Word to the Wise https://wordtothewise.com Thu, 23 Jul 2015 18:10:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3-alpha-32315 Gmail having issues https://wordtothewise.com/2015/07/gmail-having-issues/ https://wordtothewise.com/2015/07/gmail-having-issues/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 20:01:57 +0000 https://wordtothewise.com/?p=8547 As of 7/22/15, 1:17 PM, Google reports the issue is resolved.   Over on the mailop list multiple people are reporting delivery problems to Gmail. The Google status page confirms this: 7/22/15, 12:14 PM: We’re investigating reports of an issue with Gmail. We will provide more information shortly. Users may experience message delivery delays. These delays are […]

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As of 7/22/15, 1:17 PM, Google reports the issue is resolved.

 

Over on the mailop list multiple people are reporting delivery problems to Gmail.

The Google status page confirms this:

7/22/15, 12:14 PM: We’re investigating reports of an issue with Gmail. We will provide more information shortly. Users may experience message delivery delays.

These delays are happening over both IPv4 and IPv6. Some attempts to send mail to Gmail MTAs are receiving the message:

Deferred: 421 4.7.0 Temporary System Problem. Try again later (MU).

I expect this will resolve soon, but right now, expect slow sending to Gmail and Google Apps hosted domains.

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Yes, Virginia, there is list churn https://wordtothewise.com/2015/07/yes-there-is-list-churn/ https://wordtothewise.com/2015/07/yes-there-is-list-churn/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 23:35:34 +0000 https://wordtothewise.com/?p=8541 Yesterday I talked about how data collection, management, and maintenance play a crucial role in deliverability.  I mentioned, briefly, the idea that bad data can accumulate on a list that isn’t well managed. Today I’d like to dig into that a little more and talk about the non-permanence of email addresses. A common statistic used […]

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Yesterday I talked about how data collection, management, and maintenance play a crucial role in deliverability.  I mentioned, briefly, the idea that bad data can accumulate on a list that isn’t well managed. Today I’d like to dig into that a little more and talk about the non-permanence of email addresses.

A common statistic used to describe list churn is that 30% of addresses become invalid in a year.  This was research done by Return Path back in the early 2000’s. The actual research report is hard to find, but I found a couple articles and press releases discussing the info.

A new study, to be unveiled next week at The 85th Annual Direct Marketing Association conference, indicates that email addresses are changing at the rate of 31% annually, driven by ISP switching, job changes and consumer efforts to avoid SPAM.

The email survey, conducted by independent, third-party research firm NFO WorldGroup, concluded that, consequently, the majority of consumers lose touch with personal and professional contacts and with preferred websites. […]

The survey, conducted in August 2002, updates a similar study by Return Path and NFO WorldGroup from September 2000, which identified a 32% annual rate of email address churn. The results are based on responses from 1,015 consumers from NFO WorldGroup’s online panel of U.S. email users over the age of 18. The panel is representative of U.S. online households.  ISP Switching and SPAM Continue to Drive Email Address Changes

While I think the address change rates are probably lower now, list churn still exists.

In 2002, NFO reported users changed personal email addresses for a number of reasons.

  • 50% changed due to an ISP switch
  • 16% changed due to spam
  • 12% changed due to a move
  • 8% changed due to a “more attractive” email address.

Work users also changed addresses, and for many of the same reasons.

  • 41% changed due to new jobs
  • 18% changed due to an ISP change
  • 8% changed due to a residential move
  • 6% change due to a name change (divorce or marriage)

Given the changes in free webmail providers since 2002, I expect address changes due to ISP switching or moving is less common than it was. But other reasons that users cited still exist, including spam levels, new jobs and name changes.

Of course, my gut feeling that these numbers are old and out of date and probably no longer accurate was crushed last week. The LA Times published an article about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s email campaigns. After her run for president in 2007, her email address database had approximately 2.5 million records. According to the article, less than 100,000 of the addresses are still valid. That’s more than 30% attrition every year.

