28 Email Deliverability Tips
If you have been involved with marketing online for any time you surely know that having your own opt in newsletter promoting your business is one of the most effective ways to market your business. However, if your emails are going into your potential customer’s email trash boxes the effectiveness of this form of advertising is diminished greatly. With so many blacklists, white lists, isp rules, keyword triggers, spam complaints, false positives out there it can be an extremely complicated affair simply getting your emails into in boxes. Here are some tips to help you just do just that:
1. Ask your subscribers to put your “from email” (this is the email address that is seen as the from address when you send out your newsletters) in their contacts list or their email address book when they initially subscribe to your newsletter. This is very important because if your users want to receive your emails and they add you to their contacts list in their email client your emails will go directly to their in boxes. This will, in most cases, bypass any isp filters as well. In addition you will receive a smaller number of people just clicking the spam button but accident when they receive your emails. Some isps give the option for users to “never mark this email address as spam” when they initially add the contact to their address book.
When people subscribe to my newsletters I redirect them to a page which gives them specific instructions for the major isps on how to white list my email address. Here is the form: http://www.quickregisterseo.com/confirmquickregister.html I even have an audio recording explaining to them exactly what they should do. I try to be as clear as possible. Many people will add you to their contacts just because you ask them to.
I am also reminding each subscriber to add my email to their contacts list in each email with a header at the top of the email like this:
Thank you for subscribing to the Quickregister Newsletter.
Please add firstname.lastname@example.org to your contacts list or
address book to ensure you will receive your information.
This email header serves 2 purposes. One I am reminding them to place my email in their contacts list. Perhaps they found the email in their trash and want to make sure to keep receiving my emails. I have given them clear instructions on how to do this. I am increasing the chances of getting my emails to their in boxes. There is also a second reason for the header. I am branding my emails. If they see the same header every time I am clearly and consistently identifying myself. They are much less likely to just click their spam button if they are familiar with my newsletter . Some isps also track how many times you are added to a persons contacts list. The more times you are added the more “trusted” you are as an email sender.
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2. Make sure you have reverse DNS Lookup set up on your server. This is something that your web host should do for you. I have requested this of several of my web hosts and they did this for me without any problems. I usually try to figure out how to do these things myself but I needed help for this one. Save yourself some time and just open a ticket with your web host. They are used to doing this.
3. Set up SPF records for your email server. If you are sending out email from your own server (leased or owned) you need to set up SPF records. SPF records stand for “Sender Policy Framework. “This is a system the major isps have put in place to help owners of domains clearly identify themselves when sending out emails. This prevents someone else from using forged headers with your domain name to send out spam and tarnish your reputation. These records clearly identify the email is coming from you. These records need to be set up in the DNS configuration of your server. Here are some instructions on how to do this. You can always open up a ticket with your web host and ask them to do it as well.
4. Set up DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) on your email server. This is similar to SPF records in that it is a way for major isps to identify the mail coming from your domain. This system is used by Gmail, Yahoo, SBCGlobal, British Telecom, Rogers Cable, Rocket Mail so if you want to get your mail to these isps you should set up DomainKeys. Here are some instructions on how to set up Domain keys on your server. If you are using a cpanel server with ssh root access here are some ssh commands you can use to put domain keys on all domains on your server in less than a minute.
5. Enroll your server in the feedback loops for all the major isps. If you are sending email from your own server (even if it is leased) you can develop a relationship with most of the major isps. Basically they will agree to send you any spam complaints from their users directly to your postmaster or abuse email addresses at your domain. You can then manually remove these complaining customers from your mailing lists. If you do this responsibly the major isps are much more likely to put emails to their users in boxes.
Here is where you may apply to set up your feedback loop with some of the major isps:
6. Check to make sure you are not on any email blacklists. There are many blacklist services which isps sometimes use to find out who is spamming and to block all emails coming from these sources. Unfortunately it is quite easy for legitimate email marketers to get on these blacklists. Do not panic or get angry if you find ips on the blacklist. Many of the blacklists have removal processes and will automatically remove you just by asking. Others may take a bit more contact to get your ip removed. Usually if you are a legitimate email marketer you can arrange to get off these lists. But it is up to you to monitor if you are on them in the first place. Here is an online service which will check your ip automatically online with many of the popular RBL lists.
