Email Lists

Are you managing your Sender Reputation?

Are you managing your Sender Reputation?

The best email practices should give you the best sender reputation, therefore some things to pay attention may include:

Spam complaints from recipients – Are you generating too many complaints for email you’re sending?

It’s interesting to note that some subscribers may not remember signing up for your list, especially if you mail once in a blue moon. Then again, if you mail to often your email will probably end up in the trash, or the recipient will just hit the SPAM button rather than unsubscribe from your list. To prevent this you should:

Spam Traps – why did you send to this address?

The fast track to a bad sender reputation is sending email to a Spam Trap. Spam Traps are secret, non-published email addresses that catch some list owners by surprise.  A Spam Trap is a valid email address, used specifically to trap unsolicited email or spammers; hence the name Spam Trap. The Spam Trap premise is based on the belief that if the owner or former owner of an inactive email address has not checked email for a quite a while, why are you still sending email to this address?

  • Offer a profile page, allow your recipients to tell you their mailing preferences
  • Include an easy way to unsubscribe from your newsletters: test the unsubscribe mechanism you’re using to make sure it actually works
  • Remove those addresses that want to be removed
  • Consider asking the potential unsubscribed member, if they would like to place their account on hold, (instead of unsubscribing) until a time when they are ready to receive your emails again

Your IP address – who are you?

An IP address or an Internet Protocol address identifies the mail server your are sending from.  You can use a shared IP address or dedicated IP address. If you are just starting out with email marketing, having no sending history you might be using a new IP address.  (Or you may have switched to a new IP address if your sending reputation, for whatever reason isn’t quite up to par, which is not recommended over cleaning up your act.)
IP addresses have a great impact on senders’ reputation. For example, with a  brand new IP address, that has no history you may find that until you start sending regular mailings to establish some sending metrics, ISP’s may be suspicious of your intentions and treat your email by:

  • Not readily accept whitelisting requests
  • Causing deliverability problems with tarpitting
  • Block your messages

If you use a service that places you on a shared IP address, realize that the IP will be used for all email that is distributed from that particular mail server.  Your sending reputation will be as good as the worse company’s sending reputation on that IP address.  If the IP is blacklisted everyone on that IP is blacklisted. To avoid all for one and one for all, invest in a dedicated IP address or use an ESP that will put your list on its own IP address, in doing so:

  • You will be the only sender on that IP
  • You will have total control over your sender reputation

 Authenticate – where are you from?

Email authentication is the process by which an ISP (the mail server recipient who delivers incoming mail to their customers inboxes: i.e. hotmail) can verify the supposed identify of the sender.  While there is no recommended standard for email authentication, there are several ways available to do so.  Some may prefer one method to another; use several, one or none.  Some available Authentication Systems include SPF, SIDF and DomainKeys ( DKIM.).  Messages that cannot be authenticated by the receiving ISP may be:

  • Blocked
  • Delivered with a tag that the sender cannot be verified
  • Or may just deliver the mail with no issues

Invalid Addresses – return to sender

When an ISP receives incoming mail with an invalid address, the sender IP address and domain may be scrutinized and judged adversely based on how many invalid (non-existing) email addresses received compared to functional email addresses received.  A low number of invalids base on total volume is acceptable (<1%) a higher number is not.

Invalid email addresses normally cause an email to “bounce”. Briefly, there are different types of bounces; the most harmful to a list owner is the hard bounce.  Hard Bounces may occur when:

  • Recipient address is misspelled
  • User doesn’t exist
  • Your domain is blacklisted

A hard bounce is normally perceived as a long-term or permanent condition that is generally not expected to clear up any time soon.  High invalid rates may cause considerable delivery issues not to mention a lower sender score.

Consider all the reasons email addresses become invalid and be proactive.  Institute profile pages to allow your subscribers to update their email addresses.  Remove those hard bounced emails.

Welcome Email – Are you building a relationship with your subscriber?

When someone subscribes to your list, send them a Welcome Letter.  A Welcome letter allows you to start direct, personal communication with your subscriber.  By greeting them you can begin your email relationship on a friendly basis and:

  • Authenticate their new membership
  • Set the newsletter venue
  • Inform them how to change their profile page (if offered)
  • Explain how they can provide feedback (with a working link)
  • Remind them to add you to their Safe Sender List
  • How to unsubscribe

A Welcome Letter should support your brand name, not be too wordy or overbearing, just a welcome and a thank you.  A Welcome Letter serves as a reminder, so when your subscriber receives that first email from their new subscription they will recognize you as someone they wanted to hear from and not report you as a spammer.

