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Email Deliverability & Reputation 101


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What you need to know about why emails get blocked from the inbox and steps you can take to make sure your email gets in.

What you need to know about why emails get blocked from the inbox and steps you can take to make sure your email gets in.

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  • This isn’t a surprise, right? You know it. You see it in your metrics reports. You know it personally when email to your AOL or Yahoo! account never gets through.
  • Of course you might be surprised by exactly how big the problem really is.Non-delivery (messages not put into inbox – not delivered at all or put into junk/bulk folder) – has started to level off around 20%. This is a very real economic problem for commercial marketers. It’s one of the primary reasons that email hasn’t reached it full potentialThis is a problem for both B2B and B2C marketers.
  • A recent study by the DMA indicate that commercial email has the highest return on investment – better than almost all the other alternatives in the marketing mix. However, the DMA and other sources say that very small part of overall marketing spend is comes from email. So what’s causing the problem?One of the issues that prevent email from reaching it’s rightful place in the marketing mix is the uncertainty of inbox placement rates. You send the mail out, it’s just not certain that the mail is going to get there.Email that doesn’t get to the inbox doesn’t get responded to.
  • How did this sorry state of affairs come to pass?
  • Well, blame spammers. They send a lot of email. Consumers complain.
  • In fact, ISPs and other receivers can’t keep up. The flood of messages screws up their systems and costs them money. Consumers complain and expect the ISPs to “do something.” ISPs are desperate to make the inbox safe for the consumer and to protect their systems from the expense and security issues posed by spam.
  • So, they kind of treat bulk mail like a pile of tuna. Throw out a net and catch as much as possible.
  • But, inevitably, some good stuff is going to get caught up with the bad stuff.
  • Now you see? Your swimming along, doing your thing, but you are swimming a little too close to the tuna. And you get caught in the net.
  • First all, calling Mr. ISP guy to tell him you are a dolphin doesn’t work. There are too many dolphins. What you need to do is make it clear that your email is wanted.
  • File Number: 5606674Your email has to do the talking for you. It has to look like legitimate, desired email.
  • I’m going to outline the 5 elements that make up your sender reputation and give you some ideas for how to think about each element so you can be successful.
  • Users hit “this is spam” or complain directly to ISPs (eg: likely cause of deliverability failuresRemember, beauty is in the eye of the beholderComplaints can be difficult to resolve, but will pay off quickly5 Ways to Minimize Complaints1. Manage the registration process to meet future expectationsGive subscribers a positive choice and make choices granularGive them a good idea of what they will receiveSend a welcome messageGive instructions on address book inclusion2. Always respect unsubscribe requests Make it easy to unsubscribeMake sure it worksSign up for feedback loops3. Recognition Make sure your emails are clear and well brandedUse consistent from, reply, subject elementsIf your email doesn’t look “right” subscribers may accidentally complain4. Content/program relevancy impacts behavior Appropriate mail frequency (not too much, too little)Stay consistentUse customization and personalizationTarget messaging5. Conduct complaint analysis New subscribers? Points to relevancy issueParticular data source? Kill or re-permission bad dataNon-responders? Stop mailing!Creative? Re-think creative and copyFrequency? Lessen or increase frequency as needed
  • These are the easiest problems to fix, if you know where to look and who to askTop-tier ESPs generally have this buttoned upHome grown systems are most susceptible to these issuesThere is a very long laundry list of sending infrastructure problems that our clients run into. If you’re working with an ESP, you shouldn’t see these. If you are sending your own mail – it’s worth taking a look at this list (and others). No reverse DNS (rDNS)rDNS record that looks like consumer dynamic spaceAuthentication failures (forgotten IP address, other)No mail server (MX record) associated with sending domain “From:” address that doesn’t take mailPostmaster@ and Abuse@ addresses don’t take mail“Fast talker” – doesn’t wait for receiving mail server to respond before sending messageHigh number of messages per connection or simultaneous connectionsNo relay (“hop”) in email header or too many hops in email headerHELO host name not fully qualifiedBounce messages not accepted (“bounce absorption”)Sending mail repeatedly after a “policy block” (e.g., 55 5.7.1)Too frequent a retry when getting a temporary errorReverse DNS (RDNS) translates the sending server IP address into its hostname ( by searching domain name service tables. RDNS is important because many email servers are configured to reject messages from senders with no RDNS. Specifically, AOL will reject any incoming mail with no valid RDNS.What is HELO and why is it important?HELO/EHLO is the command used to initiate an SMTP connection where the sending server identifies itself. A correctly configured mail server will have the HELO/EHLO hostname match the PTR of the sending domain. Some mail servers are configured to reject mail from senders that do not adhere to this.The good news is most infrastructure problems once fixed will quickly improve your deliverability and infrastructure issues are usually very straight forward on the resolution process.
