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Maximizing Deliverability

7 Tips for Cleaning Up Your Email Lists for 2012

As we head into 2012, you should take a close look at your email marketing and list hygiene practices to make sure that you are maintaining a good sender reputation and maximizing deliverability. Good list hygiene combined engaging emails and sender authentication will help you build a solid email reputation with your top ISPs.  

List hygiene may not be the most exciting aspect of email marketing, but it is essential for good deliverability. Simply follow the seven tips below to get your lists in order for the New Year.

1. Scrub Your Lists Regularly. Keep your email lists clean by regularly running them against a register of known bad domains and removing duplicate addresses and role accounts. You can automate the latter by adding “info@*,” “sales@*,” and other common addresses to your suppression list. Your email system may also enable you to automatically suppress bad domains and role-based distribution lists.

2. Remove Bad Domains. Bad domains should be removed immediately. Closely review your failure reports, identify bad addresses and evaluate whether they are the result of a data capture problem or a non-existent domain.

3. Review Data Capture Processes– List hygiene starts with collecting good data. Make sure your sign-up forms prompt users to fix incorrect email address or syntax errors before they are submitted.

4. Actively Manage Hard and Soft Bounces – In addition to having established policies for automatically removing hard-bounced addresses due to bad addresses and unknown users, you should have similar policies for removing soft bounces after a pre-determined number of consecutive failures.

5. Promptly Remove Unsubscribes – Don’t wait the 10 days allowed by CAN-SPAM to process unsubscribes. Remove unsubscribed addresses immediately to avoid users hitting the “this is spam” button and damaging your sender reputation.

6. Mark Inactive Addresses for Reengagement – Transfer inactive addresses to another list that is designed to reengage them.  A good rule of thumb for identifying inactives is no more than 12 months – but 6 months can be preferable depending on factors related to the seasonality of your business.

7. Sign Up for Feedback Loops and Whitelists – Sign up for available feedback loops at your top ISPs to monitor the number of spam complaints generated from your mailings. Similarly, maximize your inbox delivery by signing up for whitelists offered by ISPs and other providers.

Consider these tips when looking to improving your email marketing and overall list hygiene to streamline practices going into the future.

Learn about other email deliverability solutions we provide at StrongView.

Posted by: Spencer Kollas at 2:55 PM
Categories: email marketing, email, tips, list hygiene, sender reputation

Yahoo! Changes Its Protocols for Monitoring Email Sender Reputation

If you've been having trouble getting into the inbox at Yahoo lately, it may be because of new Yahoo protocols for assigning email sender reputation that they began using in December. As first reported on Deliverability.com, Yahoo is now looking beyond just IP address and domain name of the sender to include the "From" name as well.

This means that your info@company.com, deals@company.com and newsletter@company.com are all being assigned different reputations, instead of an aggregate reputation based on any message from your core "@company" domain. Whatever is left of the @ sign is key, as Yahoo doesn't appear to be looking at the "friendly" From name.

Making things even more complicated, Yahoo is assigning unique reputations to each combination of From Name + Domain Name + IP Address. So, if you use two different IP addresses to send messages from deals@company.com, then Yahoo is assigning a separate email sender reputation to each stream.

This change could have a positive or negative impact on your programs depending on your sending practices. If you've been playing it risky with one email stream because the other email messages you send balance out your email reputation, then it's likely that the one email stream will now go to the bulk folder, but you will continue to see good deliverability on the streams that more closely follow best practices. On the flip side, if one bad email slips out, it will only damage of the reputation for that From Name + Domain Name + IP Address combination.

The bottom line is that you should follow best practices across all of your mail streams and closely monitor deliverability for each From name that goes out from your domain.