List churn is real. While we may not know what the exact percentage of churn is, we know it happens. I expect that list churn, like most things in deliverability, is related to the actual recipient group. Some lists, like Secretary Clinton’s list, may have a very high churn rate. Other lists focused on different demographics might have a much lower churn rate.

While the LA Times article mentioned these addresses bounced (“an inbox clogged with bounce-back messages”) not all churn is so visible. There’s also “stealth” churn, where addresses are abandoned by their users but still accept mail.

What can you do? Mostly I recommend first wrapping your head around the idea that churn exists. Once you really believe churn is real then you can address how to fix it in your specific environment.

Key things to remember when planning a data management plan:

  • Email addresses are not permanent.
  • Subscriber data degrades if you don’t actively manage it.
  • Deliverability depends on data quality.
  • Maintaining data is easier than trying to clean data.
  • Using list cleaning services will remove hard bounces, but won’t address “stealth” churn, which can still affect deliverability.

If there’s anything my work with clients has taught me is that the more creative and flexible you can be in regards to list management, the more effective your overall email marketing program can be.

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Data is the key to deliverability https://wordtothewise.com/2015/07/data-is-the-key-to-deliverability/ https://wordtothewise.com/2015/07/data-is-the-key-to-deliverability/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 00:21:32 +0000 https://wordtothewise.com/?p=8531 Last week I had the pleasure of speaking to the Sendgrid Customer Advisory Board about email and deliverability. As usually happens when I give talks, I learned a bunch of new things that I’m now integrating into my mental model of email. One thing that bubbled up to take over a lot of my thought […]

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Last week I had the pleasure of speaking to the Sendgrid Customer Advisory Board about email and deliverability. As usually happens when I give talks, I learned a bunch of new things that I’m now integrating into my mental model of email.

One thing that bubbled up to take over a lot of my thought processes is how important data collection and data maintenance is to deliverability. In fact, I’m reaching the conclusion that the vast majority of deliverability problems stem from data issues. How data is collected, how data is managed, how data is maintained all impact how well email is delivered.

Collecting Data

There are many pathways used to collect data for email: online purchases, in-store purchases, signups on websites, registration cards, trade shows, fishbowl drops, purchases, co-reg… the list goes on and on. In today’s world there is a big push to make data collection as frictionless as possible. Making collection processes frictionless (or low friction) often means limiting data checking and correction. In email this can result in mail going to people who never signed up. Filters are actually really good at identifying mail streams going to the wrong people.

The end result of poor data collection processes is poor delivery.

There are lots of way to collect data that incorporates some level of data checking and verifying the customer’s identity. There are ways to do this without adding any friction, even. About 8 years ago I was working with a major retailer that was dealing with a SBL listing due to bad addresses in their store signup program. What they ended up implementing was tagged coupons emailed to the user. When the user went to the store to redeem the coupons, the email address was confirmed as associated with the account. We took what the customers were doing anyway, and turned it into a way to do closed loop confirmation of their email address.

Managing Data

Data management is a major challenge for lots of senders. Data gets pulled out of the database of record and then put into silos for different marketing efforts. If the data flow isn’t managed well, the different streams can have different bounce or activity data. In a worst case scenario, bad addressees like spamtraps, can be reactivated and lead to blocking.

This isn’t theoretical. Last year I worked with a major political group that was dealing with a SBL issue directly related to poor data management. Multiple databases were used to store data and there was no central database. Because of this, unsubscribed and inactivated addresses were reactivated. This included a set of data that was inactivated to deal with a previous SBL listing. Eventually, spamtraps were mailed again and they were blocked. Working with the client data team, we clarified and improved the data flow so that inactive addresses could not get accidentally or unknowingly reactivated.

Maintaining Data

A dozen years ago few companies needed to think about any data maintenance processes other than “it bounces and we remove it.” Most mailbox accounts were tied into dialup or broadband accounts. Accounts lasted until the user stopped paying and then mail started bouncing. Additionally, mailbox accounts often had small limits on how much data they could hold. My first ISP account was limited to 10MB, and that included anything I published on my website. I would archive mail monthly to keep mail from bouncing due to a full mailbox.

