Watch your images and ISPs to ensure deliverability

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Question: How did the deliverability challenge change?

Answer: The following are developments in 2006 that affected deliverability and will continue to do so:

1. Default image suppression became ubiquitous and is the most important e-mail marketing development of 2006. Microsoft implemented it in its new Web mail service, Windows Live Mail, and the influential ISP trade groups MAAWG and APWG ratified the tactic as an industry best practice in July. According to research conducted by Epsilon and GfK NOP, 65% of e-mail users already have encountered in-box image suppression, and this number is growing.

As a result, marketers must now educate and motivate their subscribers to activate images, and campaign success now relies largely on the fine art of specialized e-mail creative design to optimize rendering.

2. Marketers got greater access to consumer complaint data, the development that contributed most to making e-mail marketers' jobs easier in 2006. With the key advent of technical standardization for feedback loops at the end of 2005, a flurry of additional ISPs joined pioneers AOL and Juno/NetZero in adopting them in 2006, including Earthlink, MSN/Hotmail, Outblaze and RoadRunner.

As feedback loops continue to proliferate, marketers that take full advantage of them and have access to real-time, integrated spam complaint reporting are better equipped to identify the root causes of delivery failures. As a result, they can make improvements to their practices, list hygiene, campaign relevancy and, ultimately, their reputation scores going forward.

3. The emergence of ISPs utilizing the services of third-party accreditation bureaus may affect deliverability in 2007. AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft began working with third parties—including Goodmail, ReturnPath, Habeas and ISIPP SuretyMail—to help them better distinguish legitimate e-mail from spam.

As a marketer, whether you participate (or agree with their schemata), the fact that ISPs have begun partnering with third-party accreditation bureaus means that you have more arrows in the deliverability quiver, and are better educated about ISP policies and expectations. Also, it's positive that ISPs continue to explore innovative approaches to protecting legitimate e-mail and improving the end user experience.

Jordan Cohen is director of industry and government relations for Epsilon (, a provider of multichannel, data-driven marketing technologies and services.

Question: Do b-to-b mailers need to worry about bounce management if they mainly send to corporate domains?

Answer: Absolutely. Bounce management is an important factor in maximizing deliverability and campaign effectiveness regardless of your audience. In fact, a good bounce management system is arguably more important to b-to-b mailers given the fragmented nature of their lists and the inconsistent bounce messages and less sophisticated filtering associated with corporate domains. Corporate domains are also motivated to filter more strictly to ensure security and protect resources and productivity.

Unlike a b-to-c list—where 70% of the addresses may be concentrated in a handful of domains—the typical b-to-b list is spread across hundreds or thousands of corporate domains. This presents unique challenges to the b-to-b mailer, since each of those domains may have different access rules, spam filtering techniques and bounce messages. A good bounce management system can help make sense of this mishmash of inconsistent data, to identify the reasons for failure and isolate trends. Only then can you diagnose the underlying causes and take the corrective actions that improve your bottom-line results.

As a b-to-b marketer, you should examine your existing bounce management solution in five key areas:

Capture data. Make sure your system can capture all data streams—both synchronous and asynchronous bounces. An asynchronous bounce occurs after the SMTP transaction and takes the form of a "bounce e-mail" that's received along with other inbound e-mails you get as a result of your mailing. This data stream is particularly relevant to b-to-b mailers since it's how you'll get a large percentage of bounces from smaller domains. Unfortunately, this is a data stream that's often overlooked or incompletely captured by most bounce management systems.

Interpret data. The right solution will be able to process incoming bounce data across the data streams and correctly interpret the myriad of inconsistent messages. This ability doesn't come out of a recipe book. It takes continual testing and tuning to correctly interpret and map the data.

Organize data. No one can cope with hundreds of different bounces messages, so the next step is to normalize the data and organize them into logical categories, such as hard bounce, soft bounce, block and technical failure. A good system will then map failures into reasons below the category level, such as "unknown user" under hard bounce.

Make data actionable. Once organized, the system should generate reports that make the data actionable in addressing the causes of failures. These reports should directly track to the actions you take to hygiene your list, adjust your targeting, modify your creative, etc. It should feature intuitive drill-downs that allow you to use them as a diagnostic tool with the ability to pull up sample records to validate your conclusions.

Maintain data integrity. Even the best-conceived bounce management system will degrade rapidly in our ever-changing environment. Therefore, this last criterion is an important one—it must contain a "future proofing" provision to stay abreast of changing bounce codes and messages.

Dave Lewis is an e-mail marketing consultant. He was most recently at StrongMail Systems (, a provider of e-mail delivery servers and software.

Question: Why do ISPs and other domains "silently delete" my e-mail and how can I detect it?

Answer: The term "silent delete" refers to the practice of some ISPs and other receiving domains to delete e-mail without providing any bounce or other notice to the sender. It's predicated on the belief that by returning bounce data to spammers they're better equipped to continue their abusive practices. Unfortunately, spammers aren't the only ones impacted by the silent delete practice.

There are several strategies you can employ to detect a silent delete. First, organize your delivery data by the ISPs and domains that are most important to you. (This is a function that a good bounce management system should enable you to do.) Examine your delivery, open and click rates. If you see reasonable delivery rates but no or very low open and click rates, that's a good indication that silent delete may be occurring.

Second, on major ISPs, look at the mailbox monitoring data from your deliverability service provider (DSP), such as Pivotal Veracity, Return Path or Habeas, and compare it to the delivery stats from your bounce management system. If you see a number of "missing"' seeds from your DSP but reasonable delivery from your bounce management system, that too may be an indication of silent delete.

In advocating a discontinuance of the silent delete practice, the place to start is at home. Check out what your own corporate spam filter is doing and suggest a change if you find that your company is engaging in the practice. Of course, you'll also want to contact the ISPs and other domains that silently delete your mail and let them know what you think of the practice. And you should let your voice be heard at Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG) and other industry groups that are examining this practice.

Dave Lewis is an e-mail marketing consultant. He was most recently at StrongMail Systems (, a provider of e-mail delivery servers and software.

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