It is not until you send your first email message that you begin to realize that even the freshest list will contain many undeliverable addresses. Earlier this week I had the opportunity to attend the E-mail Marketing/Newsletter Strategies conference in San Francisco, which was very interesting, and I learned that most lists – even B2B lists – lose about 30 percent of their addresses in a year. Cleaning up after undeliverable mail won’t just be a problem the first time you send – although it will probably be more of a problem with the first mailing than with subsequent mailings – it will be something you have to deal with every time.
For more information about publishing your own newsletter, check out these other articles from Alexis Gutzman’s ongoing weekly series:
Publishing Your Own Newsletter
Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 2
Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 3
Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 4
Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 5
Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 6
Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 7
Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 8
Many Flavors of Bounced Messages
When you send your newsletter, using software like those packages I reviewed in Part 5 of this series, or using an ASP such as one of those I mentioned in Part 6 or one of the others such as VerticalResponse or YesMail, or even using a full-service provider such as Responsys or BigfootInteractive, you’ll supply both a FROM address and a REPLY-TO address for your messages. All automated replies will be sent to the FROM address. These will include all of the following types of automated responses:
- Undeliverable mail – recipient is not in the address book
- Undeliverable mail – the domain does not exist
- Undeliverable mail – mailbox is full
- Out of office or vacation replies
- “John has left the company, please contact Jane for matters related to …”
- “John has left the company, you can reach him at …”
- “We have not been able to deliver this message for 24 hours. We will try for three days. You don’t need to take any action at this point.”
When I first started getting these bounced messages when sending out my own newsletter, the E-Business Thought Leader, the programmer in me assumed there must be some way to automate the filtering. I wanted to be able to unsubscribe those who no longer existed, but who left no forwarding information, types 1 and 2 above, to ignore types 3, 6, and 7, to automatically change the address for type 5, and to send an invitation to opt in to type 4. In theory this could be done, if I had some guarantee that all type 1 and 2 messages, for example, shared a common subject line or a common format. In fact, as Rich Clayton, vice president of Responsys observed at the conference, “This is a black art.”
Unique Format for Each ISP
Every ISP generates slightly different subject lines and slightly different formats for their message. Worse yet, I might blindly delete messages that I thought were undeliverable, but that actually had forwarding information. To complicate matters even more, even though I provided a REPLY-TO address for people who wanted to respond to my newsletter, not all email clients actually pick up the REPLY -TO address. Some people who had something to say to me might get their messages and addresses deleted, or might get filtered into the wrong box. I learned first-hand the danger of putting off processing the FROM mailbox when I missed a reminder email message from a radio host on whose program I was to appear – oops.
Even finding the email addresses of those whose messages were completely undeliverable is difficult to do in an automated way because many ISPs return the original message as an attachment, and don’t even include the undeliverable address in the message they automatically send you. This means you or your software has to open attachments to see whom to unsubscribe. This rapidly becomes a big, ugly job.
Save Time, Keep Your List Clean
It is definitely to your advantage to keep your list clean. If you’re sending on your own behalf, using your own software, and you’re not paying by the message, then you are still wasting time sending messages and cleaning out your FROM box. If you’re sending from an ASP or full-service provider who charges by the message, then you’re paying for messages that are being returned to you. If you’re monitoring open rates, click-through rates, or conversion rates, then your denominator is going to be unnecessarily large, making your rate unnecessarily small. There are, after all, two ways to increase a fraction: increase the numerator or decrease the denominator.
Alexis D. Gutzman is an author, speaker, and consultant on e-business and e-commerce topics. She’s the producer of The Online Marketing Report. Her most recent book, The E-commerce Arsenal: 12 Technologies You Need to Prevail in the Digital Arena, was named one of the 30 best business books of this year. For up-to-date information about her research and speaking engagements, visit The Alexis Gutzman Group’s Web site.
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