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Email best practices: from 2005 to today

Email best practices: from 2005 to today Spencer Kollas

The other day I was working on some slides for a seminar, and I happened to come across a presentation on deliverability that I gave to several clients back in 2005. Just for laughs, I opened it up to see how far we have come in the last three years.

Much to my surprise, we are still talking about many of the same issues that were relevant back then. So it got me thinking: How is it that an entire industry has sprung up to counsel marketers on deliverability and still not much has changed? Are people actually listening to the advice that those in my profession are offering up?

Actually, the 10 deliverability tips that I covered in that 2005 presentation provide a good context for discussing how deliverability factors have changed -- if at all. So, I have provided them here, along with my thoughts on whether they are still relevant, and if so, how we're doing with adopting them. 

Tip 1: Ensure you are not operating an open relay.
Update: This item is still a hot button for many ISPs as they try to get the upper hand in the fight against spam. The real spammers use these open relays for their bot-nets. The good news is that this isn't an issue for most of my clients; however, it's still a good point to remember and check on a regular basis.

Tip 2: Check to make sure that reverse DNS is working.
Update: It amazes me that this is still needed -- if your reverse DNS is not set up and working correctly, you are bound to run into some serious delivery issues. Today, clients are picking up on this, but it's still an issue that comes up on a regular basis.

Tip 3: Inventory all "From" names and addresses used by your organization for outbound email.
Update: This issue has not gone away, and it's particularly problematic for companies with numerous divisions that do their own thing in regards to email. They often aren't talking to each other, so no one really knows what the other divisions are doing. Regardless of your size, you need to put this inventory process into your routine system checks.

Tip 4: Perform an assessment of all your domains AND sub-domains.
Update: This item is closely related to the previous tip on "From" addresses. It's still very important to know everything that is going out from your company -- whether it's from a different division or class of mail -- such as transactional, event-triggered or other service-based message.

Tip 5: Determine your organization's top 10 domains.
Update: This tip remains evergreen. Without knowing who is getting your emails, how can you know where to focus your time if deliverability issues arise? Fortunately, I'm encountering fewer clients who haven't done their homework in that department. That might be because people are actually taking the time to look at this information, or because they are just assuming who their top 10 are based on published ISP ranking statistics.

Tip 6: If you don't already publish authentication methods -- start.
Update: Authentication is a way for the ISPs to know who you are and verify that the mail coming from you is valid. The number of companies that are still not authenticating their mail surprises me. There is no excuse not to. Authentication is easy and has a big impact on deliverability.

Tip 7: Begin preparing to implement Domain Keys/DKIM.
Update: This is in direct relation to tip 6. When I first wrote these tips, Domain Keys were just starting to make headway in the industry, and the DKIM specs were not yet complete. Today, senders should be publishing both Domain Keys and DKIM, as the number of ISPs that are checking for these authentication methods continues to increase.

Tip 8: Implement deliverability monitoring tools.
Update: Those of you who know me know how strongly I believe in testing. There are so many good tools out there, why wouldn't you use them? Even so, on a regular basis, I hear from senders who claim that the cost of these tools is too high. Well if that is the case, I have to wonder what tools they are looking at, because the tools that I know are fairly priced across the board. Additionally, once you look at the potential ROI from using these tools, the cost is extremely low.

Tip 9: Determine if you need to establish message-throttling rules.
Update: Many ISPs use throttling rates to help reduce the amount of spam that comes through their system, so understanding these are very important. Fortunately, this is another area where senders have made progress, thanks to ESPs who have embraced it, technology solutions that have it built in, and ambitious marketers who regularly monitor this information and make adjustments accordingly.

Tip 10: Regularly monitor most common real-time blacklists.
Update: Many smaller ISPs and corporations still use blacklists as a way to fight spam. While this has become less important than sender reputation, making sure to check the major blacklists is still a smart move for senders.

In summary, this little exercise shows that, for the most part, the best practices we were talking about three years ago still apply. If you make sure to follow through with them, you should continue to improve your deliverability.

Good luck and good sending.

Spencer Kollas is director, delivery services for StrongMail Systems.

Spencer Kollas is a recognized industry leader in email deliverability and subscriber engagement. For more than a decade, Kollas has worked with the world’s foremost email marketers to help them connect with their customers and increase the...

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