Deliverability Part II: Services that help you reach the inbox

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Last week’s feature looked at good e-mail marketing habits that can help you get your e-mails delivered to customers’ and prospects’ inboxes. In addition to those practices, there are several services available today that can help marketers make sure their messages get through; one even provides a return receipt that’s a legal, binding document. Here’s a quick primer on the different levels of e-mail service and what you need to know in order to choose the right one for you.

Regular e-mail. This is exactly what it sounds like: using an internal e-mail program or an e-mail service provider, you send out messages to an opt-in list. Most commercial programs and ESPs provide reporting capabilities that allow you to determine if something was delivered or is bouncing. The drawback, however, is that just because something was delivered doesn’t mean it made it into the inbox. It may have been delivered to the intended recipient’s spam folder. You can help your messages avoid this fate by requesting that your subscribers place your e-mail address onto their “safe list” or into their address book; but short of doing this, there’s not much else you can do.

Certified mail. This level of service comes in many flavors. Companies such as Goodmail Systems, Habeas Inc., Pivotal Veracity and Return Path provide services or tools that help your message get to the inbox with links and images intact.

“We’re less of a technology and more of an accreditation process,” said Matt Blumberg, Return Path chairman-CEO.

Return Path’s service, which is offered by other ESPs as well, provides marketers an instant “in” with more than 1.2 billion mailboxes worldwide. The service doesn’t require marketers to install software; instead, the software is embedded into commercial spam filters used by large corporations, such as the Barracuda Spam Firewall, Cloudmark, IronPort’s AntiSpam and Spam Assassin.

Marketers must qualify for the service, however, and many do not, Blumberg said. “The program only accepts 10% to 20% of the applicants,” he said.

To boost their chances of acceptance, marketers should keep their spam complaints low, make sure check boxes on e-mail list signup pages aren’t automatically checked and perform list maintenance often.

CertifiedEmail Paper Suppression (CertifiedEmail PS). Announced last month by Goodmail Systems, this new class of e-mail provides electronic proof that e-mails were delivered and received. This means that companies can send sensitive transactional messages to customers without having to spend money at the post office. In addition, because the service takes a digital signature, it actually verifies the content of the e-mail, said David Atlas, senior VP-worldwide sales and marketing for Goodmail Systems. “It creates a secure, digital record,” he said. “You can log in and see that messages are delivered. You can’t say that a recipient logged in and read your message, but you can’t do that with regular mail, either.”

Like certified e-mail, the service, which costs $0.03 per message, is available only to those senders that have good e-mail reputations.

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