An Internet arms race has spilled into all aspects of e-mail marketing. As quickly as ISPs devise ways to fight spam, spammers find ways to blast back, and legitimate e-mail marketers get caught in the crossfire.
With the recent announcement of AOL’s pay-per-message-delivered program by Goodmail, the issues surrounding delivery jumped to the forefront. AOL pulled back on its decision to shut down its Enhanced White List, but the pressure remains on marketers to develop solid e-mail delivery strategies to reach inboxes.
Surveys indicate that the biggest challenge for sophisticated e-mail marketers is deliverability, which isn’t all that surprising. Deliverability is deceptively complex, and many marketers under-invest in the daily processes that drive its execution. As a result, many suffer from exceedingly poor deliverability, sometimes without even knowing it. Here are seven best practices to improve deliverability:
Don’t be the uninvited guest. As a rule, never send commercial e-mail to people who haven’t consented to receive it. It makes a poor brand impression, violates many ISPs’ terms of service and almost guarantees deliverability problems.
Avoid “spammy” gimmicks. Spam filters seek patterns and irregularities often found in spam, so resist the temptation to spice up messages with all caps, big fonts, weird punctuation, exclamation points, repeated phrases or common advertising come-ons such as “free!” or “limited time offer!” It’s also wise to screen your messages with a spam filter such as SpamAssassin to flag potential content problems before you send.
Practice list hygiene. Spammers’ lists are littered with invalid and outdated information. One way ISPs ferret them out is by watching for mailings with a high percentage of bad addresses. If an ISP bounces an address back to you as permanently undeliverable, scrub it from your list immediately. Strive for a hard bounce rate of less than 4 to 5 percent. Anything above 7 percent is likely to affect deliverability.
Don’t ignore ISPs. E-mail marketers often don’t realize they need to set up an [email protected] mailbox for ISPs to communicate information, such as bounce codes, back to a mailing’s origin. If you lack an appropriate mechanism for accepting an ISP’s messages, you’ll have no way to know what problems ISPs want addressed to ensure your mailings continue to get through.
Keep lists fresh. Mail at least once every 90 days to reduce the natural effects of address churn on your e-mail list. And if you haven’t sent an e-mail to a recipient in six months, consider segregating that recipient from your lists and re-soliciting permission.
Protect your corporate IP address. Never send marketing e-mail through the IP address you use for your corporate e-mail. That way, if you encounter deliverability problems, you don’t expose your corporate e-mail to risk. If the worst happens and an ISP blocks your e-mail marketing IP address, you still can carry on with necessary day-to-day, business-related e-mail communications.
Implement authentication protocols. E-mail authentication protocols such as Sender Policy Framework, Sender ID and DomainKeys help ISPs ensure e-mail really is from the company claiming to have sent it. And programs like Bonded Sender and Goodmail’s CertifiedEmail, for some kinds of messages such as electronic bills, alerts and transactions, make sense when the value of assured delivery outweighs the cost.
Technology continues to make great strides in separating the good e-mail from the bad. But marketers must be aware of these evolving systems to ensure that their e-mail reaches the recipients waiting for it.