But that’s not how email works today. Many people have migrated to free webmail providers for email. This means they can create (and abandon) addresses at any time. Free webmail providers have their own rules for bouncing mail, but generally accounts last for months or even years after the user has stopped logging into them. With the advent of multi gigabyte storage limits, accounts almost never fill up.

These days, companies need to address what they’re going to do with data if there’s no interaction with the recipient in a certain time period. Otherwise, bad data just keeps accumulating and lowering deliverability.

Deliverability is all about the data. Good data collection and good data management and good data maintenance results in good email delivery. Doing the wrong thing with data leads to delivery problems.

 

 

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Email deliverability https://wordtothewise.com/2015/07/email-deliverability/ https://wordtothewise.com/2015/07/email-deliverability/#comments Wed, 15 Jul 2015 14:23:51 +0000 https://wordtothewise.com/?p=8526 “Maybe things aren’t broken-broken,” [Laura] said. “Maybe you could be doing a little better. We can sit down and talk with you about where you want to be. And then we can work with you to identify how you can get from where you are to where you want to be without hurting your deliverability. “Email […]

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“Maybe things aren’t broken-broken,” [Laura] said. “Maybe you could be doing a little better. We can sit down and talk with you about where you want to be. And then we can work with you to identify how you can get from where you are to where you want to be without hurting your deliverability.

“Email is a really special place because the consumer has so much more power than the marketer in terms of ‘yes/no’ decisions,” she said. “All of the other channels, the advertisers own and pay for. Being able to understand that you’re a guest [in the inbox] and you have to be a good guest in order to be invited back is where we come in and help you work through: ‘What does being a good guest mean?’” The Magill Report

Thanks, Ken, for a great writeup.

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What We Do https://wordtothewise.com/2015/07/what-word-to-the-wise-does/ https://wordtothewise.com/2015/07/what-word-to-the-wise-does/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 16:30:35 +0000 https://wordtothewise.com/?p=8524 Occasionally when we meet longtime readers of the blog at conferences and industry events, they are surprised to learn that we are not just bloggers. We actually spend most of our time consulting with companies and service providers to optimize their email delivery. Though we try to avoid using the blog as a WttW sales […]

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Occasionally when we meet longtime readers of the blog at conferences and industry events, they are surprised to learn that we are not just bloggers. We actually spend most of our time consulting with companies and service providers to optimize their email delivery. Though we try to avoid using the blog as a WttW sales pitch, we thought it might be useful to devote a short post to explaining a bit more about what we do.

Most of the companies we work with have strong email marketing and technical expertise, but face challenges beyond normal “best practice” recommendations. To get started, companies often engage with Word to the Wise in one of two ways:

  • Technical Audit: a short-term engagement designed to identify and resolve any underlying issues that may be causing delivery problems. We will look at message and header structures, content issues, and sender reputation or authentication problems.

  • Strategic Consulting: Some of our clients have dubbed this “email therapy”, and these engagements are structured a lot like that – we speak once or twice each week for several months about our client’s specific challenges and collaborate closely to work on larger programmatic and technical issues around optimizing email programs. We really enjoy this type of deep forensic work and helping clients create more sustainable programs.

That said, we very much believe that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this sort of work. We are also happy to work with companies that don’t have established expertise in-house, or who are in the process of developing email programs. We have a wide range of additional services we provide, from data analysis to ISP/ESP relations to blocklist resolution.

In general, we want to provide support for email program managers and systems administrators to create and manage meaningful and valuable customer communication. Our experience working with a broad range of senders over many years, as well as our close relationships with ISPs, ESPs, spam fighters and blocklists, policy and governance bodies, and other email consultancies gives us both broad and deep insight into the current landscape of email. If you think your company could benefit from this type of support, please get in touch!

