Best Practices, Delivery Essentials, Industry Updates

Don’t be so quick to suppress those mailbox full bounces

Over the years, it has been a common practice to convert certain temporary bounces into permanent bounces after a series of occurrences. Some ESPs will escalate bounces that occur X number of times in a row, or occur for X number of days without a successful delivery. One of the most commonly affected bounce types for these suppressions is Mailbox Full.

Mailbox full/over quota bounces are considered by many to be a symbol of a dead address. With the nigh-unlimited storage found in most mailboxes these days, no one who actually checks their email should ever have a full mailbox…right?

Not necessarily. In a new blog post on the MessageGears blog, I sat down with Senior Product Owner of Cloud Operations Nick Zeich-Lopez (aka. ‘Mr. Data’). We pored over results from over 20 billion deliveries and found some surprising results.

For starters, the data showed that of those recipients who experienced a Mailbox Full bounce, over 8% engaged with a subsequent email in the next 7 days and over 31% engaged with an email over the course of the next 12 months.

As a sender who’s suppressing Mailbox Full bounces after the first occurrence, you could be losing nearly 1/3 of those recipients for no reason. At the least, it’s worth some analysis of your own data (or your ESP’s) — you’ll likely find some room for improvement in how you’re handling these bounces.

For the details — along with our findings on bounces caused by spam, delivery timeouts, and DNS errors — check out the full post.

– BG

Industry Updates

Gmail tab weirdness

A few days ago I had a client who mentioned seeing something unusual in their Gmail testing. Their messages, which usually end up in the Promotions tab, had been hitting the Primary tab for almost two weeks. They reported clients had seen the same behavior. It’s not unheard of for this to happen at Gmail, but typically it lasts no more than a couple of days.

Turns out, lots of people have been asking the same question to the team at 250ok. Matt Vernhout confirmed via blog post yesterday that the deliverability tools provider is seeing this behavior as well.

There is no official acknowledgement from Google, although yesterday @Gmail replied to a Twitter user’s complaint with instructions on moving mail between tabs:

– BG

Industry Updates

Google Postmaster Tools issues drag into second week

Last week we told you about an outage with Google’s Postmaster Tools data, which was missing data starting on 8/16 (many domains had data for 8/17). According to my own data and reports from others, data was populated for most domains late on 8/21 with data for 8/20 but nothing between 8/17-8/20. For the domains I track, it seems 8/21 data was added for some domains but not others, and no domain has anything past 8/21 at this point.

The ‘Last 7 days’ view of IP reputation looks a bit bare.

At the end of last week we assumed the issue was resolved, but it appears data is still missing in many instances. Spam Rate, IP & Domain Reputation, FBL, Authentication, Encryption, and Delivery Errors are all missing data for the same days. Word on the street hints at something new in GPT (but doesn’t it always?), but we’ll just have to keep refreshing that page until Google makes an announcement or something new appears.

– BG

Industry Updates

Extended Telus email outage could be hurting your open rates

If you’ve sent mail to Canadian recipients over the past few days, there’s a good chance your engagement rates have been lower than expected. Telus, a major Canadian telecom and mailbox provider, has experienced a multi-day outage of their email system starting last Thursday (August 15th).

Reports have been mixed about the exact impact and scope – Telus claimed on Friday that only 10% of customers were still impacted, then issued an apology video Saturday night in the midst of continued problems. The Telus website carries a banner linking to an Update page. Among the information here, Telus directs users to a temporary webmail account that has been created for them and states that the “old” mailboxes are being rebuilt. No timeline is given for this process.

Will Telus be able to recover all the emails lost since last Thursday? Time will tell, but it’s a safe bet at least some mail will be lost in the process. As a sender, you should evaluate the volume of traffic sent to Telus since 8/15 and whether to halt sending to those addresses until full resolution is received. At a minimum, you’ll have a good explanation when management asks why your engagement rates took a dive.

– BG

Best Practices, Delivery Essentials

The old switcheroo

We’ve talked before about domain and IP reputation, and how mailbox providers use each to determine whether the mail you send reaches the inbox or languishes in the depths of the spam folder. Since so much of your sender reputation is tied to your IP and domain, many senders have the idea that the solution to delivery issues is to simply fire up a new IP, domain, or both, granting yourself the ultimate “do-over” with the mailbox providers. There’s just one problem with that theory…

Wrong wrong wrong wrong
via Tenor

It’s wrong. Last week, 250ok’s Beth Kittle published a great piece on the fallacy of this “email myth.” (If you haven’t yet, go read her post and commit it to memory.) Beth’s illustration of the incognito party guest is a great analogy for how providers spot your mail even when sent from new infrastructure and how your misdeeds will find you there if you continue to use bad practices.

