December 03, 2013 | Sean Wirt
There has been quite a bit of buzz recently about SpamCop listings. Starting in mid October, senders began reporting an increase in their appearances on SpamCop’s list. This was caused by SpamCop introducing new spamtrap feeds, re-conditioning some older feeds and retiring others. Many of these spamtraps use long-time retired domains. SpamCop also uses honeypots or "pure" spamtraps - email addresses that were never used for email. The timing of this change and the resulting increase in SpamCop listings could make things interesting for senders as we enter the most critical time of year for most marketers.
SpamCop spamtraps do not interact with your emails. While the domains that SpamCop uses have been retired for at least 18 months, some companies retire addresses after six months and recycle those addresses into spamtraps. Those email addresses should have bounced for at least six months before that. Some list sources are not as hygienic as others, so be aware of your inbound streams and monitor for high complaints. High complaints mean a higher chance of spamtraps present on the list.
What does this mean for marketers? First of all, stay calm! This change will primarily impact B2B marketers, as it is mostly B2B domains that use SpamCop for filtering and blocking. The major B2C ISPs have developed their own filtering and reputation systems. But even if you are a B2C mailer, this change highlights the need to monitor your email engagement and act accordingly by adjusting your marketing strategy to focus on your most engaged customers. For marketers who monitor their engagement closely and send mail only to those who are their most active recipients, this shouldn’t make much of a difference. Assuming that you are already engaging in solid list acquisition and list management best-practices, the next best bet to avoid falling into a spamtrap is to mail only those recipients who recently subscribed to your list or engaged with your emails within the past six months.
Again, the holiday season adds a bit of a wrinkle, since many marketers will reach out again to unengaged users to gain their holiday business. Traditionally this is the prime time of the year to try to re-engage customers who haven’t opened, clicked or purchased in the past year. Smart planning is key to implementing a re-engagement campaign that won’t land you in a spamtrap. Most importantly, you need to spread any re-engagement campaign out over many days or weeks – not doing so is an easy way to possibly get you blocked at the worst time of the year. In addition, you will want to build into your campaign the prompt removal any bounces, and consider removing non- responses after a certain period of time, such as six months.
Changes within the industry, whether they come from the ISPs, blacklist providers, filtering vendors or others, occur regularly in this ever-changing market. They certainly keep us on our toes, but always bring us back to the same principle – only send email to those who have indicated that they want to receive it!
Posted by: Sean Wirt at 4:15 PM
September 26, 2013 | Sean Wirt
As you may have already read about in industry publications, Yahoo recently released a batch of stale user accounts back into "the wild," allowing new users to adopt these old email addresses. However, as the new users began using these recycled accounts, they realized that they were receiving email that was likely intended for the former owner.
Understandably so, this started to raise security concerns around the potential of sensitive information intended for the former owners being exposed to the new users. In response to these concerns, Yahoo this week announced that they would implement a “Not My Email” button within their email environment.
This new button allows recipients to send a complaint back to the sender via Yahoo’s Feedback Loop (FBL) program. All active StrongView customers are already enrolled in Yahoo's FBL program, so there is no need to take any additional actions at this time.
If you're not a StrongView client, I strongly recommend that you sign-up for Yahoo’s FBL program (as well all other FBL programs). Not only will this assist you with this current issue, but it will help to improve and/or solidify your reputation with the ISPs.
Posted by: Sean Wirt at 9:52 AM
May 31, 2013 | Sean Wirt
This week Google announced that it is rolling out a new Gmail inbox for its users. Google says that the new inbox "puts you back in control using simple, easy organization." The short of it is a new filtering system that organizes incoming email by its type and/or function. Here's how it works.
The new Gmail inbox will have four tabs for categorizing your mail: "Primary" for your most important messages, "Social" for social media updates, "Promotions" for marketing messages, and "Updates for bills, receipts and other transactional communications. Google is rolling out the new interface gradually, and once rolled out, Gmail users will be able to choose which, if any, of the tabs they would like to use.
