Troubleshooting delivery is hard, but doable


Even for those of us who’ve been around for a while, and who have a lot of experience troubleshooting delivery problems things are getting harder. It used to be we could identify some thing about an email and if that thing was removed then the email would get to the inbox. Often this was a domain or a URL in the message that was triggering bulk foldering.
Filters aren’t so simple now. And we can’t just randomly send a list of URLs to a test account and discover which URL is causing the problem. Sure, one of the URLs could be the issue, but that’s typically in context with other things. It’s rare that I can identify the bad URLs sending mail through my own server these days.
There are also a lot more “hey, help” questions on some of the deliverability mailing lists. Most of these questions are sticky problems that don’t map well onto IP or domain reputation.
One of my long term clients recently had a bad mail that caused some warnings at Gmail.
We tried a couple of different things to try and isolate the problem, but never could discover what was triggering the warnings. Even more importantly, we weren’t getting the same results for identical tests done hours apart. After about 3 days, all the warnings went away and all their mail was back in the inbox.
It seemed that one mailing was really bad and resulted in a bad reputation, temporarily. But as the client fixed the problem and kept mailing their reputation recovered.
Deliverability troubleshooting is complicated and this flowchart sums up what it’s like.

Here at Word to the Wise, we get a lot of clients who have gone through the troubleshooting available through their ESPs and sometimes even other deliverability consultants. We get the tough cases that aren’t easy to figure out.
What we do is start from the beginning. First thing is to confirm that there aren’t technical problems, and generally we’ll find some minor problems that should be fixed, but aren’t enough to cause delivery problems. Then we look at the client’s data. How do they collect it? How do they maintain it? What are they doing that allows false addresses on their list?
Once we have a feel for their data processes, we move on to how do we fix those processes. What can we do to collect better, cleaner data in the future? How can we improve their processes so all their recipients tell the ISP that this is wanted mail?
The challenging part is what to do with existing data, but we work with clients individually to make sure that bad addresses are expunged and good addresses are kept.
Our solutions aren’t simple. They’re not easy. But for clients who listen to us and implement our recommendations it’s worth it. Their mail gets into the inbox and deliverability becomes a solved problem.

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