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Delivery Woes? Try This Five-Step Program

  |  February 1, 2006   |  Comments

Five steps to get you out of your deliverability funk.

Even emailers with the best intentions get junked, blocked, or filtered on sight. How can you get out of your deliverability funk? If you want to get back on your feet and do email right, follow this five-step strategy.

1. Establish a Delivery Benchmark

Using a delivery-tracking service, such as Habeas’ MailTrack, Lyris’s EmailAdvisor, Pivotal Veracity, or Return Path, run a test from your platform to gauge the extent of your delivery problems. In the worst-case scenario, the reports will show your domains or IP addresses, or both, blocked at major ISPs. They’ll also show up on prominent blacklists, which ISPs consult to decide whether you’re a spammer.

2. Identify Where Your Subscriptions Come From

More often than not, you were blocked because you used poor practices to collect subscriptions. Your best course is to clean up your subscription practices first, then deal with the technical issues. That way, you reduce the chance you’ll get blocked again.

Convert to opt-in, if you haven’t already. Running an opt-out collection process is practically guaranteed to get you blocked or filtered to junk mail. That means getting rid of pre-checked boxes on registration or thank-you pages and hiding email notifications in the privacy policy’s fine print. Document your subscription sources, and verify you gather permission from recipients to send them email.

Two more permission-clarifying actions:

  • If you receive email from multiple sources, attach an identifying flag to each email record so you can easily separate sources that seem to generate the most complaints, invalid addresses, or both. This is especially critical if you deal with any kind of co-registration or affiliate list sources that send you addresses.

  • Consider reconfirming your whole list or the problematic segments. This is a painful but necessary step if you used unclear or questionable practices to collect subscriptions or permission. Your list will certainly shrink as not all members will respond. But the remaining names are there because they want to be, not because they overlooked that little clause in your site-registration agreement that requires them to receive your email.

3. Examine List Hygiene

Does your unsubscribe link appear in every commercial email you send? Does it function correctly?

Also, ensure any database uploads or updates don’t accidentally reintroduce unsubscribed names onto your list. Finally, review the way your list software handles bounces. Make sure it removes invalid or unsubscribed addresses correctly and doesn’t load them back in.

4. Review Your Content

Verify these factors:

  • Your mailing frequency and message content must match recipients’ expectations at sign up. It’s not enough to say you’ll send occasional announcements or offers, but you don’t have to be too specific. You want to be able to send breaking news or a last-minute offer without worrying you’re breaking your promise to readers. You should give some idea of how often you mail and what you send.

    E-mail recipients will report even verified permission email as spam if they get too much of it or it’s irrelevant. We saw this in the holiday 2005 shopping season: a Return Path survey found many email recipients said they not only received more email than they expected when they signed up with various senders, but they also hit the "report spam" button in their email clients more often to try to stop getting it.

  • Your message should be filter-friendly. The major delivery monitoring tools mentioned in step one will run your message through a couple content filters. This helps optimize content and avoid filter-tripping keywords, malformed HTML code, or tricky bits often associated with spammers or email scammers.

  • Branding the subject line helps users quickly identify your message and separate it from the spam populating their inboxes. Using a consistent, recognizable brand, such as "ClickZ E-Mail Delivery," will reduce spam complaints when you use a permission-based list.

5. Fix Your IP Addresses

Once you have the benchmarking from tracking your delivery problems, contact the various ISPs and blacklist owners to understand their criteria for listing suspected senders and what you must do to have your listing removed.

Be warned: Some list owners and ISP representatives may not respond to your delisting requests. If this happens, you might have to change your IP address, especially if the block affects a significant list segment.

Do this as a last resort, however. Unless you’ve addressed all the factors that caused you to be blocked in the first place, whatever you gain by changing IPs will be short lived. In fact, if you switch IPs without attending to the problem’s root causes, you might harm your sender reputation and get branded as a hardcore spammer. That could spell the end of your whole email-marketing enterprise.

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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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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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