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May 12, 2004
How To

Six Tactics MyPoints Uses to Halve Email Bounce & Nondelivery Rates for its List of 10 Million

SUMMARY: Talk about mission critical... if MyPoints can't get their email delivered, they'll go out of business. We asked them what specific steps they're taking to overcome problems with filters.

Includes a great idea -- why not alert your members or registered users when they visit your site that their particular email address has been bouncing?
MyPoints has around 10 million members in its program and, as David Rosen VP Marketing says, "if the email isn't getting through, we don't have a business."

So you'd expect him to be despondent over the growing number of spam filters and barriers that also stop legitimate mail by mistake. Not so. He explains, "that's a good thing for us, because the more relevant that inbox becomes, then once we're in that inbox, the more relevant we are."

So what tactics do he and his team use to get legitimate commercial messages past filters?

Tactic #1. Focus on consent and perceived value

Many deliverability challenges fall away if you ensure people honestly want to get your email in the first place, and have a good reason to keep getting it.

Each MyPoints member must double opt-in to the program. And Rosen sees that as a must for survival these days. But the real trick is to then engage the consumer with relevant mailings. Recipients then become deliverability advocates, modifying personal filters and even contacting their email service to ensure their MyPoints mail arrives safely.

Here MyPoints has an inherent advantage through its business model as a loyalty membership program. Members get points - redeemable for gift cards at numerous partner merchants - for reading and responding to email from MyPoints or its advertiser clients. But there's more to it than that. For example...

-- choose your offers and partners carefully

Rosen's team ensures each outgoing commercial email meets the fundamental expectations of the member base, in terms of topic, content and the user experience.

Staff "walk through the entire user experience as if they are the members receiving the offer in order to assess whether or not this is a product we're comfortable advertising; we err on the side of quality brands."

It also means evaluating the impacts for the recipient of responding to the offer. So, for example, MyPoints staff will check the transaction security, privacy policy and information sharing policy of every merchant featured and reject those that won't protect their members' privacy.

-- collect sufficient consumer data and target, target, target

Targeting underlies relevancy and prevents list fatigue. MyPoints uses reward points to incentivize members to fill out a comprehensive profile going beyond basic demographics to cover, for example, detailed interests, purchasing behavior and preferences.

This data is complemented by member surveys for more specific targeting requirements. Again, members get points for responding to these surveys.

Tactic #2. Use consistent headers and from lines

Regardless of the source of the offer within, all email comes from MyPoints and uses a common template. Rosen explains the deliverability benefits..."It allows our members to focus on a single from line and their ISPs and their filters to let this one through."

Tactic #3. Test deliverability before you do a mailing and adjust accordingly

Any email campaign goes through rigorous deliverability testing before it goes out...

-- the subject line and content goes through a copy of the SpamAssassin filter, which gives an overall rating indicating the probability that the email would be flagged as junk.

-- a copy of the mail goes from each mail server operated by the company to anywhere up to 100 test accounts at major ISPs and email service providers.

Angela Nicholson, Rosen's deliverability expert notes, "We know not only if it's delivered, but where it's delivered. If it goes into a bulk folder then we contact the ISP or Email Service Provider and we get it routed back to the inbox."

The team also tests different personal account filter settings at each major email account service if they think the email is one more likely to be wrongly identified as junk (such as an offer on a diet or a financial product).

Tactic #4. Monitor your bounces and get on good terms with ISPs

Rosen's team monitor a daily bounce report, which tells them the number of mails sent to each recipient domain and the number/percentage that bounced.

They look for both excessive bounce problems with a specific domain, and for those domains that report no bounces at all. Why? Some companies flag an email as spam, then deliver it to a black hole so it doesn't return a bounce and alert a spammer that they need to modify their tactics.

The team maintains good relationships with the ISPs. Rosen says, "If we can maintain a face-to-face relationship with the domains associated with 80% of our members, if something does happen you can pick up the phone and know the person on the other side; things get resolved very easily."

He adds that proper pre-testing means such cases should be few and far between.

As regards the smaller ISPs or recipient domains, the importance of building deliverability advocacy comes to the fore. If there's a problem, "...the members usually contact their company on their own and have things adjusted so that our email gets through to them. Or they change their email address to a different domain."

Tactic #5. List hygiene

Rosen's team cleans their lists on a weekly basis, shifting those addresses that produced multiple bounces from the "emailable" database to a suppression list. "If we were to allow our bounce rates to go up, then we would be cut off by our ISPs."

Like many marketers, Rosen's discovered that people are using "this is spam" buttons and functions as a substitute for unsubscribing from MyPoints emails. Therefore, where the ISP allows it, Rosen's team requests lists of members who are actively blocking the mail this way. These names removed from the mailing lists.

Then Rosen's team looks at these lists of blockers to see if any patterns emerge, in terms of - for example - recipient acquisition source or recipient purchase activity, to try and spot any required remedial action.

Tactic #6. Tie your email delivery records to customer database

MyPoints uses its online member account area to alert non-deliverable members. For example, if email can't be delivered to a member's address, that member automatically gets an appropriate note in their message center when they login to their online account area.

That's one clever tactic eretailers and membership sites would do well to copy.

Do the six tactics above work? Rosen says their bounce rates are half industry averages.

More importantly, deliverability means competitiveness. Rosen says it's about taking "an impediment to the success of email and...saying that is actually something we can differentiate ourselves with because we know how to get into the box and stay in the box."
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