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email_1…When an email marketer drops the D-word during our meetings, I know it’s time to cancel my train home as it’s often as big a topic as ‘How are you going to increase ROI from email?’

Increasingly we find that companies do acknowledge that responsibility for email delivery sits primarily on their side, but they still tend to turn to the supposed ‘expert’ ESP sat on the other side of the table to advise and guide them. And I’m no delivery expert, but to contend with such Big Questions I keep up to date with best practice developments: there is plenty of online resource material to draw on, such as the insightful Return Path blog, The Watercooler.

There’s good news in the industry: the ISPs are gradually shifting their inbox policing methods in favour of legitimate, reputable senders.

The latest in-depth ISP report by Pivotal Veracity is particularly gratifying as it reinforces the message that we in the industry have been pedalling for a while now:

A Sender’s reputation is increasingly based on the Domain, as well as the IP address.

Which means that a ‘Good Rep’ is in a company’s control, especially if the following key influencers are addressed: the spam complaint rate, unknown user rate, spam trap rate (mailing to old/dead addresses) and bounce rate. Many tools have been developed to track these via feedback loops, so the legitimate marketer now has more control than ever before of his reputation. Furthermore, they can take this reputation with them if they move to a new ESP.

Of course, the flip side is also true: the less-than-scrupulous who would skip from one ESP to the next and ‘buy back’ a ‘Fresh Rep’ with a new IP address are being flushed out, which can only good news for the email industry as a whole.

IP-based reputation filters are still commonplace with ISPs so a whitelisted IP or IP range is still the foundation upon which to build a good reputation, but moving to a new IP which requires ‘warming up’ first will be phased out or require less data over a shorter time period  to achieve full status.

Another interesting development at the ISP’s is their factoring in of customer engagement to build a ‘Good Rep’ – again, how refreshing for us senders! AOL will use clicks, move to personal folders and a click on ‘not spam’ to prove a good rep; Yahoo will check if emails in spam folders have been clicked on as a sign that they are in fact legit. Customer engagement is fast-becoming a key metric at both the sender and ISP-receiver end.

Finally, authentication with Domain Keys or DKIM is still the best way to ensure inbox placement (with the exception of Hotmail which uses it’s own ‘Sender ID’ authentication model). This can be easily implemented by the ESP or client-side. To attain a further level of inbox placement, accreditation via the Sender Score Certification (from Return Path) programme can guarantee Hotmail delivery, with images and links switched on and no throttling limitations.

So, back to how I answer the Big Question, ‘How are you going to improve our deliverability?’ (the speeded up version):

  • A Good Rep is the basis of Good Delivery, and…
  • It’s in the Sender’s Domain
  • Complaints must be monitored, ideally via feedback loops
  • Implement DK/DKIM
  • If Hotmail addresses are a large %age of the list, consider the Return Path certification

…Plus a quick ‘crib’ of the things all good email marketers should be doing as standard:

  • Clear and transparent opt-in process – no legacy data or dodgy 3rd Party lists!
  • Sending to the list regularly
  • Being sensitive to frequency
  • Remaining relevant
  • Plenty of testing, including checking how the email will render/view
  • Having an automated welcome programme to say ‘Hello’ to new subscribers
  • Motivating recipients to move you to their ‘Safe Sender’ list
  • Implementing a watertight bounce-handling process
  • Instant removal of unsubscribes

Next time in Tales from the Coal Face, more Big Questions: ‘What to do if you swallow a penny?’

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