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Emailing Best Practices (Part 2)

David Sousa
Emailing Best Practices (Part 2) David Sousa
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Editors note: Read yesterday's installment, in which Sousa provided best practices for legitimate marketers in distinguishing themselves from spammers.


With black lists and filters proliferating, it's harder and harder to get an email message through them. Filters and black lists are a logical response by ISPs and companies to spammers and marketers exhibiting bad practices. Email is not postal mail -- in the United States the government under the auspices of the USPS runs the postal system. Email distribution is handled by for-profit companies such as AOL, Yahoo! and receiving businesses. As such, these companies' first priority is to protect the interest of their paying customers and employees. So email marketers need to play by their rules.


The challenge for marketers, however, is that there is very little transparency into these rules. That being said, continuously achieving near 100 percent delivery is quite within reach of most email marketers. It does, however, require following best practices, allocating the necessary time and resources -- and potentially some additional budget. Here are some tips:


Focus on the opt-in process. Only email to people who have given explicit permission to receive your specific emails. Preferably use the confirmed or double opt-in process, but at minimum single opt-in. Do not use pre-checked boxes.


Manage your hard bounces. Keep your list clean and remove hard bounces after each email distribution. Too high a bounce percentage and ISPs will block and filter your messages.


Manage spam complaints. Suppress spam complaints immediately ensuring that the subscriber will not receive another unwanted email from your organization. Too high of spam complaint ratio will also cause your email to be blocked or filtered.


Check your content. There is a lot of misinformation in the industry about content, such as using the word “free,” causing emails to be filtered. The vast majority of content filters being used assign points to words, characters, color, code, et cetera. Content viewed to be “spam like” receives positive points and certain best practice type content receives negative points. The filter system totals the score and will block or filter a message that exceeds a certain score. Most of these systems are based off of the Spam Assassin filter. See the list of tests that Spam Assassin runs.


Marketers should review this list occasionally to familiarize and re-familiarize themselves with this type of filtering. Many email marketing technology solutions, such as that offered by EmailLabs, offer message content checking that enables marketers to run a test before distributing their emails. There are also third-party services that offer up testing services -- but none of these solutions are perfect. Every ISP and company applies its own rules.


PreTest. Prior to sending your message to your entire list, send out proof messages to your home-grown proof list or utilize one of the third-party services such as Pivotal Veracity, Return Path, Habeas or Piper Software. If you see messages going into the bulk folder or going missing altogether, then attempt to determine the cause and correct prior to sending your entire distribution -- or at least to the specific ISP(s) with the problem.


Get removed from black lists. Most public black lists will have their de-listing criteria and process described on their websites. Typically it's simply a matter of contacting the administrators of the list and complying with their requirements. The easiest way to stay off black lists is to never appear on them in the first place. Through following email subscription best practices, such as confirmed opt-in methods and continuous bounce and complaints management, your risk of being black listed is greatly lessened.


Get on white lists. Some ISPs publish white list information on the web. For example, AOL's white list criteria can be found at http://postmaster.info.aol.com. You can apply to be on the AOL white list if you comply with their requirements. Some ISPs have internal white lists, which you could inquire about through emailing postmaster@ or abuse@ addresses, which typically go to the mail administrators. Another way of being white listed is partnering with companies like Habeas and BondedSender. These companies do the compliance legwork, and provide "outsourced white lists" for other ISPs. Being certified at one or both of these organizations will automatically white list you across all ISPs that subscribe to their service.


Set up a Sender Policy Framework (SPF) record --  SPF is an additional step to verify an email sender's identity. The protocol is fairly easy to set up and should take a network administrator about five minutes. SPF adds another layer of authentication to your outgoing email and protects against phishing attacks on your brand. Some ISPs, such as AOL, require SPF to be implemented to be considered for their white lists.


Validate HTML content. Spammer's will often use invalid, broken and malicious HTML code to obfuscate their payload. If you use HTML in your messages, make sure your code is error-free and follows W3C HTML guidelines.