Once you've been switched to the new inbox, Gmail will automatically drop your messages in the appropriate tab. For example, if you would like messages from a certain sender to always appear in your Primary tab, you simply star one of the sender’s messages and all future messages from that particular sender will always be assigned there. If you’re not a fan of the new look or experience, you can choose to switch back to the old interface. However, if you're not a fan because you're a marketer, the solution isn't so easy.
A marketer's biggest concern will be to the extent that the new Gmail inbox assigns their messages to the Promotions folder – never to be seen again! One way to prevent this is to encourage your customers to star your messages so they will always land in the Primary tab. This also highlights the need for your messages to be relevant, expected and desired. If you use good content, offers or other lures to properly incentivize your customers to read your emails, there's a better chance they'll track them down wherever they wind up. Obviously, having your messages land in the Primary tab is the best option, but landing in the Promotions tab isn’t the end of the world if your established a valued relationship with your customers. There is also the issue of adoption. If consumers reject the new inbox and revert to the old style, you'll see little impact at all.
As marketers, we won't know the real impact until it's rolled out more universally, but it's a good excuse to watch inbox placement at Gmail and focus on sending relevant content. If you would like to check out the new inbox sooner rather than later, and possibly even do some testing, Gmail advises to "keep an eye on the gear menu and select Configure inbox when it appears in the Settings options."
Engagement will most likely still be a key factor in determining reputation and, ultimately, overall delivery. Thus, you should keep a sharp eye on delivery and engagement metrics (opens and clicks) to monitor performance over time.
Posted by: Sean Wirt at 2:19 PM
May 07, 2013 | Sean Wirt
Over the past few months, Microsoft has (not so quietly) been rolling out its new Outlook.com email service and moving Hotmail customers over the Outlook.com platform. Late last week, they announced that the move is now complete. Over 300 million Hotmail.com addresses are now on the Outlook.com platform as well as the more than 100 million new Outlook.com addresses. Existing Hotmail customers can continue to use their hotmail.com addresses and new customers will be given Outlook.com addresses.
From a delivery standpoint, we have seen very little change. The "migration" appears to be mainly front-end changes. Going to www.hotmail.com will now redirect users to the same destination as www.outlook.com. The messages are continuing to go through the same back-end platform with very little impact.
For now, they appear to have maintained the status quo. As always, the StrongView Delivery Services team will continue to monitor the situation and keep clients updated on any developments and/or changes.
Posted by: Sean Wirt at 9:15 AM
April 29, 2013 | Sean Wirt
“What’s the best way to stay on top of our reputation and delivery?” That's one of the more popular questions we get from clients, and the answer is a simple one: reporting. Solving deliverability problems can be complicated, but identifying them is just the opposite. That's why it's important to have access to detailed deliverability reporting that enables you to easily monitor all messages being sent from your brand. Having access to the right reports allows you to not only see where you may be having issues, but also identify trends over time.
If you're only actively monitoring opens and clicks, you need to expand the data you track to include bounces (hard and soft) and complaints. By monitoring these key factors, you should have a fairly good understanding of your overall reputation. This data can also give you some crucial feedback on your list acquisition and maintenance policies.
If you continue to see high complaint or hard bounce rates, then you most likely need to take a look at your list acquisition practices. You can start by asking yourself a few questions. Are you requiring recipients to confirm their email address when they sign-up to receive your mailings? Are you setting realistic expectations on when and how often your recipients will hear from you? And, are you processing the bounces and complaints as soon as you receive them?
You should also remember that opens and clicks aren't just an indicator of campaign performance – they can offer some insight into your sender reputation as well. Have you seen a recent or sudden decline in your open or click rates? If so, this could be an indication that your messages have started going to the spam/bulk folder. Using a deliverability tool with a seedlist-based inbox monitor like StrongView's StrongDelivery Tools can help to confirm your suspicions.
Poor sender reputation is one of the top reasons that ISPs will deliver your email to the bulk folder, which is proprietary blend of complaint, bounce and engagement rates. If you have low open and click rates, ISPs will factor that into your reputation, which can cause them to eventually de-prioritize the delivery of your messages. This de-prioritization can come in the form of slowing the rate at which they will accept your mail, lowering volume limits of mail that they will accept, or delivering your messages to the bulk folder.
