Keep your ear to the ground with e-mail feedback loops

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Imagine your subscriber retrieves her snail mail and gabs for a few minutes with her carrier. While they're talking she flips through the mail, sees your item, writes "Return to Sender" and hands it back. Thereafter, whenever the carrier sees mail from you, he shreds it - according to policy.

Sounds ridiculous, right? But it happens, all the time - with e-mail. Internet service providers use feedback from users about senders to determine whether to deliver mail to the inbox, the bulk folder or the spam folder - or not at all.

It's well intentioned, yes - ISPs want to maintain the value of their product and keep their customers happy. And, to be fair, it's a tough job. People want spam out, even as they want guaranteed delivery of the commercial messages they've invited.

ISPs make delivery decisions based in large part on feedback they receive from users - which they measure in the form of complaints logged when someone marks your message as spam, for example.

But the good news is many ISPs will tell you when someone complains about you, using feedback loops. If you use a hosted e-mail service, confirm that the vendor has established feedback loops for all the ISPs that offer them.

If you use installed list management software, make sure your vendor provides tools and services to address feedback loop registration and processing. Register for feedback loops with the individual ISPs then configure your software to automatically and immediately remove or suppress complainers from your lists.

You can use this information to drive improved deliverability. Ask yourself, is there a sudden spike after a campaign? Are complaint percentages at one ISP higher than others? Then determine, if possible, what may have caused the higher complaint rate. Finally, test your campaigns by sending the same message with different subject lines (or other elements), and compare the results.

Every ISP's feedback loop is different, making the aggregate data sometimes challenging to manage. Some use a standardized format - the Abuse Reporting Format û others don't. Some send feedback in real time, others send in batches. Many send the entire offending message, others only provide the e-mail address - and still others send the body of the message but no address. Plan for these discrepancies by configuring your processing scripts accordingly and by including unique recipient identifiers within standard e-mail headers.

By helping you track and remove complaints, feedback loops are one of the most important deliverability tools available today.

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