May 07, 2013 | Sean Wirt
Over the past few months, Microsoft has (not so quietly) been rolling out its new Outlook.com email service and moving Hotmail customers over the Outlook.com platform. Late last week, they announced that the move is now complete. Over 300 million Hotmail.com addresses are now on the Outlook.com platform as well as the more than 100 million new Outlook.com addresses. Existing Hotmail customers can continue to use their hotmail.com addresses and new customers will be given Outlook.com addresses.
From a delivery standpoint, we have seen very little change. The "migration" appears to be mainly front-end changes. Going to www.hotmail.com will now redirect users to the same destination as www.outlook.com. The messages are continuing to go through the same back-end platform with very little impact.
For now, they appear to have maintained the status quo. As always, the StrongMail Delivery Services team will continue to monitor the situation and keep clients updated on any developments and/or changes.
Posted by: Sean Wirt at 9:15 AM
February 28, 2013 | Sean Wirt
As many of you probably know, there’s a new kid on the email authentication block. That new kid is DMARC, and the first public version of the specification is now over a year old. While still in its infancy, DMARC has made some large strides over the past year with dmarc.org announcing that DMARC now protects almost 2 billion of the world's 3.3 billion consumer inboxes and 80% of the consumer inboxes in the United States. So, if you 're not entirely sure why you need to care about DMARC, I've put together the following “5 W’s of DMARC” to help shed some light on the subject.
What is it?
DMARC stands for "Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance." It is a technical specification that allows senders to tell recipient domains (ISPs) what do with their email if authentication fails. The standard also allows for the sender to receive reporting back from the ISPs, which will allow the sender to get a better understanding how and when the sender’s brand is being used in email.
Who should use it?
Any company or organization that sends email and is concerned with protecting their brand should use DMARC.
When should you use it?
With every mailing! The great thing about DMARC is that once you set up your record, you let the authentication that you already have in place (SPF & DKIM) do the work for you with every message that goes out.
Where did it start?
DMARC was established out of necessity. The individual authentication methods that were already in existence (SPF & DKIM) were having positive effects with regards to delivery, but they did very little to protect a sender’s brand. PayPal first started looking into a new solution in 2007 to protect their brand and later collaborated with other industry leaders such as Facebook, Yahoo, Google, JPMorgan Chase, AOL and others to develop a standard.
Why should I use it?
DMARC allows the sender to have more control over what happens to messages that fail authentication at the receiving end of the email chain. The sender’s DMARC record tells the receiver to block email or send messages to the spam folder if that authentication fails. It also lets the sender know who is sending email, falsely claiming to be the sender, as well as legitimate organizations who SHOULD be sending email on the sender’s behalf, but incorrectly (or not at all) authenticating.
So if you haven't already adopted DMARC, I hope these five "W's" have convinced you to do so. If you're not sure how to get started, any top-tier email service provider with a deliverability services team should be able to help you with the process.
Posted by: Sean Wirt at 4:07 PM
January 31, 2013 | Sean Wirt
I recently read an interesting blog article by Christian Schappel over at Deliverability.com titled "3 Things You Need to Know Before Hitting 'Send.'" In the post, Christian discusses the results of a recent study that tries to uncover the best time to send email. Of course whether there actually is a best time of day is an ongoing topic of debate within the email marketing industry.
Experts will publish these blanket recommendations and then everyone begins sending email at that time – ultimately causing the opposite effect. So when you see a recommendation to send between 8:00 and 9:00 AM – the best time to send your email is any other time of the day!
Determining the best time to send your email is very unique and specific to your brand and your vertical. With the emergence of Flash Commerce, many brands are beginning to “own” a moment in the inbox. This moment is largely dictated by their business model and the expectations of their subscribers – consumers are creatures of habit; they get used to seeing messages they want and expect – at a specific moment.
To determine the best time for you to send your messages, you need to ask yourself a few questions:
Who is my audience?
The demographics and psychographics of your customer can help you to understand their potential email behavior. For example, are they working moms that are checking their email from work – or do they wait until they get home and the kids are all in bed?
Does my business warrant or require a specific moment?
For Flash Commerce sites – getting the email into the consumers hands first thing in the morning plays in to the urgency of these limited-time offers. Does your business require that?
Does your offer warrant a specific moment?
Maybe you don’t need to send ALL of your email at the same time of day every week – it could be that you have an offer or a singular program that is time-sensitive.
When are the majority of recipients opening your email?
