The From Line

Sending, Managing & Monetizing Email

New White Paper - Deliverability

The email industry has changed. Learn reasons for these changes and how all marketers need to change the way they strategize campaigns in order to ensure good deliverability and fewer spam complaints.

Gold Lasso's new white paper is available to anyone for free from our website... continue reading this post for more information...

 

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Marketers Challenged by Consumers' Perception of SPAM

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In growing efforts to combat email SPAM, ISPs continue to put more power into consumers’ hands. Consumer desire for controlling SPAM (or perceived spam) is what drove Gmail and Hotmail to introduce priority in-boxes, a way for the user’s interaction with emails to be used to determine future in-box placement.

The key word in this trend is “perceived.” Many marketers following email best practices still find themselves managing SPAM complaints through feedback loops. So why is this happening?

 

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Debunking 13 Email Deliverability Myths to Help You Succeed

The below information has been gathered from countless hours of assisting our clients with their day-to-day deliverability needs.  A lot of research and hands-on experience has gone in to debunking these very common deliverability myths.  Unlike when Geraldo uncovered a big goose egg in Al Capone’s vault, I’m hoping that these revelations will help you boost your deliverability and provide necessary information to lead you to success.

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Q&A: Feedback Loops and Spam Filters

We recently hosted a Q&A webinar to give our clients more information about feedback loops and spam filters — two major factors that determine the deliverability of your email campaigns. In case you missed it, here are the most common answers to your feedback and spam questions.

What is a feedback loop?
According to Wikipedia, a feedback loop is “the casual path that leads from the initial generation of the feedback signal to the subsequent modification of the event.” OK, but what does that really mean, especially in terms of email?

  1. Let’s trace the flow of feedback for an email. Let’s say…
  2. You send an email to Michael at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., inviting him to complete a survey in order to receive a free iPhone.
  3. Michael’s having a really bad day. He’s cranky. Plus, he already has an iPhone. So he clicks on that oh-so-powerful button “MARK AS spam,” rather than scrolling down to the bottom of the message to simply opt-out. This marks the initial generation of the feedback.
  4. That feedback is then sent to Yahoo as a complaint, which gets marked against your reputation.  Because you are signed up with Gold Lasso to receive these complaints, a message is then sent back to us, parsed and placed in to your account.
  5. Now for the “closing the loop” part. If nothing is done — that is, you don’t check the feedback loop — technically speaking the process has not been completed. Therefore, it’s important to finish the loop by responding back to Yahoo with the proper information to back up the fact that the recipient opted in, and to mark the user as opt-out in eLoop ASAP.


Why should I use feedback loops?
The better question is why shouldn’t you? It’s really a no brainer. Without this mechanism in your email marketing plan, it leaves you wide open to poor deliverability and ultimately a notch on your reputation.  

How should I use feedback loops?
You should use them as a means for opting out people who have complained, which ultimately will help improve your deliverability and reputation.

Where can I find them in eLoop?
The feedback loops (FPLs) are under the Reporting module, under Deliverability.

How often should I check them?
Every day, ideally. If you’re sending daily campaigns then you should be checking it every day before you send out your campaigns. You should definitely check them before every campaign goes out to limit the possibility of sending to someone who complained about your last campaign.

What should I do if I get a complaint?

There are three possibilities:

  1. First, you can do nothing. Obviously, we don’t recommend this, but it seems to be the most popular of the three choices.
  2. You can use your opt-in information and good personality to respond back to the ISP and, with the proper fodder, hopefully have the complaint rescinded.
  3. Lastly, you can simply mark the individual as opt-out in eLoop.
  4. The best solution is a combination of option 2 and 3. We always hope that the client has the proper opt-in information to back up any complaint, but we know that’s not always the case. At the very least you should be marking the users as opt-out ASAP.

Why is there a $200 setup fee for only the Yahoo Feedback Loop?
The short answer is that Yahoo made the signup process more difficult and lengthy than the others.
Most feedback loops allow us to send a bulk list of IP addresses through a basic online form. Yahoo, however, has a more detailed procedure that takes one of our staff members time to complete for each individual domain name. We’ll continue to offer new feedback loops that we can bulk submit free of charge to our clients as they become available.

Spam Filtering

What is a spam filter?
A spam filter is mechanism (it could be software, hardware or a combination of both) used to determine if a message is “clean” or not, and allows or blocks messages based on these rules before it hits your inbox.  