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Gmail Postmaster Tools for Senders https://wordtothewise.com/2015/07/gmail-postmaster-tools-for-senders/ https://wordtothewise.com/2015/07/gmail-postmaster-tools-for-senders/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 21:35:18 +0000 https://wordtothewise.com/?p=8511 Google announced new postmaster tools for senders sending to Gmail.  The Gmail Postmaster Tools are to help “qualified high-volume senders analyze their email, including data on delivery errors, spam reports, and reputation.”  The updated postmaster pages also include Gmail’s best practices for bulk senders. Postmaster Tools by Gmail http://gmail.com/postmaster Update: ReturnPath has a blog post […]

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logo_2xGoogle announced new postmaster tools for senders sending to Gmail.  The Gmail Postmaster Tools are to help “qualified high-volume senders analyze their email, including data on delivery errors, spam reports, and reputation.”  The updated postmaster pages also include Gmail’s best practices for bulk senders.

Postmaster Tools by Gmail http://gmail.com/postmaster

Update: ReturnPath has a blog post that includes data and definitions for each of the data points.

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Set expectations for new subscribers https://wordtothewise.com/2015/07/set-expectations-for-new-subscribers/ https://wordtothewise.com/2015/07/set-expectations-for-new-subscribers/#comments Fri, 10 Jul 2015 23:46:25 +0000 https://wordtothewise.com/?p=8496 A common way to build your email address list is to provide a free resource such as an eBook or PDF in return for contact information from the reader.  While this is a good way to be mutually beneficial to the reader and the company, often the reader is providing their information only for the […]

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A common way to build your email address list is to provide a free resource such as an eBook or PDF in return for contact information from the reader.  While this is a good way to be mutually beneficial to the reader and the company, often the reader is providing their information only for the free resource and does not want to receive the emails.  This leads to sending to an unengaged recipient or worst, sending to a bad email address.

Another way to build your email address list is to pre-check the “subscribe to the mailing list” when a user creates an account on your site.  The same problem with the free resource offer, the user may not want the emails.

You can combat both of these types of unengaged users by providing them with an example of what they will be receiving from you via email.  Displaying the most recent mailing or providing them with how often you send out monthly will not only help you collect accurate information but also helps set the expectations of what the recipient will be receiving. Examples of sending expectations would be to inform the recipient that you only send once a month but then allow them to select an onboarding program that may send daily for 10 days.

Email.Simple-6Providing the end user with information about your mailings encourages them to provide accurate information and helps build your mailing list with recipients who want to engage with your emails. If you offer a free resource such as a whitepaper or ebook behind a signup form, send the download link within the email so that it encourages readers to provide accurate information.  By sending the email with a link the recipient clicks, it shows ISPs that this mail is wanted and helps boost your sending reputation.

 

 

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New AOL Postmaster Pages https://wordtothewise.com/2015/07/new-aol-postmaster-pages/ https://wordtothewise.com/2015/07/new-aol-postmaster-pages/#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2015 15:03:33 +0000 https://wordtothewise.com/?p=8489 AOL has updated their Postmaster pages with a new design and new resources for senders who are sending to AOL.  If you are sending to AOL, use the updated site to sign up for the feedback loop, request whitelisting, open a trouble ticket, or learn about the AOL error codes and bulk sending best practices.

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AOL has updated their Postmaster pages with a new design and new resources for senders who are sending to AOL.  If you are sending to AOL, use the updated site to sign up for the feedback loop, request whitelisting, open a trouble ticket, or learn about the AOL error codes and bulk sending best practices.

AOL Postmaster Pages

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June 2015: the Month in Email https://wordtothewise.com/2015/07/june-2015-the-month-in-email/ https://wordtothewise.com/2015/07/june-2015-the-month-in-email/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 16:06:16 +0000 https://wordtothewise.com/?p=8486 Happy July! We are back from another wonderful M3AAWG conference and enjoyed seeing many of you in Dublin. It’s always so great for us to connect with our friends, colleagues, and readers in person. I took a few notes on Michel van Eeten’s keynote on botnets, and congratulated our friend Rodney Joffe on winning the […]

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Happy July! We are back from another wonderful M3AAWG conference and enjoyed seeing many of you in Dublin. It’s always so great for us to connect with our friends, colleagues, and readers in person. I took a few notes on Michel van Eeten’s keynote on botnets, and congratulated our friend Rodney Joffe on winning the prestigious Mary Litynski Award.