In summary, the best email practices should give you the best sender reputation. Mail on a schedule or mail to your users preference, use a dedicated IP address, send to only opted in list subscribers (in general don’t buy lists as they may contain a Spam Trap) Welcome your subscribers, use authentication, remove unsubscribe requests and resolve Spam complaints. Keep in mind even best practices may not be enough if your content has explicit language, bad grammar, too many spelling errors, a large file or one big graphic.

Many variables can affect your sender reputation here are a few websites to review so you can see how your reputation is perceived.

Sender Score Tools: – what sender score do you have with ISPs?spam

Ciscos Ironport SenderBase and reputation lookup.

Barracuda Reputation; maintains a history (and real time information) of IP addresses for both known spammers as well as senders with good email practices.

Return Path’s Sender Score; score will provide you with information about where that source stands in comparison to other email senders

From goal setting to trip planning how does your email list travel?

From goal setting to trip planning how does your email list travel?

From goal setting to trip planning, there’s always a host of things to consider and several options available to get you to your objective or destination.  Take a trip from New York to California; you could travel by car, plane, bus, boat, motorcycle, bicycle, cab or you could hitchhike, and if you’re not in too much of a hurry, you can walk.  Not all these options are fast and efficient, and some are downright impractical, slow and costly because all these choices, while getting you to your destination all represent a set of expenses and time constraints associated with that choice.  As with planning your itinerary, email marketing is no exception as there are many hosting and sending options to consider as well as list management and message distribution choices.

Lets look at the email list self hosted solutions.  The big advantage, to start with: you only need an email client (i.e. Outlook) on your PC, which may work okay until you find that

  • You’re limited to the amount of email you can send in a hour
  • Your ISP decides you’re a SPAMMER and shuts your account down
  • Email blasting often triggers spam filters: your message is automatically placed in the Spam filter
  • Your list members complain to your ISP and your ISP cancels your internet account
  • You can’t keep track of who opened your email or clicked on your links
  • Management of a list in any proportion becomes a nightmare
  • You find there’s no effective way to send HTML messages
  • Bounce management, what’s that?
  • Automatic List segmentation by demographics is only a dream
  • Your email client isn’t designed for email marketing
  • There are privacy and compliance issues you haven’t thought about

Or you purchase an off the shelf Email Blast Software program.  The advantage, it’s a cheap solution, until you discover:

  • Most of the above issues still exist
  • All programs are not created equal, some interfaces are really complicated
  • Complexity does not equal sophisticated email management tools
  • It could take days for your email messages to reach their destination
  • You’re missing some important list hosting components such as automatic list management features

You maintain that you need to run your list in house, under your control.  This time you invest in reputable list software, the kind that needs its own server and a paid for support contract, so you can get help when you need it. The main advantage; you now have total control of your list and subscribers, but you need,

  • More servers
  • A secure 24/7 redundant internet connection with a static IP
  • Money for the list software license
  • Money for  technical support contracts
  • Money for updates and new features
  • Money for  database software, i.e SQL
  • Money for new hardware and upgrade costs
  • Money for increased bandwidth
  • To resolve performance level issues
  • To resolve receiver complaints
  • To find time  to configure and cover the expense to keep Virus filters current
  • To understand how to implement feedback loops, firewalls, and solve delivery issues and more.

So, you move your list to one of the online free services.  Easy to use, web based but:

  • There’s no support to speak of
  • Your list gets SPAMMED
  • You can’t send because your using a service which is blacklisted
  • There’s pretty fonts and templates but it’s all WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get)
  • There are hidden limitations, i.e. you can not send  attachments
  • You have to use their images
  • There’s a limit on list membership size
  • There’s no archives
  • You can only send a set number of mailings a month
  • There’s little or no statistics
  • And what about those banner ads!.

On the other hand, you can eliminate most of these costs and all of the hassle by hiring a third party, an email list provider also known as an email service provider or an ESP.  The advantage, you’ll have total control over your list members, with real time stats leading to a noticeable improvement in your deliverability.  With a professional ESP, real list management will become a reality and you might find yourself wondering how you did what you were doing for so long without using an ESP.

