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Maximizing Deliverability

How New Gmail Image Caching Affects Email Marketers

gmail image cachingLast week Gmail began to cache images for messages received by its users. This caused an uproar within the email marketing industry, as this action negatively affects a marketer's ability to track total opens.  If a tracking image pixel is cached, it can only be used once - all subsequent opens of that image would not tracked. Since this was first noticed, there have been many public discussions among email marketers about why Google would make this change.  Well, it looks like we now have our answer.

Google announced today that it would begin showing images in messages by default. Gmail indicates that now "your messages are more safe and secure, your images are checked for known viruses or malware, and you’ll never have to press that pesky 'display images below' link again." 

This would appear to be a win for marketers and consumers. Marketers' messages will now display the way they intended them to, and they will likely see an increase in unique "open" data as the tracking pixels should be enabled by default as well.

The one initial downside could be a decrease in total opens due to the issue mentioned above; however, the usefulness of the total opens metric has been under debate for a while. The good news for consumers (and marketers) is that they will no longer have to click to allow images to be displayed for every message they receive.

You can read about it more on the Gmail Blog:
http://gmailblog.blogspot.be/2013/12/images-now-showing.html

UPDATE 12-13-13 - It looks like Desktop Gmail users started getting images on by default today with mobile users being affected in the New Year. More information at MarketingLand. and Washington Post

Posted by: Sean Wirt at 2:44 PM
Categories: gmail deliverability

Yahoo! Mail Reports Outage

It has been reported (and confirmed by Yahoo) that some users have been unable to access their Yahoo mailbox since Monday evening. There is no indication that this is affecting delivery of mail to Yahoo, only the ability to access the mail by end users. 

What this means for marketers is that you may see a slight drop in opens and clicks from Monday until this issue is resolved. Yahoo indicates that the issue should be resolved today. So, there may be a 2-day period where you may see a drop. Once things are resolved on Yahoo's end, you should see your statistics return to normal. 

You can keep up-to-date on Yahoo!'s progress fixing the problem on Yahoo!'s help desk page.

We will update this post once we receive confirmation that the issue has been resolved.

Update 12-16-13: Yahoo! CEO Marissa Meyer apologizes for outage. Access to most of the 1% affected has been restored. More info on CNET.

Posted by: Sean Wirt at 3:43 PM
Categories: deliverability yahoo

Responding to Yahoo's New "Not My Email" Button

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
Categories: Yahoo, Feedback Loops, Deliverability

Hotmail is Now (Officially) Outlook.com

Hotmail becomes Outlook.comOver 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
Categories: deliverability

The Key to Optimum Email Deliverability

“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
Categories: email, email deliverability,

The Deliverability Challenge Introduced by Email Receipts for In-Store Purchases

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
Categories: email receipts, deliverability, deliverability challenge

Lessons in Deliverability: How to Avoid a "Kitchen Nightmare"

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!

Posted by: Sean Wirt at 9:33 AM
Categories: deliverability

Email Append, A Cautionary Tale

For the record, I am not a fan of email appending programs. If you are not familiar with the term, MAAWG defines appending as "taking known demographic information and using various methods to determine an email address for the purpose of adding people to a list or otherwise sending them email messages." So, for example, you may have an account with a department store, but the store does not have your e-mail address. The store may hire a third-party company to try and find email addresses for those clients whose email addresses are not in their database. Last fall, MAAWG published its "Position on Email Appending," in which they describe it as an "abusive practice."

Recently, I started receiving member email from a credit union in Indiana. The problem is that I don't live in Indiana, nor am I a member of this particular institution. A quick search showed me that there is a Sean Wirt who lives in the area served by this credit union; however, he is not me. The most likely scenario is that this credit union engaged in an appending program that went awry.

The problem with the verification method they chose is that they clearly appended data using name only. The same web search showed that there are at least three Sean Wirt's in the U.S. – 1 in Florida, 1 in Indiana and 1 in North Carolina (me). I am unaware of any data related to me that would suggest that I would be a member of a credit union in Indiana. Once they decided that my email address was the correct one, they did not even attempt to confirm with me that their information was correct – they simply started sending me their newsletters. Even better, the newsletter was not CAN-SPAM compliant, as it had no unsubscribe link!

So, what's the moral? Don’t append!  If you ignore this advice and do it anyway, at least give the recipients a chance to tell you that they aren’t who you think they are and/or give them the opportunity to opt-out immediately. If all else fails, make sure your emails are CAN-SPAM compliant!

