Strategies to Get Your E-Mail Delivered

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As many as 15 percent of your customers and prospects may never get your messages because they are incorrectly identified as spam. Even if your e-mail address file is double opt in, there is no guarantee of delivery. E-mail volume has reached crisis levels, forcing ISPs and corporate IT departments to deploy technologies to detect and quarantine unsolicited e-mail. Some permission-based e-mails are caught in the net, never reaching their intended audience.


Applied Info Group has conducted messaging campaigns since 1996 and has amassed reliable predictors of e-mail delivery rates using programs that evaluate various spam filters. Filters typically are highly generalized, inaccurate programs. Sophisticated spammers can avoid these filters while ethical marketers following Direct Marketing Association guidelines are having legitimate messages snared. Marketers need to adjust messages to maximize the chance of delivery yet maintain effective communications.


To ensure delivery, it helps to know that spam filters look for patterns and add or delete points for certain factors. If the total score reaches a predetermined level, the message is flagged as spam. By looking at what adds points (bad) and subtracts points (good), you can learn to construct e-mail messages that are less likely to get filtered.


These strategies can help:


Use capitalization sparingly. Capital letters are seen as yelling and "spammy." Excessive use costs you points. Avoid using capitalized titles or headlines.


Watch your punctuation. Less is more when it comes to punctuation. Excessive use of punctuation marks draws unnecessary attention to your e-mail message.


Change your HTML code. If your HTML message contains more than 50 percent HTML tags (very specific formatting), you will add points. Try to keep the HTML simple. Avoid highly stylized formats, HTML tables with thick borders, Java script contained in the message, and an HTML form.


Check hyperlinks. Avoid links without an http:// prefix or link to URLs using IP address numbers instead of a domain name. Try not to use mailto links.


Use color prudently. A font color tag that isn't formatted quite right or not in the palette of 217 Web-safe colors will be negatively identified, as will hidden letters the same color as the background color. Background colors other than white are not recommended. Black is the safest. Green, cyan, yellow, magenta or unknown colors are the worst.


Reduce the use of large fonts and characters. Avoid large fonts and use HTML headers rather than font tags to increase font size.


Review subject lines and content. Copywriters need to be creative and apply direct mail concepts to e-mail, but with different words. The most common problems are words and characters such as Free, Hello, Guarantee, a number, a $ sign, To: username at front of subject, white space, No Fee, No Obligation, Special Promotion, Call Now and Savings. The best way to learn what works is testing in the same way direct marketers have always tested postal mail.


Watch your volume. Do not mail the same records repeatedly. This is not good from a marketing perspective, either. We installed frequency counters to ensure that individuals do not receive an excessive amount of mail. Also, some filters regulate based on the volume of mail that is received from a domain.


Review the wording of unsubscribe information. It seems ironic that legitimate opt-in e-mailers are penalized for having unsubscribe information, but because so many spammers have bogus opt-out systems, it is apparently a spam indicator. Troublesome phrases include list removal information, remove, click to remove and claims that you can be removed from the list.


Include ways to unsubscribe, of course, but avoid the phrase "click here" and substitute something like "use this link to." You should not use mailto e-mail links with "remove" in the subject. Do not use words like "unsubscribe" or "remove" in the URL.


Implement a signature line. You're helped if your e-mail contains an e-mail signature because so many spam messages don't. The signature can be short or long. It is better to have either signature with empty lines surrounding it.


Set up a test account. Create test accounts at Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail and other major ISPs so you can measure the deliverability of your e-mails by seeing whether they are being filtered.


Do not include spam-law compliance. It's unwise to claim that you observe all the spam laws. Only spammers say that. If you mention House Bill 4176 or H.R. 3113, it will raise a flag.


Regulate message size. Because so many spam messages are under 20K, it is beneficial to have a message between 20K and 40K. More than 40K does not hurt, but it does not help, either.


Remove spam addresses from your list. Occasionally, people add e-mail addresses to your list just to get you in trouble with anti-spammers. Try scanning your database for an e-mail address that starts with abuse@, postmaster@ or nospam@. Sometimes an address is inserted that subscribes you to an auto responder each time you send out a message. You might scan for the word "subscribe" among your e-mail addresses (though this one won't affect you with the spam filters).


Ask subscribers to put your address in their address books. Some e-mail client programs such as AOL 8.0 and Hotmail recently changed their interface to let users sort mail into preferred folders. As people subscribe, ask them to place you in their address book (AOL), safe list (Hotmail) or white list (some spam filters). That way your e-mail goes directly into their inbox. Asking may be a little trouble, but it may make the difference in recipients seeing your e-mail.


As in every business, there are a few individuals who exploit a situation, which makes it tougher for legitimate marketers. It is up to us to be proactive, fully comply with industry guidelines and support reasonable legislation that will remove the true spammers. It is also critical to educate the industry, our customers, legislators and privacy advocates that it is OK to communicate to customers using this medium just like we do in other media like TV, radio, magazines, newspapers and direct mail.


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