There are many aspects to email delivery, and unfortunately, the ISPs aren’t completely transparent when it comes to their filtering and reputation systems. However, that no excuse not to do what's within your control - and that includes getting access to detailed deliverability reporting and actively monitoring it to identify issues.
Posted by: Sean Wirt at 2:28 PM
March 28, 2013 | Sean Wirt
There are many components to a successful email marketing campaign, but one stands alone in its ability to make or break your results – deliverability. You can nail the offer and creative, but if your message doesn't get to the intended recipient, it's all in vain. With the critical role that deliverability plays in email marketing success, it only makes sense to think twice about doing anything to jeopardize it – which leads me to email list brokers.
One of the other components to email marketing success is the size of your list, and if your list is on the lean side, it might be tempting to boost your numbers by purchasing a list. If you've ever been to an industry trade show, you know there are tons of companies willing to sell you lists. But before you give in, you need to consider what such an act could do to your deliverability.
Email list brokers will tell you that their data is fresh and clean – full of happy consumers who have willingly signed up to get as many offers as possible from third-party companies. This sounds great, but how many people do you know who would be a part of such an implausible group? If there was any question about the often dubious origins of the data, consider the email I recently received from a data aggregation company that I'll refer to as "Info Corp."
In the pitch, InfoCorp informed me that they had created an online profile for me using an automated process to scrape information from web sources, as well as from its "InfoCorp community." The message went on to say that it would like to send me information about interesting products and services from its business partners, and that it would occasionally share my email address with them if they thought their information might be relevant to me.
You might be thinking "who would opt-in to such an arrangement?" Unfortunately, you're asking the wrong question. I doubt anyone would opt-in, which is why the email from InfoCorp was a courtesy message to allow me to opt-out. If I did nothing, they would proceed with sharing my information with a host of business partners that I had no control over. Fortunately, I managed to see the message and opt-out, but I'm guessing many others didn't due to the poor inbox delivery that goes part-and-parcel with sending unsolicited email.
With engagement being one of the key factors affecting email deliverability, marketers must be very careful with how they grow their lists. Organic growth can be slow, but it's the best way to acquire the type of engaged subscribers that will lead to a positive sending reputation with the ISPs. Instead of purchasing email lists, what about investing in engaging email programs that entice customers to interact with your brand? Or how about integrating social sharing and referral marketing programs into your campaigns to allow your subscribers to help build your lists with like-minded customers?
Buying an email list might be cheap, but the deliverability cost of sending unwanted email to unsuspecting consumers can be very high. And based on the message I received from InfoCorp, there are a lot of unsuspecting consumers out there. In the end, your sender reputation is key to the success of your email programs, so consider carefully any activity that might affect your future ability to get to the inbox.
Posted by: Sean Wirt at 2:29 PM
February 28, 2013 | Sean Wirt
As many of you probably know, there’s a new kid on the email authentication block. That new kid is DMARC, and the first public version of the specification is now over a year old. While still in its infancy, DMARC has made some large strides over the past year with dmarc.org announcing that DMARC now protects almost 2 billion of the world's 3.3 billion consumer inboxes and 80% of the consumer inboxes in the United States. So, if you 're not entirely sure why you need to care about DMARC, I've put together the following “5 W’s of DMARC” to help shed some light on the subject.
What is it?
DMARC stands for "Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance." It is a technical specification that allows senders to tell recipient domains (ISPs) what do with their email if authentication fails. The standard also allows for the sender to receive reporting back from the ISPs, which will allow the sender to get a better understanding how and when the sender’s brand is being used in email.
Who should use it?
Any company or organization that sends email and is concerned with protecting their brand should use DMARC.
When should you use it?
With every mailing! The great thing about DMARC is that once you set up your record, you let the authentication that you already have in place (SPF & DKIM) do the work for you with every message that goes out.
Where did it start?
