LISTSERV (R) at Work - Spring 2004 IssueL-Soft
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Tech Tip - Spring 2004

Q. How can I ensure that my e-mail newsletters are delivered to subscribers and not blocked by ISPs?

Answer by Ben Parker
Chief Corporate Consultant

E-mail deliverability is becoming an increasingly important issue in the current anti-spam climate as marketers and others sometimes fail to have their important and desired e-mail messages delivered. They complain that their attempts to deliver are being "blocked" by some popular receiving ISPs. The truth is that there is no way to force a mail server to receive particular messages. However, there are recommended good practices that promote success. Sender responsibilities fall into two categories: those concerned with recipient relations and those concerned with provider relations.

Recipient Relations

1. Send only "confirmed opt-in" mail
Confirmed opt-in recipients have positively responded to an e-mail confirmation message sent to them when they signed up to receive mail. This not only builds trust but also tests for the validity of the recipient's e-mail address.

2. Create a climate of trust and respect for mail recipients
Marketers who create a climate of trust and respect for their mail recipients will have far fewer problems with mail deliverability. Mail will be less likely to be reported as spam and therefore less likely to be filtered out by the recipient or by ISPs if a climate of trust exists. This climate can be achieved in the following ways:

  • Fully disclose how you intend to use the addresses you solicit and confirm
  • Provide an explanation of what kinds of e-mail will be sent and how often
  • Provide a link to a publicly posted privacy policy

3. Provide an easy-to-use and an easy-to-find unsubscribe mechanism
One reason frustrated users report messages as spam is they cannot find or do not trust the unsubscribe mechanism. Also, make sure that your unsubscribe process actually works. If not, angry recipients will report you in a heartbeat.

4. Actively test the content against known anti-spam filtering programs
Sometimes innocuous content can rate a surprisingly high negative score in such filters. There are also services that will do this evaluation for you and make suggestions for alterations to lower the score and increase deliverability.

Technical Relations

1. Have a Fully Qualified Domain Name along with both an "A" Record (forward lookup) and "PTR" Record (reverse lookup) in public DNS for your outgoing mail server
This is necessary so that receiving servers can identify and verify (to the limited extent currently possible) that your server has proper credentials. When your mail server is properly identified, the mail coming from it will be much less likely to be blocked.

2. Never allow your mail server to be configured to allow open mail relay
Allowing open mail relay is an easy way to get your server blacklisted. Permit mail relaying only from known and trusted mail sources, preferably inside your network. Also, be wary of e-mail virus attacks that may also affect workstations inside your network.

3. Monitor e-mail queues and bounce logs to ensure that addresses that bounce are removed from your database
If you keep sending mail to a great number of bad addresses, many ISPs could block your mail. This occurs because ISPs often count the ratio of bad addresses to good addresses in any large volume mailing. If they detect too many bad addresses, they will assume you are attempting a "dictionary attack" of randomly generated e-mail addresses and cut you off.

4. Monitor your own server's IP addresses for appearance in various blacklists
If you find your IP addresses in blacklists, take action immediately. As little as two or three complaints from unidentifiable recipients may get your server blocked.

5. Develop and maintain personal contacts with your larger destination service providers
When you are blocked, it helps if you know someone personally to call and inquire why. If they know you, they will probably give you a prompt reply. Follow as many good practices that you can, applying them first to your largest recipient domains and working your way down the list.

The above Tech Tip is an excerpt from an upcoming L-Soft white paper about e-mail deliverability. The white paper will elaborate on the responsibilities and best practices from the perspective of not only the sender but also the recipient and the service provider.

Copyright 2004 L-Soft