MarketingSherpa's Publisher Anne Holland just held an in-depoth teleconference with email deliverability expert George Bilbrey of Return Path.
If you'd like to listen to the audio recording of this teleconference for yourself, just scroll to our link at the end of this page. It's about 45-minutes long.
Here are our quick notes on the high-points:
-> Bad news: False positive rates still rising
Spam filters now stop 20% of commercial messages, up from 15% two years ago, as new and sophisticated spam filters emerge. Note - this only counts filters at the ISP-level and not any an individual may set in their email box.
B-to-b email is in greater jeopardy. About 35% of corporate email administrators refer to blacklists when deciding which email to block from company in-boxes. These blacklists often have extremely high false positive rates.
Plus filters used by corporate America are likely to use content filtering - resulting in unusually high false positive rates.
-> Challenge-response filters are spreading.
AOL just purchased MailBox, a challenge-response vendor, set for implementation in 2005. Earthlink users have been able to use a challenge-response system for about a year now. Many emailers have no system in place to handle the incoming challenge flow, and keep those addresses active on file.
-> New authentication standards are coming down the pike.
SPF (sender policy framework) and sender ID affect deliverability if you publish poor records. Hotmail will soon use a sender ID standard that inserts a bar in your email that says it couldn’t authenticate the message using sender ID. Likely result: your message gets nuked.
However, authentication is only a measure to stop phishing scams, and won't affect the majority of spam email. So it's not going to clean up inboxes as much as some mailers hope.
-> 12 steps for combating these deliverability woes:
1. "Test the heck out of your messages" for content filters.
2. Look at your log files. Write screens for the response codes that you can expect across a broad spectrum of receivers, to get a feel for who is blocking you. "Keep a list of which domains are important, and which aren’t," he says. "Know all the email domains of, say, a million-dollar account. Make sure you're getting through."
3. Try human interaction. "Call the corporate IT contact, tell them, 'Hey, we have 30 subs, they're valid, but you appear to blocking us, help us out.' Or, contact your subs at their home account and tell them it looks like you’re getting blocked and ask for their help."
4. Get in the user's address book; it's a way to avoid the challenge message going out.
5. Staff up so you can more effectively -- and more quickly -- answer those pesky challenge response messages. "We found with [challenge response under] EarthLink, you must respond in a timely manner – ideally within 24 hours, 12 hours is better," he says. "If the user deletes messages in the 'holding pen' folder used for suspect mail as they clean out their box, any response to a challenge doesn't work. Also, there's an automatic cleaning after a few days, although that’s lengthy."
6. Work with an email vendor that will automatically sort and forward challenge responses to customer service, but again, make sure it's speedy. Remember: these addresses may be 10% of your file, but they will be darn good addresses, because they are by definition good prospects.
7. Authentication can improve your delivery rates, as long as your IT department keeps good records. That said, there's nothing to prevent a spammer from registering a large number of throwaway domains with perfectly valid records. "So, having a record might not help you," he says.
8. Test and validate your records. An easy testing method is to punch up spf.pobox.com, plug in your domain and IP address, and hit "go." The website will quickly determine whether you get the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.
11. In the email preference section, where users can change their address to a new ISP, ask them to include you in their personal white listing.
12. Increase the likelihood that you will be added to personal white lists by including step-by-step instructions, with graphics, on how they can do so.Useful links related to this article:
You can listen to the full audio teleconference here (lasts about 45 minutes): http://www.marketingsherpa.com/tele/mrktsherpa083004-1.wma
(To hear the interview you may need to download the current Windows Media Player here:) http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/mp10/default.
SPF validator: http://spf.pobox.com/
Referenced white papers (Note - free registration required to access): - Authentication: What We Know Today and What's Coming Tomorrow - The Secret Role of the Email Address Book http://www.returnpath.biz
- COPPA info - California's new law: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/sample.cfm?contentID=2757
- How-to Kit: Get Your Permission Email Past Filters - Marketer's Handbook + Audio CDs (Note: requires a fee) http://sherpastore.com/store/page.cfm/2094