Posted by: Spencer Kollas at 10:51 AM
Categories: Yahoo, deliverability, email reputation, filtering, sender reputation

Domain Reputation: What It Means for Email Senders

Repost from ReturnPath's Blog

Domain Reputation: What It Means for Email Senders
By Tom Sather, Director, Professional Services
and
J.D. Falk, Director of Product Strategy, Receiver Services

Imagine if your reputation was linked to your domain name, rather than your IP addresses.
It would eliminate the need to "warm up" servers - a situation that exists now because ISPs are wary of new IP addresses with no sending history. Domain reputation would essentially make reputation portable - you could add new IPs, you could move IPs, you could send mail from different systems, even different ESPs - and you'd still enjoy the benefits of your good reputation.

The domain name is part of your brand identity, part of the "you" that you're trying to portray to your customers. An IP address is just a string of numbers.

Of course, the flip side is a bad reputation will also be portable. To some extent, this has always been true. ISPs have used the reputation of domains to block content for a long time now. This is why some companies that used bad third-party marketers found that their "regular" email took a hit when the links in both types of email got tarnished and caused blocking.

So why aren't ISPs using domains for good reputation, too? Unfortunately, the IP address has for decades been the only thing - the only "identifier" - associated with a message which cannot be forged. Enter authentication, which we talk about all the time on this blog. When a message is authenticated with a domain, the receiving site knows that the message really did come from that domain - which makes domain reputation possible.

Ken Magill has joined the conversation by writing a story on domain reputation, causing renewed buzz in the industry.

According to Magill's story AOL will implement a domain reputation system sometime between October of this year and March of 2010, a little later than they told us last year. Yahoo! says they will implement something similar "soon," likely building from their unique domain-based feedback loop.
But meanwhile, Gmail has already implemented an authenticated domain reputation system using both DKIM and SPF together. And, one of the interesting features of the Gmail implementation is the addition of a "trusted unsubscribe" for good senders.

Some of the metrics that Gmail looks at, and that Yahoo!, AOL, or anyone else creating a domain reputation system are also likely to employ, include:
How many times mail from this domain went into the spam folder automatically, due to IP reputation or content filters.

How many times mail from this domain went into the inbox automatically.
How many times a user marked a message from this domain as spam.
How many times a user marked a message from this domain as "not spam."
What should senders do now take advantage of domain reputation when it becomes more widely adopted? We recommend the following steps:

1. Authenticate: You should be doing this already, but if you haven't, don't wait any longer. Domain reputation will be based on authentication; specifically at AOL, Yahoo!, and some of our other ISP partners (who haven't announced their systems yet) it will be based on DKIM.
2. Keep on keeping on: Domain reputation is good for email senders, but it doesn't change the basic rules of the game. Like IP reputation, domain reputation will be based on the same factors that make for a good sender: low complaints, a clean list and a well-configured infrastructure.
3. Don't panic: Domain reputation will only work if your domain is authenticated, but you won't be penalized in terms of deliverability. ISPs will fall back on IP reputation for unauthenticated domains. You won't enjoy the benefits of reputation portability, but if your IP reputation is solid you won't take a hit on inbox placement rates.
4. Get Certified: At Yahoo!, the Return Path Certification Program trumps both IP and domain reputation. We certify that you are good sender - as long as you maintain the reputation standards set by the program you don't have to worry about changes to the way Yahoo! handles email. Of course the benefits of certification extend far beyond that ... all the way into 1.3 billion inboxes around the world.

Posted by: Spencer Kollas at 8:09 AM
Categories: Domain Reputation, deliverabilty, return path

What You Gotta Get Right for Higher Deliverability

Here is a repost of an article from my good friend Stephanie at Return Path.


What You Gotta Get Right for Higher Deliverability
By Stephanie Miller
VP, Global Market Development

I was speaking at a webinar this week and the moderator said, "Stephanie, we have 30 seconds. How can marketers avoid being filtered as spam?!"

No pressure, right? Luckily, I talk fast!

I responded with something like this:

"Reaching the inbox is the only way you can earn a response. So it's pretty important to focus on this.
"Avoiding the spam filters is simple in concept: You must be welcome in the inbox - and you must maintain an ongoing reputation for being welcome in the inbox. The minute you bore me, or abuse my trust or send something irrelevant, you are spamming me.

