Auto Transport Marketing Email Best Practices
Quick Reference: Avoid these common mistakes
Email can be one of the most powerful tools for reaching out to potential customers and clients, but only if it makes it to their in-box. Most email accounts have filters that automatically discard or redirect email if it raises certain flags. Some of the most common mistakes made by email marketers that result in accidental spam filtering:
- Using phrases like “Click here!” or “Once in a lifetime opportunity!”
- Excessive use of exclamation points!!!!!!!!!
- USING ALL CAPS, WHICH IS LIKE SCREAMING AT THE TOP OF YOUR LUNGS VIA EMAIL (especially in the subject line).
- Using bright red or green colored fonts.
- Using bad content. This one’s broad, but important. Email delivery expert Laura Atkins details content-based filtering in this article.
- Using sloppy HTML code, usually from converting a Microsoft Word file to HTML.
- Creating an email that’s nothing but one big image, with little or no text. Spam filters can’t read images, so they assume you’re a spammer trying to trick them.
- Using the word “test” in the subject line. Agencies can run into this issue when sending drafts to clients for approval.
- Sending a test to multiple recipients within the same company. That company’s email firewall often assumes it’s a spam attack.
- Sending to inactive lists. These are lists which have not engaged in the campaigns through opens and clicks. Because subscriber engagement is a huge part of getting emails into the inbox, when an ISP sees low engagement rates they will often begin to bulk the campaigns to the spam folder. Then they will block the domain and IP addresses used to deliver the campaigns.
- Sending to stale lists. Permission generally goes stale within about 6 months, so if your subscribers haven’t heard from you within that timeframe, you’ll need to reconfirm your list.
If you avoid these points in your email marketing campaigns, your emails are much more likely to reach their target inbox and be read by your potential new customers!
Want to Learn More?
The tips above will help your ensure your emails will be able to be read by their intended recipients, but there is a lot more you can do to make your email marketing campaign effective and successful. If you would like to learn more about how to do this, the best place to start is with the basics of how email…and spam filtering…work.
The basics: How email works.
You might send email for a variety of reasons, including enhancing an existing relationship with a customer, marketing new products and offers, educating a group of people sharing a common interest, or notifying customers of an event. Some examples include:
- Newsletters (e.g., recipe of the month club digests)
- Receipts (e.g., purchase confirmations)
- Travel itineraries (e.g., airline tickets)
- Account notifications (e.g., password resets)
How you manage the electronic communication with your recipients through email can be called your email program.
To run a successful email program, you must be aware of a few topics that can affect your delivery and ultimately your impact on email recipients. We’ll start by discussing the value attributed to your email by your recipients and the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) responsible for protecting their inboxes. Then we’ll explain what the emailing process looks like, who’s involved, and what their roles are. Finally, you’ll learn how to optimize value and drive it up based on some best practices we’ve compiled.
By the time you finish reading this, you should have many of the tools you need to make your email program a success.
How email gets delivered
Deliverability refers to the likelihood that an email message you send will actually arrive at its intended destination. Emails don’t always make it to the intended recipient’s inbox. They can be delivered to the junk folder (sometimes referred to as the spam folder), rejected by the receiver’s email infrastructure (usually in the form of a bounce), or disappear altogether (for example, when the receiving system drops the message without informing the sender or recipient). Some ISPs have even created default folders based on user engagement to help recipients better organize their messages, and email will be delivered to these folders, rather than the inbox itself.
As an email sender, you want as many messages as possible to be delivered to your recipients’ inboxes. The best way to improve delivery is to send high-quality email; that is, email that recipients find valuable. Email recipients only want your email if they can extract value from the message. That value can come in many forms, such as offers, order confirmations, sweepstakes notifications, or even social network communications. Value, of course, is a loaded word, since different things make email messages valuable to different people.
Email quality equals value to the email recipient. Despite its subjectivity, ISPs try to predict email quality as accurately as possible using a variety of metrics to gauge whether a message is wanted (and thus valuable) or is not wanted (and thus considered spam). These metrics include various internal computations based on anti-spam technology and recipient inputs that ISPs attempt to quantify. You, as the sender, build trust with a receiver (whomever or whatever is behind the address you’re sending to) by sending high quality email over time. This trust is referred to in the industry as reputation. Receivers use metrics to assess the value of a sender’s email. These metrics are often combined into scores, and are typically referred to as a sender’s reputation. Next, we’ll look at some of the ways you can improve your email’s reputation with your recipient’s ISPs, and a little later we will go into more depth on how you can track these metrics to see how your emails are performing.