If you are sending first thing in the morning and most of your opens happen late in the evening, you may want to consider sending a little later. It will keep you nearer to the top of the inbox, potentially increasing your ability to get the message opened and seen.
Ultimately, in order to discern the best time for you to send your email, you need to test it. And keep testing it. Because the reality is that it is a moving target that can be greatly impacted by the time of day decisions that other brands are making as they hit your customers’ inboxes.
Posted by: Sean Wirt at 11:13 AM
December 20, 2012 | Sean Wirt
One of the current hot topics in the world of deliverability right now stems from email receipts that retailers are adopting for in-store purchases. If you've bought anything in a larger retail chain in the last couple of months, you likely know what I'm talking about. As you're completing your transaction at the check-out counter, the sales associate asks if you would prefer to have a printed receipt or have a digital receipt emailed to you. In a lot of ways, this makes sense. The consumer has one less receipt to keep track of in their wallet or lost in the bottom of a shopping bag, and an email receipt makes it instantly searchable in their inbox if they need to reference it later on. This all sounds perfect. If only it were so.
Veteran email marketing journalist Ken Magill has reported that some retailers are taking an email deliverability hit because of typos that are occurring when sales associates enter a customer's email address. Here's the problem. These typos have caused Spamhaus, the well-known anti-spam crusader and blocklist provider, to begin blocking email sent from typo-affected retailers. One prominent example is The Gap's recently inclusion on Spamhaus' blocklist, which is being attributed to these typoed email addresses.
What's happening is that Spamhaus operates a number of spamtrap or "typo-trap" domains that are variations of popular online brands. The idea is these typo-traps allow Spamhaus to identify senders with bad data collection processes. It would be one thing if the typoed email receipt was the only message to hit the typo-trap; the trouble starts if the retailer automatically signs up that bad email address for ongoing marketing promotions. The continual mailing to these addresses can kick you onto Spamhaus' blocklist. So what do you do?
You may not agree with Spamhaus putting legitimate brands on their blocklist for the bad email captures at point of sale (and many marketers don't), but if you want to ensure your messages get delivered there are a couple of things you can do to help – and some you should be doing anyway.
If you currently use email receipts at retail locations (or are thinking about it), you should invest in a system that can identify bad domains at the point of capture. If the sales associated is immediately warned of a bad domain when they input it into the system, they can either correct it or ask the consumer to confirm the correct address. The other option is to have the device require double entry. Not only will these tactics help keep you off blocklists, it will also ensure the consumer gets the receipt.
If you want to be able to add the email address you collected for future email promotions, you can consider using a confirmed opt-in (COI) process where the customer has to respond to a confirmation email before they begin receiving email communications. This also puts the consumer in control of whether they want to receive email communications from you after an in-store sale, which can reduce complaints from customers who weren't properly informed that they would be receiving marketing messages as a result of the email receipt.
You can also choose to only use the email address once to send the receipt and not save it to your database. You lose out on this information, but you also don't risk continuing to email to a bad address.
Consumers seem to be embracing the email receipt for in-store purchases, so marketers need to be strategic about the best way to implement it that won't affect their overall marketing efforts – either by turning off customers or getting put on a blocklist that could potentially affect email marketing promotions across their entire customer base.
Posted by: Sean Wirt at 11:47 AM
July 31, 2012 | Sean Wirt
I was watching Gordon Ramsay's "Kitchen Nightmares" the other night and thought, "Wow! Some of these restaurants closely mirror email programs that I’ve worked with!" I’m sure you’re thinking “Huh?” Don't worry. I’ll get to that in a minute.
For those of you who have not seen "Kitchen Nightmares" here's a quick synopsis of the show: The owner of a once successful, now struggling, restaurant reaches out to world-renowned chef Gordon Ramsay. Ramsay then visits the restaurant, samples the food, gets to know the owners and staff and then (with a lot of screaming and cursing) works with the owners and staff to turn the restaurant around. The restaurant gets a makeover, not only to the building, but also the menu. The staff gets re-trained and the owners go through some soul-searching, which inevitably leads to a positive attitude change.
So, you ask, “How does this have anything to do with email programs?” Here’s how…
One common theme that all of these restaurants have is that they were once very successful. But, over time business has fallen off, and they are now on the brink of failure. The reason business has fallen off is that the owners put the business on cruise-control, didn’t make any positive changes (to the menu or the décor) and customers lost interest. Ramsay comes in, infuses some excitement in the menu, the décor and the attitudes of the staff and business picks up again.
