- What is spam?
- Email Content Guidelines
- Bulk emails
This article aims to provide best practice guidelines on how to ensure that emails using Mimecast Stationery are constructed in an appropriate way, which will help to reduce the change of spam filters preventing the delivery of an email. These guidelines can also be applied to emails in general, if Stationery is not utilized.
It is important to note that both the email reputation as well as the email contents may be analyzed by the recipient's spam service. The reputation of the email is verified through the sending IP address, which means that if the organization's IP address is added to a block list, it will impact all emails being received by external recipients.
There may be specific legislation that applies to your organization's industry type or to the country in which your organization is based. Ensure that you research these regulations thoroughly.
What is spam?
Spam is defined as unsolicited email communications, sent from anonymous sources to large numbers of recipients. A recipient of a spam email may define this differently, but unless all three conditions are true, the email cannot be classified as spam. It is because of this misconception that many legitimate emails do not get handled correctly and are falsely identified as spam (i.e. a false positive). For example, unwanted emails get marked as spam, and are delivered to the Junk folder.
As spam is continuously evolving and adapting to successful spam prevention techniques, security systems must also constantly adapt and change how they handle spam. As this is difficult to accomplish, most spam scanners will err on the side of caution, and if an email looks suspicious, it gets labelled as spam - even though it might not be.
Spam emails can be identified in two ways: by the reputation of the email sender, and by the contents of the message itself.
- The reputation of the sender is determined by the sending IP address. If an organization sends legitimate emails, and has no suspicious traffic originating from these addresses, they will likely not be reported to block list services. If a set of IP addresses is used to send malware, such as spam and viruses, these IPs will likely be reported to one or more block list. Most email servers are configured to consult at least one block list, and may reject the sender's attempt to communicate if the IP address has been added to a block list.
- The IP addresses for the organization may also be compromised if malware is delivered to workstation(s) within the company infrastructure. These unwanted software applications may be used to transmit spam from the organization's IP addresses, without the consent or knowledge of the organization itself.
Email Contents are usually scanned and matched to specific text pattern definitions. For example, if an email contains profanity or certain pharmacological text, it may be marked as spam. As these definitions match any text that conforms to these rules, they may incorrectly mark emails as spam (false positives), and deliver the email to the Junk folder.
As there are multitudes of spam scanners available in the marketplace, it is impossible to accurately determine how emails will be handled across these different platforms. The guidelines provided below will help to reduce the chance that emails will be identified as spam by the recipient, but don't guarantee successful email delivery.
Ultimately, the choice to mark an email as spam or not is determined by the recipient's spam service, which may be customized to be less or more aggressive than an alternative service. Mimecast is unable to influence the recipient's spam scanning service.
Often, legitimate marketing emails get reported as spam, which presents a problem to the sender infrastructure and can often appear as if a recipient is being spammed. Email recipients may end up marking your messages as spam, impacting your sender reputation with ISPs, and damaging your delivery rates.
For bulk email sending, Mimecast recommends utilizing a third party service to handle your databases as well as maintaining a good reputation with ISPs.
Email Content Guidelines
The following tips and tricks should be considered when constructing email communications:
Choose your words carefully
- Try to avoid words and phrases which may get caught by spam filters:
- Don't use CAPS in the subject line.
- Don't use multiple exclamation marks in the subject line.
- Avoid words in the subject (and many repetitions in the body) such as: Free, survey, guarantee, winner, and any other words that you can think of that are not usually included in regular emails.
- A good way to sanitize your emails is to pretend that you are sending them to your manager! Ask yourself if they would approve of the contents.
- Watch your attachments - files with extensions such as .exe, .swf, etc. may be blocked.
- Software vendors and ISPs have started to use the text List-unsubscribe within the email header. This allows easy differentiation over emails, and is a RFC standard which allows for an easy unsubscribe action.
- Keep the look and feel of your emails consistent. If you have wildly different-looking emails, the recipient may be suspicious of the legitimacy of your organization, and may report the email as spam. Additionally, avoid extremely complex emails - more than 10 images or 10 hyperlinks to other locations may seem suspicious, but is also probably an information overload which dilutes the core messaging of your email.
- If you are including attachments or redirect URLs, ensure that you check these sources to ensure that they are not compromised or contain inappropriate content.
Who are you sending the email to?
- It is preferable not to use email addresses from a list that was sourced outside the organization. However, if a list is used and spam reports come in, dump the list immediately. This would suggest the list is dirty, and it is advisable to keep track of the sources so the “dirty addresses” can be tracked.
- Personalize the headers and body of the email. This makes the email appear more professional and thought out, while adding a nice personal touch to the tone of the email.
Are the recipients expecting your email?
If a user receives a mail which they do not expect, then the likelihood is that they may not pay attention to it and report is as spam. There is also a belief that reporting a mail as spam will block it in future, but in reality this will flag the sender's IP address and may harm the reputation of the sending server (and the business itself).
- Double Opt In prompts the subscriber to open a confirmation email and confirm their address before being added to a mailing list. This allows for protection from spam bots (malware software that generates spam) which can subscribe to your list with fake email addresses. It is common practice for ISPs to set up honey traps to identify spammers and add them to a block list on receipt. This method also provides legal cover if accused of spamming, although it is likely that the subscriber list will reduce. A more positive side effect would be the increased likelihood that the recipients will be more engaged by the message. Additionally, there would have been less of a chance of being reported as spam, which combined could mean more opens and more click throughs.