There are variations in list services among the many ESP’s out there so take advantage of the free demo offers. The ESP you pick should be able to offer everything you need including support, suggestions and if needed, advice on best mailing practices, so you will reach your optimal mailing goals. For example, Dundee Internet as an ESP mails with Lyris ListManger™, offers

  • List Automation with bounce management, subscribes, unsubscribers, auto-responders, archiving and virus scanning
  • Mail-merge tools to personalize mailings so they’re uniquely relevant for every recipient .
  • The ability to email only pertinent information to specific recipients using conditional content and  list segments
  • Post-campaign analysis: from opens to clickthroughs and clickstream tracking
  • A customizable interface with the tools to create a  media rich professional-looking newsletter, landing pages and surveys
  • Viral marketing with Refer-a-Friend and Forward Tracking.
  • Social Network: hooks to Facebook, Twitter and other social network arenas.
  • The ability to send targeted timely e-mails using Triggered Messages
  • Action Tag Technology™ to track customer interest, purchase and, browsing behavior.
  • Advanced email campaigns creation with multi-step sequential mailings
  • Manageable Email sending reputation with optimized MailStreams

An ESP may not solve all your mailing issues at once, but they have proven over and over again that email campaigns are more successful for people who use them.

Tarpitting and other sticky email issues.

Tarpitting and other sticky email issues.

This morning you mailed to 750,000 subscribers, a simple newsletter and you cannot understand why the delivery rate is beyond slow, in fact, it is crawling.  Your list members are all opted-in, you’re not black listed anywhere and this is a scheduled mailing, people are expecting it.  What’s going on?  You check with your list administrator who informs you your mail is being tarpitted. Huh? – With a little research and reading, you discover:

Tar Pitted or Tarpitting is closely related to the notion of the teergrube (German for tar pit):  a server that is intentionally configured to be sluggish as a common means of trapping address harvester programs.  Can that really be the reason for your delayed mailing?

What and whys:

  1. Tarpitting is the practice of purposely slowing down email transmissions from reaching the mail server, typically by delaying incoming connections for as long as possible.  This practice is noted to have been developed as a defensive measure against a computer worm.
  2. Tarpitting can be created by adding specific delays between a set numbers of messages.  For example, the mail server can insert a 5-second delay between email messages after the first 50 messages are sent: which essentially can add days to your delivery rate (depending on how many list members you have).  Additionally the mail server can create a delay if the release time is extended with each invalid email address submitted.  If your valid email is caught up in a tarpit, your mail will eventually be delivered because the connection is never broken, just slowed down
  3. Tarpitting continues to be utilized because there is a belief that usual network abuses such bulk email spamming loses its effectiveness if delivery takes too long.
  4. Tarpitting employed by a mail server is done with the intention of discouraging bulk spammers, by offering low response rates because the slowed connections.  This in turn creates the inability to send volumes of messages quickly (and cheaply).
  5. The practice of tarpitting normally does not affect the integrity of legitimate email senders because the actual delay time is inconsequential for the typical recipient lists. (Mail server administrators can also make exceptions for legitimate mail.) ]

However, you’re not a spammer and you’ve been sending email newsletters for years!  If you find yourself with an unusual slow mail delivery, check with your ESP.  (Email Service Provider).  An ESP can usually research and discover if your mail delay is related to a tarpitting issue.  An ESP might tell you that bigger ISPs may tarpit mail on occasion for a variety of reasons, from internal issues to a perceived spammy subject line.  We’ve seen tarpitting occur without rhythm or reason other than the ISP decided that not enough people were clicking on the received mail, so therefore if might be spam.

If tarpitting becomes a concern, one option you may have is to get yourself whitelisted.  In some cases when your mailings are clearly whitelisted, tarpitting will not have an adverse effect on your email.  However not all ISP’s use or accept whitelisting which doesn’t help you if your dealing with such an ISP.

To be whitelisted is a good thing, as a whitelisted email may escape the tarpit slow down.  However, as mentioned this is not available to do with all ISPs.   Moreover, while being whitelisted is good, other classes may not be.  There is mail that can be greylisted or blacklisted.  Greylisting occurs when the sever rejects the connection causing the need for your email to be resent later.  Greylisting is based on the premise that spammers only want to connect to a mail server quickly, ideally on the first attempt with little hassle, while legitimate mailers will retry to connect to the mail server over longer periods.  If you’re sending from an unfamiliar IP address for example, you may be greylisted.

If you’re blacklisted simply put you are considered a Spammer.  Become blacklisted and you compromise your sender reputation and the IP address being used.  There are volumes of information written about Blacklists, a good topic for a future blog.