We see this all the time with mailing programs. A client builds their list and their program and thinks they can put things on cruise-control. They feel that as long as they are removing complaints and hard bounces they’ll be good-to-go. That may have been the case a couple of years ago, but that’s no longer going to fly. Today, ISPs put a lot of value in user engagement and sending to unengaged users will eventually have a negative effect on your reputation. This is the point where StrongMail's deliverability experts step in and play the role of Gordon Ramsay. We help our clients understand that not only do they have to continue to remove their complaints and hard bounces, but they need to also look at their “openers” and “clickers.”
If you find that recipients aren’t opening and clicking, then it's highly likely that they aren't interested any longer. If they aren’t interested, then try to infuse some excitement in your mailing program that will rekindle the interest. Send a special offer (free shipping, 25% off your next order, etc.), anything to get them excited again. If they don’t respond to your offer, then remove them from your list. There’s no need to continue to mail to someone who’s not interested. Not only will you reduce the overhead of sending to recipients unnecessarily, but you will also improve your reputation with the ISPs.
So, don’t let your mailing program turn into a “Kitchen Nightmare!” Don’t put the program on cruise-control. Keep the décor and menu (offers, design, etc.) fresh and your customers will keep coming back for more!
Posted by: Sean Wirt at 9:33 AM
June 28, 2012 | Sean Wirt
For the record, I am not a fan of email appending programs. If you are not familiar with the term, MAAWG defines appending as "taking known demographic information and using various methods to determine an email address for the purpose of adding people to a list or otherwise sending them email messages." So, for example, you may have an account with a department store, but the store does not have your e-mail address. The store may hire a third-party company to try and find email addresses for those clients whose email addresses are not in their database. Last fall, MAAWG published its "Position on Email Appending," in which they describe it as an "abusive practice."
Recently, I started receiving member email from a credit union in Indiana. The problem is that I don't live in Indiana, nor am I a member of this particular institution. A quick search showed me that there is a Sean Wirt who lives in the area served by this credit union; however, he is not me. The most likely scenario is that this credit union engaged in an appending program that went awry.
The problem with the verification method they chose is that they clearly appended data using name only. The same web search showed that there are at least three Sean Wirt's in the U.S. – 1 in Florida, 1 in Indiana and 1 in North Carolina (me). I am unaware of any data related to me that would suggest that I would be a member of a credit union in Indiana. Once they decided that my email address was the correct one, they did not even attempt to confirm with me that their information was correct – they simply started sending me their newsletters. Even better, the newsletter was not CAN-SPAM compliant, as it had no unsubscribe link!
So, what's the moral? Don’t append! If you ignore this advice and do it anyway, at least give the recipients a chance to tell you that they aren’t who you think they are and/or give them the opportunity to opt-out immediately. If all else fails, make sure your emails are CAN-SPAM compliant!
Posted by: Sean Wirt at 9:36 AM
May 31, 2012 | Sean Wirt
I've been a BIG fan of Shari's Berries and ProFlowers for years! Whenever my family is in a pinch to send last-minute gifts, we almost always send berries. As a fan, I subscribed to their mailing list years ago so that I could take advantage of their great deals. Occasionally, I noticed that some of their messages were going to my spam folder in Gmail. Knowing the effect this had on my receiving their messages in my inbox, I naturally clicked the "Not Spam" button in Gmail. (Of course, many "average Joes" don't realize the impact that has, but I won't go off on that tangent!)
Anyhow, a few months back, I started noticing that the subject lines of some of my messages From Shari's Berries and ProFlowers were targeted at Gmail users. There were subjects such as "Gmail Users Weekend Sales Event: 59% off a Gift Mom will Remember Forever" and "Our Easter Flash Sale for Gmail Users is Now! 63% off Delicious Easter Strawberries." I remember being at a MAAWG event when I received the first one and pointed out to colleagues what a great idea it was. They even went so far as to send out a message with this subject: "Gmail Notice: Please check your settings today." I distinctly remember forwarding that one out to our deliverability team saying something like "Wow! Check this out!"
The email included step-by-step instructions on how to report the message as "Not Spam" and also how to add the "From" address to their address book. Not only did they tell you how to do it, they gave you a visual depiction of the process – love it!
