SPAM is not a Bad Guy after all!

The truth is that SPAM is not unsolicited email. SPAM is not email that is sent without permission. Sadly, SPAM is nothing but an unwanted email.

Let’s take a case; Say, I sign up for a reputable source, called I’MGOOD, and provide them my permission to send me emails or offers as often as they would like;

  • I’MGOOD provides their company address on every email.
  • I’MGOOD has a feedback loop set up that automatically unsubscribes all unwanted emails, and also provide unsubscribe link.
  • I’MGOOD applies to be whitelisted with every Internet Service Provider.
  • I’MGOOD enlists Deliverability Consultants to maintain communications with the ISPs.

After I get 6 months of email, I’MGOOD’s offer has been landed in Spam folder.

Guess what?

I’M GOOD, the reputable source, just became a SPAMMER. Permission-based, double-opt-in, CAN-SPAM compliant, 1-click unsubscribe… they did everything right, but now they are a SPAMMER.

As a SPAMMER, they are blacklisted. Their IP address is now blocked. Their other clients who want the email won’t get it. Their reputation is ruined. What next? Perhaps they switch to a new IP address. They have to do something, since their email can’t make it to the Inbox.

Who’s to blame for this? I’MGOOD? Subscriber? Neither.

Yes, it’s our ISP providers; Yahoo!, Google, Live (Hotmail, MSN), and AOL. In a way, partially they have failed to protect us against real SPAM. They don’t provide tools for reputable sources to become good stewards and never share their permissions.

They ignore billions of emails sent by the real SPAMMERS who don’t follow the rules, don’t care about reputation, and don’t care about permission.

The bitter truth of ISP everyone knows…

ISPs have been changing the way they monitor what is spam and what isn’t, which means us marketers, need to make sure we’re on top of this to react accordingly. They constantly apply brakes and begin to limit the rate at which they accept email! Yes, you got it; we are talking about rate limiting. It is one of the simplest yet most effective tactics used by ISPs to reduce the amount of spam.

Ever wondered, why do ISPs rate limit senders? Can we handle this without landing into dog house? 

Why do ISPs rate limit in the first place? What is it?

In spam world, Volume is King. Many spammers give up after a single deferral in order to keep the cost to send each message to a minimum. Let alone the spammers, even senders with impeccable reputations get rate limited from time to time. The better you respond to rate limiting, the better your reputation will be. It’s that simple.

When ISP accepts the message straight away – Hey, I’m WhiteList.

When ISP bounces the message saying “I can’t accept you now, try sending it later” – I’m GreyList

And, the darker side; when ISP refuses to establish a SMTP connection – I’m BlackList. End of the story. 

Policy Limits to bear in mind

GreyList is email that is not exactly spam, but is not exactly wanted by recipients, either.

Greylist is popular with smaller ISPs. However, fewer spams do get around it, which is one reason why larger ISPs typically take into account, what we call “Policy Limits.” These Policy Limits restrict the speed that senders can deliver email, by restricting how many connections may be opened at a time and/or how many messages may be delivered over a given interval from a particular sender or IP address. Most policy limits are not publicly disclosed or static.

Let’s take an example; Hotmail’s policies page indicates that senders should not open more than 500 simultaneous connections to their inbound email servers at a time.

 On AOL’s error code listing page, we see something like this;

The IP address you are sending from has been temporarily rate limited because it is not whitelisted, unexpected increase in volume, or poor IP reputation.

One thing to note is that policy limit deferrals typically don’t take into account the content of the message being sent; in fact the policy decision is made before the message’s body is transmitted, and additional spam filtering mechanisms determine whether to send the message to the Inbox or Spam folder. Most of the inbox providers such as Gmail and Yahoo are looking at to determine how engaged your recipients are with your messages. As you establish a reputation as a good sender, these policy limits will typically be relaxed, and more email will be allowed through.

Do more of this…

Are there things you are doing working great for you? Do certain types of emails you send generate higher open or click rates than others?

Take a long hard look at your lists; Start getting engaged, yeah, the Real One; this is vital, because you simply can’t rock up to an arch enemy or someone who doesn’t know you and straightaway pop the question! This doesn’t work; trust me (I’ve tried).

  • Frequency – Do you see better results when you send fewer campaigns in a given time? Or maybe you see better open rates and clicks when you send more?
  • Content – Does the use of personalization in your subject lines or content seem to produce better results? Perhaps, when sending shorter, more focused emails, when you utilize more images or less?

Do less or stop doing this…

Along with identifying what is working well, it is just as (if not more) important to keep an eye on your results so that you can identify what is not working.

  • Spam complaints – Firstly, it all starts when your recipients report your message as spam or actively move your message to their junk/spam folder. Also, when your email generates more than 1 spam complaint for every 1,000 emails you send, inbox providers will start filtering your message to the spam folder at a higher rate. If the rates are cresting that 0.1% mark, it’s a signal to you to take some action.
  •  Unengaged subscribers – Are you continuing to send to users who haven’t opened an email in the past month? 3 months? A year or more? Continuing to send to those who never engage with your email is another strong, negative signal to inbox providers. Greatly reduce the frequency to, addresses that have not opened an email you’ve sent them in the past 3-6 months.
  •  User over quota – Inbox providers will certainly pick up on continued sending to addresses that are full or “over quota.” If you see a large number of block reasons being returned, it only means that the subscribers who aren’t just not engaging with your email, but aren’t engaging with their own inbox either.

Are you tuned into the right frequency…?

Are you diligently collecting email addresses to ensure that each and every address you send to has opted in? Your emails are compliant with CAN-SPAM?

  • Sign up process – Set proper expectations at the point of address collection to prevent your emails from falling into the GreyList. Let your subscribers know what to expect from you. Let them know how often you will be sending emails, or the options for how often they want to hear from you on preferences page. Most importantly, there should be a welcome email sent out when subscribed to build a trust in you.
  • Sunset policies – Continually reduce frequency and remove those addresses that are not engaging with your emails. This step is critical to make it to the inbox and to keep your email list healthy. 

Finally, what ISPs should be doing to fight real SPAM…?

  • Provide Opt-In APIs for any Email Service Provider or Advertiser who wishes to responsibly send email.
  • Share Opt-In data with other ISPs to ensure responsible marketers aren’t penalized.
  • In today’s marketing world, Email is a primary means of communication. ISPs should ensure GUARANTEED delivery to the Inbox, and emails would never wind up in a spam folder.
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