How do these filters work?
The process works by assigning a score to an incoming message. That score determines if the message is clean or spam. Companies have invested hours and hours into monitoring messages and coming up with algorithms to determine what is and what is not spam.  Some spam filters are simple, like the Junk Mail feature in Outlook which filters mail as it comes to your inbox. This is usually managed by the individual who can white list, block, release, and monitor the messages that have been filtered right from their PC or MAC. There are also server-level filters like Symantec’s BrightMail, which filters the mail at the server level before sending it to the recipient’s inbox. This process usually involves the IT staff in some fashion and is a little bit tougher to manage from the recipient level. Also, this process leaves the recipient at the mercy of the IT staff, who can make a change to the sensitivity of the filter that might affect deliverability to the recipient’s inbox. In this case, if the recipient has trouble receiving your message they may either never know or have to go through a lengthy process to have the IT staff resolve the issue. And that will probably damage your deliverability.  There are also outsourced solutions like POSTINI, which filter messages before they even reach your corporate mail server.

How are spam filters used/implemented?
There are various ways to use a spam filter, although most of the process is pretty automatic. The process is based on preset (and constantly managed, monitored and tweaked) settings either at the client, server or outsourced level. These presets determine whether a message is spam or not.  As noted previously, the implementation can be done on three levels, outsourced, server/appliance or at the client level. All of these need some kind of monitoring and tweaking to be successful.

How can it affect my email deliverability?
If there are enough complaints or your messages meet the criteria of being spam, then ultimately the filters can mark you as a “spammer” and cease to deliver your messages. The big problem with this, of course, is that your marketing success will suffer. If your messages are being caught in the filters (which in most cases you aren’t going to know unless your recipients are calling you and telling you that they aren’t receiving your weekly newsletter anymore) then they are not reaching the recipient’s inbox. And if your recipients aren’t getting your message, they probably aren’t interacting with you. Meanwhile your deliverability looks fine on the reporting side because they aren’t bouncing back. We offer enhanced message testing through Pivotal Veracity, which can help determine or troubleshoot any problems with deliverability. This is available in your eLoop account under Outbound Messaging. What is the delivery process of an email from eLoop to the recipient’s inbox?

Once the campaign has been executed from eLoop:

  1. The message is compiled on our end between our database and web servers. This process consists of modifying the links to be trackable, inserting Dynamic Content, compiling the list, comparing statuses, etc.
  2. The messages are then sent immediately to one of our mail servers to be delivered.
  3. The mail server will immediately try to send the message to the recipient’s mail server by looking up the appropriate records.
  4. If the mail server is up and accepting messages, then the message will be delivered and the process ends.
  5. If the mail server is not up and not accepting the message (for one reason or another) then the message will be sent back to our server to try again later. At this point our mail server has to determine what kind of bounce this is, and that will determine the next action. If the message is a hard bounce then the message process ends and the message is bounced back to the client’s eLoop mailbox, parsed and applied as a bounce in the eLoop system. If the message is a soft bounce, then based on settings of our servers the message will be retried x amount of times before determining if the message can be delivered or bounced back. Keep in mind: Just because the message has been delivered to the recipient’s mail server does not mean that the message has reached your recipient’s inbox. According to our mail server the message was accepted by the recipient’s mail server, which does constitute as a “delivered” message. This is where the filters come in to play.

Also note: Be sure to check your bounce reasons. This can give you a good indication why messages are being bounced back along with an action to apply to help with future deliverability. We can’t stress enough how important it is to monitor this information using the tools that we provide and test.

What does it mean to be blacklisted? What does it mean to be flagged or labeled as spam?

These two questions have a lot of synergy. Being blocked for spam is also considered being blacklisted, but it’s usually at the ISP level and then filtered down to the recipients depending on the ISP. For example, MSN or Road Runner (both of which you can check under Feedback Loops in eLoop) may block you from sending to their recipients based on a high level of suspicious mail coming from your IP address.