DMARC was established out of necessity. The individual authentication methods that were already in existence (SPF & DKIM) were having positive effects with regards to delivery, but they did very little to protect a sender’s brand. PayPal first started looking into a new solution in 2007 to protect their brand and later collaborated with other industry leaders such as Facebook, Yahoo, Google, JPMorgan Chase, AOL and others to develop a standard.
Why should I use it?
DMARC allows the sender to have more control over what happens to messages that fail authentication at the receiving end of the email chain. The sender’s DMARC record tells the receiver to block email or send messages to the spam folder if that authentication fails. It also lets the sender know who is sending email, falsely claiming to be the sender, as well as legitimate organizations who SHOULD be sending email on the sender’s behalf, but incorrectly (or not at all) authenticating.
So if you haven't already adopted DMARC, I hope these five "W's" have convinced you to do so. If you're not sure how to get started, any top-tier email service provider with a deliverability services team should be able to help you with the process.
Posted by: Sean Wirt at 4:07 PM
January 31, 2013 | Sean Wirt
I recently read an interesting blog article by Christian Schappel over at Deliverability.com titled "3 Things You Need to Know Before Hitting 'Send.'" In the post, Christian discusses the results of a recent study that tries to uncover the best time to send email. Of course whether there actually is a best time of day is an ongoing topic of debate within the email marketing industry.
Experts will publish these blanket recommendations and then everyone begins sending email at that time – ultimately causing the opposite effect. So when you see a recommendation to send between 8:00 and 9:00 AM – the best time to send your email is any other time of the day!
Determining the best time to send your email is very unique and specific to your brand and your vertical. With the emergence of Flash Commerce, many brands are beginning to “own” a moment in the inbox. This moment is largely dictated by their business model and the expectations of their subscribers – consumers are creatures of habit; they get used to seeing messages they want and expect – at a specific moment.
To determine the best time for you to send your messages, you need to ask yourself a few questions:
Who is my audience?
The demographics and psychographics of your customer can help you to understand their potential email behavior. For example, are they working moms that are checking their email from work – or do they wait until they get home and the kids are all in bed?
Does my business warrant or require a specific moment?
For Flash Commerce sites – getting the email into the consumers hands first thing in the morning plays in to the urgency of these limited-time offers. Does your business require that?
Does your offer warrant a specific moment?
Maybe you don’t need to send ALL of your email at the same time of day every week – it could be that you have an offer or a singular program that is time-sensitive.
When are the majority of recipients opening your email?
If you are sending first thing in the morning and most of your opens happen late in the evening, you may want to consider sending a little later. It will keep you nearer to the top of the inbox, potentially increasing your ability to get the message opened and seen.
Ultimately, in order to discern the best time for you to send your email, you need to test it. And keep testing it. Because the reality is that it is a moving target that can be greatly impacted by the time of day decisions that other brands are making as they hit your customers’ inboxes.
Posted by: Sean Wirt at 11:13 AM
December 20, 2012 | Sean Wirt
One of the current hot topics in the world of deliverability right now stems from email receipts that retailers are adopting for in-store purchases. If you've bought anything in a larger retail chain in the last couple of months, you likely know what I'm talking about. As you're completing your transaction at the check-out counter, the sales associate asks if you would prefer to have a printed receipt or have a digital receipt emailed to you. In a lot of ways, this makes sense. The consumer has one less receipt to keep track of in their wallet or lost in the bottom of a shopping bag, and an email receipt makes it instantly searchable in their inbox if they need to reference it later on. This all sounds perfect. If only it were so.
Veteran email marketing journalist Ken Magill has reported that some retailers are taking an email deliverability hit because of typos that are occurring when sales associates enter a customer's email address. Here's the problem. These typos have caused Spamhaus, the well-known anti-spam crusader and blocklist provider, to begin blocking email sent from typo-affected retailers. One prominent example is The Gap's recently inclusion on Spamhaus' blocklist, which is being attributed to these typoed email addresses.
