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Failed delivery of permission based email

A few weeks ago, ReturnPath published a study showing that 20% of permission based email was blocked. I previously discussed the definition of permission based email and that not all the mail described as permission based is actually sent with the permission of the recipient. However, I only consider this a small fraction of the mail RP is measuring, somewhere in the 3 – 5% range. What happens with the other 17 – 15% of that mail? Why is it being blocked?

There are 3 primary things I see that cause asked for and wanted email to be blocked.

  • technical issues
  • content
  • expectation disconnect leading to user complaints

The technical issues range from actual RFC violating practices to minor nits that makes mail look more like spam than legit mail. The software vendors are getting better and I find less and less problems with the header content in emails. The one exception is some of the websites using Java to generate mail based on user activity. Some of the Java mail classes generate very poor headers which can decrease delivery.

Looking beyond the headers, there are still problems in the body of the email. Base64 encoding plain text, either in the subject line or in the body of the email, has been used by spammers to avoid filtering. Some legitimate mailers use software that base64 encodes plain text email, causing delivery problems. Invalid HTML is also a common mistake that can drastically hurt delivery.

Once senders have confirmed they’re sending correctly formatted, non-RFC violating email, the next big thing to look at is the content of the email. I’m not talking about the number of exclamation points in the subject line, or the word “free” or “unsubscribe” or content like that. I’m talking about more fundamental content. Is the sender selling loans, stocks or male enhancement products? If so, they are going to have delivery issues no matter how good their opt-in process is. Advertising heavily spammed or phished domains, like links to Amazon.com or eBay.com can also decrease delivery of wanted email. Some companies hire lots of different senders to advertise their domain. If they hire LegitMailer.com and they also hire spammers, LegitMailer.com will often see delivery problems based on the content of their mail being found in spam.

When this happens there isn’t much that the sender can do other than avoid the problematic content. I have one client who sends opt-in mail but will occasionally see their mail bulk foldered at major ISPs. Typically this is a one day event, and every time I’ve asked the ISPs they have always blamed the content. The companies my customer is recommending in their mail are also being mentioned in spam and so my customer’s delivery suffers.

Finally, there is sometimes a disconnect between what the recipient thought they were opting into and what the sender actually sends. This can lower a sender’s reputation and delivery. The fixes for this are not as simple as making a few technical fixes or changing the content of the email. This is a longer process and requires more analysis of recipients, what they want and how the sender can meet the recipient’s needs.

5 comments

  1. Steve Kirstein says

    Unfortunately, I don’t think this will ever stop until email actually costs money per send, over and above internal costs. It’s sad to think it would come to that, but it seems to me that the economics of email will always attract the spammer.

    We can’t control the dimwits who click on spammy emails, so the only other parameter is the cost of sending. If each legit email cost, say, 3 cents, would that make it unpalatable for spammers to send a few million speculative pieces of spam out there?

    I have to think that compared to what we legitimate marketers had traditionally spent on direct mail, this would still be a bargain and not destroy our ROI.

  2. Ben says

    “If each legit email cost, say, 3 cents, would that make it unpalatable for spammers to send a few million speculative pieces of spam out there?”

    I once believed that (and kinda still do), but spammers are really good at getting stolen credit card info now.

  3. URL Shorteners and Blacklists | MailChimp Email Marketing Blog says

    […] is all new and fascinating to you, check out this article from Laura Atkins at Word To The Wise: Failed Delivery of Permission Based Email. She covers a few other seemingly innocent but oft-abused URLs that can get your messages […]

  4. Fred Testard says

    Hi,

    Thanks for the pieces of information above.
    Just a quick comment though on the cost of sending :
    It is free for spammers as they use zombie PCs… it’s not their infrastructure and they surely don’t work with ESPs 😉
    So, the cost of sending is indeed an interesting discussion the industry should have, but it doesn’t have anything to do with spammers does it ?

    Regards,

  5. Technology does not trump policy when it comes to delivery at Word to the Wise says

    […] Failed Delivery of Permission Based Email […]

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