7. Avoid high-volume and continuous sending to major ips. For example do not send out an email to just yahoo email addresses in your newsletter. This can get your ip blocked. Just send normally and preferably at a slower pace.
8. Avoid using attachments and using scripts in your emails. Virus filters will often block your messages from being delivered at all.
9. Avoid rented lists. It is preferable to be sending to lists that you have developed yourself by people actually coming to your website and subscribing. Be very careful with any type of “rented” list.
10. Keep your email lists clean and avoid bounces. Any email software you have should detect and eliminate excessive bounces. I have my lists set to delete any email address that bounces 3 times. Having a clean list is another important element to getting your emails delivered.
11. Make sure you have working “abuse@” and “postmaster@” addresses set up on the domain sending your emails. If you are going to set up feedback loops the isps require that you have these emails working. This is where any complaints about mail activity on your server are sent. The sooner you can react to problems the better reputation you will have with the isps. You must keep on top of any complaints.
12. Register your mail server address with abuse.net. This is a clearinghouse for registered abuse addresses used by many network administrators to route complaints to the proper destinations. It just takes a few minutes and every little bit helps in building up your sender reputation.
13. Never practice any type of unsolicited email. Of course, how you collect your email addresses in the first place is probably the most important factor. I have been assuming the you are developing a list of subscribers who are specifically interested in your offers and who have registered directly from one of your forms. Any type of unsolicited email is simply disastrous. Even the hardest working most conscientious legitimate email marketers have problems sometimes keeping their ips clean. Unsolicited email of any kind will almost immediately ruin your reputation and get you on every black list imaginable.
Confirmed opt in is the most secure method though many do well with well managed single opt in.
14. Brand you subjects lines. People scan their subject lines before reporting the email as spam. If you are clear and consistent about who you are in the subject line this can drastically reduce complaints as users begin to recognize and get used to your emails. Maybe put your company name in brackets in the beginning or end of the subject line. If you are branding your own personal name use that.
15. Provide a clear unsubscribe link. Do not play games and use lots of blank lines to hide the unsubscribe link. You do not want people to be upset with you. You want to develop a good relationship with your readers. Be straight forward. Maybe they like your newsletter but just are not ready now. They could become customers later and subscribe again. Make it easy for them to subscribe and unsubscribe from your newsletter. If they have problems unsubscribing they might get frustrated and click the spam button.
16. Use consistent from information. Be sure to always use the same from name and address. Changing the from email will require your subscribers to add each address to their address book in order to ensure deliverability. In addition, a consistent from name helps readers recognize your brand.
17. Put the unsubscribe link at the top of your emails. Ok, I do not do this most of the time. However, there is no doubt that this will drastically reduce spam complaints. If people see an obvious subscribe link they will click that generally before clicking the spam button in their email client. I had one list of about 100k where each time I sent a mailing I was getting a few complaints. On the subsequent mailings I put the unsubscribe link at the very top and the few complainers removed themselves from the list. Whew! Feel this one out. If you have been working hard at developing a relationship with your readers I do not think you need it and you can get right to the information in your email. However, if you find your complaint levels going up you might want to do this temporarily.
18. Use a static ip not a shared ip. If you send marketing emails from your own server, always send from the same IP address. If you use an email service provider, find out if they offer a dedicated IP for an additional charge. If they do, it’s worth it. Like shared webhosts, many ISP’s group many clients under one IP address. In other words, what another company does with their email marketing can affect your deliverability. It’s much easier to manage the reputation of one IP address rather than many.
19. Reply to challenge responses. Do you ever see those spam arrest notices? You have sent an email to someone but in order to get your email through you must click a link and fill out a code to make sure you are human. I monitor my from address that I send from. I do not use a “do not reply” type of address. I will actually take the time to click on these links and fill out the codes. Once you are in you are in. And these people have less competition in their in box. Most likely your competitor’s will not do this. And when it comes to email everybody is your competitor because you are really competing for their attention. So these subscribers are actually more valuable than a subscriber who never adds you to their contact list and gets your mail in their trash. Essentially they are giving you permission to add you to their white list. This will also improve your sender reputation as well.
