It’s a Fact; You Will Be Called a Spammer

Many new services have appeared in the past year to determine whether e-mails get delivered to an inbox rather than a spam box. Major ISPs such as Yahoo and AOL sometimes place e-mails into a spam folder rather than the inbox. You will, at some point, be identified as a spammer. No matter how careful you are, a competitor, a confused recipient or somebody will flag you as a spammer. It might even be the e-mail marketer who, using the same ESP, was in line ahead of you. One way to avoid this is to hold seed lists of e-mail addresses so you can monitor deliveries to the major ISPs. The problem is, most ESPs only have the ability to seed your list at the beginning and/or the end of the list. This does not give you the real-time ability to pause campaigns, fix the problem and continue.

Remember that e-mail recipients might click “this is spam” in the midst of a campaign. If only 0.1 percent of your recipients report your message as spam, then you’re a marked sender and you’ve been erroneously flagged as a spammer. With e-mails seeded evenly throughout your list, you can monitor delivery in real time. In the future, business managers will use these monitoring services for all customer e-mail communications. Shipping, receipts and any other department or business communications that use e-mail will need to be ensured that they are delivered to an inbox. Another factor to better guarantee proper delivery, according to Bryan Brown, director of technology at Vtrenz, is “careful separation and cataloging of business communications using segregation of IP addresses.” Brown said as a normal part of his day, Vtrenz carefully selects each domain for the various levels of business communications. The IP is selected based on the stage of the business cycle. Marketing follow-up e-mails to prospective customers will never use the same IP as that used to send an invoice to existing customers.

Another worrisome point is that many ESPs use these services for internal purposes, but do not offer results to their clients. You likely will have to subscribe to these services on your own accord.

Bounce information and management. Many e-mail service providers do not provide clients bounce information. This is critical information to identify possible problems with your lists. It is as though ESPs don’t want clients to closely analyze delivery problems. Remember, only one in one thousand need report you as a spammer to ruin a campaign. If your ESP provides this critical information, e-mail managers might fix problems before they turn into bigger problems. It is worrisome, at best, that ESPs do not provide, or otherwise hide, bounce-related information. Avoid these ESPs at all costs.

Sharing an IP address with strangers is like sharing your fingerprints. Very few ESPs offer multiple, segregated IPs, but you should find them. It is likely that your ESP uses the same IP address for many, or all, e-mail campaigns. Punishment is doled out one IP address at a time. If somebody gets the IP address(es) used by your ESP flagged as spam, then you also will be flagged as a spammer. You certainly wouldn’t share any other identity asset like your Social Security number or fingerprint.

A key feature ESPs need to offer is the ability to send different types of lists using different IP addresses. Marketers might send new opt-in e-mail messages using a different IP address than the IP used to send to longer-term, opt-in recipients. Using this strategy, you ensure your best lists are rarely blocked. Don’t expect this anytime soon unless you’re willing to pay a big premium. Watch for a rapidly increasing number of ESPs and business communications firms that implement, even insist on, this methodology.

Sender authentication. Most ESPs have begun deployment of sender authentication protocols and strategies. They should be able to tell you their plans regarding this key feature. Many small ISPs already check for a Sender Policy Framework and bounce messages that do not have SPF records. This is another great reason to have the ability to monitor and manage bounced e-mails.

All major ISPs either offer some type of framework to identify legitimate senders or have announced the release of these frameworks within the next year. These include SPF, Sender ID and Yahoo DomainKeys.

Beyond Sender ID. In a recent interview with William Schnabel, president of Vtrenz, and Brown, we reached interesting conclusions. Schnabel mentioned that, beyond Sender ID, e-mail marketers will build profiles, or e-mail marketing histories. Take that to the next level, and you begin to see business-style credit reporting. Even individual marketers likely will have some type of Web User Credit Report, or profile. Marketers will voluntarily submit their information to keep the validity of this new system on solid footing. Will it be Yahoo, Google or another ESP that begins building this Web User Report Card, and how might they do it? What are the privacy issues?

White lists won’t save you. Many ESPs work with major ISPs to ensure they are on the ISP’s white list. E-mails on the white list bypass some spam checks and gain other advantages that ISPs will keep as a tightly guarded secret. This does not ensure e-mails will not be blocked. Even if you are white-listed, and an e-mail recipient or ISP determines your e-mail is spam, the ISP will begin to block your e-mails.

It is likely, as our internal research indicates, that if you’re reported as spam just one time in one thousand, your e-mails will begin to head to the spam bucket. How can you prevent this? Your ESP needs to share the spam reports from ISPs or simply remove e-mails that report your message as spam from your lists. You do not want people in your list who opted onto your list, then reported you as a spammer. It is better to get these reports from ESPs to be sure these people are removed from lists. You take a risk if you choose to trust your ESP, or any third party, with a valuable business asset such as a contact list.

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