The most important part of an e-mail message may be something outside of the creative process: the e-mail header. How to decipher it.
As email marketers, we spend a majority of our time creating email bodies. However, the most important part of a message may be something outside the creative process: the email header, those generally hidden lines of code at the top of each message.
Now that the email industry is using authentication, reputation, and accreditation, the email header plays a critical role in an ISP’s decision to block or deliver a message. Most of us, though, let our IT departments or email service providers (ESPs) worry about the header.
With our basic walkthrough, you can interpret what the header tells you about message delivery. We’ll also provide a couple reasons fiddling with some list software settings can actually hurt deliverability.
(If you’re reading this via email, you can follow along by viewing this message’s full header. In Outlook, open the message. In the drop-down menu, select "View," then "Options." In Gmail, select the "More Options" link, then the "Show original" link located below the subject line. Most email clients, especially Web clients, show shortened or even no headers unless you change the setting.)
Following is some key information included in most email headers:
This last bit of information can also help you test a message before you deliver it to your full list. (You do test, right?) Test your message in different browsers and email clients; they display email, especially HTML email, differently. The header data in the test messages will also tell you whether the email encounters any problems in transmission or delivery.
You still have to worry whether a particular word or line of HTML coding in the message body could trigger a spam filter. But knowing how to interpret the data in an email header will help make it easier to avoid future transmission.
And as always, 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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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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