Implement Your New E-Mail Delivery Framework

Achieving less-than-stellar email delivery rates may be common, but poor delivery isn’t something you should just accept. Can you imagine a manufacturing company tolerating a 20 percent defect rate? If your company is experiencing delivery problems, stand up, look at your inbox, and yell to all who can hear, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Last month, we outlined a new delivery framework to reengineer your email marketing program. Today, we present the steps to implement it and move toward achieving a 100 percent delivery rate.

It Starts With Permission

Opt-out marketing is gone. Finished. Over. Get the permission before you start mailing. Maintain that permission with a transparent subscription process:

  • Use a two-stage opt-in process that requires users to confirm their requests (“double” or “confirmed” opt-in).

  • Capture key data on opt-in requests: date, time, subscriber’s IP address, Web page visited to sign up, and so on. Be able to produce it quickly should you ever be accused of spamming.
  • Be explicit about what subscribers are signing up for, including frequency and value proposition. Include a link to a sample issue. Don’t use pre-checked boxes to capture addresses. Provide a link to your privacy policy. Repeat key information in a welcome message immediately upon confirmation.

Comply With W3 Standards

If you haven’t updated your HTML message template in the last six months, run a compliance audit and rethink your design:

  • Review the HTML email code for nonstandard or broken code using World Wide Web Consortium (W3) standards.

  • Place key information (company name, logo, and offer or table of contents) higher in the email body so it can be seen in the preview pane. Consider including teaser text and an HTML header that will display if a recipient has images disabled.

Keep Your Lists Clean

Dirty lists waste your money and can flag you as a spammer to major ISPs:

  • Use a one-step, Web-based unsubscribe process that allows subscribers to update profiles or opt out easily.

  • Study delivery reports issued during and after each send to detect bounces and other problems.
  • Set your list-management software to remove all unsubscribed addresses immediately upon receipt.
  • Monitor all mailboxes associated with your email program. Watch for unsubscribe and address-change requests.
  • Remove all hard-bounce addresses immediately after each send.
  • Contact bounced subscribers by mail, if you have their postal addresses, asking them to update their email addresses and profiles.
  • Set up filters to catch automated challenge-response programs that intercept and detain your email until you verify your identity. Respond to those email messages manually.

Establish Relations With Major ISPs and Corporate Domains

Having a personal relationship with anti-spam and delivery officials at the major ISPs can help you resolve problems before they get out of control:

  • If you use an email service provider, find out who handles ISP relations. Work through this person if you encounter problems with ISPs or domains.

  • Study delivery reports to pinpoint ISPs that are bouncing or refusing to accept email from your IP address.
  • Make sure you are on the whitelists of those ISPs that offer them.

Prove Your Identity

To get your email through an ISP, you’re more likely to be asked to prove you are whom you claim to be, either by embedding a code in each email, getting onto an approved senders’ list, or similar methods.

Check with your Internet systems administrator to verify your SPF (define)/Sender ID record has been published. This is a line of code ISPs can use to verify the source of your email.

Manage Your Reputation

How you behave in the email space determines your reputation. ISPs and others will use this to decide whether to allow your email to be delivered:

  • Monitor all aspects of your email program, from opt-in to content creation, delivery, and follow-up. Respond immediately to complaints or problems.

  • Review your permission and privacy practices. Update policies and procedures to make them as transparent as possible.
  • Periodically check large-scale blacklists, which maintain IP addresses of accused spammers and can sometimes catch legitimate senders. At DNS Stuff, you can check whether anyone is blacklisting your IP address.

Get Others to Vouch for You

Accreditation comes from third-party organizations that have examined your email program and certify you as a reputable or approved sender using lines of codes or other identifying marks.

Investigate the leading agencies in accreditation, included Bonded Sender (owned by Return Path), Habeas, and TRUSTe, which recently announced a new “We Don’t Spam” certification program.

Test and Monitor

Testing all aspects of your email program from the opt-in procedure through delivery will pinpoint technical problems before they become major headaches:

  • Periodically test all the links in your opt-in and unsubscribe procedures.

  • Set up test accounts at major ISPs and in several email clients (e.g., AOL, Gmail, Outlook/Outlook Express, and Lotus Notes), platforms (e.g., Mac and PC), and browsers (e.g., Internet Express, Firefox). Or utilize a delivery-monitoring service.
  • Run your copy through a content-checking program, which scores your copy on its spam potential, based on words, phrases, or typography often used by spammers.
  • Send preliminary messages to your test accounts before sending to your list. Look for HMTL images and colors that render improperly or don’t load. Click all links, including the unsubscribe link.
  • 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, near 100 percent delivery can be within your reach.

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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