What is the right way to send marketing e-mail?
What is the right way to send marketing e-mail?This is intended only as a basic outline of what it takes to manage a legitimate and successful commercial e-mail marketing program. Please seek expert advice from appropriate companies or consultants for a more complete understanding of the complicated issues involved.
Spamhaus believes the only way email will stay a valid and useful channel is if users only receive mail they asked for. No email should be sent until and unless there is direct and verifiable permission. Our standard recommendation is to only send mail to addresses that have gone through a confirmed opt-in process.
Address acquisition: Make sure it is Confirmed Opt In (COI). If the recipient did not request the email, the rest of the list management processes are irrelevant.
For more on COI, see:
Truth in advertising: The policies and nature of the e-mail program should be stated at the point of subscription. Appropriate expectations should be set and delivered: how often, what kind, what topics and content, etc. Information about the subscription should not be hidden on remote pages, behind hyperlinks, or buried in jargon, legalese, and obfuscation.
Appropriate Identification: The company should be properly and clearly identified in the message itself and in Internet records such as Whois. Properly registered domains with working mail and web addresses should be used; every domain in use should identify the company and lead to a website that identifies that company. Hiding behind ever-changing mazes of nonsense domains is not a best practice and violates Spamhaus policy.
- Anonymized Whois records should be avoided. Legitimate companies have no need to hide their identities.
- Proper email authentication via the use of SPF records and DKIM signatures should always be used. Domain and IP reputations affect each other!
- Mail server IPs should be identified with proper rDNS (PTR) and mail servers should identify themselves with a proper “HELO/EHLO” value.
- The forward DNS lookup (domain name to IP address) of your IP should match the HELO value set in your server.
An online identity should be as solid as a brick-and-mortar business!
Maintenance: Mailing lists need to be kept current. Unsubscribe requests and user-unknown bounces should be removed promptly, without delay. The list should be mailed at regular intervals. Stagnant lists provoke high complaint rates when they are reactivated, even from truly COI addresses. Addresses are constantly abandoned or re-used. For most commercial lists, a good rule of thumb is to mail at least once per week and remove any address with three sequential bounces, or that provoke sequential bounces for more than two weeks concurrently.
Feedback Loops: Many ISPs offer feedback loops (wherein a spam complaint is redacted, converted to ARFand sent back to the originating sender. These complaints should be used both to remove any complainants from the marketing program, and as a “canary” that warns of problems with the marketing program. They are an extremely useful and valuable source of information and are offered free of charge.
Secure Webforms: As of October 2016, webforms that accept email subscriptions need to be protected in some manner due to systemic abuse. CAPTCHA is a good solution but there are others. See this Spamhaus blog article about subscription bombing.
Bounce processing: The recipient’s server bounces communicate a lot of valuable information that should be reviewed regularly. Errors that indicate backoff or cessation need to be respected. SMTP “5xy” codes mean “Do not try again”. SMTP “4xy” codes – also known as temp fails – mean “try again later” and can be issued for many reasons, ranging from “too many complaints generated by the incoming IP”, a sudden decrease in domain reputation, all the way to “not enough resources to handle the incoming load at this time”. All standards-compliant servers will automatically retry such deferred deliveries at increasing time intervals. Generally, retries cease and the message is considered undeliverable after 5 days. The interval before pruning a deferred address from a list is usually longer and takes more bounces than a hard “5xy” rejection, but eventually such addresses should also be retired.
Unsubscribes: Unsubscribe requests must be honored promptly. The unsubscribe process must work via e-mail and many laws also require a web link and a postal address to be included in the message body. If a subscriber wants to be removed, that request should be honored regardless of the method of submitting that request.
Seek expert advice! There are highly qualified deliverability consultants (and some who aren’t so qualified; buyer beware). Using a reputable E-mail Service Provider (ESP) to manage and maintain marketing programs is the most common method of handling the complexities involved. If any delivery consultant or ESP is not aware of the terms and problems in this very brief outline, or if they make promises that they can get you “whitelisted” at ISPs, that choice should be reconsidered. (Note: No one but Spamhaus decides what IPs or domains Spamhaus lists or removes. The only way to be removed from a Spamhaus listing to is to fix the problem that caused the listing.)