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6 Steps to Higher Email Delivery Rates - Authentication

6 Steps to Higher Email Delivery Rates - Authentication George Bilbrey

Your email infrastructure is an important piece or your email reputation. Most ISPs now require that email senders use some form of authentication to ensure delivery-- think of it as Caller ID for email. If the ISP knows you are who you say you are, it is the first step to email delivery (though it does not alone get your email delivered). Email authentication has two primary benefits: it prevents the forgery of email messages and allows senders to build a positive reputation with receivers based upon their mailing behavior.

If you are not using an email authentication protocol, you need to research which one is right for you and get started. You can find detailed information about the three dominant schemes on the following websites:

Make sure that when you implement authentication, you do so for all of your corporate email-- consider email you send internally, through third parties, transactional email, marketing email, et cetera. Once you have all your email sources authenticated, you need to test your records to make sure they are set up correctly. Here are some easy testing resources:

In addition to proper authentication, you need to also pay attention to these infrastructure items:

  • Use a reverse DNS record

  • Have a "round trip" reverse DNS

  • Bounce address accepts mail (and has MX record)

  • Postmaster and abuse addresses that accept mail

More than 20 percent of permission-based commercial email gets blocked or filtered before it reaches the inbox. Largely, this happens because the email looks like spam to the receiver. Receivers decide how to vet email based on the reputation of the email sender. Do you know what your reputation is?

Delivery Trends

Let's face it-- whether you know it or not, you have an email reputation that dictates if your messages reach the inbox, get junked or go missing. Your reputation is critical to monitor, yet there is so much noise in the market today surrounding reputation that it can be difficult to figure out what is truly important to consider for your email program. This article will help point you toward the things that really matter so that you can quickly get your reputation in check and get more of your email to the inbox.

Through it all, you control your email reputation. Think of it as your credit score for email-- your past and present behaviors factor into your credit rating, and your future behaviors can make it better or worse. The same is true with email. Following the best practices that build your reputation isn't hard, and it's likely what you want to be doing anyway to improve response rates and grow your file with active subscribers.

Read on to find out how to have the strongest email reputation possible, starting today.

Author Notes:
George Bilbrey, vice president and GM of deliverability services at Return Path, pioneered the email deliverability space to help companies combat spam, launching the first set of deliverability tools when founding Assurance Systems in 2002. Assurance Systems merged with Return Path in June 2003. Bilbrey also co-founded Return Path and helped build its industry-standard Email Change of Address (ECOA) service. Prior to Return Path, Bilbrey was director of product management at Worldprints.com where he managed the development of the Image Catcher screensaver application and supporting web site, which acquired more than two million users in six months. He was formerly a partner at Mercer Management Consulting in the high tech and telecommunications group, where he developed operational experience in computer manufacturing and telecommunications. He holds a B.A. in Economics from Duke University, and an MBA from the Kenan-Flagler School of Business, University of North Carolina.

Let’s speak the obvious for a second: if a lot of people are complaining about you, you likely have a bad reputation. That is true with most things, but it is especially true when it comes to your email program. When we review email delivery issues for our clients, we find that complaints drive 70 percent of blocking and filtering issues. Preventing complaints -- people hitting "This is Spam" or otherwise complaining to their ISP -- is the most important thing you can do to improve your email reputation and increase your inbox success rates.

This is Spam Button

Consider these four easy steps to minimize complaints in your program:

  1. Deliver what you promise. When someone signs up to receive your emails, make sure you are perfectly clear about what you will be sending them and when. It is a good idea to send a welcome email that reiterates what they registered to receive, as well, so there are no surprises.

  2. Segment your emails based on demographics, response, or choice. Allow people to choose what you talk about or try to sell them in the emails they receive from you, and even how often they get emails from you. If you can’t do that, try to optimize your campaigns based on response or demographic data. By giving people what they want to receive, they will be a lot less likely to complain about your emails.

  3. Make it easy to unsubscribe. When someone wants off your list, let them get off easily. If you make it too hard, they will hit "This is Spam" instead of unsubscribing, which puts your whole email program in jeopardy.

  4. Carefully screen any acquisition partners. If you have third parties helping sign up people to your email program, make sure they are following the rules and promising the right things. If they don't, the leads you get will likely be junk, and when you send email to them you'll get a higher rate of complaints than normal. Bad lead generation partners make your program suffer greatly.


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