In conclusion, the necessity of tarpitting, and classifying email as greylisted, whitelisted or blacklisted is the direct result of the steady progression of spammers and other malicious coders of which there is no end in sight.  These proactive measures aren’t perfect, as you may well be aware of, but may be the best available for now.

Wimpy Landing Pages Can Make or Break Your Email Campaign

Wimpy Landing Pages Can Make or Break Your Email Campaign

You just finished your email project and it took weeks of planning, hours of testing and selecting just the right mix of photos, fonts and colors for your marketing campaign.  You’re excited.  This email campaign is the one everyone has been waiting for and you are expecting big results.

All your effort and time has been focused on the job at hand.  Your emails will be sent out with a perfect, tested, attention grabbing subject line and content.  Because you send with consistent  formatted headers, your recipients will easily recognize you as the source of the communication.  All your messages will be personalized and segmented, relevant to the specific subscriber.  You have everything ready and you’re about to send.  BUT WAIT!  Did you forget something? – Something so important that it can make or break your entire email campaign.   Where are all these subscribers being directed to once they open your email?  Will they follow a link to a wimpy landing page with iffy information on a poorly crafted website eliciting distrust and apprehension because the landing page message they read is confusing, unrelated to your initial email that lead them in the first place,?  Or, will they “land” on a relevant landing page highlighted with a strong call to action statement with content applicable to your recent email campaign?

Yes it’s true, a landing page can make or break your well planned out, executed, email campaign.  Why spend all that time and energy on email marketing only to fall short by failing to deliver a landing page that begs to be read and used, designed to work with your campaign with a strong call to action message and useful relevant content for all your list subscribers.

Custom design a landing page for your email subscribers so they have a clear idea of what you expect from them.  Check your work and work your page.  Make sure you:

  • Test your links both in your email messages and on the landing pages.
  • Create a landing page that matches the tone and theme of your email.  Your subscribers are there because they found something of value in your initial message.  Link to a landing page that communicates with the same look and feel as your email.  Don’t confused the subscriber by introducing an entire new theme and message.
  • Landing pages work best by being concise and direct with a call to action that is easy for your subscribers to follow.  Clear direction will motivate your subscribers to sign up for a survey, click on link, download a PDF or sign up for a Webinar.
  • Build on the trust you have cultivated with your list subscribers.  The landing page is a place for you to follow through the  promises made in your initial email.
  • Take advantage of your landing page white space; there is nothing wrong with advertising other services while you hold true to your original offer.
  • Customize your landing page message for a specific audience.  Create as many landing pages as needed to cover the offers in your email: remember the goal of a landing page is to provide your subscribers specific targeted information that is relevant  while increasing your conversions rates.  (measured by the number of subscribers performing a desired action such as downloading a PDF).
  • Use the A/B split testing concept and try different web elements within your landing pages.  Are your list subscribers most likely to buy a CD if there is a sample of the song on the landing page or more likely to take action if there is only a picture of the artist

And the benefits of creating a good landing page are invaluable as they:

  • Increase open and click-through rates
  • Create more selling/marketing opportunities
  • Define and set choices and expectations
  • Offer helpful relevant content
  • Create a positive brand experience
  • Allows self evaluation of your campaign.

Remember, you want your email campaigns to work for you and be a good experience for your subscribers. Always use landing pages and create a positive atmosphere for your visitors by providing content that is relevant to your email campaign and offer them useful information so they can’t wait to receive your next email.  Need help creating a landing page.  Contact info@dundee.net for assistance.

Does your Subscriber List have Abandonment Issues?

Does your Subscriber List have Abandonment Issues?

It happens to the best of us, we have an active email list, we keep it clean and healthy, apply all the right practices, we don’t over mail and we engage our subscribers.  We take suggestions and listen to all comments.  Our subscribers can always update their information as we have an easy to find landing page link on each email we send out, and still, we lose a percentage of our subscriber base.  AND over time, this number translates into real concern.  How concerned should you be with subscriber list churn?

Mathematically subscriber list churn is calculated as a fraction or ratio, usually stated as a percentage of list members unsubscribing from your list compared to those who remain over a set period of time: i.e.  A year. Of course there are other list abandonment issues factoring into this equation other than an unsubscribed address, these include those subscribers who permanently mark your email as spam or change their email address thereby avoiding any action on their part. .

