Proper Email Bounce Handling
An important part of being a dependable email provider is handling bounced email. What often happens is that a legitimate user at a mail service like Gmail will abandon their address. Gmail will shut down the email temporarily: when email comes to this shuttered address, Gmail will send a hard bounce back, and any legitimate email service provider will then remove that email address. After a few months, Gmail will turn back on the email address and see who is still sending email to this address. If you or your email service provider is still sending to that address, that’s how you end up on spam traps / email honeypot lists. Your service provider should be able to handle both hard and soft bounce SMTP responses. A hard bounce means that the email address is deleted, while soft bounces mean that an email inbox is full. There’s no sense in sending email repeatedly to someone not there and it can negatively impact your sender score.
Improving Email Deliverability
Bayesian filtering still happens for searching through the text of the email to see if there are (enough) trigger words to mark the email message as spam. For example, be very careful about using the word ‘free’ in your emails. But what email service providers like Hotmail / Gmail are looking at even more are where is the email attempting to direct the user to. If it’s deemed a spammy domain (such as by the Web of Trust) then say bye bye to the user’s inbox. Here are some steps you can use to avoid the spam filter:
- List a physical address at the bottom of all your email messages. Even if it’s a UPS store address or a P.O. Box, that’s good enough to help establish trust.
- Be careful when sending emails to cold lists you haven’t sent anything to in a while. You don’t want to hit these lists right away with promotional messages – start with providing good content first to re-build the trust.
- Segment people who haven’t opened any of your emails for 6 months. There’s not much point sending email to people who are absolutely not engaged.
- One bad affiliate can ruin the deliverability score for your domain. Instead of requiring affiliates to use a redirect off of their own domain (which may not be enough to take the heat of your domain even if your affiliates comply), consider using a separate affiliate domain for your product.
- Try “spinning” your included URLs: automatically use different URLs in your emails so spam filters can’t identify a single url and junk your emails based on that.
- Encourage your email receivers to respond to your messages. Email providers like Gmail like to check user engagement, from forwards to replies, to gauge the quality of an email messenger. An added bonus is that Gmail will whitelist you in the user’s contacts after they have replied to you twice.
- Don’t use url shorteners in your emails. Don’t use bit.ly or goo.gl as those domains are used by thousands of “internet marketers” everyday.
- Try to avoid a high complaint rate by your email recipients. If you’re getting a high % of spam complaints, you should go back and revise your email content strategy.
Comparing Popular DIY Email Services
I like and promote both GetResponse and Aweber on this site, but Aweber has historically better deliverability rates compared to GetResponse. Both have their plusses and minuses, so you should try both to see which better fits your needs. GetResponse has nicer layout and design tools, while Aweber is a great choice for power users who need better list segmentation tools. If you want your own self-hosted email solution, you can try http://arpreach.com and an SMTP provider like SendGrid. A self-hosted email newsletter solution is much more complicated to manage. Just as an aside, SendGrid is particularly picky about quality, so you might want to use a more “tolerant” email sending service like smtp.com to filter out bounced and invalid email addresses before moving them over to your list that uses SendGrid. Beyond that there are enterprise level ESPs like ExactTarget or WhatCounts.
GetResponse and Aweber are also very good at assuring your users are not going auto-unsubscribed by the user’s spam filtering service. The more aggressive email spam filters will scan messages and follow the unsubscribe link. The problem is that if it’s a one-click unsubscribe, then the email filter will have unsubscribed the user, leading to them missing out on your messages (and usually more support requests for you of them asking why they aren’t getting any messages). GetResponse and Aweber both lead to landing pages where users have to take a deliberate step to unsubscribe which prevents these tricky auto-unsubscribes.
Check Your Sender Score Often
Go to Senderscore.org and paste in your service providers domain that you get from them and make sure the score is higher than 90. The service will also show if your IP is Return Path certified but that won’t be practical or necessary unless your list is huge.
Another site to check your email sender score is Senderbase.org. You want to make sure that your score for your sending domain is at least ‘Good’.
If you see your score trending down, then one thing you can do is to stop sending promotional emails temporarily and start sending more content-oriented emails to try and improve your scores.
For a dedicated IP, You will need to warm up your ip. Contrary to what other will say, this is a simple process. Don’t make it too hard on yourself. You can warm up you ip within 2 weeks. Key is to start sending blasts on your new ip in small chunks everyday or every other day. For example, send 1000 emails the first day, 2000 on 2nd, 4000 on third day, 8000 on forth and so on. The idea is to let ISPs know that you will be sending high volume emails on this ip. Keep an eye on blocks, bounces and spams. Keep a watch of your ip score at senderscore.org. After two weeks or once your reach your full list you score should be 90+. It is not hard to achieve that if your list is clean.
Litmus.com/ has some spam checking tools together with their email preview tools for multi-MIME email message previews. Litmus is expensive, but you can sign up and cancel after a single month to just use their tools for a one-time checkup.
Tools to Assess Email Deliverability Issues
- AOL Postmaster provides multiple tools to assess how well your deliverability is in relation to AOL users. AOL users are particularly notorious for hitting the ‘spam’ button when they just want to delete a message.
- Microsoft Smart Network Data Services will help you assess any rejected email relative to Microsoft’s (Hotmail/Outlook.com) email services. If you’re having a problem with Outlook deliverability, try escalating your case to the Microsoft Junk Mail Reporting Partner Program.
Even if you don’t have a particular problem with AOL or Outlook deliverability, you can still use the above tools to help gauge how well you’re inboxing.
Also make sure that you have SPF and DKIM records setup for your domain & email address. The SPF record basically says that a given IP has been whitelisted by the domain owner to send email on the domain’s behalf. DKIM is a digital signature for email that basically verifies that your email is who you say you are. You can check your existing SPF records by visiting http://www.mxtoolbox.com/spf.apsx, or check both SPF and DKIM at http://www.intodns.com/.