But what happens when you do see a benefit from switching? Over the past few years I’ve spoken with dozens of marketers who had an example of a situation where their deliverability improved when switching to a new IP or domain. They performed a few tests on the new infrastructure and – lo and behold – they got to the inbox! Because of this, these clients often didn’t believe my warnings that new IPs or domains wouldn’t fix the problem – they were more concerned with temporary gains (and quite a few just assumed they’d talk their way into another IP once the new one started to tank). Don’t miss this point: your deliverability may improve when you switch to a new IP or domain – but only temporarily.

I’ll provide an analogy of my own, gleaned from a former coworker who compared IP and domain reputation to telephone caller ID. If you get unwanted calls from a telemarketer, you learn to stop answering when their number shows up on the caller ID. After days of unanswered calls, if the telemarketer dials you from a new number you just might pick up to find out who’s on the other end. As soon as you hear the voice of the unwanted caller on the other end, you’ll hang up and make sure you don’t answer calls from the new number as well.

This is how mailbox providers and spam filters operate – while it’s possible your first mailing might see better performance, as soon as they identify you’re the same sender they blocked before you’ll see those numbers fall off right away. As Beth notes, their algorithms are very advanced and they will quickly find out who you are. If you want to improve your deliverability, there are no shortcuts – you’ll have to put in the work to improve your practices.

– BG

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.

Industry Updates

Is Canada’s eleventh-hour CASL PRA halt good for senders?

canada-2026425_640You’ve probably already heard the news.Maybe it was in your Twitter feed, or on LinkedIn, or even gossip around the water cooler this morning: CASL’s Private Right of Action is (temporarily) dead.

The announcement triggered a collective sigh of relief from marketers in North America and beyond, even eliciting a happy dance or two.

But what does this announcement actually mean? Matt Vernhout of EmailKarma details the next steps, which include a parliamentary review of the CASL provisions and a pronouncement of the new effective date.

It’s possible the legislation could remain unchanged and simply take effect at a later date, but that seems unlikely given the concerns raised by the industry in response to the pending provisions. Per Return Path, some of the key concerns included:

  1. potentially bankrupting small and medium-sized businesses (due to the legal costs of defending a class action)
  2. inordinate court time and court resources being devoted to frivolous claims
  3. litigation counsel receiving a disproportionate share of damage awards (or settlements), and
  4. negative impact to consumers where businesses (both foreign and domestic) avoid electronic communication, delay the introduction of software technologies, and pass along the cost of PRAsettlements or rulings in the pricing of consumer goods

For the past 3 years, we’ve been hearing opponents of CASL voice many of these concerns, and it appears their cries have finally made it to the ears of the Canadian government. Unfortunately it’s still too early to tell if this is a full-on reprieve or merely a temporary stay of execution.

With the deadline looming so closely, it’s likely most senders have already double- or triple-checked their compliance processes. If you fall into that camp, stay the course. Even without the PRA, the CRTC can and has levied hefty fines against CASL violators, so making sure your processes are airtight can only help minimize your risk.

Based on my interactions with senders, there are many who haven’t completed their compliance efforts. If you’re one of those who was still scrambling to beat the deadline, don’t lose that head of steam. The delay of the PRA provides a bit of breathing room, but if you’re not 100% sure you’re compliant the risk of complaints and fines isn’t going away anytime soon.

– BG

 

Best Practices, Delivery Essentials

Smooth transaction; highly recommended; great sender!

euro-1144835_640

Earlier this month I attended the Email Evolution Conference in New Orleans for the second year. It was a great event with hundreds of marketers and featuring excellent content, particularly in the Technology and Deliverability track. In addition to the content, listening to the questions asked by marketers during these sessions really helped to illustrate some of the common challenges seen on the sender side.

One particular question that stuck in my mind was regarding transactional messaging. Following a raised hand was a statement to the effect of, “All the best practices on the web are for marketing messages. What about transactional mail? Where are the best practices for that?”

As email experts we often tout separating transactional email from marketing mail, but we don’t often provide tips for optimizing those transactional emails. Today we intend to make that right with 3 key tips on managing your transactional emails.

