Most Internet service providers have systems in place to scan incoming messages individually for viruses and spam. The messages are then checked against black lists and evaluated for other attributes. Reputation is a newer criterion that ISPs are using to evaluate mail. A sender's reputation is determined when ISPs request the sender's reputation score from a central, third-party reputation database.
While reputation management can decrease the amount of spam received by ISPs, it also means that senders must be able to implement a variety of specific sending rules to comply with each ISP's requirements and be able to facilitate header markups to incorporate third-party accreditation solutions.
Some e-mail solutions readily accept new standards to adapt easily to changing ISP sending environments. Less flexible solutions make it more difficult to comply with ISP requirements, which can inadvertently damage a sender's reputation if the company is using poor or unchecked sending practices.
Complying with individual ISP “throttling” requirements—the speed and volume at which an ISP will accept your e-mail—is a key factor in maintaining a good reputation. As a marketer, you should know if your e-mail platform (either in-house or through an e-mail service provider) allows control over settings such as total outbound connections, total message volume and volume ramping, and gives senders a way to match their sending practices to each ISP's requirements, which change frequently.
Senders should also be aware that a database of reputation data based on the global sending practices of thousands of companies was collected recently and published by antispam and accreditation vendors. This report provides ISPs with another way to filter e-mail by producing a “gray list” of senders. ISPs will make judgment calls based on the sending history published on this report to determine whether to send or block e-mail from unknown gray-listed senders.
Establishing a good reputation with ISPs is vital to deliverability. To protect your company's reputation, consider doing the following:
???Use throttling to insure that you are not overburdening ISPs by sending too many messages too fast. If you use an ESP, make sure it provides you with the reporting to understand exactly how each ISP treats your mail.
???Contract with a third-party accreditation service that certifies sender policies and practices, and makes those certified lists available to ISPs.
???Depending on the type or volume of mail you are sending, establishing an in-house ISP relations team can help ensure that your mailing practices and reporting are contributing to maintaining a good reputation and relationship with each ISP.
Barry Abel is VP-field operations for Message Systems (www.messagesystems.com), an e-mail software solutions provider for ESPs, ISPs and large enterprises.
Originally published April 3, 2009
What is the best kind of opt-in?
Collecting quality recipient data has a direct impact on your business. By sending e-mail to recipients that really want your mailing, you will increase your open rates and your sales. The problem is that most recipient data can't be validated until a first mailing has been sent.
Deliverability issues occur when an ISP throttles, blocks a mailing or sends it to the bulk folder because of too many bad addresses. A poor send will lower your IP reputation and impact your future sends.
Having a recipient opt in is the best way to make sure an e-mail address is valid. There are double opt-ins, active opt-ins and passive opt-ins. The safest method is the double opt-in, in which the recipient receives a confirmation message with an embedded link that must be clicked to validate the address and confirm the desire to receive e-mails.
For active opt-ins, the recipient enters an e-mail address and clicks a box in order to receive mailings. This type of opt-in works best when recipients are instructed to enter the address two times; this reduces “fat finger” mistakes. You end up with more accurate addresses, and recipients are less likely to click on the “this is abuse” button since they actively signed up for the mailing.
Passive opt-ins are those in which the box is already checked when someone visits a Web page or makes a purchase. This is by far the least reliable opt-in method. It generates bad addresses and a high abuse rate.
From a deliverability standpoint, the double opt-in is your best bet, as it validates addresses, reduces abuse complaints and gets mail delivered to recipients that want your e-mail. Your IP reputation is based on delivery rates as well as open rates. The more recipients open your e-mail, the better your IP address looks in the eyes of the ISP.
Robert Consoli is deliverability manager at Silverpop, a provider of e-mail marketing services (www.silverpop.com).
Originally published July 23, 2009
How can we determine optimal e-mail frequency?
The question of frequency often arises before that of strategy simply because it is an easily measurable line that can be drawn in the sand.
But what if the most relevant message of the week is the third message and you limit your recipient base to a frequency of two? You might have damaged your program. Because frequency variables and tolerances are directly relative to your brand, your audience engagement and to your e-mail program itself, it is almost impossible to answer that with a blanket statement that specifies a frequency everyone should follow. There are a number of things to keep in mind when trying to identify optimal e-mail frequency, including, but not limited to: 1) What are the characteristics of the audience and/or segment? 2) How brand loyal is your recipient? 3) Does the e-mail program offer substantial value to the recipient?
After you answer these questions, the next thing to do is test a few frequencies. Some organizations can send daily, while others with a less cultlike following would see unsubscribe rates spike if they began sending weekly. Whether the intent is to sell or to inform, each e-mail should include valuable content. If the content is relevant to and anticipated by the recipient, frequency becomes a secondary consideration.
Some marketers believe that the more e-mail they send, the greater the rate of conversion. While this might be a sound approach for managing your sales funnel, it is not applicable to your e-mail marketing efforts.
Approaching your e-mail programs this way will yield recipient fatigue, spam complaints and list attrition. Set standards and frequency caps per program type, and stick to them. If you're getting pressure to exceed those caps, you can defend them by determining the value of an e-mail address to your organization. Place a number on it, and the loss of an address to an unsubscribe becomes tangible and real.
Kara Trivunovic is senior director of strategic services at StrongMail Systems (www.strongmail.com), a provider of e-mail marketing solutions.
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Originally published July 2, 2009