Friday, February 6, 2009

All You Never Cared to Know About Deliverability

I'm very happy that we have Dennis Dayman on the Eloqua team - a man who lives and breathes email deliverability. That means I don't have to, and to be honest, I'm very much okay with that.
I did have an interesting time the other week though, trying to explain what email deliverability was all about to a not-so-technical audience. There is a lot of highly technical, complex, and fast-evolving pieces of the deliverability equation, but at the end of the day, it comes down to this:

  • there are spammers attempting various creative, and evolving, strategies to get their messages into inboxes everwhere

  • the managers of those inboxes are working to keep spam out and allow legitimate messages in

  • if you want your message to be allowed in, you need to make sure it is very obvious that you are the sender of a legitimate message

In many ways, this parallels the work of the fine folks who patrol our borders. They employ a variety of techniques and technologies to identify individuals who are not welcome to cross the borders, while allowing legitimate visitors into the country with minimal headache.

Let's look through a few of the approaches that are used.

Your Passport: this is key to your identity, and it is one of the main pieces of information used by the border agents to identify you. In the email world, this is best represented by your IP address. Most of today's deliverability systems use your IP address as the basis of your reputation. Don't share it, any more than you would share your Passport.

Retina Scans: There are more advanced ways of identifying who you are, often involving advanced technology, such as retina scans. Adoption varies, and there's usually a bit of setup and registration you would have to do. In the email world, similarly, there are advanced technologies for identifying who you are, such as DKIM and SPF. Certainly worth doing, however not universally adopted yet.

Criminal Record: Having a clean record is definitely a good thing when you interact with the folks at the border. The same holds true in the email world, one of the key things to look at is an email reputation score that provides the closest thing to a "criminal record" of the IP address you are using. If you are using a partner to manage your emails, be sure to have a look at this.

Police Background Checks: the border guards can obtain a lot of information on a potential visitor by doing a police background check. In the email world, you can run scans and tests of your emails in a similar vein to a background check, flagging anything suspicious or problematic. In the real world a criminal record can be tough to erase, but in the email world, if you see something flagged, there's a good chance you can fix it. Use a Return Path or Pivotal Veracity scan to see what gets flagged before a major mailing, and learn from it.

Visa Stamps: These tell the border guards a lot about where you've been and whether you have been accepted or rejected. Similarly, in the email domain, most major ISPs offer Feedback Loops to indicate whether emails have been rejected, and that there was a complaint. You can then better understand the issue and quickly resolve it. If you're not taking advantage of these, you're missing a key source of information.

The Inside Connection: Okay, I don't claim to have one of these in the border security world, but the world of email deliverability is actually a relatively small world. Knowing who's who, and how the systems operate is very helpful. Being involved with the working groups and commitees forming the policies and legislation gives great insight into how the world of deliverability is continuting to evolve. Having someone like Dennis Dayman around allows us to stay on top of the best approaches both today and tomorrow, so make sure you have someone like Dennis on your team.

Getting your emails delivered is a lot like getting across a border. Know the rules, play by the rules, and keep a clean record. If you have a partner who delivers your emails for you, make sure they also play by the rules.

Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
Come talk with me or one of my colleagues at a live event, or join in on a webinar


Anonymous said...

In the email deliverability world, is there anything similar to CANPASS, a CBSA program that allows members to clear the border faster when travelling into Canadian airports or Clear, a high-tech card that gives you access to express security lines at airports across the United States?

Jep Castelein said...

Steve: I really like your passport analogy for having a unique IP address for your email server. I tried to explain our ESP the need for a unique IP address, and I'm afraid I wasn't very successful.

Jill: I'm not sure if your question was serious, but I'd say Sender Policy Framework (SPF) is the closest you get to Clear. You basically register that a specific IP address is authorized to send mass emails for your domain. And best of all, unlike Clear it's free :-)

Anonymous said...

I'd say Clear etc. would be the email certification programs that get you priority treatment at ISPs. Like Return Path's Sender Score Certified and Goodmail's program.

Steven Woods said...

According to Dennis Dayman, our Deliverability guru, yes, the best analogy would be accreditation programs like Return Path's Sender Score Certified. Thanks Jep and Mark for that.

Members enjoy reduced filtering risk and increased delivery rates at more than 600 million email boxes.

J.D. said...

There's another important layer, however. Having a passport (or other pass) gets you across the border, but it doesn't mean the person you're visiting -- the recipient -- wants to see you.

Steven Woods said...

J.D, you're absolutely right, Deliverability is all about getting into the inbox, and has little to do with whether the recipient is interested in the message. Managing that, and the concept of "emotional unsubscribes" I wrote about in this post - Hope that helps.