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Email Marketing: Delivery Rates Optimization

Mike Peters, 10-29-2007
So you're sending an email out to customers / leads / partners and you'd like to make sure your email doesn't end up in recipient's Spam boxes?

According to MarketingSherpa, 54% of permission emailers are filtered as spammers. This includes companies like the Wall Street Journal, Neiman Marcus and SAS.

If you're crazy enough to send the emails on your own, without using a reliable Email Marketing provider, here are 10 tips to Maximize Email Marketing delivery rates:

1. Remove any Email Marketing subject stop words and black listed phrases from your message.

How: Most Email Marketing providers include a "test message for spam phrases" feature. Google "spam test" to find freely available test utilities.

2. Send from a clean Dedicated IP address.

Too often IP addresses are shared with several mailers. All it takes is for one sender to use a poor list and all of your emails will get blacklisted too.

How: Use SenderBase.org to check if the IP address you are sending from is assigned to you alone. Check 'date of first message seen from this address' and 'real time blacklists'

Check if your IP address is black listed

3. Include a single dedicated domain in links, images and as the sending domain of your message.

If you are promoting a landing-page at WidgetWorks.com, make sure your (a) sending-domain, (b) links inside the message body, (c) images and (d) opt-out link, are all under the single WidgetWorks.com domain.

This post is too short to get into the "why" this is so important. But trust me on this one - follow this rule and you'll see a big difference in Email delivery rates.

How: If you're using an Email Marketing provider, ensure their Email click-tracking feature behaves this way. If you're sending on your own, setup a secondary domain and use it for all links and hrefs in the message.

4. Update your sending domain, adding an SPF record to authorize your sending domain. While you're at it, test your "from" email-address to verify replies don't bounce back and test your domain's reverse DNS lookup.

How: Refer to openspf.org

5. Never send from your primary's website domain. If your main website is at Widget.com, setup new domains like WidgetNews.com or WidgetWorks.com.

How: Register a new domain, then follow steps #3 and #4 above

6. Send message in plaintext or HTML+plaintext. Never send in HTML only format. And when sending HTML+plaintext, ensure the text content of both multiparts is identical as much as possible.

How: Compare the HTML source to your plaintext version and minimize the percentage of content (other than HTML tags) that is unique to the HTML version.

7. Throttle email delivery to meet receiving domain restrictions.

If an email originating from the same IP address is delivered to more than 3 @AOL.com users within a 60 seconds timeframe, your domain will be silently black-listed for 3 hours. Every mailserver has its own restrictions in place, including greylisting and temporary blacklisting.

How: Unless you have relationships with the major mailservers and have whitelisted your IP addresses, limit sending to a maximum of 5,000 emails per hour.

8. Get your domains and IP addresses Whitelisted

It is always a good idea to get your domains and IP addresses whitelisted with the major providers. As part of this process you will establish a feedback-loop where you will be notified every time one of your users reports a message as spam.

As long as you are a credible commercial mailer, sending to opt-in recipients and following all CAN-SPAM regulations, getting whitelisted, is going to completely transform your delivery rates.

How: Refer to AOL and Yahoo whitelist information. Look into BondedSender
for a managed solution (Microsoft relies on BondedSender).

9. Avoid links that end with numbers.

If you're tracking email click-throughs (who doesn't?), you may have links in your message that look like "http://www.widgetworks.com?uid=12&message_id=5"

Avoid these links like the plague!

How: Replace with something like "http://www.widgetworks.com/12/5/newyear"

10. Be compliant.

Your SMTP code needs to be RFC 821 compliant. Your HTML code needs to be XHTML compliant, CSS-free, with no scripts and no broken tags.

How: Refer to RFC 821 and validate your message for XHTML compliance using the W3C Markup validation service.

Douglas Karr, 10-29-2007
Can you provide some insight as to why some of these are useful? One item: Avoid links that end with numbers.... I don't get it. Is there an ISP out there that actually thinks that's a factor?

Dawn Rossi, 10-29-2007
Hi Douglas,

Links that end with numbers add to your spamscore.

When an ISP's anti-spam software is analyzing your incoming message to determine if it should go to the user's Inbox or Spambox, they look at a series of factors .

Links that end with numbers, a.k.a "tracking links", add to your spam score and if your spam score is high, the message goes to the spam box.

Adam, 10-30-2007
Well, if the Wall Street Journal get blocked as spammers, that could be because they are. I've just started getting spam emails from them. I have never had any relationship with them or signed up to any mailing list: their messages are pure spam.

Another tip on your list should be "make sure the people you are emailing have given permission".

Mike Peters, 10-30-2007
Hi Adam,

You hit the nail on the head.

If you don't have permission to email your recipients, they are going to report your message as spam (takes one click with AOL and GMail). Once a few users report your message as spam, your IP address (as well as domains mentioned in your email body) will get blacklisted.

Even if you did get permission from the user to send emails, it is always a good idea to include information about when that permission was given in the body of the message with easy opt-out instructions.

Something like: "You are receiving this message because on September 9, 2007, you signed up on WallStreetJournal.com to receive our newsletters. Click to unlist"

Remember how easy it is for your recipients to report your message as spam. You want to make it just as easy to unsubscribe.

Brian Armstrong, 09-10-2009
Interesting I didn't know about sending HTML only emails.

Do you know any good tools to test your deliverability rates?

My deliverability rates on UniversityTutor.com aren't very good and I'm trying to figure out why. I'm using SPF, DKIM, and my RDNS is correct. I'm not on any blacklists. We deliver a lot of email to .edu domains as well, not sure if they are using anything in particular. Some of my outgoing messages are only sent in HTML though so that could be a factor (unlikely to be the only one though).

Thanks for the article!
Brian

Brian Armstrong, 09-10-2009
Interesting I didn't know about sending HTML only emails.

Do you know any good tools to test your deliverability rates?

My deliverability rates on UniversityTutor.com aren't very good and I'm trying to figure out why. I'm using SPF, DKIM, and my RDNS is correct. I'm not on any blacklists. We deliver a lot of email to .edu domains as well, not sure if they are using anything in particular. Some of my outgoing messages are only sent in HTML though so that could be a factor (unlikely to be the only one though).

Thanks for the article!
Brian
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