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How Geeks Can Increase E-Mail Delivery

  |  February 16, 2005   |  Comments

Ten ways to increase the likelihood your e-mail will be accepted on the receiving end.

Ensuring permission-based email is delivered to recipients’ inboxes requires an equal amount of effort on marketing and technical fronts. Last month’s column looked at ways marketers can bolster delivery. This month, we focus more on the technology behind email sending and ways to ensure your email delivery doesn’t resemble a spam attack.

Following, 10 tactics to help increase the likelihood your email messages will be accepted by the receiving ISP and avoid future deliverability problems.

  • Create a reverse DNS. Make sure your outgoing mailing IPs have valid RDNS (define) entries set up. This ensures when a receiving email server checks who owns the IP trying to connect to it, you’ll come up as the result, passing one of the many basic checks ISPs do to deter spammers.

  • Set up an SPF. SPF (define) is an additional step to verify an email sender’s identity. The protocol is fairly easy to set up; your network administrator should be able to do it in under five minutes. SPF adds another layer of authentication to your outgoing email and protects against phishing (define) attacks on your brand. Some ISPs, such as AOL, require SPF to be implemented to be considered for their white lists.

  • Make only one connection. When connecting to an email server, send only one message per connection. Some systems still try to shovel as many messages through one connection as possible, akin to throwing 500 email addresses into the BCC field. ISPs frown on this technique, as spammers who want to get as many messages in before being blocked typically use this approach.

  • Limit sending rate. Just because you can send a million messages per hour doesn’t mean doing so is prudent. Large spikes in traffic can be seen as dictionary (define) or denial of service (define) attacks. Though the ideal send volume depends on the list’s nature (e.g., B2C or B2B), a good rule of thumb is to limit your transmission to 150-200K messages per hour. Keep in mind you will also need to accept feedback in the form of bounced messages; your outgoing speed shouldn’t hamper your ability to receive bounces.

  • Accept bounces. Some email systems, especially older ones, have a nasty habit of rejecting bounce messages. These "bounced bounces" arrive at the receiving ISP and can raise red flags. Nothing irks an ISP more than sending a response that a recipient doesn’t exist, only to have the notification rejected and the mailings continue.

  • Validate HTML content. One of the dirtiest tricks in a spammer’s arsenal is invalid, broken, and malicious HTML code, used to obfuscate his payload. If you use HTML in your messages, make sure your code is error-free and follows W3C HTML guidelines.

  • Avoid scripting. Security risks due to script vulnerabilities in email browsers have increased over the years. The result is most scripts, such as JavaScript and VBScript, are stripped out of messages. Some email systems reject messages outright if scripting is detected. For greatest compatibility, avoid using scripts in messages. Instead, drive your readers to your Web site, where dynamic components are easily rendered.

  • Understand content filtering basics. Ignorance of filtering approaches is no excuse for not getting messages delivered. Though no one can be expected to keep up with the nuances of common content filtering, you should understand the different kinds of filters and types of content considered high risk. Read bounce messages, track which messages had high bounce rates and low open rates, and see if you can reverse-engineer offending content.

  • Monitor delivery and bounce rates by ISP/domain. Periodically (if not after sending every message) run reports by major ISP and domain on your messages. Look for unusual bounce, unsubscribe, spam complaint, and open rates at specific domains. A domain showing off-kilter results likely has a filter or blocking problem.

  • Monitor spam complaints. Even the best permission marketers with world-class practices receive spam complaints, particularly if they have a high AOL subscriber base. Monitor the number of spam complaints for each mailing, and establish a benchmark average. Look for mailings with spam complaint percentages that vary from the norm. See if you can determine what may have caused the problem. Was it an overly aggressive subject line? Too many messages sent within a short time? The fact you sent an unexpected type of email? Another factor? A high percentage of spam complaints may result in an ISP blocking current, or even future, messages.

Till next month, keep on deliverin’.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic..

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Kirill Popov and Loren McDonald

As director of ISP relations and delivery, Kirill Popov creates and enforces strict usage and anti-spam policies, maintains ISP and community relations, and oversees all abuse and policy investigations and inquiries for EmailLabs clients. Kirill works with clients on best practices, content, design, and list hygiene to minimize potential delivery issues. He's a registered member of the SpamCon foundation and representsEmailLabs on AIM's Council for Responsible E-Mail.

Loren McDonald is vice president of marketing at e-mail marketing automation company EmailLabs, overseeing corporate marketing activities and client consulting services. He has 20 years experience in marketing, consulting and strategic planning. Earlier, Loren was founder and president of Intevation, an e-marketing services firm specializing in e-mail and SEM. He's held executive marketing positions at companies including USWeb/CKS (marchFIRST), NetStruxr, and Arthur Andersen.

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