In this weeks podcast one of the things we talked about was the importance of reputation when sending emails. In this post I want to explore this a little more deeply. Looking at ways to maintain your reputation, and hence maximise the chances of your emails being delivered.
Why reputation matters
Whether or not your email ends up in the recipients in box is controlled by filters in the sending infrastructure. These use many technical and content factors to determine the likelihood that the email might be spam. One key factor today is sender reputation. An assessment as to whether the server sending the email is likely to be sending spam or not, and more importantly whether the sender is genuinely who they say they are. This assessment builds up a picture of the reputation of that sender, and the better the reputation, the more likely it is that your emails will be delivered.
Here I want to look at 3 factors that impact this reputation:
- IP Address
- SPF/DKIM Records
- Your reputation as a content creator
IP address reputation
Let’s take the easy one first. Sending server throughput – The question here is “Is it unusual to be getting high volume emails from this server?” If the answer is yes, it flags up the possibility that the server has been compromised, and is unknowingly sending spam or malicious emails. It is in fact this second group where rather than simply selling something, the purpose of the email is to either deliver a malicious payload, or trick the recipient into revealing personal data & passwords (Phishing emails). Stopping his latter type of mail is the main focus of filters these days, and thus knowing the email is from a legitimate source rather than a hacked computer is important. This is the number one reason that using a dedicated email marketing system like Mailchimp, or mailing manager (The system used by BSA) is important. These systems will regularly be sending not high volumes of emails, and thus filtering algorithms will not see this activity as suspicious, or evidence of a compromised computer.
OK, so you are using a proper server to send your marketing email, but not all mass marketing mail servers are the same. After all, a phisher or spammer could simply set up a server and regularly send large volumes, so that activity in itself is not suspicious. For this reasons, filters will also look at the identity of the server via its IP address. And in our experience this is one of the key deliverability factors.
For this reason, professional email marketing providers will continually monitor the activity from their servers, to protect their reputation, and will block anyone from sending if they believe them to be acting irresponsibly. One of the key metrics in this analysis is list quality. Their preferred list development process is through double opt in where people add themselves to the list and then confirm the address by clicking a link. There is no doubt that this is the best way to build a list, and in consumer markets should be the core of your strategy. However it is not realistic to expect all lists to be generated this way, especially in many B2B markets where many contacts will be sources through offline mechanisms like networking and exhibitions. In these circumstances where you are adding contacts manually to an email database, accuracy is essential, as is ensuring that any invalid addresses are removed before importing. For this reason we would recommend screening lists before adding them to an emailing system . Something we routinely do using the kickbox.io tool.
This one is a little more technical, but I include it for you geeks out there who like to get technical! SPF (Sender Policy Framework) is a system that uses a DNS record to authenticate mail servers to send mail for a given domain. An SPF pass tells the receiving email that the domain authorises the sending server to deliver mail mail on its behalf and thus is less likely to be spam. Increasingly big mail handlers like gmail, exchange and Office 365 use this test to help confirm whether an email is legitimate. Testing the SPF is fairly straight forward, but you will need 2 pieces of information (The address you are sending the mail from, and the IP address of the sending server). Once you have these, head along to an SPF testing tool and plug them in. If you get an SPF fail, you will need to speak to your email marketing provider to get this issue addressed, but doing so is usually pretty straight forward. If you would like to discuss how to improve the deliverability of your email campaigns please feel free to contact us, we are always happy to talk.
Again, this is a technical tool for authenticating the validity of a message. When using DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail), a digital signature is attached to each email, that can be checked against a public key held as a DNS record. Checking this key will allow email system to confirm that the parts of the email (including attachments) have not been modified since the signature was affixed.
Thus SPF ensures that the sender is who they say they are. DKIM validates the message has not been changed. Passing both these tests, whilst not guaranteeing deliverability, it will make it less likely that the message will be blocked by spam filters en route.
Whilst I am not going technical detail here, setting both SPF and DKIM is fairly straight forward through addition of a couple of DNS records.
The final factor I want to cover here is the human factor. One element that most spam filters include in their algorithms is human feedback. Most email clients now will allow users to manually flag mail spam or not spam as appropriate. When users take this action, it is fed back to mail providers like Microsoft and Google. This feedback is then fed into their decisions as to what is or isn’t spam. For this reason, ensuring that your recipients welcome your mail is key. Ensure that you deliver high quality, well targeted content to recipients who want to receive it, and you are on the right track.
Of all the elements covered in this post, this is the one that should be given most consideration. The SPF and DKIM are fit and forget. Once implemented they are there and you don’t need to worry about them too much. Making sure your emails are well targeted, relevant and interesting, should be at the heart of your marketing communications strategy. Doing this is the key to maintaining a good reputation. Thus minimising the likelihood that your mail will be blocked by filters.