What's happening is that Spamhaus operates a number of spamtrap or "typo-trap" domains that are variations of popular online brands. The idea is these typo-traps allow Spamhaus to identify senders with bad data collection processes. It would be one thing if the typoed email receipt was the only message to hit the typo-trap; the trouble starts if the retailer automatically signs up that bad email address for ongoing marketing promotions. The continual mailing to these addresses can kick you onto Spamhaus' blocklist. So what do you do?
You may not agree with Spamhaus putting legitimate brands on their blocklist for the bad email captures at point of sale (and many marketers don't), but if you want to ensure your messages get delivered there are a couple of things you can do to help – and some you should be doing anyway.
If you currently use email receipts at retail locations (or are thinking about it), you should invest in a system that can identify bad domains at the point of capture. If the sales associated is immediately warned of a bad domain when they input it into the system, they can either correct it or ask the consumer to confirm the correct address. The other option is to have the device require double entry. Not only will these tactics help keep you off blocklists, it will also ensure the consumer gets the receipt.
If you want to be able to add the email address you collected for future email promotions, you can consider using a confirmed opt-in (COI) process where the customer has to respond to a confirmation email before they begin receiving email communications. This also puts the consumer in control of whether they want to receive email communications from you after an in-store sale, which can reduce complaints from customers who weren't properly informed that they would be receiving marketing messages as a result of the email receipt.
You can also choose to only use the email address once to send the receipt and not save it to your database. You lose out on this information, but you also don't risk continuing to email to a bad address.
Consumers seem to be embracing the email receipt for in-store purchases, so marketers need to be strategic about the best way to implement it that won't affect their overall marketing efforts – either by turning off customers or getting put on a blocklist that could potentially affect email marketing promotions across their entire customer base.
Posted by: Sean Wirt at 11:47 AM
July 31, 2012 | Sean Wirt
I was watching Gordon Ramsay's "Kitchen Nightmares" the other night and thought, "Wow! Some of these restaurants closely mirror email programs that I’ve worked with!" I’m sure you’re thinking “Huh?” Don't worry. I’ll get to that in a minute.
For those of you who have not seen "Kitchen Nightmares" here's a quick synopsis of the show: The owner of a once successful, now struggling, restaurant reaches out to world-renowned chef Gordon Ramsay. Ramsay then visits the restaurant, samples the food, gets to know the owners and staff and then (with a lot of screaming and cursing) works with the owners and staff to turn the restaurant around. The restaurant gets a makeover, not only to the building, but also the menu. The staff gets re-trained and the owners go through some soul-searching, which inevitably leads to a positive attitude change.
So, you ask, “How does this have anything to do with email programs?” Here’s how…
One common theme that all of these restaurants have is that they were once very successful. But, over time business has fallen off, and they are now on the brink of failure. The reason business has fallen off is that the owners put the business on cruise-control, didn’t make any positive changes (to the menu or the décor) and customers lost interest. Ramsay comes in, infuses some excitement in the menu, the décor and the attitudes of the staff and business picks up again.
We see this all the time with mailing programs. A client builds their list and their program and thinks they can put things on cruise-control. They feel that as long as they are removing complaints and hard bounces they’ll be good-to-go. That may have been the case a couple of years ago, but that’s no longer going to fly. Today, ISPs put a lot of value in user engagement and sending to unengaged users will eventually have a negative effect on your reputation. This is the point where StrongView's deliverability experts step in and play the role of Gordon Ramsay. We help our clients understand that not only do they have to continue to remove their complaints and hard bounces, but they need to also look at their “openers” and “clickers.”
If you find that recipients aren’t opening and clicking, then it's highly likely that they aren't interested any longer. If they aren’t interested, then try to infuse some excitement in your mailing program that will rekindle the interest. Send a special offer (free shipping, 25% off your next order, etc.), anything to get them excited again. If they don’t respond to your offer, then remove them from your list. There’s no need to continue to mail to someone who’s not interested. Not only will you reduce the overhead of sending to recipients unnecessarily, but you will also improve your reputation with the ISPs.
So, don’t let your mailing program turn into a “Kitchen Nightmare!” Don’t put the program on cruise-control. Keep the décor and menu (offers, design, etc.) fresh and your customers will keep coming back for more!