Is your permission email being classified as spam?

In 1999 Inspiration launched our first permission email marketing service and we’ve been working away on email ever since. Over that time we’ve worked with lots of SME’s and start-ups as well as headline clients and campaigns including the Dell EMEA programme, Allianz Fantasy Golf, Sunway Holidays, Failte Ireland activity and more. We’ve also refused to work with people – lucrative as it might have been – as we have had no confidence in the “permission” aspect of their databases. We’ve seen it all; the good, the bad and the spam. This article is written wholly based on what we’ve observed ourselves over the years and as a non-techie myself! There is a very detailed outline of the technical issues here – well worth a read if you’ve got a bee in your bonnet about this stuff http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-spam_techniques

Spam Concerns

All our customers use permission email databases only (for the vast majority it is their own client database) and all operate strictly within Data Privacy regulations. When we handle sends ourselves we are well-versed in how to avoid legitimate activity being classified as spam however many businesses come to us for a solution because even though their email marketing is valid, they find their messages are either blocked by the ISP, stopped by the local mail handling package or rejected as spam at the individual machine level. What’s going on?

Stuff to Watch

The first thing you have to recognise when you are sending opt-in emails is that all email activity can be considered as spam by the ISP. If you take that as a starting point and work backwards to tick the right boxes, it will help define an effective approach.
Also when you are sending email, a load of different service providers, servers and technologies will be involved and all have an impact on how the email is handled. On top of that, you may well be causing the problem yourself through a simple lack of awareness of what’s acceptable!

Here’s a list of things to watch out for;

  1. Poor HTML Coding
  2. Too much image, too little text
  3. The use of spammy words
  4. Too many bounce backs / not a clean list
  5. Reputational Damage
  6. Too much email volume through ISP at the same time

Quality HTML Code

If the coding used in the email is poor, it can trigger a spam classification and rightly so! Keeping the code clean is important for this technical reason but also from a marketing perspective you want to present a professional face online – so make sure your tech support person knows what they are doing and that that you are using a professional email delivery solution. If you send graphical content through Outlook Express, for example, it will add code and the results can be very sloppy.

Image to Text Ratio

Think “Big image, little or no text = BAD” and “Smaller images, lots of quality text = GOOD” If you are using a professional package it will rate your email in terms of spam considerations and this image to text ratio is a key factor. The main reason for this is that a large image drags on server resources and slows delivery and if you are delivering a large image to many people all of whom may be opening the email at the same time – well that’s non-desirable from everyone’s perspective!

Spammy Words

Unfortunately the words that work in conventional direct marketing are all the ones that cause problems in email. Blame the spammers for this cos they have abused the system for so long we now have to avoid using hot terms like Win, Free, New, Offer, Discount, Competition etc. For B2B marketers in particular, stick to low-key messaging that is meaningful to your target audience. Also using your own brand, which will be known to your customers, in the subject heading and the email that the message is coming from – adds trust and legitimacy for the recipient.

Clean Lists

The best permission lists are kept clean through regular email activity. If you are using an opt-in list that has not been emailed for some time, the bounce rates are likely to be high on the initial send. Ideally use software tools and/or have an internal resource physically review the database and delete obvious problems, invalid email formats, typos etc. before the first send.

Also after each send delete the “hard” bounces i.e. where the email address is no longer operating and obviously remove any unsubscribes. If you do not delete the bounces you are loading the servers with unnecessary traffic for no purpose and worse-still, you could be contributing to a spam flag through high bounce rates.

Reputational Concerns

If your email activity is initiated on a server that has been highlighted as a spam offender – even if this relates to another user of that server which is unknown to you and nothing to do with your company – then you can suffer reputational damage as a result and may find your emails blocked. Working with a proper email platform should help avoid this situation. Also if you are working in a sector where security is a key concern, such as financial services, you may want to invest in a managed hosting solution specifically for email activity, which will be dedicated to your domain. Watch out though – it’s expensive! It can cost €200 to €300 a month depending on the capacity and security requirements – ouch! It is well worth it though, for larger businesses.

Volume of Email Activity Hitting ISP at the same time

We are unfortunate in one sense in Ireland in that a database of 50,000 or so would be considered large in an Irish context while in a U.S. context this would be tiny! Many SME’s may only have a few thousand emails on their database, particularly if they are operating on a B2B basis. However if email is a key marketing tool and also if you work with consumers, then 50,000 is easily reached and larger databases can run into hundreds of thousands. If you blast all these emails out in one go, with no limitations, it’s highly likely that the ISP will shut the send down. The set-up should be managed so that it releases a set number of the emails per minute – in this way the activity is staggered, dragging less on resources and staying below the radar in terms of spam flags. It’s also useful to do the send alphabetically by email address so that a company e.g. @inspiration.ie does not receive a full blast of emails in one go – which can also cause problems in terms of being delivered locally.

Hopefully some of these considerations will help you stay on the bright side of email life – watch out for more on email from www.inspiration.ie – we are launching a new service shortly.