Creating a Successful Email Marketing Program
Even when you have your recipients’ best interests in mind, it can be tricky to fine-tune your program for optimal impact. We’ve put together some pointers for you, so you can more easily do the right thing by your recipients and thus the ISPs.
Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes. Ask yourself, “Is this something that I would want in my inbox?” If you find yourself answering anything but a resounding “yes!” then you probably shouldn’t send it. Be forewarned. It’s unfortunate for the good guys, but some industries have a reputation for poor quality email practices. It’s as simple as that. If you’re in any of the following industries, you should watch your reputation metrics closely to immediately identify any problems.
- Home mortgage
- Adult entertainment
- Work-from-home programs
Domain and “from” address considerations
Think carefully about the addresses you send your email from. The “From” address will not only be visible to recipients in their email client (including in the preview pane), but will also collect reputation at some ISPs. This, along with the Subject line, will create the first impression a recipient will have of your email. Think carefully about the domain of the address(es) from which you send your email. There are two reasons for this:
- ISPs garner reputation across all email sent from a domain, regardless of how you’ve split up your mailings.
- Don’t send email from an ISP-based email address such as firstname.lastname@example.org. For example, if Yahoo! notices a significant volume of inbound messages coming from email@example.com, that email will be treated differently than if it were coming from a proper outbound email-sending domain (i.e., a domain that you own). Include correct WHOIS information for your domain so that receivers can look up details about who owns your sending domain. Your domain registrar will provide instructions about how to set up your WHOIS record. Receivers trust more established and transparent domains that are fully listed with the Internet registry over domains that are not.
Whether you’re sending email to recipients in the United States or to recipients in other countries, you are responsible for following the laws and regulations applicable to your email practices. This guide does not address those compliance issues, so be sure to learn and follow applicable laws.
Generally, you should keep your bounce rate below five percent. This is one way to prove to ISPs that you have a clean list (i.e., you know the state of your recipient addresses). This percentage can change with industry trends and is not universal across all ISPs, but it is a reasonable rule of thumb.
If you have an old list that you haven’t emailed to in a while, don’t email to that list through any provider that limits your bounce rates (which includes Amazon SES), unless you’ve verified the state of the addresses (e.g. by checking login activity on your site, purchase history, etc.). Otherwise, you may incur a lot of bounces from old unused email addresses while you try to clean your list, and you risk being blocked by both ISPs and Amazon SES.
Do not send to an email address that has hard bounced due to a permanent delivery failure. If it’s a true permanent delivery error, repeated attempts will not deliver the message, but the bounces will stack up, damaging your reputation with ISPs. MegaBee does this automatically for you.
Generally, you should keep your complaint rate below 0.1 percent. This is one way to prove to ISPs that you are sending valued email. This rate can change with industry trends and is not universal across all ISPs, but it is a reasonable rule of thumb. Don’t continue to send a recipient the same type of email that generated a complaint. For example, you shouldn’t send more marketing email to someone who complained about a marketing email, but you could still send transactional email to this address if the recipient makes a purchase from your site. Resending the same type of email will only generate more complaints, which will pile up over time and amplify your complaint rate. Simply remove the addresses from the appropriate lists.
As with bounces, if you have a list that you haven’t sent email to in a while
(for example, if you’re a new Amazon SES customer), ensure that your recipients know why they’re getting an email. We strongly recommend that you send a welcome message, or in some other way remind the recipients who you are to avoid running into complaint issues with both ISPs and Amazon SES.
As with bounces, do not point your complaint submission address to a mailbox that is bouncing; make sure it can receive email. MegaBee shows you complaints right in your software and allows you to keep in contact with the customers via phone to conduct business.
Creating quality content
Most content filters today are comprehensive; they look at content fingerprints as opposed to following hard and fast rules. A few years ago, having punctuation or all capital letters in a subject line meant that your email was likely to be sent straight to the spam folder. Now, it’s more about the combination of different content characteristics, and whether that combination has been commonly seen in spam. You can use Spam Assassin or a third-party reputation service such as Return Path to help identify content issues.
Make sure that the Privacy and Terms pages work on your site.
Recipients may not trust your email if they can’t find the standard fine print on your site, which will diminish your email’s value and deliverability potential.
If you’re sending high frequency content (e.g., daily deals), ensure that the content is actually different each day. With higher cadence comes greater responsibility to ensure that the content is timely and relevant.
Things to Avoid When Planning Your Email Campaign
So, now you know some of the best practices you can use to create an effective and efficient email campaign…but what are the biggest things to avoid? To learn more about fine-tuning your emails to prevent false flags and ensure that they reach their intended target inbox, let’s take a look at abuse reports.
