The Delivery RFP

Delivery. Delivery. Delivery.

Deliverability and “false positives” (permission-based email filtered erroneously) are a top concern among legitimate marketers and their consumers. Statistics from Return Path, an email hygiene and delivery monitoring service, estimate the amount of permission email not delivered to inboxes increased to 18.7 percent in H2 2003, a 1.7 percent increase over H1 2003.

What’s a legitimate, permission-based marketer to do? This column provides guidance on some of the key tools and intelligence every legitimate marketer should investigate and understand in an increasingly complex delivery environment when seeking to work with an email service provider.

According to a recent report by Jupiter Research (a Jupitermedia Corp. division), delivery-related or erroneously blocked permission-based email cost marketers $230 million last year. This is expected to increase to over $410 million by 2008. Continued prevalence of email filtering technology, changing ISP requirements, and the associated risk of blocked legitimate email requires a level of expertise not often found in-house.

In its report, “Overcoming the Spam Effect: Maximizing E-Mail Marketing Message Delivery,” Jupiter Research states, “Marketers must outsource email technology in cases where volume exceeds 200,000 messages per month to improve campaign results and to reduce execution time.” Outsourcing is no longer a burning question. The provider you select and what services and intelligence are received are at issue.

Following, recommendations for selecting an email service bureau that can (pardon the pun) deliver:

  • Vendor research. Review independent, third-party deliverability reports from leading research firms that cover email and deliverability; talk to analysts (if your organization subscribes); and get referrals from respected industry associations or colleagues. Ask candidates for reference clients. Finally, ask to review the email service bureau’s IP addresses for potential blacklisting issues. Any company can claim it has a robust delivery optimization offering. Successful implementation and execution is another story. Intelligence is power. E-mail deliverability reputations aren’t built overnight, they’re earned over time.
  • Policy review and process. Review the vendor’s permission policies and how it maintains and ensures compliance with ISP whitelist policies. Review contract and privacy-related memberships and endorsements. Check for complaint resolution policies and blacklist resolution procedures. Finally, the service bureau you choose should demonstrate coherent understanding of anti-spam legislation, ISP policies, and delivery optimization issues.
  • Staffing and expertise. Review a prospective vendor’s staff and expertise level on delivery-related issues. Assess not only dedicated staff handling day-to-day client issues but also sales’ and management’s understanding and involvement with delivery issues as a whole. The email service bureau should be actively involved in industry efforts to protect and assure delivery of legitimate email and be a force in driving solutions forward. The team you choose should understand when to recommend new technologies and features. Finally, look for thought leadership. It often drives product- and service-related development and assures access to leading-edge delivery optimization solutions over time.
  • Product and service offering checklist:
    • A robust, comprehensive delivery optimization offering is critical. The provider’s technology and service offering should helps marketers drive delivery throughout the email communications process. Specifically, the technology should include solutions around database and file, message development, deployment, reporting, and analysis.
    • File upload should have hygiene and spam trap suppression services. These are critical components in assuring proper use of a clean, issue-free email list prior to deployment.
    • Look for content and CAN-SPAM compliance scoring. These vital services provide additional insight and intelligence on messaging and potential exposure of poorly crafted communications as related to filtering or legal compliance.
    • Can the solution handle inbound replies? This is important when identifying and routing opt-out and other service requests.
    • Look for the capability to control sending speed and volume based on the receiving ISP’s capacity. There should be the capability to configure delivery across a domain, including number of attempts, and the ability to categorize bounce messages for increased intelligence and hygiene processing. Typically, email service bureaus that control the connection to the ISP are better equipped to handle and adapt to changing ISP requirements.
    • Verify the ability to segregate, isolate, and protect critical communications on a client-by-client basis with IP address allocation. But depending on complaint rates of a given IP address, individual IP address allocation may not always be the best route.
    • Confirm ability to provide real-time delivery alerts and monitor critical email communications. This includes triggering alerts when potential blocking issues arise due to complaint rates, and continues up to inbox monitoring capabilities to assure delivery into specific folders within an ISP’s end-user inbox.
    • Complaint monitoring and reporting is relatively new in the industry but can have a strong impact on campaigns. Integrated complaint reporting on a campaign-by-campaign basis helps marketers understand how their email communications are received, viewed, and accepted by consumers. Increasingly, this statistic is also helpful in determining eligibility for enhanced whitelisting programs, such as AOL’s. Enhanced whitelisting provides additional benefits for marketers, such as disabling the “block image link” feature on AOL 9.0. That helps optimize delivery and performance.
    • Service! E-mail service bureaus should be able to provide marketers with consumer feedback and industry-specific benchmarks and best practices to drive relevance, performance, and delivery.

Despite all these recommendations, email delivery means nothing if marketers aren’t focused on building anticipated, relevant email communications that offer value to recipients. For those who already do, email delivery is the last mile.

Till next time,

Al D.

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

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