- Include your contact information, so recipients can choose to feedback to the sender.
- Make sure that there is a clear message as to what the email is about. Let recipients know if your email includes sales, new products, special discounts or informative articles. If possible, link to a live newsletter.
Honor the subscriber
Unsubscribing should be as effortless, painless and courteous as possible. Most importantly, unsubscribe or opt-out requests must be honored as quickly as possible, and the details should be easy to find.
Email has been the most applied tool in digital marketing realm and many companies take advantage of this phenomenon. In the recent years, however, there has been a shift in terms of tightening the rules and regulations to safeguard consumer privacy. As such, companies are bound to follow certain protocols when it comes to digital marketing.
Mimecast does not support bulk emailing. Please contact your account representative for more information.
Whilst different countries have adopted various methodologies to regulate their email marketing strategies, the consensus focuses on three main principles:
- Acquiring permission from the user before engaging in any marketing correspondence.
- Maintaining and Up-to-date Mailing List.
- Provide clear and Transparent Unsubscribed / opt-out option.
Since Mimecast has a Global footprint in terms of providing email service, in compiling this guide, we have taken into consideration a wide spectrum of practices and guidelines.
Permission and Consent
Seeking permission is the golden rule of email marketing. Any organization, private or public must have clear and valid consent from the recipient before sending marketing emails. When acquiring permission, the companies must be clear about:
- Validity of the consent where user has willingly given permission to the organization.
- User having the choice not to give permission.
- The fact that permission is for the promotion of a specific Product.
- Terms and conditions covering the marketing material: they are in clear and readable format Clear choice of opt-in or out for current or future products. This could be in from of tick-box or unsubscribe link.
- If the organization is to share this information / consent with third party companies, this must be clearly stat this and provide clear opt-out option.
It is not good practice to include consent boxes already ticked. Additionally, organization must honor unsubscribe request from the client within a reasonable period.
The Content Essentials
It is important that the marketing messages conform to RFC 2822 SMTP standards. A concise list is provided below:
- Messages should indicate that they are bulk mail, using the 'Precedence: bulk' header field or “list-unsubscribed”
- The sender Address(es) must be clearly included in the “From” field and there must be no attempt to conceal the Identity.
- Avoid usage of CAP lock, exclamation or question marks in the subject of email as this triggers the spam filters.
- The subject of each message should be relevant to the body's content and not be misleading. Other elements to consider are:
- company name
- company registration number
- place of registration
- Registered office address
Marketing / bulk email sending Frequency
Mailing list, Keep them clean
There is one vital principle; keep your mailing list updated. Some companies use their bounced emails to maintain this list, some have more complex means of measuring and identifying who read and who did not read their emails. The fact of the matter is, it is companies’ responsibility to regularly monitor their recipients’ database.
The companies should have means to identify and assess the validity of inactive subscribers. This would ensure future rejection by those recipients, as well as keeping the mailing list up-to-date.
The Recipients list or database must be regularly maintained. Organizations should always maintain a ‘suppression list’. This is the list of individuals who have opted out.
Sending emails to invalid recipient addresses or those who have Opted-out could add your domain to bloc lists. This happened as a result of the recipients report marketing emails received as spam. These reports can mount to threshold surplus. This in turn can cause clusters/IP addresses to be listed on a block list. At this stage, the sending IP/Cluster will lose the capacity to send any outbound emails, for all customers sharing that cluster.
- Social networking is great means of attracting customers, by which means they can sign up or opt-in to receive newsletters.
- Tracking the new trends is imperative, for example designing the content that is compatible to touch screen devices, Set-top boxes, and Smart TVs.
- Resending emails to the recipients who have not opened can have both benefits and negative consequences. While it will open the opportunity to grab more subscribes, it can also means that more of your email being reported as spam.
- Personalization goes a long way, especially when combined with content driven by detailed analysis of the recipient behavior. This could be using first name in the subject line or content. A suitable targeted subject line would also increase rate of opening.
- Option-out, in a nutshell, must be a hassle free and simple process. Adding the unsubscribed / opt-out link at the top of the email is a recommended practice. This would make your campaign more transparent and opting-out easier for the recipient, hence, there would be less likely that your email will be reported as spam or junk, even if not read. Majority of marketing mails have this link on the very bottom of the email and often obscured by lot of text. This would most probably causes frustration for the recipient. Also avoid is to require user login to unsubscribe, which can be even more frustrating
- Take complain seriously: respond to user complains. This could be in form of having a dedicated email address.
- Concealing identity: Fake email names or addresses.
- Including RE or FW in the subject line as they are known to be methods to trick spam filters.
- Rotating IP address: Using static IP address, while maintaining its reputation, is recommended. Using new IP addresses always present new challenges, especially when it comes to firewalls as they see an unfamiliar new IP address trying to send a large number of mail.
- Purchasing mailing list – instead, base your campaign on the list of your customers and individuals who buy/ use your services. Lists are often taking a good chunk of your budget in terms of purchasing them, preparing material and sending it to them. Most reputable marketing mail service have or considering banning using such lists as this would be negative score on their reputation balance sheet. A good reputation is valuable asset and it must be maintained flawlessly.