Five best practices to ensure e-mail authentication

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Conceptually, it's simple. You — a legitimate sender of e-mail — provide a way for the recipient to know it's really you, and, together, we stem the tide of spam and fraudulent e-mail. Not all concepts translate into practice. Although several e-mail authentication standards exist, most senders and receivers only use some; others don't use any at all. What's a marketer to do?

First, know some authentication basics. Two “families” of standardized approaches for e-mail authentication exist: Sender ID/SPF and DomainKeys/DKIM. Sender ID provides a text record on your DNS server and is easier to implement than the encryption-based DKIM, which requires encoding software at the sending end. Most e-mail service providers (ESPs) and mail server vendors deploy both methods.

Why authenticate? When used by senders and receivers of e-mail, proper e-mail authentication helps the recipient decide about delivering e-mails. If they know you and correlate that with your sending habits, they'll deliver more of your legitimate e-mail and reject messages from senders pretending to be you. Most major Web mail services, such as AOL Mail, Gmail, Windows Live, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail, check for standard authentication methods. Authentication also helps your messages get noticed. Some providers indicate authentication with an icon.

There are five basic steps to ensure successful authentication.

First, involve the team You need support from everyone involved in sending your e-mail, including third parties sending for you.

Next, take inventory. Round up all sources of e-mail from your company, internal or external, centralized or rogue. Once you have this list, establish procedures within your company to control and monitor sources of e-mail.

Pick an authentication method. Unless you need an overhaul to get there, don't sweat this one. Do both. One or the other may be the key to better delivery and visibility.

Implement carefully. Using your inventory of sending domains and IP addresses, you can start to authenticate. You should also authenticate domains that don't send e-mail to prevent pretenders from using your name. Proceed with caution by sending your initial messages in “test” mode because improper authentication will work against you.

Finally, monitor closely. Stay on top of your e-mail infrastructure. New domains, new or different IP addresses and new third party services all need to factor into your overall authentication plans. When should you authenticate? As authentication and associated sender reputation become core components of successful message delivery, you don't want to get left behind. The time to authenticate is now.

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