Remember the little things this holiday season

Posted by John Pollard 

One of my favorite movies (don’t laugh) is “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart. Many of us know the story about a man George Bailey who sees what life would be like if he was never born. After spending countless hours at the office and constant battling with Mr. Potter over the Bailey Building and Loan Association, he loses sight of what's really important. After returning from his journey in to an alternate present, he is seen running through the streets and being thankful for all of the things he had previously grown weary of during the years. He expressed joy at these seemingly meaningless little things because it made him appreciate how wonderful his life truly was regardless of his problems.

Like George Bailey, marketers are constantly faced with deadlines and countless hours in the office and at home trying to help improve the bottom line. We seek out and are bombarded with the latest tips and techniques about responsive design, subject lines, segmentation and removing inactive subscribers (among many others). These are important concepts that you should pay attention to but it makes it very easy to overlook the little things in your email program. The little things are usually ignored or placed low on the priority list because they appear to be unimportant. But, it’s important to realize that all of these little things actually do matter by helping mailbox providers feel more comfortable with you as a sender. These little things by themselves may not have a large and direct impact to your inbox placement (some have bigger impact than others), but having bad sending practices or metrics in addition to ignoring these little things can make it even harder to get in to the inbox.

  1. WHOIS record: Ensure you have updated contact information and do not use a domain privacy service. Spammers use domain privacy services so be transparent about who you are and how you can be contacted.
  2. Role Accounts:  Ensure you have the abuse@ and postmaster@ role accounts configured to receive email and monitor them daily for communications from subscribers or mailbox providers.
  3. Add your abuse@ and postmaster@ role accounts to ( Mailbox providers may look up your information here to try and contact you.
  4. Personal whitelisting requests: Ask your subscriber to add your from domain to their address book or contact list on an email confirmation page, a welcome message or an email pre-header or footer. If your domain is added to a subscriber’s address book or contact list, your email get’s preferred treatment and will likely go to the inbox.
  5. List Unsubscribe: Use both the mailto: and URL unsubscribe options. Read Joanna Roberts’ blog titled ‘3 Steps to Qualify for Gmail’s “Feedback Loop”’ as well.
  6. Reply-to addresses: Mailbox providers will find you more trustworthy if people reply to your emails. Encourage this behavior and be responsive when contacted. Be sure not to use ‘do not reply’ as an alias as it sends the wrong message.
  7. Monitor Out-Of-Office messages: Congratulations! Spam traps don’t send messages when they go on vacation; you have reached a real person.
  8. Bad links: Make sure that all of your links go to a legitimate landing page and that there are no page errors. Be sure to check the links in your pre-header and footer as these areas are often ignored.
  9. The email footer: Be sure to link to your preference center and promote other important aspects of your business like: About Us, FAQ, Contact Us, Unsubscribe or Privacy Policy.
  10. Privacy Policy: Ensure the privacy policy link is located near the submit button and update the language to provide clear (non-legalese) language about how the email address is used and how a subscriber can unsubscribe.
  11. Personalization: Be sure you are addressing your subscriber by their first name or with a title (e.g. Hi Jane, Hello Mr. Smith). Be sure that the message personalization is actually working and not inserting the database field name or just a person's last name (e.g. Hi <first_name>, or Hello Smith). Read "The Email Subscriber Experience 2008 – 2013" for additional information.
  12. Alternative Text with Images: Display actionable and engaging text that appears with a disabled image. Most email clients disable images by default, so alternative text can help describe your message or offer in the preview pane.

By no means is this an exhaustive list of every best practice you should follow. But, I have recommended one or more of these little things to almost every client I have worked with in the past several years. In most cases, these little things require little effort and resources to implement or fix and they contribute to mailbox providers seeing you as a more trustworthy sender.

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About John Pollard

John is a Senior Knowledge Strategist at Return Path. He is dedicated to building and maintaining knowledge and content assets to help marketers maximize the value of their email programs. John believes that sharing knowledge feeds the imagination, fosters collaboration and empowers people to grow and evolve. He has been in the email marketing industry since 2008 and has consulted numerous businesses and ESPs on deliverability and email optimization. Prior to joining Return Path, John worked in the finance industry with roles in business analysis and system administration.

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