How abuse reports work
When people receive what they think is spam, they can just click a button in their email program to label it as such. Once clicked, an abuse report is often created and sent to the recipient’s email program or ISP. If enough of these reports are received, an automated warning message will be sent to the sender.
If the complaints continue within a certain time frame, that’s it — all email from that particular IP address of the sending server is blocked, at least temporarily. Scary. That’s why we’re constantly monitoring incoming complaints and have a team of human reviewers that review accounts.
Reasons for false abuse reports
So, why do legitimate email marketers get falsely accused of sending spam? Sometimes it’s a mistake. But more often than not, it’s the marketer’s own fault. Here are some common reasons marketers get accused of sending spam:
- The marketer collected emails legitimately—perhaps through an opt-in form on their site—but took too long to contact their list. As noted earlier, permission goes stale after about 6 months. If they haven’t been contacted quickly enough, the subscriber might not remember opting-in.
- The marketer runs an online store. They’ve got thousands of email addresses of customers who have purchased products from them in the past. Now they want to start emailing them. Instead of asking people to join the email marketing list, they just start “blasting” offers.
- The marketer is exhibiting at a trade show. The trade-show organization provided the marketer with a list of attendee email addresses. The marketer assumes they have permission, and starts emailing full-blown newsletters and promos.
- Business folks drop their cards—with email addresses—into a fishbowl at a restaurant counter. For a marketer, it’s an easy way to grow their list. But the recipients weren’t asking for email, just a free lunch.
- The marketer purchases or rents members’ email addresses from another organization, then adds them to their list without getting permission.
There’s a common theme here. Do you see what it is? Yep: permission.
Ways to prevent false abuse reports
Getting permission is extremely important. Without permission, you could be reported for abuse whether or not you’re a legitimate marketer. The following tips can help you prevent spam complaints as you start sending email to subscribers:
- Use the double opt-in method. If you use double opt-in, you have proof that each and every recipient gave you permission to send them emails. Period.
- Even if your recipients are already your customers, don’t send promotions without getting permission first. Set up a separate marketing list for customers to join. Tell them you’re about to start up a great email newsletter or promotions program, and give them reasons to sign up.
- Don’t hide the unsubscribe/opt-out link in your campaigns. It should be prominent. People who no longer wish to receive your emails are either going to unsubscribe or mark you as spam. Which would you prefer? Some folks even place the unsubscribe link at the top of their emails, so it’s easier to find.
- Make sure your email looks reputable. If you’re not a designer, hire one. Your email needs to look like it came from your company, not some scammer who’s phishing for information. If your email looks unprofessional, who’s going to trust your unsubscribe link?
- Set expectations when people opt in to your list. If people sign up for monthly newsletters but you also send them weekly promotions, they’re probably going to report you for spamming. Tell them what you’ll be sending and how often. Set up different lists (one for newsletters, one for special offers and promotions). Understand that there’s a difference between soft-sell newsletters and hard-sell promotions. Don’t mix them up.
- Don’t wait too long before contacting your subscribers. We’ve seen lots of small businesses collect emails at their storefront, but then wait more than 3-6 months before contacting their customers by email. Too often, it’s with a coupon offer during the holidays (when recipients are already getting overwhelmed with offers from other online merchants). Set up a process where new subscribers receive emails from you right away, like a “Top Ten” list that you send weekly, using.
Metrics That Define Your Success
So you’ve made it this far into understanding how email works, and how emails can be incorrectly flagged as spam by filters. How can you tell if your new email campaign is actually getting through to your clients?
There are a number of ways you can get information about how well your email campaign is performing. The following list of metrics is an introduction to some of the most common ways to analyze your email’s performance. Note that this is not intended to be an exhaustive list; it simply indicates areas where there could be problems with your email program. Don’t be fooled into thinking that if you just manage the metrics in these areas that your delivery is guaranteed. Remember, you know your customers best.
A bounce indicates the failed status of the attempted delivery, which is a useful piece of information that a receiver reports back to you. Receivers generate both hard bounces and soft bounces. Hard bounces are persistent delivery failures such as “mailbox does not exist,” whereas soft bounces are temporary sending failures such as “mailbox full.” Bounces can be either synchronous or asynchronous. If the bounces are synchronous, they are communicated while the email servers are talking to each other. Bounces are asynchronous if they are sent after the message is initially successfully accepted for delivery by the receiver. In Amazon SES, you won’t see returned success responses (i.e., “250 OK”). Amazon SES handles soft bounces automatically by retrying with optimal settings for the domain you’re sending to. Hard bounces that are generated either synchronously or asynchronously are passed back to you automatically. A high rate of hard bounces strongly indicates to email receivers that you don’t know your recipients very well. Therefore, high hard-bounce rates can have a negative impact on your deliverability. You can find some suggestions about how to reduce hard bounces, below.
