Doing It Right: The Points Guy

One thing I’ve never understood is why senders often make subscribers wait until they’re sick of receiving the mail before giving them an option to adjust their frequency to something a bit less onerous (or “opt-down” in marketer-speak. Yuck.).

By the time senders deign to reveal that recipients could have opted for weekly or even monthly missives, it’s usually only after the subscriber is running for the door – way too late to salvage a valuable, permission-based relationship.  Continue reading

Talking Deliverability on the Cloudcast

cover170x170I recently had the pleasure of joining Heike Young and Joel Book on the popular Marketing Cloudcast, a regular podcast produced by the Salesforce team. I’m not sure I deserve the introduction Joel gave me, but I think I gave some solid advice. It was a ton of fun to do, and I think you can hear that, too.

Listeners can download the episode from iTunes, or if you’d rather just stream it in a desktop browser, it’s also been posted to Soundcloud.

The Skinny Talks Gmail and Deliverability on the Salesforce Blog

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I recently did a Q&A session with the Salesforce Core team about deliverability, and it was published today on the blog. It’s a bit remedial because it’s geared to a fairly broad audience, but I’m pleased with the results. Continue reading

M3AAWG Publishes Reboot of Senders’ Best Common Practices Document

Today is another big day for email people: M3AAWG has announced the publication of the completely revised Best Common Practices document for Senders. I co-chair the Senders’ Committee along with my friend and colleague Tara Natanson of Constant Contact, and this document has been the Committee’s biggest project for the last 3 years or so.

I am honored to have been asked to write an introduction for publication on the M3AAWG public site. I think it came out well. An important part of understanding what the BCP is intended to do is understanding what it is not. Continue reading

One Man’s Spam is Another’s Ham

There’s a terrific piece at the MailUp Blog that describes a recent panel of the Big Four free inbox providers at the EEC meeting this week. It confirms what deliverability folks have been trying to communicate to their clients for a couple of years now. While the message may not be a new one, it carries far more weight to hear it directly from the horses’ mouths, so to speak. Continue reading

There’s Still (Barely) Time to Get Your CASL in Gear

It’s been five years in the coming, but the new Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL) is nearly here at last. The new requirements go into effect July 1st, so if you haven’t made preparations for compliance yet, now’s the time to get started.

The new law applies to anyone who sends mail to recipients in Canada, and requires senders of email to have or to obtain permission from those recipients to send them marketing messages. The problem, of course, is that unless senders have been collecting geographic data about their recipients at the time they gathered permission, it’s hard to know whether any particular recipient is in Canada. Furthermore, the burden rests on the sender to prove that they had consent should any action be brought under under the law. Continue reading

Five Steps to Optimizing for Engagement

One of the toughest challenges in deliverability is producing content that recipients are likely to find engaging, and to do it consistently. It’s common wisdom that the mail your recipients engage with has an easier time finding its way to the inbox – we can see it in our own deliverability stats, and in some cases, we have it first-hand from inbox providers (like Gmail and Hotmail) that the mail which generates the most user interaction is awarded preferential placement in the inbox. The trick is knowing before the send what content is likely to receive that kind of special treatment.

Part of the reason why it’s such a tough nut to crack is the disparity between senders’ and recipients’ perception of engagement. Senders invest a lot of time and energy producing their message, so we’re bound to find our own content extremely compelling. It’s difficult to disassociate ourselves from our own work, put ourselves in the shoes of recipients, and make a realistic judgement about whether they’re likely to want to read it, too.

The good news is that, like many aspects of marketing and deliverability, we can constrain the amount of guesswork by testing messages with small groups of recipients. And that which can be tested can be optimized. I’m producing a free webinar at the end of March for my employer, Real Magnet, to help senders optimize their e-mail for recipient engagement, with clear, easy action items they can implement right away. Here are a few tips to get started:

Continue reading

Get a Grip on your Soft Bounces

Welcome to the second in a series of posts focusing on questions we received from participants during and after our recent webinar on the topic. (If you missed it, we’ve posted a recorded version online, and we’ll announce when we’ve scheduled our next live deliverability webinar.) Last time, we talked about open rates and metrics. Today’s questions focus on soft bounces. After the webinar, an attendee e-mailed me the following question:

How many times should a recipient soft bounce before I suppress them?

Before we delve too deeply for an answer, it’s worth taking a moment to explain what a generic soft bounce is, and what the recipient mail server may be trying to tell you when they send it.

A generic soft bounce often indicates a temporary deferral, or de-prioritization of your e-mail. Unlike specific bounce types (e.g., user not found, mailbox full), a generic soft bounce does not indicate a recipient-specific condition. Rather, generic soft bounces are a sign that the receiving ISP has a problem with the mail or with the sender.

It often happens that, in the middle of the server-to-server transaction in which mail is presented to the recipient domain for delivery, the receiving server decides that it has accepted all of the mail it is prepared to accept during the current transaction. The balance of the mail in that transaction is then soft bounced, without any additional resources consumed by processing or filtering the mail, and with no regard to the recipient address, deliverable or otherwise.

There’s a range of possible reasons why an ISP will generic soft-bounce mail. Some of the major free inbox providers – like Microsoft Live Hotmail and Yahoo! – limit the volume of mail it will deliver from a sender during a given period of time based on reputation, how many messages in the send are addressed to non-existent accounts, and other considerations. Once that limit is exceeded, they’ll bounce any additional mail until the rate falls below the limit.

ISPs are very reluctant to share how they calculate these types of limits, because they don’t want bad actors to use that information to game their systems and evade their filtering processes. Instead, senders should try to implement those practices that improve sender reputation, so these limits can be raised or lifted entirely.

So, back to the question at hand: the generic soft bounce rate should not be a consideration in a decision of whether to suppress a particular recipient address. If you’re seeing a large number of generic soft bounces even after resend attempts, take it as a sign that it’s time to focus on best sender practices.

A follow-up question: what about “mailbox full” bounces?

Unlike the generic soft bounce, the “mailbox full” soft bounce is specific to an individual recipient e-mail address, and it means pretty much what it says: the mailbox is full, and any additional messages addressed to it will continue to bounce until the owner makes room by deleting some mail or adding capacity.

Senders can continue to send to recipients that bounce with a “mailbox full” message, but these bear very close scrutiny. A full mailbox can be a sign of an abandoned account (or one that is about to be abandoned), especially if the address is hosted by one of the big, free inbox providers, like Gmail or AOL.

Persistent attempts to send to full mailboxes can damage your sender reputation. The thinking goes something like this: if the sender continues to send to the same full mailboxes month after month, they may not be particularly careful with other aspects of their lists. ISPs know that even confirmed opt-in lists run into full mailboxes – it happens all the time. But they also know that senders with weaker permission run into the problem more often. Either way, the longer an address continues to bounce “mailbox full”, the less likely it is to become deliverable again, and it should be suppressed.

Senders can be somewhat less aggressive in suppressing full mailboxes at smaller receiving domains, like corporate e-mail accounts. Lots of corporate IT administrators aren’t as diligent about deactivating the mailboxes of former employees as senders would like, and there’s usually no reputation damage associated with them. From a ROI perspective, though, if you think a particular “full mailbox” should really be a “user not found” because the employee has moved on, it’s a good idea to suppress it.

That wraps it up for today’s questions. During the webinar, we touched briefly on what the law requires of senders. There have been some significant developments on the e-mail legal front since then, and in our next installment, we’ll take a deeper look.