message focused around passing wisdom and knowledge to the next generation. In this context, the “next generation” was not specifically referring to children, but instead to those who may be struggling in areas we’ve worked through ourselves. Truthfully, the message could likely apply to most any aspect of life or field of work, but I felt it was especially relevant to the email industry.

One of the key tenets was that everyone needs a mentor of some sort to succeed. I’ve never met an “email prodigy” – someone who just knew delivery, compliance, and privacy without any guidance from others – because they just don’t exist. Everyone that knows email knows it because they had help along the way from someone who came before them.

Personally, I often say I “fell into” this industry, and many of my colleagues share similar stories. In 2004 I was thrown headfirst into an ESP startup, managing delivery, compliance, and abuse issues I previously didn’t even know existed. In the early days, I ran on the “fake it ’til you make it” philosophy – and I faked it a lot. During that time I gained a lot of knowledge through trial and error, but I didn’t fully grasp the intricacies of the email business (and delivery in particular) until I started to work with and around others who had far more knowledge than myself. Working alongside industry professionals, attending events like M3AAWG, and even reading blogs from email experts helped me to reach the next level in my mastery of email and deliverability.

In this same message, the speaker encouraged transparency about the process, not covering up our shortcomings or the hard work it sometimes takes to resolve issues that might seem very cut and dry. This is something that used to happen a lot more in this industry: there were a limited number of people who had some sort of connection or inside information, and they were hesitant to share it with others. Perhaps it was out of job security concerns, perhaps to maintain an advantage over colleagues or competitors, but I can’t say for sure. What I can say is that, at least from my perspective, our industry has made great strides in increasing transparency. Many experts regularly post information about issues they’ve seen and how others can avoid or resolve them. Industry groups and forums abound, with their membership numbers soaring in contrast to the small, closely guarded groups of years past.

This increased transparency has certainly had a positive impact on the industry and up-and-coming deliverability specialists, but the biggest boon may be for email senders themselves. In the past few years, the amount of delivery knowledge disseminated to senders through consultations, webinars, articles, and other resources has increased astronomically. As email delivery has become more and more complicated, industry professionals have created more and better resources designed to educate senders on not only what to do, but why to do it. This knowledge sharing is vital, and we all have to do our part to keep it going if we want to continue the improvement of the industry as a whole.

Even as a seasoned email professional, I still learn new things daily. Email deliverability changes so rapidly it’s impossible to stay in the know if you rest on your laurels. Don’t be content with the knowledge you have today. Ask questions. Read every article and blog post you can find. Make connections with folks who were once where you are. And if you’re a sender, seek us out and let us help.

– BG

Privacy & Security, Random

Want to unsubscribe? Just confirm your email address first

Here’s a Public Service Announcement for your Monday: confirming your email should never be required to unsubscribe from a mailing list. I’m sure I’ll hear from someone who has an example of an edge case where it’s necessary, but the vast majority of cases should require no such thing. Possibly the most compelling reason not to require confirmation of the address? Spammers require confirmation of addresses in order to “unsubscribe” – with the exception they don’t actually unsubscribe you. Do you want your email to have something in common with most spam? We don’t recommend it. Add to that it’s likely a violation of CASL as well, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Inbox

I’ll have a full post coming up tomorrow but seeing this in my inbox (a dedicated email asking me to unsubscribe? They must be extra compliant!), along with recently speaking with senders who wanted to do something similar, prompted me to issue this brief admonition.

– BG

Random

Your ESP and the Jedi Code

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Just a little Friday Funny that harkens back a few years to the time when everyone wanted to send attachments with their bulk email. At one time, it seemed like every other call with a sender was a lament on our ESP’s inability to attach files to emails. With the huge rise in cloud storage and hosting, this question is much more of a rarity these days but who can resist the combination of Star Wars and email humor?

– BG

Random

A little help?

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photo courtesy of The Aerial View

This blog is dedicated to helping email marketers understand deliverability and how to get mail delivered, but today we’re asking for a bit of help from you. In exactly one month, I (along with my wife) will be going bald in solidarity with kids with cancer. In conjunction with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, we’re raising money that directly funds childhood cancer research at one of 368 institutions around the world.

If you aren’t familiar with St. Baldrick’s, they sponsor events where participants shave their heads to raise funds for childhood cancer research. Affected children and their families attend the events and share their stories, and volunteers run the show. They’re great events and always family-friendly.

If you’re concerned about giving responsibly (and you should be), St. Baldrick’s gives $0.71 of every dollar directly to research facilities, $0.26 goes toward fundraising expenses, and only $0.03 gets used for administrative expenses.

We’ve done this together 4 times and raised over $5,000 (and counting!) for this great organization. Via the link below you can donate securely online, and even anonymously if you’d prefer. Any dollar you can spare is one dollar closer to a cure for childhood cancers.

Donate Now

Thanks for your time. Please donate if you can, or find an event near you and see for yourself why this organization holds a special place in our hearts. You’ll only see this post once each year, and I promise we’ll bring you more email delivery wisdom before you know it.

– BG

Delivery Essentials, Random

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

 

Random

Scary good targeted email

As I was finishing up a project yesterday afternoon, I started to have trouble with wireless connectivity in my office. As I waited for the page to load, I switched over to my inbox, where I was treated to this timely message from Best Buy’s Geek Squad:

bbwifirouter

Coincidence? Probably. But what if it’s just really, really good targeting by Best Buy?

I share this example with tongue firmly planted in cheek, but there is no doubt targeting is only getting smarter. Marketing automation tools are giving senders more data points to use for triggered emails for confirmations, abandoned carts, page views, and even store visits…can poor wifi signal be that far behind?

– BG