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What should marketers do when email providers are down?

Thomas Senne
Senior Director of Global Deliverability

The past few months have seemingly brought a deluge of high profile email outages. The tricky part for those of us who send email marketing campaigns, is interpreting what these outages mean. Last week we saw a short Gmail outage that caused more pain for Yahoo! than Google because of a tweet from the Yahoo! team. Yahoo! has been no stranger to outages the past couple of months -- Yahoo!'s CEO even came out with a statement in December about what the company is doing to resolve these issues.

First of all, we should take a look at the reality of today. Most email outages are customer facing and involve logging into the email client. Fortunately, most outages of this type are relatively short. The more serious problems for senders over the long run have to do with the capacity of a provider to actually accept email. Senders who encounter these issues will see throttling and deferments. You’ll notice a large delay between the time when email is accepted and actually shows up in the Inbox. These types of problems are not often reported, because to most people, everything is running as expected.

What should you do when you are notified that an email provider is down? Let’s go through some of the common scenarios and how to avoid some common mistakes.

  • Be patient – Most email outages last less than an hour. There are some exceptions to this rule, but for the most part, don’t panic and give the engineers a chance to get everything back online.
  • Don’t send duplicates – This might be the biggest mistake senders make. They read about an outage, don’t see their message in the inbox right away, and decide to send it again.  Resending email is a mistake in just about any scenario you can come up with, especially apologizing for a mistake. Just don’t resend email and you’ll be fine!
  • Check the logs – Was the email you sent bounced or accepted? This is hugely important in coming up with a next steps strategy. If email is deferred, it means users will get it sooner rather than later. Bounced email means a completely different issue at the receiving email provider.
  • Prepare for the responses – When email issues arise, users can all be stuck in a queue waiting to access their messages. This can mean issues that normally don’t impact email campaigns. What if the majority of recipients opened or clicked your links in a much smaller time frame. Are you ready for the traffic increase? You should also consider this on the call center side. Depending on message content, you could see a large influx of support calls in a small time-frame.
  • Coach your users – It can be helpful to mention the outage in future communications. Letting your customers know you are up-to-speed with the issues they may be having can be comforting and allow you to guide them in the future.

Next time your Google Alerts start buzzing about an email outage, remember to try and understand what is really happening first before making any decisions. Be measured in next steps after the outage. Don’t pile on the problem by sending customers multiple copies of messages, and be prepared for potential implications beyond the email channel such as increased web traffic and increased call volume.

Don't forget to adapt to any time sensitive offers and information you may have included in your message.  Being aware of the frustrations and issues on the end-user side can make you a shining star when an email provider goes dark.

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