Losing opted-in subscribers can affect your web experience whether you’re a marketer or a nonprofit organization, because as you know, everything is relative.  Essentially your membership list is proportional to the volume of your sales and/or the size of your donations.  List membership is dynamic; the actual number of lost members compared to list newbie’s may be difficult to ascertain especially if your website draws a large amount of daily activity.  So how do you minimize list churn: consider the following 12-Steps.

  1. Engage your readers with well-written free content.
  2. Offer discounts and specials.
  3. Be informative, appeal to the individual using personalization and triggered mailings.  Don’t just mail to mail.
  4. Email within the guidelines of email Best Practices.
  5. Provide an easy to find link on the bottom of each message to your subscribers’ profile page.
  6. Maintain your website by removing outdated materials and photos.  Fix broken links.
  7. Do not over mail and do not under mail. – setup a schedule and let your readers know when to expect to hear from you.
  8. Always send a welcome letter when someone subscribers.
  9. Send a goodbye letter with a place for comments.
  10. Consider the source of your list, are your members all opted-in or obtained by other means, such as using a list broker (bought or rented), from co-registration or an email append service.
  11. Keep your word, if they unsubscribe, remove them from your membership base.
  12. Link to your privacy policy or include a statement about privacy in your welcome letter.

In summary list churn can affect results of any email campaign.  It can interfere with your deliverability because of the tendency of not wanting to remove the unsubscribed addresses.  ISP’s will block your mail if you continue to send and resend to inactive or closed email accounts, or if your email is delivered and never opened.  List churn costs money because it hinders growth and takes up resources.  So follow the 12-steps and reduce the list churn concern.

Spring back from the Big Bounce; actively manage your bounces

Spring back from the Big Bounce; actively manage your bounces

Tips to actively manage your bounces so you can Spring back from the Big Bounce.

1) Use sanity checks, take a moment to confirm submitted email addresses, are in fact, correct.  Verify they are technically right and are valid email addresses.  Do not assume that people will enter their correct address every time on a website subscription form.  i.e. alice@enter.aol

2) Maintain a good engagement record by identifying inactive addresses and remove them from your active mailing lists.  Inactive subscribers cannot engage your email message: if you have a habit of keeping and mailing to inactive subscriber addresses – your engagement score will be low, and consequentially a lower sender reputation will follow.

3) Make it simple for your customers to update their information (i.e. replace an email address) by including a link in your mailings to their customer profile record.

4) Confirm your list members, stay away from rented or purchased lists to avoid SPAM Traps.

5) Identify potential issues by reviewing the sender reports.  By using Lyris ListManager™ customers with Dundee Internet email list services, receive extensive reports on their mailings and memberships.  Customers can create custom reports or view the eight built in reports categories, Mailings, Members, Server Performance, Web site, Purchases, Interest and Surveys to analyze their campaigns.

6) Are you on a blacklist?  Regularly check your reputation status and the status of your ESP with the major SPAM databases by reviewing the websites of the reporting agencies such as DNSBL.com, spamhaus.org and SpamCop.  Consider using a tool such as the Email Advisor™, compatible with most list hosting services, which includes a BlackList Monitor that analyzes all of the domains and IP addresses in the entire email message you are planning to send, including those URLs included in the content of the message. The Email Advisor™ checks more than 300 Internet blacklists so you don’t have to.

7) Check your content for Spammy phrases and use subject lines that relate to your mailings.

8) Always test your messages. Your newsletters represent you, and with opt-in newsletters, the impression you make is delivered to hundreds or hundreds of thousands with a click of a mouse.  Make sure the newsletter they see is the one you intended for them to read. Send your completed message to yourself and your staff BEFORE sending it out to your entire subscriber base.

9) AND finally, recognize how your ESP handles bounce messages.  For example, Dundee Internet’s hosted list services using Lyris ListManager™ parses the textual message (SMTP response text) returned from mail servers. Response messages are broken down into a number of categories, with each requiring different behavior. Here are some of the basic categories:

  • Invalid user: When ListManager™ sees a response code that corresponds to this category, the email address is put on hold server-wide immediately.
  • Filtered Content: Content that trips a spam filter or has other characters that cause it to be rejected (e.g., the message size is too large).
  • Technical Issues: The destination server is consistently busy or otherwise unavailable.
  • Banned IP: The IP address sending the email has been banned, typically for excessive complaints or for attempting to email too many invalid users at that domain
  • Transient Failures: The destination mailbox is temporarily unavailable (usually because it is full)

Thank you for reading, more blogs to follow.