In anti-spam news, June brought announcements of three ISP-initiated CAN-SPAM cases, as well as a significant fine leveled by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) against Porter Airlines. In other legal news, a UK case against Spamhaus has been settled, which continues the precedent we’ve observed that documenting a company’s practice of sending unsolicited email does not constitute libel.

In industry news, AOL started using Sender Score Certification, and Yahoo announced (and then implemented) a change to how they handle their Complaint Feedback Loop (CFL). Anyone have anything to report on how that’s working? We also noted that Google has discontinued the Google Apps for ISPs program, so we expect we might see some migration challenges along the way. I wrote a bit about some trends I’m seeing in how email programs are starting to use filtering technologies for email organization as well as fighting spam.

Steve, Josh and I all contributed some “best practices” posts this month on both technical issues and program management issues. Steve reminded us that what might seem like a universal celebration might not be a happy time for everyone, and marketers should consider more thoughtful strategies to respect that. I wrote a bit about privacy protection (and pointed to Al Iverson’s post on the topic), and Josh wrote about when senders should include a physical address, what PTR (or Reverse DNS) records are and how to use them, testing your opt-out process (do it regularly!), and advice on how to use images when many recipients view email with images blocked.

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Where can I mail a purchased list? https://wordtothewise.com/2015/07/where-can-i-mail-a-purchased-list/ https://wordtothewise.com/2015/07/where-can-i-mail-a-purchased-list/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 22:55:25 +0000 https://wordtothewise.com/?p=8420 We’ve had a lot of comments over the last few weeks regarding our post on ESPs that don’t allow purchased lists. Most of them were companies adding their addresses to the list. But one comment needs a little more discussion, I think. Here’s the problem though, when your employer has purchased a list and INSISTS […]

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We’ve had a lot of comments over the last few weeks regarding our post on ESPs that don’t allow purchased lists. Most of them were companies adding their addresses to the list. But one comment needs a little more discussion, I think.

Here’s the problem though, when your employer has purchased a list and INSISTS on using that list for lead generation.

I have explained ad nauseum why this is a bad idea. They look at me blankly and move on with scheduling our emails. They expect me to find a provider that will allow purchased lists. Where do I turn?

All I can find is articles on NOT using them. Well, I have no say in the matter and my job depends on doing this. What about us stuck in that place? Doug Marshall

It’s a tough situation to be in when your job depends on doing something that is generally viewed as a bad idea. Most of the ESPs that will let you send to purchased lists will have poorer deliverability than those ESPs that require opt-in. Most purchased lists have very poor deliverability.

I’ve regularly had companies come looking for help because their purchased lists were widely blocked. One of them was earlier this year. Their purchased list was only seeing about a 40% acceptance rate and about a 15% inbox rate. They wanted to know if I could help them resolve the blocks. There wasn’t anything we could do.

If you’re in the situation where the choice is send to the list or get fired then you have some hard decisions to make. Is this your line in the sand? My experience is some management folks refuse to believe that purchased lists are a bad idea. They’re going to mail those lists because they paid good money for them! and their vendor would not lie to them! Sometimes the only thing you can do as an employee is do what you’re told or walk away. Those aren’t easy decisions.

In terms of how you can negotiate this pathway without giving up your job, there are some things I can think for you to do. Depending on your relationship with your ESP, you can call your account rep and ask them about the ESPs policy for purchased lists. I know many ESPs deal with this question regularly. They may help you convince your management this is a bad idea.

If you’re uncomfortable involving your provider, you can document your findings about how bad an idea this is. You can reference my blog, and the other statements you’ve found that say purchased lists are bad. Even if you are ignored, you have documented this is a bad idea. If there is poor delivery and fallout, then you’ll have the documentation that says this is how purchased lists work.

Another possibility, depending on the size of the purchased list, is to actually contact each lead individually. Introduce your company, what you have and invite them to join your newsletter program. If they respond, great, you have a new contact. If they don’t, well, they’re a poor lead for you.

Good luck!

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