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Transitions: A Guide to Switching E-Mail Technologies

  |  January 18, 2006   |  Comments

Changing e-mail vendors? Moving to a new e-mail technology? Here’s a list to keep your e-mail on track -- as well as your sanity.

The average length of home ownership is about seven years. We haven’t seen similar figures for how long companies stay with one email marketing technology or vendor, but it’s reasonable most companies will eventually switch technologies.

At our company, 99 percent of our clients have switched from another technology, whether homegrown software, a purchased software system, use of an agency, or direct use of a hosted email service provider (ESP) solution. Some new clients need more advanced features, while others want to improve their delivery rates.

If you plan to switch email marketing providers in the future, keep this checklist in mind as you make the transition from your old technology to the new one:

  • Verify IPs. Verify you’ll receive either dedicated or shared IPs from your new provider. If your original service had problems managing bounces and unsubscribe requests, a shared IP environment will suit you better in the short term. When moving to a dedicated IP environment, you’re more prone to blocking if your mailings generate a spike in user spam complaints.

    Run the IPs through a spam checker tool such as http://www.openrbl.org/ orwww.DNSstuff.com. Not all listings may be significant, but you should discuss any potential issues with your ESP.

  • Confirm authentication. Confirm authentication methods are updated to reflect your new outgoing email IP addresses. If you didn’t use authentication (SPF, DomainKeys) before the switch, work with your ESP to set it up.

  • Define reporting. To compare your current service to the new one, make sure you understand how reporting numbers are compiled and any differences in the service you’re moving to. Open rates are sometimes calculated from the total number of users sent, for example, and sometimes from the number of users left after bounces are removed.

  • Establish benchmarks. Save your historical reporting data. To compare accurately, record your reports’ actual numbers rather than the ESP’s percentage. This will help you compare and evaluate new services and adjust your program as necessary.

  • Apply unsubscribe and bounce lists. Don’t forget to import unsubscribes and bounces from your old system to the new environment. This may seem like a no-brainer, but we often run into cases where this step hasn’t been properly executed. Also, understand how your new ESP processes bounces, spam complaints, and unsubscribes. Are spam complaints automatically unsubscribed? Are bounces resent? How many times, and for how many days?

  • Update your content/forms. Ensure all unsubscribe and member update functions are still active when you move mail providers. If you use the update-preferences and send-to-a-friend functions provided by your current ESP, make sure you update the code on your Web site and in the link in the email. If your sender address changes, be sure to update the add-to-address-book instructions with your new address.

  • Slowly ramp up email. This is particularly important if your bounce processing was less than stellar or you haven’t mailed to your lists in over three months. Try your first send over the course of a few days to a week, and break the list up into smaller chunks. You want to avoid a large spike of bounces and spam complaints that could get you blocked.

  • Test before going live. Run samples of all of your marketing communications through the new program before sending your first campaign, newsletter, or sales offer to see how images and functionality vary and to find any blocking issues. Test mailings in different browsers, email clients, and platforms: PC, Mac, perhaps even on a handheld PDA or your cell phone.

  • Get your staff on board. Run informal training or get-acquainted sessions with your staff and anyone else in your company, from the CEO to IT and salespeople who will use, fix, or pay for anything you send through your new ESP.

  • Talk to your account executive. Make sure your account executive or support staff understands what you’re trying to accomplish. They know their systems better than you do and may suggest easier or more efficient ways of accomplishing your goal. Some ESPs offer API (define) functions that can help automate certain parts of your process.

  • Use your ESP’s resource center. Most ESPs offer tools and articles on their sites or support packages that help tune your messages. Some tools available include filter checks, HTML code valuators, and subject and sender line character display counters.

  • Best practices sessions. Take advantage of your new ESP’s best practices training sessions, Webinars, and seminars. These sessions will give you further insight into how to improve your deliverability and increase results from your email program.

  • Newsletters. Most ESPs offer a variety of communications, including a general customer newsletter discussing new features and updates; a best practices and tips newsletter; and emergency/status notifications. Make sure you and your team are added to those lists.

Following these steps should help you complete the switch without significant shocks to your deliverability, performance, and own stress levels.

Until next time, 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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