1. Determine if the mail is truly transactional

The definition of a “transactional” message is likely to vary depending on who’s answering. There are many definitions of transactional – some senders consider anything sent to a member to be transactional, while others strictly limit the category to things like receipts and shipping notices. In their CAN-SPAM Compliance Guide, the US Federal Trade Commission describes a transactional message as one that:

  • facilitates or confirms a commercial transaction that the recipient already has agreed to;
  • gives warranty, recall, safety, or security information about a product or service;
  • gives information about a change in terms or features or account balance information regarding a membership, subscription, account, loan or other ongoing commercial relationship;
  • provides information about an employment relationship or employee benefits; or
  • delivers goods or services as part of a transaction that the recipient already has agreed to.

All of these types of messages require the recipient to have some sort of commercial transaction with the recipient – either a purchase or membership, but beyond that the waters can get a bit murky. The general consensus is that things like membership renewal notices, legally required notifications, and purchase receipts are considered transactional.

As a side note: if you’re sending to or from Canada, the Canadian Anti-Spam Law’s rules on transactional or relationship messaging are similar to those imposed under CAN-SPAM.

2. Stick to the 80/20 rule

To avoid issues when sending transactional messaging, you always want to be sure the primary purpose of the message is transactional in nature. While the definition of “primary purpose” is subject to some legal interpretation, the most commonly cited guideline is known as the 80/20 rule. This rule indicates that no more than 20% of a given message’s content should be promotional, with 80% or more transactional in nature.

In addition, most email professionals employ the less-scientific “sniff test” to determine if a message is transactional. This test looks at the most prominent elements of the message: subject line, preheader, the content presented first in the message body. If any of these elements is promotional in nature, the message would likely fail the “primary purpose” test. As a good rule of thumb, any promotional content should be presented below the transactional content of each message and should not be the focal point of the email.

In Canada, however, the 80/20 rule is not as relevant. Any amount of promotional content in a message may render it a “Commercial Electronic Message” and likely subject to the consent requirements of CASL. If you’re sending to or from Canada, we suggest avoiding any promotional content in your transactional messages unless you’ve consulted your legal counsel on potential implications.

3. Employ total separation between promotional and transactional streams

You’ll often hear a recommendation to have transactional (and other high-value relationship) messages sent from a separate IP address from your promotional or marketing emails. In theory, this separation prevents any potential issues with marketing emails (spam complaints, high bounce rates) from impacting the highly valuable transactional stream, which typically sees very high engagement and low complaints. However, best practices dictate going even farther and using separate subdomains for each stream.

With the impending flood of IPv6 IP addresses, major mailbox providers are relying more and more on domain reputation. If your transactional and promotional mail streams all originate from yourdomain.com, the reputation of the two streams will intermingle. One of the best ways to manage sending domains is to leave the top-level domain yourdomain.com for your corporate mail system, then use subdomains like promo.yourdomain.com and transaction.yourdomain.com for your marketing and transactional streams, respectively. This will help insulate your transactional traffic from any delivery speed bumps that might occur with your promotional sends.
Transactional emails can be a vital tool for maintaining customer loyalty and consistently see among the highest engagement rates of any email stream. They are also often underutilized. How are you managing your transactional streams? Have feedback on any of these tips, or have some of your own to share? Let us know in the comments!

– BG

 

 

Industry Updates

Verizon email is gone, but when?

verizonThere’s been a lot of industry buzz recently around Verizon’s announcement they are in the process of shutting down their email business. Most in the email industry knew this was coming, but with no solid details the ‘when’ remained a bit fuzzy. Even now, the official FAQs don’t provide a concrete timetable for the shutdown, and it seems likely it will happen in phases.

According to MediaPost, Verizon account holders have been receiving email notifications informing them of a 30-day deadline to take action. These actions include choosing to keep their verizon.net address (serviced by AOL going forward) or migrating to another service provider altogether. If no action is taken during that 30 days, the customer loses access to the account and all associated services.

Once account access is terminated, the email account is subject to Verizon’s typical account deletion timeline of 180 days of inactivity. The FAQs don’t specify, however, if the 6-month countdown starts from the most recent login or from the end of the 30-day window when access is terminated.

Verizon spokesman Raymond McConville estimates that, of its 4.5 million total accounts, 2.3 million have been active within the past 30 days – though that’s no guarantee they’ll take action on the shutdown notice.

What does that mean for senders? Sometime within the next 6 months you’re likely to see a large portion of your verizon.net subscriber addresses disappear as over 2 million Verizon email accounts are deleted. Most senders don’t have a huge component of verizon.net addresses, but it’s certainly a good idea to check now so you’re not taken by surprise by an abnormal bounce rate.

– BG