E-Mail Permission, Privacy Best Practices

The Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group’s (MAAWG’s) new set of best communication practices for bulk senders is a great resource to help you ratchet up your e-mail message delivery. It covers just about every issue that crops up between senders and ISPs and explains clearly what needs to be done to achieve higher deliverability.

MAAWG, an industry group formed to fight messaging abuse such as spam and fraud e-mail, said its first set of best practices was intended to both help legitimate e-mail from high-volume senders, like e-mail marketers, stand out better from spam and phishing e-mail; and reduce the ISP’s burden of sorting good messages from bad.

Although you might bristle at the idea of outsiders telling you how to run your e-mail business, the recommendations have been endorsed by the bipartisan Email Sender and Provider Coalition, which seats bulk senders and recipients at the same table.

Also, the best practices closely reflect the standards e-mail senders have developed over the last 10 years or so and explain some technical requirements in fairly plain language. This should help you see the benefits better and be more able to discuss implementing them with your IT department.

Below are highlights of the five recommendations.

Obtain Clear and Conspicuous Consent

No surprise here: MAAWG supports not only opt-in but also double opt-in to verify addresses and reduce bounces due to malformed syntax and fake subscribing.

But MAAWG goes further to say that you should also specify what the list is about and how often you’ll send messages, as well as any other ways you’ll use the ISP’s e-mail addresses. It also says the e-mail confirmation should be sent from a dedicated rather than a shared IP address and should come from the same sender address as your other e-mail messages on that list.

Use Clear, Conspicuous, and Easy to Use Unsubscription Options

Again, a no-brainer for evolved e-mail marketers. However, MAAWG specifies using an automated industry-standard list-unsubscribe mechanism rather than a homegrown one or manual removal. Also, use a text description instead of an image (a button marked “unsubscribe here”), accept unsubscribes via e-mail as well as a Web page, and act on requests that go to addresses other than your prescribed remove address, such as a sender or reply-to address.

Another suggestion: load subscription-preference pages with the unsubscribe box checked for subscribers who signed up by accident. You already know better than to have subscribe options with prechecked boxes, right?

Not surprisingly, MAAWG pays close attention to resolving complaints:

  • Honor all abuse complaints as if they were unsubscribe requests, and remove them immediately.

  • Accept complaints at a dedicated e-mail address (abuse@) plus postmaster@ and any Whois or other directory-service account for your domain.
  • Monitor abuse complaints, and work to reduce them to avoid violating an ISP’s acceptable-use policy.

Enhance Sender Accountability and Messaging Reputation

This section gives you a tall technical order: know and comply with the e-mail policies for all the ISPs and e-mail access providers you either use yourself or send to. Authenticate your e-mail messages. Adopt messaging-industry identification standards for identifying messages.

Further, MAAWG wants to see accountability in your message content as well as in your transmission. Avoid anything that could hide your identity, spy on recipients, or extract information without consent. Seek ISP whitelisting and feedback-loop participation. Clean your lists regularly, removing inactive addresses.

Managing Delivery Errors and List Maintenance

This section requires you to stay on top of deliveries to spot and correct problems early. It outlines best practices for sending procedures and resolving failures, errors, and retries. Although they break no new ground, since they follow established messaging-industry practices, bulk e-mail senders are now expected to understand how their organizations complying with them.

Technical specs, while just as crucial to boosting deliverability as permission, message content, and list hygiene, can be mind-numbingly incomprehensible to lay people. To its credit, MAAWG helps you understand the tech requirements in sections three and four in a separate document that translates the arcane into more everyday language.

Mitigating and Resolving Message Disruption Issues

Again, you’re expected to know and comply with the policies of all ISPs and ESPs you deal with and to track delivery metrics, such as reader complaints, hard bounces, and spam-trap addresses for each IP address and domain name you send from.

Investigate message disruptions immediately and through proper e-mail or Web channels first, and be a visible and active participant in anti-abuse industry groups.

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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