  • Traditional definition: an address that never signed up for anythingAlso: addresses that have gone dormantWhere do you find them?Old parts of your listData from sketchy sourcesHow do you get rid of them?There is not a list of spam traps at all which tends to be frustrating for mailers, but it would defeat the purpose of the program for ISPs. You can find out if you have a problem by these methods:CBL – Composite Blocking List – Brightmail: Brightmail is used by MSN/Hotmail, AT&T Worldnet, Earthlink, BellSouth, and address as one input in filtering mail. If there are spam trap addresses on your list, the best approach to follow is to (1) isolate parts of your list where spam traps are likely (spam trap email addresses never interact with you – no clicks, no opens) and (2) refresh permission in those areas and (3) review permission and data acquisition practices.
  • When ISPs see high percentage of hard bounces they assume it’s spamSpammers never clean their listsClean your list and keep it that way!Acceptable rate is ~10%Our best clients keep rates at less than 2% with no revenue impactFixing unknown user rate problemsThe first step is to know your unknown user rate, hopefully your ESP or mail server statistics can break out unknown users from other sorts of bouncesGet good data up front: double entry, data validation (valid email address, domain has MX record, not a role account), welcome messages are the most common techniques 3. Change out your bounce algorithm to pull bouncers off and (potentially) improve your bounce categorization routine4. Use alternative means to get a good email address (ECOA, website messaging)
  • Moving to a new IP doesn’t solve the problemNo reputation ≠ good reputationIf you don’t fix core problems you will end up with a bad reputation againThink about your personal reputation. What if you found out that your co-workers found you unreliable, dishonest, inconsiderate and irresponsible? You’d have two choices: you could either find a new place to work or you could clean up your act.Many emailers choose, either deliberately or not, to find a new place to work by switching IPs. Since most reputation data is based on your IP address, ditching that old, dirty IP can seem like a great idea.There are a few drawbacks to this strategy. First, while no reputation can be better than a bad reputation it’s not the same as a good one. And that’s true personally too, right? New employees are often considered on probation until they prove their worth. Similarly, many ISPs look askance at IPs without data – too many spammers use this technique to try and get through. In fact, we’ve had clients with good reputations who needed to switch IPs see their deliverability drop for a time until they could establish themselves again.The second huge drawback is that switching IPs doesn’t help you if you don’t plan to change your practices to achieve a good reputation. Finding a new job is of no help to you if you keep blowing deadlines. Your new colleagues will soon come to view you in a bad light and you’ll be right back where you started.We see this happen to email marketers all the time. The new IP is soon tarnished by all the same reputation issues that got them into hot water in the first place and their deliverability continues to suffer.The better option is to repair your reputation. In our experience, very few commercial mailers have a reputation that is completely beyond repair. How easy or hard this is completely depends on where you went wrong in the first place. Some problems are relatively easy to fix. These include unknown users, infrastructure issues and authentication. And, fixing these may solve your blacklisting problem.The harder issue is complaints. This is the biggest contributor to reputation issues and deliverability problems and it is also the hardest to fix.
  • Ah, that’s a great question. And we have a great answer.
  • Go to this address. Type in your IP address or domain name. And we’ll give you a Sender Score.
  • What does my Sender Score tell me?The best way to think of it is like a credit score. In this case, high is good (100 is perfect) and low is bad. How low and how bad? Well, like a credit score, that depends -- some lenders are more lenient and others are more strict. Similarly a Sender Score below 70 could hurt you with some ISPs, but have no effect at others. Are all the reputation factors equal?No. Again, like credit scoring there are factors that hurt you worse than others. Defaulting on a loan is going to hit your credit worse than making one late payment. The same is true of sending reputation. High complaints have a bigger effect on your reputation than content factors. The overall Sender Score is derived by an algorithm that weights the various factors.
  • You can’t fix what you can’t measure.
  • The good news is that if you build a good reputation your email will get delivered. We have clients with near-perfect deliverability across all the ISPs. It can happen!
  • Transcript

    • 1. Why Doesn’t My Email Get Delivered?
    • 3. FACT: 1 in 5 emails sent never sees the inbox
    • 4. If an email doesn’t land in the inbox, can it get a click?
    • 5. Who’s to blame???
    • 6. Spammers
    • 7. ISPs can’t keep up with the flood of email coming into their networks
    • 8. ISPs block SPAM the way fisherman catch tuna
    • 9. Let’s just say, it’s not so great if you’re a dolphin
    • 10. Your email is the dolphin
    • 11. How do you stay out of the net?
    • 12. Reputation is the key
    • 13. There are 5 elements to good reputation
    • 14. Keep complaints to a minimum
    • 15. Have a solid infrastructure
    • 16. Don’t send to spam trap addresses
    • 17. Don’t email the dead
    • 18. Maintain a permanenthome
    • 19. Um, okay. But how do I know what my email reputation is?
    • 20.
    • 21. Share a little data, get a lotta knowledge
    • 22. Knowledge = Power
    • 23. Be a happy dolphin