First, a little bit of backgrounds on blacklists. The term “blacklisting” refers to someone being prevented from access to something based on the judgments of others. In the case of email, it refers to your IP or Domain being blocked by one of the many blacklists being utilized on the Internet. This could be a permanent block or a temporary block depending on the severity of the infraction and or the frequency of the infraction. The eLoop Blacklist Check located on the main login screen uses many of the most well known blacklists to determine if your IP is blocked or not. Some companies have independent internal blacklists that they manage and monitor themselves. Other organizations subscribe to one of the many blacklists that are run by various organizations on the Internet. Some of these organizations are friendly and understand how to work with you. But others have a zero-tolerance policy for spam and are EXTREMELY difficult to deal with.  

As we have stated before with feedback loops it is so important to retain any and all opt-in information. This is vital to being removed from blacklists.  

What can I do to better manage my deliverability and sender reputation?

  1. Create an abuse@ sender profile in eLoop. Here’s how:  Under Account Settings/Reply Profile Settings, you can add a new email address. Simply     create a new profile for This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The abuse@ email address is the default for spam complaints. Once you create this profile, please be sure to check it often. To check this account, login to Horde using the Webmail tab under Outbound Messaging, use your abuse@emailaddress and the password you chose when creating the profile.
  2. At the top of your emails, request that the recipient add the “from” email address to their safe sender list. For example: Please add “This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.” to your address book or safe senders list to ensure our messages are delivered to your inbox.
  3. Keep clear and accessible records for opt-in information.
  4. Place terms and conditions for your spam policy on your Web site. To see an example, visit http://www.goldlasso.com/index.php/anti-spam-policy. As an ESP, our spam policy is a bit different, but the gist of it is there. If you’d like assistance creating one, please contact your account manager.
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Email Service Providers' Dirty Little Secret

There is a dirty little secret with email service providers (ESPs) and it’s about time it has been brought to the forefront of industry discussions.  I learned about the intricacies of this secret while culling Gold Lasso customers that exceeded our spam complaint threshold. After politely showing a few of them the door, out of spite they revealed to me that they were simultaneously using the services of five other competitors unraveling a twisted web of ESP “switch-a-roonie” that promotes spam and hurts the industry.  This dirty little secret is so obvious that I’m surprised it hasn’t been exposed by privacy and anti-spam advocates and used to smack the smug faces of ESP executives.  Surprise!  The dirty secret is that most ESPs have no economic incentive NOT to do business with customers who refuse to use good list practices.  Let me say it this way: Email service providers make good money from bad customers who in some circles could be considered spammers.  You might be scratching your head thinking most ESPs have strict anti-spam policies and lobby hard to clean up the industry.  For the most part this statement is correct, however there are always a handful of bad customers that are tolerated because of the big checks they stroke.  These customers come in the forms of traditional direct marketing agencies that have to blow their client’s budget, affiliate marketers, and idiots who have deep pockets but not a clue about how email marketing works.  One thing these types of customers have in common is that they want or have to send large volumes of email and have either purchased an email list or have appended a purchased direct mail list.

Contrary to popular belief most ESPs don’t give their high paying bad customers the boot.  Most try to force them through a reformation process, however if the customer continues to ignore best practices some ESPs will do one of the following; either isolate the customer on an IP block reserved for wrongdoers (a sort of purgatory) or mix their bad customer’s email across multiple IP addresses of customers with good sending practices increasing the bad customer’s chance of making it to the inbox.  In the first scenario, the ESP milks the customer as they are well aware their email will either wind up in an ISP black hole or get bounced faster than an Atari Breakout ball. The bad customer, fed up with bad deliverability, will feverishly switch to a new ESP as soon as their contract is up.  In the second scenario, the ESP increases the deliverability risk of their good customers.  The attitude is akin to “so what if some customers get 90% deliverability instead of 96%.  What’s 6%?” Eventually this attitude catches up with reality and good customers start complaining.  This is when the ESP gives the bad customer the boot as their foot is already in the door of another ESP.  Contrary to what Ken Magill of Direct Magazine says “a marketer can’t ride an ESP’s e-mail reputation, folks” a marketer CAN ride the reputation of an ESP’s customers… for a while at least.  In either case the ESP is doing a disservice to not only their customers (good and bad) but to the industry at large.

The time has come for ESPs to get together and create their own blacklist of customers who they have booted because they refused to clean up their act.  This would prevent these bad customers from trying to hop ESPs causing headaches and silently undermining the industry.  The secret is out!  Let’s do something about it.

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The Email Monetization Playbook
Email Monetization Playbook
69 Must Scan Pages For Publishers!

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Email Monetization Playbook
69 Must Scan Pages For Publishers!