Deliverability Felonies: The Bottom 10

Times have changed since the early days of e-mail blasts, opt-out list growth, and wild and crazy HTML. If your e-mail program still operates much the way it did back at the dawn of the 21st century, you’re probably committing mistakes that imperil deliverability. It’s not too late to reform.

Check our list of the 10 deliverability mistakes that make us shake our heads and say, “Dude! Get with the program!” (Better do it today before your e-mail is tossed into the bulk folder clink.)

Ignore All Automated E-Mail Replies

These include bounces, both permanent delivery failures because of bad addresses or nonexistent accounts and temporary ISP delays, dropped connections, banned content, and accounts that are over quota, as well as automated address changes, spam, challenge-response, logic puzzles, and other identity requests. How you handle these can determine whether you’re passed to the inbox, filtered to the bulk folder, or blocked at the gate.

Use a Small E-Mail Application to Send Volume E-Mail

Sending commercial e-mail through Outlook or GoldMine may cost less than using an e-mail program designed to create and send volume mailings, but these clients and the small-time server you use to send personal e-mail aren’t designed to handle high-volume deliveries. You also don’t get the e-mail reports, tracking, volume control, segmentation, and other benefits that are becoming standard on even basic e-mail delivery platforms.

Do Nothing to Measure or Improve Deliverability

Still think all you have to do is hit “send” to get your e-mail message into 100 percent of your recipients’ inboxes? It’s time to come in from the 1990s and start taking deliverability seriously.

Read your delivery reports carefully. Sign up for free Web e-mail services to see how your e-mail messages render in different clients and whether your message lands in the inbox or the junk folder. Publish SPF and Sender ID records. Test your program’s integrity by taking the qualifying tests offered by e-mail certification or accreditation agencies, such as Habeas and GoodMail’s CertifiedEmail.

Think of E-Mail Campaigns as Blasts

Technically, your messages won’t be blocked or filtered. But a blast mindset implies you take a monolithic approach to an audience that’s become more diverse, pickier, and more suspicious. You can still test offers, subject lines, content, and other features on different list segments even if you don’t use full-featured list software.

If you don’t, you become irrelevant. You’ll be lucky if all recipients do is unsubscribe. More likely, they’ll either delete your e-mail unopened or hit the “report spam” button.

Precheck the Boxes on the Web Registration Page

Congratulations for using opt-in to grow your list. But shame on you if the registration page loads with all subscription and interest boxes checked. You’re not saving subscribers’ time; you’re forcing them to opt out before they’ve even opted in. Trickery and subterfuge may build a list quickly, but you’ll flood your subscribers with one irrelevant e-mail after another. That leads to unsubscribes, spam complaints, or just dead silence.

Fail to Confirm Subscribes and Unsubscribes

We thought the debate was over and the decision made: you confirm the opt-in to verify the address and its owner’s consent to be added to your list. You confirm an unsubscribe to reassure the dearly departed their opt-out worked, as well as to establish a paper trail to guard against spam complaints. So why do we still see marketers collecting addresses and failing to acknowledge the opt-in? Or sending the consumer from the unsubscribe page back to the home page without so much as a “thanks and good-bye”?

Assume Once You Collect an E-Mail Address, Your Company Can Do With It As It Pleases

OK, so you stick by a privacy policy (the one stuck in a dark corner of your Web site) and don’t sell, rent, or trade subscribers’ addresses — to third parties, that is. Instead, you shop your lists around the company’s departments and divisions. When people sign up for your newsletter, that doesn’t mean they want solo offers, corporate announcements, or “allied information” from some division that has nothing to do with the information they wanted in the first place.

Don’t Design for Blocked Images and the Preview Pane

We’ve been harping on this topic ever since we learned 7 of 10 business-to-business (B2B) e-mail readers use preview panes to vet their e-mail, and 34 to 50 percent keep image-blocking turned on. A few big marketers have seen the light and gotten rid of giant HTML images. Yet too many commercial e-mail messages still show up as big blank spots, with helpful text placed way below the preview pane.

Send E-Mail Riddled With HTML Code Violations

It’s bad enough e-mail is illegible when an e-mail client blocks images from downloading. But when the HTML code is misconfigured, nonstandard, or just plain ugly, that’s carelessness. Test e-mail in different browsers and clients. Above all, ensure all links work.

Forget About Including a Text Version

Most marketers spend time creating beautiful HTML e-mail with lots of graphics to get their message across. Then they send a MIME (define) version for HTML, which includes a text version, but forget to include the text part. Worse, they simply scrape text from the HTML code and send a series of unreadable links. Just because recipients didn’t choose text as a preferred format doesn’t mean many of them aren’t reading your e-mail in text. Spend the extra five minutes it takes to make sure the text version is just as user-friendly as the HTML version.

Until next time, keep on deliverin’.

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

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