Tackling deliverability when ISPs fail

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At some time anyone who sends e-mail and manages e-mail deliverability will have to deal with failure of an Internet service provider (ISP). How you handle this type of crisis can have a major impact on the success or failure of your e-mail programs.

You may deliver mail with great success to an ISP that makes up a large percentage of your e-mail list. But one day, you may look at your numbers and see that all of your mail has been rejected. How you react in the next 48 hours is critical. Don't panic — remember, as a good e-mail marketing citizen, you can go down your checklist and make an informed decision.

First of all, you need to determine what exactly is happening. Are you being rejected with a specific consistent bounce code? Do all of your messages fail for the same reason? Do you receive a failure reason? Once you've determined the problem, you then work on a resolution.

Before I try a resolution, I like to take a quick review of my numbers. What is my reputation score, and how has it changed in the past 10 days? What is my complaint rate at that ISP? Have I changed my “from” address recently? Have I made dramatic copy or template changes? Is all of my authentication information still correct? Double-check that you have been processing feedback loop complaints. If all checks out correctly, move onto the next step with the ISP.

If you work with a deliverability resource, now is the time to be discussing the issue. Check the ISP postmaster Web site, that's usually where problems are posted. You can check out some of the Deliverability groups online where people swap war stories. Use the online ticketing system at an ISP to submit issues, but you shouldn't expect a quick reply, as most ISP's no longer staff this department and rely on automated responses.

If all checks out and it is an ISP problem, you need to take steps to reduce the impact to your list. Consider suspending traffic until the problem is resolved. You need to remember to go back and adjust your bounce management rules so you don't lose customers to unnecessary failures.

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