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Getting to the inbox

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E-mail metrics give marketers quite a bit of visibility into their campaigns, but there’s one thing that your analytics program can’t tell you: whether your delivered e-mail ended up in the inbox or the spam box. This is even more of an issue for b-to-b marketers, said Janine Popick, CEO and co-founder of e-mail service provider VerticalResponse. “You can do everything in your power to get that e-mail delivered—feedback loops, for example—but that’s only going to work for Gmail or AOL,” she said. “Getting into a corporate setting requires more work since an e-mail administrator’s job is to protect his or her employees’ time.”

Those administrators use commercial spam filters and create all-encompassing policies that flag commercial e-mail, which is why, Popick said, it’s important for e-mail marketers to avoid looking too much like spam. Popick provided these five tips to help you get your messages past the business gatekeepers and have them delivered directly into the inbox.

  1. Change your salutation. We’ve heard it for years: Personalize whenever possible. But there’s a big difference between sending content that’s related to a recent purchase and simply personalizing an e-mail with a “Dear Name.” “[Commercial e-mail filter] SpamAssassin can flag an e-mail with ‘Dear’ as a piece of spam,” Popick said. “We suggest forgoing the salutation completely.”
  2. Get rid of buzz and bulleted lists. Spam filters also look for specific formatting and language that screams spam. A bulleted list, Popick said, is the lazy man’s way to e-mail. Likewise, using too many industry buzzwords can make your helpful message seem like it’s a solicitation. Write e-mails as you would speak to someone, she said.
  3. Check your links. It should go without saying that links should be live and correct. Spam filters pick up on broken or inactive links. However, you also should also look at the suffixes you’re using in your links, she said. Links ending in “.php,” a type of HTML scripting language, are often a red flag for spam filters. Avoid them when possible, Popick said. “You’ll need to talk to your webmaster, but it’s worth the extra effort if your e-mail gets through.”
  4. Keep lists—and campaigns—small. When large batches of e-mails are sent to the same domain at the same time, it looks like a mass mailing and often doesn’t get through. “Break your list up into smaller chunks, and send them out over the course of a day so you’re not sending out one list of 5,000 but five lists of 1,000,” Popick said. “If you’ve got a big list going out, Gmail or Yahoo can look at reputation, but a corporate e-mail system administrator isn’t always going to rely on reputation services as the foundation for his or her e-mail rules.”
  5. Get professional help. Some marketers still use Microsoft Word’s HTML editing function to create their HTML-based e-mails. This is a big mistake unless your ESP has a “Paste from Word” conversion tool, Popick said. “It’s sloppy,” she said. “When you paste HTML from Word sometimes the code includes funky characters, which is definitely going to get your message flagged as spam.”
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