Focus on reputation for success with e-mail

George Bilbrey ?

President, ?Return Path?

Think you know everything there is to know about e-mail reputation? Think again. I am willing to bet at least one of the following three concepts is news to even the savviest marketers.?

While the basic factors that make up a sender’s reputation tend to be more or less the same across all Internet service providers (ISPs), how they weigh those factors can vary greatly. Certain ISPs have very permissive limits for unknown users (dead addresses at their domain) while others are much more restrictive. The same can be said for other factors like complaint rates and spam trap hits. If you want to have robust delivery across all the domains that you mail to, you need to have a good understanding of all the factors that ISPs weigh: complaints, unknown users, spam traps, server configuration and sending consistency.?

Many marketers believe deliverability factors are caused either by reputation or by content such as using the word “free” in the subject line. ISPs usually run e-mails through a gauntlet of different filtering systems that look at various factors in succession. The good news is that a great reputation can help marketers bypass many content filters. A sender with a dodgy reputation might get blocked for dodgy-looking content while a sender with a stellar reputation will sail through. In fact, Hotmail and Yahoo both offer certification programs that allow high reputation senders to bypass content filtering.?

Some large-volume senders hit upon a idea to work around complaint levels. If ISPs are concerned with complaint rate, the practice of sending e-mail to inactive subscribers — those who don’t open or click and therefore don’t complain — can be a really great way to keep that rate artificially low. However, mailbox providers have gotten wise to this trick and use complaint rates from a subset of “trusted” mailboxes in order to check on how your e-mail looks beyond the confines of their network. This puts your deliverability at risk if you don’t have a great strategy for handling inactive addresses.

THE TAKEAWAY?: Work with ISPs and use reputation tools to avoid spam filters?

Jordan Cohen?

Consultant and co-chair of the Email Experience Council’s Advocacy Advisory Committee?

 have three key pieces of advice for marketers seeking to improve their e-mail reputations and maximize inbox deliverability.?

First, you can’t correct problems that you don’t know exist. Many marketers are under the delusion that they have perfect reputation scores and 100% delivery rates. What they don’t realize is that most e-mail marketing applications calculate a campaign’s delivery rate by subtracting the total number of bounces (i.e., delivery failure reply notices) received in response to the total number of e-mails sent, and not the actual number of e-mail messages that have been delivered to the inbox. As a result, e-mail that ends up in the junk folder or blocked and black-holed is erroneously counted as delivered. Get a firm grasp of how your delivery rates are being captured, calculated and reported. In addition, augment your standard bounce-reports with third-party inbox monitoring tools that use seed lists to identify a truer picture of deliverability across multiple domains. ?

Second, authenticate, certify and do everything else in your power to improve the chances that your e-mail will be identified as authentic and safe. According to the Online Trust Alliance’s 2009 Email Authentication Report Card, 73% of the Fortune 500 have not deployed authentication standards such as SPF/Sender ID or DKIM at the corporate domain level, if at all. Marketers should implement these basic standards, as well as third-party fee-based certification services to maximize deliverability and campaign profitability.?

Finally, and most important of all, emphasize transparency and respect for recipient privacy in order to keep spam complaints low. Consumers don’t care if they opted-in, double opted-in or gave you their credit card number to sign up for your list. If the e-mail you send isn’t consistent with their expectations, they’re going to click the spam button and diminish your reputation score. Be clear about frequency and content. Disclose your privacy policy in layman’s terms, not lawyer-speak. Make it easy to opt-out or modify communication preferences.

THE TAKEAWAY?: Investigate the calculations behind your ?delivery rate metrics ?

Rick Buck?

Director of privacy and ISP relations, e-Dialog?

The reputation of the IP address from which you send e-mail is the single most important thing to manage to make sure your e-mails reach their targets. It is a reflection of your corporate brand.?

If your reputation is good, it is because you have done all the right things to get there. That includes sound acquisition practices and sending relevant content to prospects, customers and lapsed customers, which leads to lower bounce and complaint rates. ?

In difficult economies, there is increased pressure to grow and exploit the size of your marketing database. According to a recent Forrester report, by 2014 marketers will suffer to the tune of $144 million in wasted messages that never reach the inbox. It is your responsibility as a marketer to maintain data quality. Clean, permission-based e-mail lists build a positive reputation — and that begins with acquisition. ?

One of the most common methods of collecting e-mail addresses is with subscription forms on your Web site. Do you explain to your customer how you are using (or not using) their e-mail address? Do they think they are only getting an order confirmation and then begin to get daily commercial messages from you? That is an unsubscribe waiting to happen. Remember, your complaint rate should be well below half a percent.?

List rental, co-registration and search are also common acquisition tools. These methods have the opportunity to elicit a large volume of prospect e-mails. Make sure to do the appropriate due diligence to qualify the sources of these leads. Work with a legitimate and reputable list broker to do so. Make sure the first message you send them confirms why they are getting the e-mail and state the value proposition of your e-mail programs.

THE TAKEAWAY: Make it clear to customers your plan for ?their e-mail address at acquisition?

Kevin Mabley?

SVP of ?strategic services, ?Epsilon?

Reputation management is a critical element of digital marketing success and a central tenet of maximizing ROI. Consumer perception of the sender is crucial.?

Epsilon’s Global Consumer Email Study showed that consumers include poor timing and irrelevance in their definition of spam along with more traditional definitions such as phishing or spoofing. Consumers take action to limit spam and control their inbox. Understanding consumer preferences and taking advantage of sign-up pages and welcome programs will establish trust.?

Explicit information, such as frequency preferences, as well as implicit behavior, including engagement and responsiveness, will help marketers evolve profiles of subscribers on file. Using this information, marketers can customize campaigns with relevant information at the most appropriate time. That will improve the effectiveness of the program and the relationship with each individual subscriber. Irrelevance, often overlooked, can put off subscribers forever and damage your reputation.?

Measurement is an opportunity to gauge email reputation and will uncover delivery challenges as well as optimize the program as you examine sources, timing, campaigns, and brands. Look to your e-mail service provider for best practices guidance.?

Educate your staff (and your boss) on what reputation means and how sloppy practices can cost you lost revenue. Think globally and understand that the rules can vary based on geography. Consumers in various parts of the world react differently to permission-based email and their preferences change based on local attitudes.?

As marketers develop strategies to engage consumers locally, regionally and globally with a lifecycle marketing approach, reputation becomes a critical success factor. This is because the e-marketer cannot drive results unless the mail is getting delivered and consumers are opening messages and taking actions.

THE TAKEAWAY?: Understand consumer definitions of and attitudes toward spam

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