How To Get Your E-mail Past Clients’ Spam Filter

With growth rates of spam, phishing, and e-mail-borne malware showing no signs of abating, more and more ISPs and enterprises are implementing stronger protective measures.

Many of these anti-spam techniques are well known to those of us in the e-mail industry tasked with managing “deliverability” – the art and science of getting e-mail delivered to a user’s inbox in a timely and fully-functional fashion.

Ever since the first anti-spam measures began to be widely deployed in the mid-1990s, legitimate e-mails have occasionally been caught in the net and deleted, delayed, or shunted to “spam” folders.

As the economy tightens, many companies are refocusing their advertising and marketing efforts on e-mail, and as a result many enterprise IT managers are getting a crash course in deliverability issues.

As I have noted in many, many, many columns, there are a number of technical and infrastructure issues that can affect a company’s deliverability.

What IT managers and their “clients” in the marketing department need to realize is that technical issues are only the tip of the iceberg. Yes, the technical people tasked with deliverability need to be aware of the impact of the content of the messages, not just the mechanics of sending them.

Over on the Media Post blog, David Baker has written an excellent piece
encouraging marketers to make sure that they keep their e-mail recipients engaged. He writes:

“Look closely at the core reason customers entered your e-mail program and gave you permission to send them e-mail in the first place, and expect that opt-in connection to last only so long before you have to re-engage them or expand your e-mail portfolio for this changing need.”

On many occasions over the years I have been called upon to investigate situations in which legitimate marketers have had their permission-based e-mails flagged with the “This is Spam” button (or “TIS,” among us hipsters in the deliv biz). This can be disastrous for e-mail deliverability because many ISPs weigh user feedback via the TIS button much more heavily than any other measure of reputation.

Why do people click the TIS on e-mail that they specifically opted-in to receive? It turns out that there are two main reasons: sending too much e-mail, and not sending enough.

Second only to sending too much e-mail (“e-mail fatigue”), customers who haven’t heard from you in a long time are more likely to have forgotten that they gave you permission and to punish you for their forgetfulness! Building on this, making them remember you is good, but making them look forward to your messages is better.

Luckily, marketers have a secret weapon: they often have an array of creative and resourceful ways of making their messages – and their brands – memorable and compelling.

In the privacy world, we’ve always known that consumers will give up a great deal of personal information for very little in return. Just recently, I watched an entire family write their names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses on slips of paper and slide them into the cracked-open window of a gorgeous new 2008 Jaguar XF parked near the food court of a local shopping mall.

While the ultimate marketing value of that data is dubious, the lesson is clear: people will give valuable information in exchange for something as simple as a few moments of dreaming about winning a new car.

Making a compelling offer that keeps consumers excited to receive and read your messages can be as simple as a discount code or as elaborate as a snazzy new ride. Regardless of what your creative vision comes up with, it should be something relevant to their relationship with you and enhances their impression of your brand.

In my experience, some of the best examples come from the resorts in Las Vegas. Even if I’m not able to take advantage of every new special offer, discount, or event promotion, the messages are regularly compelling enough that I wouldn’t think of unsubscribing — much less clicking the TIS button.

It’s difficult to know where to draw the line between keeping customers engaged versus annoying them. I agree with Dave Baker that keeping consumers engaged is important, but you’ll be positioned even better if recipients are remembering you fondly because you’re delivering something really compelling.

If you are tasked with managing deliverability, whether you’re a marketer or an IT expert, you need to understand that the messaging contained in e-mails can weigh just as heavily on deliverability as technical and infrastructure considerations.

Compelling e-mail can be as much about improving and maintaining deliverability as it can be about making the sale. Or, to mangle the great line from Alec Baldwin’s character in “Glengarry Glen Ross”: Always Be Compelling!

Ray Everett-Church writes a column for Earthweb’s, where this first appeared. He is Director of Privacy and Industry Relations for Responsys, Inc., a leading global provider of on-demand e-mail and marketing automation solutions. He is a founder of CAUCE, an anti-spam advocacy group, and co-author of Internet Privacy for Dummies.

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