The Deliverability Top 10

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Want to ensure your e-mail message gets read? Follow these 10 tips:


1. Get and confirm permission. Receiving permission from your subscribers is the crux of a successful e-mail program. Capturing an opt-in and confirming it with a follow-up e-mail is the best practice to ensure you add only recipients who want your e-mail.


To find out whether you are sending something that is unwanted, look at your e-mail from the eyes of your recipients. Will they anticipate receiving the e-mail? Does it contain information that interests them? If the answer is "no," then you should not send it. It is likely to get filtered because of complaints or content and will cause harm to your deliverability as well as your brand and profitability over time.


2. Send highly valuable, highly relevant e-mails. As the inbox gets more crowded with spam, your users look to your e-mail to provide them with relevant content -- the content they expected when subscribing to receive your e-mail in the first place. The age of e-mail blasting is over. Begin capturing data on subscribers via surveys or during sign-up. Over time, you will be able to send more relevant content, which lessens the chance that subscribers will interpret your e-mail as spam.


3. Set content and frequency expectations. Nothing can trigger subscriber dissatisfaction like continued e-mails that do not meet subscriber expectations in terms of content or frequency. Did you promise valuable, informational content but continue to send only product pitches? Did you promise a monthly newsletter but send weekly promotions? A study by DoubleClick last year shows that 65 percent of men and 56 percent of women define spam as "e-mail from a company that I have done business with that comes too often."


4. Use a service provider with a good reputation. Commercial e-mail is getting more difficult with the advent of the CAN-SPAM Act and the increase in ISP filtering. Staying up-to-date on legislation and policies of ISPs and anti-spam groups is difficult to do on your own.


Reputable service providers dedicate resources to managing ISP relationships, monitoring e-mail deliveries and evaluating e-mail laws. If you do not have similar resources or an in-house expert, outsourcing could be the best way to get your messages delivered.


5. Use a recognizable, short and consistent "from address." Before even opening your e-mail, a user has to recognize you, your company, your publication, and remember that he requested your e-mail. This leads to many users accidentally reporting e-mail that they opted in to receive as spam or deleting it.


The e-mail "from address" is the first thing recipients look at when deciding whether to open a message. It is important to keep this in mind with all e-mail applications, but especially when mailing to AOL since its application shows only the e-mail "from address" (info@xyzcompany.com) rather than the friendly "from name" (XYZ Company). If your e-mail address looks like this (iqytchg@cz.upc.net), you are likely to receive a high number of spam complaints that could result in your e-mail routing to the bulk folder or being blocked completely.


6. Ask to be placed in the address book or Safe Senders List. AOL 9.0, Yahoo, Hotmail/MSN and Outlook 2003 all remove their e-mail filtering techniques when the sender's e-mail address is in the recipient's address book. This is another good reason to keep the same address over time. Once your "from address" is in a subscriber's book, your e-mails will continue to reach the inbox with images and links intact.


7. Maintain list cleanliness. One sure way to get your message blocked is by "looking like a spammer." Most ISPs use list quality filters to detect when a sender is trying to deliver e-mail to a large number of invalid addresses. These messages bounce back to the originating server, which is why they are called bounces.


Filtering can start at a bounce rate of just 10 percent at many ISPs. Even a good, permission-based list will see bounces over time. According to Return Path, an average e-mail list will lose 30 percent of its names yearly because of subscribers changing e-mail addresses. To stay clean, monitor your bounces regularly and remove bad addresses from your list.


8. Promptly remove unsubscribes and respond to complaints. No matter the quality of your opt-in efforts, some subscribers will not want to receive your e-mail any longer. Nothing will cause more problems for your deliverability than ignoring unsubscribes and complaints. It also is important to manage your reply e-mail address so that manual requests can be removed and complaints can be monitored. Monitoring your complaints closely is an effective indicator of how clearly you informed your subscribers regarding content and frequency when they opted in to your publications.


In the age of CAN-SPAM, it must be easy for users to manage their subscriptions or unsubscribe. A profile management form allows a user to select the publications to which he wants to subscribe to or be removed from. This lets you stay in compliance with the 10-day unsubscribe removal period mandated by CAN-SPAM, while still offering another option besides unsubscribing from all of your communications.


9. Use ISP inbox testing. Setting up an "ISP Test List" can be a fast, easy way to find out whether your e-mail will pass through spam filters. Simply set up e-mail accounts with the major ISPs such as AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc. Before sending to your entire subscriber list, send to your "test list" and ensure your e-mail reaches the inbox of each ISP. If it lands in a bulk folder or is blocked, you can investigate and make the appropriate changes.


10. Avoid "spammy" words and phrases. Systematically scanning e-mail subject lines and body content (also called content filtering) is the most widely used filtering method among ISPs, according to Jupiter Research. Avoid overly promotional words and phrases, multiple exclamation points, all capital letters and other text often used by spammers.


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