"It's simple in concept, complex in practice. Being relevant and earning a high sender reputation is not a box you can just check off. It's an attitude. It's got to infuse every aspect of your email marketing approach - your content strategy, your frequency caps, your permission practices, your metrics and tracking, how you source your data, process your bounces, and in the approach of every person you hire and train and reward around email marketing success.

"Every time you send an additional mailing this week to pump up revenue, or you mail to a list with a dubious source or you send the same promotion to every person on your file; you are putting your sender reputation at risk. And you are also leaving money on the table.
"There is no good reason NOT to track your inbox placement and work a bit harder to be welcome in the inbox. It's too easy for subscribers to ignore us. And that isn't just for today's mailing, a poor sender reputation will harm you for all your mailings.

"So make sure the people on your file want to be on your file. Give them choices. Know the impact of your practices by actively tracking your sender reputation (or at least knowing it at www.senderscore.org). And be welcome. Relevant. Interesting. Helpful. That is how you avoid the spam filters."
What do you think? How would you answer that question (in 30 seconds!)

Posted by: Spencer Kollas at 6:45 AM
Categories: Return Path, best practices, deliverability, inbox, sender reputation

Couple of ISP announcements


In the last week or so both AOL and Yahoo have publicly made what some would consider big announcements.

Last week AOL officially announced that they are going to be implementing DKIM in the next couple of months as a part of their reputation calculations. As part of the industry group that helped put DKIM together and write the specs for this authentication method--this is great news for not only StrongView but the industry as a whole.
According to AOL the main benefit of DKIM is flexibility and portability that’s just not there with just looking at the IP. So for shared IP’s they can look at the mail stream specifically. Provides infrastructure flexibility/portability it’s better for moving to new IP’s, reputation goes.

As for Yahoo!, they announced yesterday that they have partnered with Return Path to use their Sender Score Certified program as part of their reputation calculations. What does this mean, well we will have to wait and see exactly how this could affect their whitelisting procedures or any other filtering processes that they might use the SenderScore for. Stay tuned for any updates as they come.

Posted by: Spencer Kollas at 9:34 AM
Categories: AOL, Sender Score, Yahoo, deliverability, reputation

The Deliverability Face Off: Reputation vs. Content

As an email deliverability consultant, I often get asked what affects deliverability more – reputation or content? This is a good question; unfortunately the answer isn't so straightforward. In fact, it really depends.

If you have a poor sender reputation it won't matter what your content looks like, because it probably won't get to your customer's inbox. On the other hand, if you have a good reputation, but your content is getting caught by every anti-spam software available, your customer still won't get your message.

To answer the question, it helps to start at the beginning. Imagine that you are setting up a brand new mailing system and are going to start sending email off of new IP addresses. What would you focus on first? Hopefully, you answered "reputation," because that's exactly where you should be focusing your attention at this stage of the game. The fact is that many receivers do not trust new IP addresses and will view you as guilty until proven innocent. That being said, you need to build a positive reputation with the receivers, and you do that by starting SLOWLY.

When building a new reputation on a new system, make sure to send smaller segments of your list and test them to make sure that they are getting through. As you continue to see positive delivery rates, you can increase the percentage of your list that you are mailing until you get to full production. By doing this in a very iterative-type approach, you allow the receivers to look, assess and put a formal (hopefully) positive reputation on your new system.

Remember that during this time you want to send to your best and most active customers. By doing this, you are less likely to see the complaints or unknown users that can quickly put a negative affect on your reputation.

Once you have a positive reputation for your mailing system, you should make sure that your content is not causing you any issues. There are many ways to do this, but the most important one is to test. There are plenty of tools available to test your messages against the most common anti-spam software. By testing, you will be able to tell if your content might case a delivery issue. Also, remember to follow best practices like a good HTML-to-Text ratio, personalization of the content in the message and steering clear of commonly used SPAM words.

Posted by: Spencer Kollas at 11:58 AM
Categories: content, deliverability, reputation, spam