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6 of your burning email deliverability questions answered

Before I get to my article I wanted to say "thank you" for all of those who attended our recent deliverability webcast, Winning Deliverability Battles In 2013 from the Responsys Need to Know webcast series. If you missed this one or want to listen to any of our recent webcasts again, click here.

We really enjoyed presenting the topics as well as the great discussion and feedback it generated.

Since there were more questions than we could address during the allotted webcast time, I wanted to follow up and answer some of those excellent questions and continue our dialogue here on the blog.

Q: There are numerous small blacklists out there.  Should we be tracking all of these?  What is the impact of these various lists?
A: There are hundreds of blacklists being operated by numerous anti-spam activists and organizations. Blacklisting essentially means your IP has been flagged for sending unwanted traffic and the followers of that blacklist (i.e. ISPs) may decide to block your emails. We can narrow down the significance of a blacklist based on its ISP footprint.

For example, Spamhaus is an organization that has a vast majority of ISPs subscribing to their blocklist. Upwards of 80% of a B2C marketer's list could be blocked as a result of being blocklisted by Spamhaus. On the other hand, a very small blacklist may only cover a few private domains with only a handful of subscribers from your list. This blocking impact of this would be much less noticeable, though the root of the issue should still be corrected and mediated if at all possible.

Q: Can you please explain the difference between blocking, bulking and blacklisting?
A: There is a very common misunderstanding between these three terms so it is important to distinguish and point out the differences. Blocking occurs when an ISP takes action and refuses to accept your emails. Bulking happens when an ISP accepts your email, but routes the messages to BULK or SPAM folder vs routing to the INBOX. Blacklisting is the act of being flagged as a sender of unwanted email and while ISPs can operate a blacklist, this is most commonly done by independent blacklisting organizations such as SORBS, Spamcop, Spamhaus.

Q: Any tips for protecting reputation of transactional IP?
A: ISPs factor sender reputation the same way for both transactional and promotional IPs. The message (content) and relevancy to recipient are what can make the difference in positive or negative reputation. Successful transactional messages are those which the recipient has specifically triggered through a specific action (i.e. purchase, password reset, etc.). In fact, if they don't receive the message they may be prone to pick up the phone and call your customer support.

Q: Is ISP remediation still effective these days?
A: ISP mediation is still very effective, but the definition of what mediation means has changed significantly. As with everything, technological advances and smarter consumers have combined to have a major influence on the email industry. Gone are the old days of calling up an ISP postmaster before a big launch so he or she can let your mail through with no questions asked. As the amount of email volumes kept growing, it became too much for the large ISPs to manage manually. The postmaster departments have been downsized and replaced with sophisticated, automated filtering systems.

These filters are constantly monitoring all traffic and adjusting based on the ISP specified reputation scoring formulas. They react in real-time to block, bulk or accept messages and the same formulas apply to unblock requests. We still maintain contacts with ISPs and follow all established protocols for mediation as needed. The control an individual postmaster has over their systems is minimal compared to years past so the goal of mediation is always to establish root cause by finding out what caused the deliverability issue. Then we help our clients address that issue so it won't happen again and trigger more blocks. Machines don't play favorites and ultimately the senders following best practices are the ones who are rewarded by the ISPs with good deliverability.

Q: We have the most trouble delivering to mid-tier ISPs like Comcast, Verizon, Cableone, etc. Why is it so challenging to deliver to these addresses?
A: One of the main differences with these ISPs is that they are all paid services whereas the majors like Yahoo!, Gmail, and Hotmail are all free services. This means that once an individual discontinues their paid subscription with a Comcast, Verizon, etc. their address is no longer valid. Over time if the marketer continues to send to these expired addresses, they will have a higher hard bounce rate and could also be sending to addresses that have been turned into spam traps.

This results in blocking by the ISP and a constant battle to get back to the inbox until the root cause is addressed. This a common learning experience for many senders who do not use engagement based filtering. Our recommendation is to always have a filter that will suppress addresses with no opens or clicks within the past 12-month period...which leads us to the next and final question.

Q: What's your view on cold storage?  Should we have a strategy for permanently retiring inactives?
A: ISPs are placing more weight on subscriber engagement to determine sender reputation. This means you need a strategy for older addresses that are no longer actively opening or clicking before they start to hurt the deliverability of your active subscribers. Addresses without open or click activity beyond 12-months should be considered for a re-permission campaign as a final attempt to reactivate the subscriber. If the address still does not respond and opt-in, they should be marked as permanently opted-out.

Have more questions you'd like answered?

Please let us know what they are in the comments section and we will gladly answer them for you.

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