All of this background leads to my point. Industry columnist Ken Magill posted a Magill Report article last week talking specifically about ProFlowers' campaigns (ProFlowers and Shari's Berries are both parts of the Provide Commerce family of brands) and the effect they had on delivery. Ken writes: "But during the week of March 19th, ProFlowers' Gmail inbox placement rate jumped from 35.9 percent to 71.8 percent, according to eDataSource. Two weeks later, the rate surpassed 85 percent, according to eDataSource. The following week—and every week thereafter—the rate has been above 95 percent, according to eDataSource. ProFlowers started using subject lines targeted to Gmail users at the end of February and stopped in April, according to eDataSource. The results speak for themselves."
I love when marketers get creative in their efforts to improve delivery (especially when it works)! The lesson here is that when you think outside the box can you can be rewarded with GREAT results. If you find you're getting caught in the spam folder at one of your key ISPs and any overtures to their postmaster team hasn't produced any results, then don't be afraid to create a campaign to correct the problem.
Posted by: Sean Wirt at 10:51 AM
February 23, 2012 | Spencer Kollas
It seems like I have been working in the email and digital marketing space for as long as I can remember. I still think back to the days when I was working at NASCAR.com, and we realized the value of personalization in emails and noticed significant increases when we simply mentioned a fan's favorite driver – let alone if we put their photo in the message rather than the generic NASCAR.com logo. A lot has changed over the years, yet it seems like many of us in the delivery space are still talking about the same email deliverability and other best practices over and over.
As I look back at all of the various suggestions and recommendations that I personally have given over the years, there are two pieces of advice that I still believe are the most important for everyone to remember:
- Don’t compare yourself to others; focus on what works for your business model and customers
- Relevancy is the key
First, let’s talk about how much we all try to keep up with the Joneses and how it can actually hurt us more than help us. In just about every aspect of our lives these days, we seem to want to compare ourselves to each other. It might be comparing your house to those in your neighborhood, or maybe you are a car person and you always need to have the nicest car. I think this tendency comes from a need to feel like we are doing better than others – and the same thing happens in the digital marketing space. Too many of us want to look at what others are doing and then assume that we should be doing the same thing—if company X can send mail like that, I should be able to as well.
A perfect example of these type of observations and wanting to be like everyone else in the industry is when marketers come to me (or others) and say something like “Well all these other daily deal sites send messages to their entire list every day, I think we should do that too.” The problem with this perspective is that many times it doesn’t make sense for their business model. Maybe the company doesn’t have a model that generates enough new and relevant content to send to all of their users at that frequency, which takes us to my next point—it is all about Relevancy.
I can still remember talking with Dave Lewis over 5 years ago, when he was one of the few people at the time that was really talking about relevancy. Every time I say the word, I hear it in his voice. At the time, I didn’t always understand all the nuances of email deliverability, but as time went on, I soon became an equal proponent of relevancy. In short, sending messages to users that don’t connect in any way will not help your brand and may actually hurt it. If you continue to send irrelevant messages, fewer people will open them and more will eventually unsubscribe or even mark your messages as SPAM.
So try to think back to when you got started in the digital marketing world---has anything changed in the way you view things? Are you still telling your executives or your co-workers the same best practices as you were back then?
Learn about other email deliverability solutions we provide at StrongMail.
Posted by: Spencer Kollas at 2:18 PM
February 13, 2012 | Spencer Kollas
It was recently announced that BigPond users will be migrating to utlize the Windows Live mail platform beginning in April. This is good news forsenders as BigPond did not have any type of Feedback Loop or other items such as are available through Microsoft's systems. Click Here for more information.
This could be the beginning of a new email deliverability trend as many broadband providers around the world see email as a cost center and can likely out-source it to larger providers such as Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, Gmail and others at a fraction of the cost. Stay tuned for any additional developments.
Learn about other email deliverability solutions we provide at StrongMail.
Posted by: Spencer Kollas at 9:24 AM
February 01, 2012 | Spencer Kollas
As I am sure many of you have already heard, there is a new industry organization that is made up of ISPs and senders to help fight against phishing attacks on our end users. DMARC, which stands for "Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance", is a technical specification created by a group of organizations that want to help reduce the potential for email-based abuse by solving a couple of long-standing operational, deployment, and reporting issues related to email authentication protocols.
This is a great step forward in the continued efforts to help protect all users. The technical specification seems to be fairly easy to implement and we are currently testing it with one of our customers already. As we continue through this test I will provide more information as well as any other additional industry news.
For more information please go to http://www.dmarc.org/
Learn about other email deliverability solutions we provide at StrongMail.