There are many more steps email marketers can take, but these are some of the more common things you can do.


As CEO of EmailLabs Sousa is focused on creating the acknowledged leader in providing ASP-based email marketing solutions for middle-market and large companies. Since launching EmailLabs as a division of Uptilt in May of 2001, Sousa has led the company to profitability in 18 months and an annual growth rate of nearly 100 percent. In May of 1999, Sousa co-founded Uptilt, Inc., an ASP solution providing web tools such as polling, message board, rating and survey engines. Previously, Sousa co-founded Nubis, Inc., one of the premiere movie information destinations on the internet, which he sold for more than 30 times invested capital to ETM.com, a leading movie and event-ticketing distributor.


Sousa became the director of internet technology at ETM where he was responsible for four departments: Content, Design, Network and Quality Assurance. Among other projects, he led the development of their internet ticketing standard for movies and events, and the integration of ticketing with site content. Before founding Nubis, Sousa served as a lead development engineer with Infoseek. He has a BS in Computer Engineering from Santa Clara University. Sousa is a frequent speaker on email marketing technology issues and is a member of the DMA Marketing Technology & Internet Council and Council for Responsible Email.

Why Google Glass will be important


For starters, a screen that small is an art director's nightmare. I remember the days when the first 468x60 banners were starting and asking, how could we ever fit a message into that space? But then along came a banner you could play Pong in, rich media expandables, and larger sized banners took the stage. While physically small, the screen on Google Glass actually provides a fairly large amount of content.


If you read the coverage, all the discussions seem to center around the camera "OK Glass, take a picture." But there's a lot more functionality packed into Glass that make it a much more robust tool. When emails arrive, Glass will gladly read the message aloud and verbally respond. Glass does an extremely good job of understanding what I'm saying (it's way better than what autocorrect does to my typed text messages). It's changing the way I communicate. Truly we're not ready for Spike Jonez's world in the film "Her," where we all walk around talking to our devices, but technology is now starting to adapt to how we naturally communicate.

Why smart watches are important


We've all been in that meeting where everyone takes a look at their watch and can't wait for it to end. How much longer are we stuck in this room? But with a smart watch you can get more information, learn something, or get important updates in a much less obtrusive way than pulling out your phone, which is where the majority of people check the time now. A smart watch lets you see that message and react accordingly. Yes, it's true, a lot of people have to learn some etiquette and it will evolve. Remember when people used to type emails in all caps? Of course some folks still do, and too many people talk loudly on their cell phones in public settings.


Some people may feel we're entering a world of less engaged conversations, but it will wear off and we'll learn how to focus again. When the internet first made it to your office desktop, productivity dropped as you browsed the web and found new sites. But as you got accustomed to it, you found you could answer that question that used to take hours in minutes. Now that's productivity!


Why sports monitors are important


Fuel Bands, Fit Bands, etc. are great tools for monitoring your activity. It takes the drudgery out of tracking your workouts. I personally have been wearing a glorified pedometer for a few months now (down 12 lbs!). The thing that's changed for me is that my workout tracking is automated. I can look back and see what I've done, make changes, and adjust all based on data that's automatically collected for me.

Why are these items important to marketers


So there's an array of reasons why these tools are important to us in our personal lives. But how important will the tools be for business? Imagine the idea of getting your relevant message to someone who's in a meeting at the end of the day. "Pick up Chinese take-out on the way home" could quickly be responded to with a digitally placed order for your favorite items at the push of a button on your watch. Of course the restaurant that offers this service first will take the lead in business. For example, look at how the big pizza chains are handling mobile orders today. On Google Glass an opted in message at the right time could help you find the closest coffee shop and show you the driving directions.


So in the end, what's important about wearables isn't the technology itself, it's how the technology can enhance communication. And after all, aren't we marketers really in the communication business? Pay attention, things are changing faster than you know. Sony's Walkman sure wishes it was an iPod now.
 
Peter Platt is president of PSquared Digital.


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