21. Ask your subscribers to enter their “real”, “primary” or “best email address.” You do not want your mail going to some throw away account. You want your email going to an email address that they monitor all the time. Many people will enter their “real” email just because you ask them to. I put this request right in the white space of the form with code that disappears as soon as they start typing. Every little bit helps and the results of your work accumulate over time.
22. Use text emails instead of html emails or both. Tests have shown that text emails have slightly better deliverability rates than html. However, you can do some pretty nice things with html that can really sell your products better than text. So if you are going to send html emails also send a text version. Most email sending programs give you this option.
23. Do not overuse spam filter triggering language. Now I am not a fanatatic about this because I like to write for humans not for bots. But if you can still keep the meaning of your email intact it is not a bad idea to be aware of spam filter triggering words and phrases. Check your from line, subject line and email copy, and avoid using language and techniques that might look like spam to a content-based spam filter. Here are some words to look out for: free, guarantee, credit card, sex, viagra. You get the idea I could go on and on.
If you are doing html emails try to avoid overusing the color red. If you have large phrases in bold red this could trigger a filter and do you really need this?
Do not shout at your readers avoid ALL CAPS. CAN YOU HEAR ME!!!!!???? This can really make your email look like spam and can trigger a filter.
Avoid excessive punctuation like I did above. UNDERSTAND???? THIS IS FREE INFORMATION!!!!!!!!!. Ok you get the idea. Not only can using excessive punctuation trigger spam filters but it really does not look cool.
Avoid excessive use of “click here” especially in all capital letters. Make your call-to-action links more specific to avoid filters.
Excessive use of $$, and other symbols. Again, this tactic is likely to trip email filters. Use just one dollar sign for currency and use descriptive words instead of symbols to get your message across. Also do not misspell words to try to get them through spam filters like F-R-E-E or veeagra. This will only make matters worse.
24. Avoid using images in your emails. I was reading in some tips provided directly from Gmail and they specifically advise staying away from using images. I know they look nice but they can get your emails blocked. And if nobody sees your nice pictures what good do they do?
25. Use an email reputation service. Reputation services are often used by large ISP’s as a way to vet email senders regarding their email practices and policies. Businesses listed with these services are then given less stringent filtering or no filtering at all. Check out the prices though. Some want a nice chunk of change for their expertise. See what they offer and if it is worth it for you to use their services. If you fill out the feedback loops from the different isps you probably will be getting a call from Return Path. Here are a couple of reputation services:
26. Monitor your from address. Not only can you reply to challenge responses by monitoring your from address but you can manually unsubscribe people who respond to your emails. Some people just will not click that unsubscribe link. They will reply to your email asking to be removed. Honor these requests. You do not want these people clicking the spam button later and hurting your reputation.
27. Be Can Spam compliant. You must stay within the law. The main components of the Can Spam Act require you to include a valid postal address, a valid from email, and email subjects which are not deceptive. Using deceptive email subjects is not only against the law but it creates ill will from your readers. Remember you want them to like you! They are much more likely to report your email as spam if you use deceptive email subjects. Also, if you deceive them in the email subject why should they trust you enough to buy something from you?
28. Be relevant. If you have a list about cooking tips do not send them information on horse racing. This is common sense. Your subscribers subscribed to your list for information on a certain subject. Even if the list is confirmed opt in you can get mega complaints if you start bombarding your list with offers that have no relevance to the reason they originally subscribed. Respect your readers and them what they asked for and you will have less complaints and a better sending reputation which means a better email deliverability rate.
I hope you have found these tips helpful. If you have more email deliverability tips and comments please leave them in them comments area. Also, remember to subscribe to thread so you you be notified of any replies to your comments.
P.S. Here is an interesting blog post of the Google official blog where Google discusses additional security measures Google is implementing on their Gmail accounts. This gives another meaning to the term “double opt-in” or “confirmed opt-in” for you purists!