Posted by: Sean Wirt at 9:36 AM
Categories: deliverability, email append

A Creative Approach to Solving Gmail Deliverability Issues

I've been a BIG fan of Shari's Berries and ProFlowers for years! Whenever my family is in a pinch to send last-minute gifts, we almost always send berries. As a fan, I subscribed to their mailing list years ago so that I could take advantage of their great deals. Occasionally, I noticed that some of their messages were going to my spam folder in Gmail. Knowing the effect this had on my receiving their messages in my inbox, I naturally clicked the "Not Spam" button in Gmail. (Of course, many "average Joes" don't realize the impact that has, but I won't go off on that tangent!)

Anyhow, a few months back, I started noticing that the subject lines of some of my messages From Shari's Berries and ProFlowers were targeted at Gmail users. There were subjects such as "Gmail Users Weekend Sales Event: 59% off a Gift Mom will Remember Forever" and "Our Easter Flash Sale for Gmail Users is Now! 63% off Delicious Easter Strawberries." I remember being at a MAAWG event when I received the first one and pointed out to colleagues what a great idea it was. They even went so far as to send out a message with this subject: "Gmail Notice: Please check your settings today." I distinctly remember forwarding that one out to our deliverability team saying something like "Wow! Check this out!"

The email included step-by-step instructions on how to report the message as "Not Spam" and also how to add the "From" address to their address book. Not only did they tell you how to do it, they gave you a visual depiction of the process – love it!

gmail-proflowers

All of this background leads to my point. Industry columnist Ken Magill posted a Magill Report article last week talking specifically about ProFlowers' campaigns (ProFlowers and Shari's Berries are both parts of the Provide Commerce family of brands) and the effect they had on delivery. Ken writes: "But during the week of March 19th, ProFlowers' Gmail inbox placement rate jumped from 35.9 percent to 71.8 percent, according to eDataSource. Two weeks later, the rate surpassed 85 percent, according to eDataSource. The following week—and every week thereafter—the rate has been above 95 percent, according to eDataSource. ProFlowers started using subject lines targeted to Gmail users at the end of February and stopped in April, according to eDataSource. The results speak for themselves."

I love when marketers get creative in their efforts to improve delivery (especially when it works)! The lesson here is that when you think outside the box can you can be rewarded with GREAT results. If you find you're getting caught in the spam folder at one of your key ISPs and any overtures to their postmaster team hasn't produced any results, then don't be afraid to create a campaign to correct the problem.

Posted by: Sean Wirt at 10:51 AM
Categories: deliverability, gmail, email

My Two Pillars of Email Deliverability

It seems like I have been working in the email and digital marketing space for as long as I can remember. I still think back to the days when I was working at NASCAR.com, and we realized the value of personalization in emails and noticed significant increases when we simply mentioned a fan's favorite driver – let alone if we put their photo in the message rather than the generic NASCAR.com logo.  A lot has changed over the years, yet it seems like many of us in the delivery space are still talking about the same email deliverability and other best practices over and over.

As I look back at all of the various suggestions and recommendations that I personally have given over the years, there are two pieces of advice that I still believe are the most important for everyone to remember:

  1. Don’t compare yourself to others; focus on what works for your business model and customers
  2. Relevancy is the key

First, let’s talk about how much we all try to keep up with the Joneses and how it can actually hurt us more than help us. In just about every aspect of our lives these days, we seem to want to compare ourselves to each other. It might be comparing your house to those in your neighborhood, or maybe you are a car person and you always need to have the nicest car. I think this tendency comes from a need to feel like we are doing better than others – and the same thing happens in the  digital marketing space. Too many of us want to look at what others are doing and then assume that we should be doing the same thing—if company X can send mail like that, I should be able to as well.

A perfect example of these type of observations and wanting to be like everyone else in the industry is when marketers come to me (or others) and say something like “Well all these other daily deal sites send messages to their entire list every day, I think we should do that too.” The problem with this perspective is that many times it doesn’t make sense for their business model. Maybe the company doesn’t have a model that generates enough new and relevant content to send to all of their users at that frequency, which takes us to my next point—it is all about Relevancy.

I can still remember talking with Dave Lewis over 5 years ago, when he was one of the few people at the time that was really talking about relevancy. Every time I say the word, I hear it in his voice. At the time, I didn’t always understand all the nuances of email deliverability, but as time went on, I soon became an equal proponent of relevancy.  In short, sending messages to users that don’t connect in any way will not help your brand and may actually hurt it. If you continue to send irrelevant messages, fewer people will open them and more will eventually unsubscribe or even mark your messages as SPAM.

So try to think back to when you got started in the digital marketing world---has anything changed in the way you view things? Are you still telling your executives or your co-workers the same best practices as you were back then?

Learn about other email deliverability solutions we provide at StrongView.

Posted by: Spencer Kollas at 2:18 PM
Categories: deliverability