Reaching the right prospects

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If your e-mail list includes customers and prospects with addresses, it's possible they didn't see messages you sent in February and March. The company, according to a March 11 blog post, made changes to its inbound mail service in an effort to block spam—a move that ended up blocking both spam and legitimate e-mails from bulk senders. The snafu is a good reminder to marketers that they must constantly monitor their deliverability. Here are some tips to help boost and maintain deliverability rates: * Segment your list by message type. There's a much greater chance that someone is going to report your e-mail newsletter or marketing materials as spam as compared to transactional messages. As a result, transactional messages should go out from your own IP address—completely separate from marketing messages as well as other e-mail sources within your company, said Barry Abel, VP-field operations at Message Systems, an e-mail solutions provider. This also applies to mail sent from e-mail service providers. If you're on a shared server, he said, you'll want to request a separate, dedicated IP address for all transactional messages. “You don't want to take the chance of your transactional messages not reaching an end user,” he said. * What you don't know can hurt you. Your deliverability metrics might have been great the last time you looked, but if you haven't checked those metrics in more than a week, you're missing out, said Pat Peterson, VP-technology with anti-spam and anti-spyware company IronPort Systems. “You can have good deliverability for a long time, but you can still have trouble brewing,” he said. “If you don't know people are unhappy, it will hurt you in the end.” His advice: Make sure you're constantly monitoring the feedback loops that ISPs and other providers make available. Do it daily if possible, although weekly is acceptable, too, he said. If you see a problem in a feedback loop, go back and examine your program. Did you buy a new list? Did you change the creative? Did you make an offer that was inconsistent with previous brand offerings? These are some things that will cause spam complaints and unsubscribes to go up, he said: * Authentication isn't a silver bullet. Some marketers assume that if they go through the process of e-mail authentication, they have a green light to send whatever they want to their prospects' and customers' e-mail inboxes. But the opposite is actually true, Abel said: If you send too much e-mail, you can betray recipients' trust and alienate them * Test monthly, even if you have a small list. You might look at a list of several hundred addresses and assume that A/B testing won't work or isn't worth the trouble. Not so, Peterson said. “A/B testing works as a perfect canary in a coal mine,” he said. You can test with even one or two dozen addresses and get good results, he added. * Perform meticulous list hygiene. Every time a message bounces or someone unsubscribes, that e-mail address should be removed immediately from your e-mail program, Abel said. You never want to send e-mail to people who don't exist because all mail servers have rules that look for excessive bounced e-mails. “When a message bounces, it raises questions about the integrity of a sender,” he said. “These removals have to happen in real time.” 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 your 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 recently by Goodmail Systems, this new class of e-mail provides electronic proof that e-mails were delivered and received. That means 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. M
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