What Do the ISPs Want from You? Check the Web

Many marketers believe that what Winston Churchill said about Russia could be applied equally to Internet service providers (ISPs) and their e-mail delivery rules: Riddles wrapped in mysteries inside enigmas.

You might feel that way after going a few rounds with an ISP that routinely blocks or filters your e-mail message, even when you believe you’ve done everything you can to be a reliable sender.

Believe it or not, your best source of information is the ISP’s own Web site. AOL led the pack in laying out its postmaster information in easy-to-grasp guidelines. More ISPs have followed suit, especially the largest ISPs and e-mail services.

These pages tell you pretty specifically what the ISP requires you to do to get your e-mail delivered and whom to contact if you have questions or problems. This information won’t take the place of a one-on-one conversation if you’re having a serious problem, but it can help pinpoint and troubleshoot issues before you make that call. These Web sites can also show you the way to go when you need to pick up the phone or write the e-mail to begin the resolution process.

The list, below, gives the postmaster pages for the ISPs that clients ask me about most often. It’s not all-inclusive. However, if you have a question for one ISP omitted from here, check the ISP’s Web site for e-mail guidelines.

Start with these pages if you need to understand why you’re not crossing AOL’s threshold or getting filtered to Microsoft Windows Live Hotmail‘s bulk folder all the time. Take some time to read through all the articles and requirements for successful delivery and then review your own infrastructure to make sure you’ve set up everything correctly.

If you’re still having problems, most ISP postmaster sites also include information on how to contact the people you need to talk to and what information they require to investigate why messages aren’t being delivered.

Before You Contact the ISP

If you need to resolve a blocking problem, collect this information and have it at the ready before you contact an ISP:

  • About Your Business
    • Business name
    • Business address
    • CAN-SPAM compliant physical address used in e-mail campaigns
  • About Your Abuse Contact Point Person
    • Contact name
    • E-mail address
    • Phone number
  • About Your Mailing Domains
    • IP addresses and subnets (PTR records or pointer records that associate each IP address with a name, are required for all IPs)
    • Domain names
    • Domain keys records (required for Yahoo)
    • SenderID records
    • Sender Policy Framework (SPF) records
  • About Your Privacy and Data Practices
    • Web site opt-in URL
    • Unsubscribe mechanism
    • Privacy policy URL
  • Where You Receive Feedback Loop (FBL) e-mails
    • E-mail addresses, such as “automated_abuse@businessdomain.com”

What Else Postmaster Pages Can Tell You

Even if you don’t have a pressing blocking problem to resolve, you’ll certainly find some interesting information on the ISP’s postmaster pages. More and more, ISPs are updating these postmaster sites to help explain to marketers how they’ve changed the way they receive and deliver e-mail.

If you’re new to e-mail marketing or just not sure what ISPs expect from you, begin with the AOL postmaster pages. They’re well-organized and fairly easy to understand if you’re not a technical person. Although AOL has lost considerable market share over the years to the Web portals and other service providers, it’s still a leader in the e-mail field. Where AOL goes, many follow.

You might also find out that the e-mail delivery world has changed if you’ve been in the business a few years. A few of your cherished notions — like opt-out is really okay after all because CAN-SPAM allows it for U.S. marketers — may well go by the boards.

Several ISPs or e-mail services, including Yahoo and Gmail, address opt-in versus opt-out directly in their postmaster pages.

From Yahoo: “Send e-mail to those that want it… use confirmed, opt-in e-mail lists. To do this, after you receive a subscription request, send a confirmation e-mail to that address which requires some affirmative action before that e-mail address is added to the mailing list.”

From Gmail: “Each user on your distribution list should opt to receive messages from you in one of the following ways (opt-in):

  • Through an e-mail asking to subscribe to your list.
  • By manually checking a box on a web form, or within a piece of software.”

Read RoadRunner’s postmaster pages and you’ll find out how important it’ to keep your list clean: “Organizations must immediately unsubscribe any Road Runner e-mail addresses that receive a permanent failure e-mail bounce from Road Runner’s inbound e-mail servers.”

Until next time, keep on deliverin’!

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