Rob Banker explains the ins and outs of email marketing and how keeping your info current can spell the difference between "delighted" and "deleted".
I’ve developed an unhealthy relationship with email. I do pretty well with managing my personal and business email mind you – I think I’ve managed to get that under control, or at least have fooled myself into thinking so (See Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero Series for more). No, my issues with email run deeper.
In my role as DigitalMailer’s CTO, one of my jobs is making sure that the email we send on behalf of our clients gets where it’s going and is effective when it gets there. Broken down to its core elements, what that statement really means is:
a) How do we look to the outside world? Does the email we send look like SPAM?
b) Are we correctly handling emails that come back to us (non‐existent mailboxes and other errors)
c) Are we correctly handling those situations where members do not want to receive the emails?
d) Are we correctly handling the situations where mails are mistakenly classified as SPAM?
The dysfunction in the relationship stems from the fact that all of the above items are moving targets. It’s like a relationship with a person who just can’t make up their mind – about anything...ever. And I’m becoming obsessed with figuring out the pattern. For example, above I used the word “correctly” in three out of the five items. Problem is, there is no single definition for “correctly”. There’s generally accepted good behavior, but no two organizations (ISPs, corporations) that act as gatekeepers for those precious email inboxes interprets best practices the same way.
While DigitalMailer is specifically in the business of providing email marketing services to clients, the list of tasks I listed above are in no way specific to our type of business. These are the challenges that any organization with any sort of Internet presence faces today. Sending emails that don’t get delivered to the Inbox of the recipient is no better than sending mail without a return address and the proper postage. Not only will it not get delivered ‐‐ you won’t even know it’s not being delivered. Keep in mind, I’m not talking about marketing emails here – I’m talking about all email from your organization.
Conventional wisdom is that email gets classified as SPAM because of content. Financial miracles, promises to make things grow/shrink, you know the ones... A few years ago, that content‐base filtering was the norm. Because of the technical challenges and inaccuracy with scanning every email for key words that might indicate SPAM, many ISPs are turning to a much more hand‐wavy mechanism for determining if they’re going to put your email into the recipient’s Inbox – your email reputation. In a fairly recent study, out of 21 major ISPs, 17 used email reputation as their main indicator as to whether email was likely to be SPAM or not.
In a nutshell, Email Reputation is generally (although not exclusively) attached to the IP address of the server from which you send your email. And again, there’s no single definition of what defines a good reputation vs. a bad one. Here are a few of the most common tests, though:
1) Is DNS setup correctly? Does the IP address have reverse DNS set up?
2) Do you constantly resend to addresses that return permanent errors (bad addresses, for example)?
3) Are you listed on any of the major email blacklists?
4) Do you obey the ISPs (frequently unpublished) limits regarding the number of emails you can send to their subscribers in a given time period?
5) Does your mail server open up too many simultaneous connections to the ISPs mail servers (again, limits frequently unpublished).
6) When someone clicks the ‘This Is SPAM button” (AOL, Yahoo, etc.) on one of your emails, do you stop sending email to that person.
7) Do you have an SPF record setup? Is it correct?
That’s just the start. Ignoring any one of these things can result in all email to a specific ISP or company being blocked – without warning and often silently unless you specifically look for the problem.
To make matters worse, ISPs and large organizations are (understandably) reticent about publishing the rules of good behavior that will ensure successful delivery to subscribers/employees/etc. If they publish the rules, won’t spammers use it against them? Maybe, maybe not.
Starting to see why it’s making me a bit crazy?
In eight years of business, we’ve learned a few things about email delivery. This post is the first in a series of posts to document my obsession and hopefully help you improve your organization’s email deliverability.