E-mail delivery rules have been significantly rewritten, thanks to new legislation, technology, consumer attitudes, and the industry’s move toward adopting best practices. You may find these new rules a pain, but you must deal with them if you want to get your email campaigns delivered effectively.
In other words, quit complaining and start changing your practices (if you haven’t already).
To help you look at the challenges in manageable buckets, we developed an email delivery framework that you can use to reengineer your email marketing program. In this column, we present the concepts that make up that framework. In a future column, we’ll present steps you can take to implement them.
It All Starts With Permission
E-mail delivery is a privilege, not a right. And permission — the active kind, in which recipients knowingly invite you into their inboxes — is the basis of that privilege.
The highest form of permission is the kind people hand over willingly, not something you capture covertly by using prechecked boxes on order, registration, or download pages or by adding someone to an email list in addition to the one she opted in to.
Interested third parties, such as ISPs you send email to and accreditation services, will examine your permission processes to determine whether you’re a good or a bad emailer. Good senders email is passed through to the inbox. The rest are filtered or blocked.
Make Sure Creative Content Complies With Standards
Poorly designed email messages with broken lines, bad HTML code, and amateurish content make you look like a spammer or a phisher to ISPs and recipients alike. Both will filter, block, or blacklist you as a result.
HTML code must meet W3 compliance standards. Many email filters also screen for spam-like keywords or formatting.
Designing for the preview pane is important now that more desktop email clients give users the ability to screen content without opening the message. Yahoo just announced it will test a preview pane in its free Web-based email service.
Keep Your Lists Clean
Lists full of incorrect or outdated addresses don’t just hack away at delivery, click, open, and return rates. They also generate high bounce rates on each send, which makes sending appear suspicious to ISPs. Your messages may be routed to junk folders or be completely blocked.
Establish Relations With Major ISPs and Corporate Domains
The Big Four (AOL, EarthLink, Yahoo, and MSN/Hotmail) and smaller global, regional, and local service providers use different procedures to accept and reject email. You must understand how each operates. Fortunately, some ISPs post their rules on their Web sites, though there’s little transparency regarding filtering processes.
Sort your subscriber database by corporate domain to learn which companies compose significant percentages of your list, and check your delivery and open rates with each. Contact the network administrators at those companies if you discover delivery problems.
Prove Your Identity
Many ISPs now expect you to prove you are who you claim to be by including a specific code in your messages their servers must recognize to pass your email through. Authentication is intended to root out spammers and phishers who attempt to disguise their origins with phony sender information.
As more ISPs adopt authentication, they’ll rely less on auxiliary methods such as whitelisting (email from approved senders is passed through), blacklisting (all email is blocked or filtered), content filtering, and challenge-response (senders must reply personally to an automated message before the message can be delivered).
Currently, no industry-standard authentication method applies to all ISPs and senders. The most common methods, and the ISPs that use them, include SPF (AOL), Sender ID (MSN/Hotmail), and DomainKeys (Yahoo).
Manage Your Reputation
Your email reputation depends almost entirely on how you operate: how much email you bounce with each send, how many spam complaints you generate, and how you respond to them.
Your reputation is your track record. So you must actively monitor all aspects of your email program and respond quickly to problems or complaints.
ISPs, accreditation agencies, independent blacklist operators (used by ISPs to determine whom to block or filter), and others judge you by your reputation. Beyond ISPs, companies such as Return Path and Habeas are rolling out reputation-based services ISPs may subscribe to in the future.
Get Others to Vouch for You
Accreditation is the third leg, with authentication and reputation being the first and second. A third party, such as Habeas or Bonded Sender, examines your list, permission practices, and email practices and provides an accreditation standing if you pass. Accredited senders can then use warranted marks and are placed on ISP-accepted whitelists, allowing your email to bypass filters.
Test and Monitor From Content Creation Through Delivery
Testing is your first line of defense against problems. It allows you to ferret out hidden or overlooked technical or creative problems before an email campaign goes live. Set up test accounts at key ISPs or utilize a delivery monitoring service. Fix any problems before sending to the full list. Then monitor open, delivery, bounce, unsubscribe, and spam complaint rates across all key domains in your actual send.
If you implement best practices in each step of this framework, 100 percent delivery can be within your reach. Look for the action steps to implement these concepts in a future column.
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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