It’s not your ESP – it’s YOU!
We often hear complaints that a client’s email service provider who provides them with their larger scale email delivery services is ruining their company’s email deliverability rates. There is a tendency to point the finger to everyone other than in the mirror when looking at deliverability issues. The truth is, though, that as a marketer, you control nearly every facet of blocking and filtering that happens after you hit the “send” button on your campaigns. Various aspects of your email program can not be fixed by an ESP, you can begin by focusing internally on the following five pieces:
- Your ESP does not manage how you collect email addresses: Use the most conservative permission standard that you can allow for your line of business. You can make the business case against verified “double” opt-in collection but you should use confirmed opt-in at a minimum. Although double opt-in will result in a smaller list, you will find that you see fewer complaints and fewer unsubscribes in the end. No matter which collection process you use, always be sure to manage it so that you can meet future expectations. Give your subscribers a good idea of what they can expect to receive and then deliver on your promise with relevant content and an easy unsubscribe process.
- Your ESP does not correct the quality of your list: Between changing email addresses, data entry errors and junk data submissions, your email list decays daily – putting you at risk of losing customers and harming your overall email campaign response rates. Aside from customer retention issues, a dirty list also generates “unknown user” errors which can lead to all of your email getting blocked by particular ISPs. Use a bounce algorithm that will remove all bad addresses from your file promptly, and consider email change of address and email list hygiene services to keep your file clean. Keeping your email list current will drastically lower the percentage of bad addresses on your list that result in “unknown user” response codes at ISPs.
- Your ESP does not create the content in your email campaigns: Make sure your content is free of spam filter triggers before you send a campaign. Test creative before sending campaigns to make sure it does not fail the most-used filtering applications. You can’t assume that avoiding words like “free” will ensure your delivery. Sometimes the most innocuous words – and uncommon ones – can trip up your best efforts. The only way to ensure that your content doesn’t trigger a block is to test with a pre-campaign monitoring tool to see if there is content that you were not aware of that would get caught in spam filters.
- Your ESP does not control all factors that attribute to your reputation: “Reputation” sounds like a nebulous term – who judges it? What’s good, and what’s bad? Email reputation is based on numerous factors – complaint rates, identity stability, unknown user volume, security practices, unsubscribe policies and more. Most of these factors can be measured, quantified, and weighted. By looking at those factors for each mailer as compared to their peers, receivers establish reputation-based standards for their platforms. Learn more about what your email reputation is with our free assessment.
- Your ESP does control sending infrastructure: Ensure that the mail infrastructure used to send your email is well maintained by your ESP and operated in a responsible manner. This includes having a dedicated IP address, proper security systems, and authentication like SPF, Sender ID, and Domain Keys. Also keep in mind that if you are like most marketers who use an ESP, you probably also send some email from a secondary ESP or from an in-house server (e.g. transactional emails). Remember you will need delivery performance visibility and protection across your entire program.
Now, these points are not meant to assume that your email service provider does not provide some level of service in regards to deliverability (in fact, many outsource to Return Path to provide services to clients). However, once you begin looking at the levers in your email program that an ESP can not fix, and that you control internally, you will find greater success with your deliverability and with the relationship you have with your ESP.
About George Bilbrey
George Bilbrey is the founder of the industry’s first deliverability service provider, Assurance Systems, which merged with Return Path in 2003. He is a recognized expert on the subjects of email reputation and deliverability and is active in many industry organizations, including the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG) and the Online Trust Alliance (OTA). In his role as president of Return Path George is the driving force behind the ongoing innovation of our products and services. Prior to Return Path, George served as Director of Product Management at Worldprints.com and as a partner in the telecommunications group at Mercer Management Consulting. He holds a B.A. in economics from Duke University, and an MBA from the Kenan-Flagler School of Business, University of North Carolina.