When an email recipient marks a message as spam by clicking the “mark as spam” button in the web email client, the ISP records the event as a complaint. If there are too many of these complaint events, the ISP will probably decide that you’re sending spam. Some ISPs allow senders to have more transparency into what their recipients are doing by providing feedback loops in which the ISP tells the sender that a recipient has complained about a message.
As you can imagine, too many complaints can result in poor deliverability.
A high complaint rate strongly indicates to email receivers that you’re sending email that recipients don’t want. You can find some suggestions about how to reduce complaints, below.
The content of the email provides the communication or message. Email receivers have cracked down on malicious communication from spammers, such as phishing, malware and virus distribution, or scams, by implementing robust content filters. These content filters perform automated reviews of email content to look for unwanted email. Technically savvy users rely on open source content filters like the Apache Spam Assassin. Enterprises are more likely to rely on content filters like Google’s Postini or Symantec’s BrightMail. Amazon SES uses content filtering technologies to help detect and block messages containing viruses or malware before they can be sent. If the receiver’s content filter has determined that your content has spam-like characteristics, your content will likely get flagged and diverted from a recipient’s inbox. You can find some suggestions about how to avoid having your email content caught in filters, below.
Asynchronous bounce – A bounce that is sent after the message is initially successfully accepted for delivery by the receiver.
Bounce– A message that indicates the failed status of the attempted delivery.
Complaint – A message that is generated when a recipient’s mark a message as spam by clicking the “mark as spam” button in their email client.
Content filters – Automated reviews of email content to look for unwanted email.
Deliverability – The likelihood that an email message you send will actually arrive at its intended destination (usually the recipient’s inbox).
Double opt-in – A system that requires a subscriber to both request to be subscribed and click a verification link that is subsequently sent to them.
Email program – How you manage the electronic communication with your recipients through email.
Email quality – Email that is deemed to be of value to the email recipient.
Feedback loop – The system by which an ISP tells the sender that a recipient has complained about a message.
Hard bounce – A message indicating a persistent delivery failure such as “mailbox does not exist.”
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) – Organizations that provide access to the Internet.
Junk folder – Also called a spam or bulk folder, where email messages that various filters determine to be of lesser value are collected so that they do not arrive at the inbox but are still accessible to the recipient.
Receiver – The system(s) supporting the recipient’s email
Infrastructure – whomever or whatever is behind the email address you’re sending to.
Recipient – The person or entity receiving an email message; the recipient is named in the To, Cc, or Bcc field of the message.
Reputation – The trust built up by email senders by sending high quality email over time, usually influenced by a combination of factors.
Sender – The person or entity sending an email message.
Soft bounce – A message indicating a temporary sending failure such as “mailbox full.”
Spamtraps – Special addresses set up by ISPs to monitor unsolicited email.
Synchronous bounce – A bounce communicated while the sender’s and the receiver’s email servers are actively transmitting and receiving the email message.
More information about some of the recommendations in this whitepaper
To find out more about Amazon SES solution providers, visit the Amazon SES resources page – http://aws.amazon.com/ses/resources/
To find out how to test your email authentication settings, visit the ESPC site – http://www.espcoalition.org/senderid/
More information about Amazon SES
Overview – http://aws.amazon.com/ses/
AWS Support – https://aws.amazon.com/support
Amazon SES Solution Providers
Deliverability: Return Path – http://aws.amazon.com/solution-providers/si/return-path
Preview rendering and analytics: Litmus – http://aws.amazon.com/solution-providers/si/litmus/
Full service and strategy: Zeta Interactive – http://aws.amazon.com/solution-providers/si/zeta-interactive-1320423244
Strategy: Synchronicity Marketing –
Technology integration: Cambridge Technology Enterprises –
ISP postmaster pages
BellSouth – http://www.att.com/esupport/postmaster/
Comcast – http://postmaster.comcast.net/
Facebook – http://postmaster.facebook.com/
Hotmail – http://postmaster.msn.com/
RoadRunner – http://postmaster.rr.com/
United Online – http://unitedonline.net/postmaster/
USA.NET – http://postmaster.usa.net/
Yahoo! – http://postmaster.yahoo.com/