Posted by Len Shneyder on April 01, 2010
Annalivia Ford recently joined Unica’s Email Operations team. She brings with her almost a decade of ISP experience. During the past 5-6 years, she’s been the voice of AOL, a beacon of hope to deliverability foot soldiers around the world, who have relied on her to give them the “straight talk” and help them help themselves. Anna brings the straight talk and her no nonsense attitude to Unica and promises to continue the battle. To find out what made her so successful for so many years at one of the world’s largest ISPs Anna and I sat down and did a little Q&A. If any of you have read Anna’s blog you know she’s prolific and verbose—what follows is part 2, (you can read part 1 here) of our Q&A entitled The Email Locker, a discussion of the past, present and future of one of the industry’s most respected voices, anti-spammer and deliverability guru.
L.S. – I’ve heard the phrase that a mailer’s reputation is difficult to build but easy to break. What are some strategies to repair a broken reputation?
A.F. – The crucial thing is to stop doing whatever it was that broke it. If the breakage was the result of a single error, such as mailing a suppression list, that is easy to fix. Don’t do that again. Make the mistake impossible to repeat, and continue to send valued email as usual, and the reputation systems will catch up. If the problem is more fundamental – a mail stream that just isn’t doing well – there are many things that can be done. Is the IP new? Has it been properly warmed up? If so…a close look at data acquisition practices and list hygiene would be one of the first ones I suggest.
Prune out non-responders and do a re-confirmation run: being certain of permission is becoming increasingly important as the public’s attention span and tolerance levels diminish. How often is it being mailed? Too often and it will generate an exasperated and negative response. Not often enough and people will forget they signed up! Re-evaluate content: how would you feel if the email in question landed in your own inbox? Is it interesting? Is it unique and valuable? Or is it mortgage Loans and magnetic bracelets? If it’s the latter, give up and find a new line of work.
L.S. - Do you have any recommendations for marketers attempting to contact ISPs? What should they have on hand when trying to correct a delivery problem?
A.F. – My recommendation is basically “don’t contact them.” At least, not until all possible avenues have been exhausted, and depending on whether or not the problem is reputation related or not. If the problem appears to be a genuine issue that the ISP can fix – as opposed to a reputation issue which they not only cannot fix, but they will not thank you for taking their time – include the following, which is paraphrased from a blog post I wrote.
- Affected IPs
- Error messages or detailed description of symptoms
- Headers and bounce if you have it…and if you don’t:
- Sender & Recipient/Date/time/time zone for an example of problem/missing mail
- When the problem began.
- What you have done to solve the problem.
- What kind of mail the IP is sending – or should be sending!
- Do your troubleshooting. Don’t make them ask you to do the basics, or have to do it for you.
- If you can’t get mail *from* an ISP, send a test from an account at that ISP and include the results, and give it enough time to time out and send you a bounce.
In Another blog post on the same topic I wrote:
“So, to more directly answer the question that was asked of me, when opening a support request I would skip any explanation of your business model, legitimacy, opt-in, etc, and get right to the heart of the matter – ‘My email is not being delivered, here’s the IP, here’s the error message, this is what we have done to clean up the problem. Thanks for your time.’…and if it’s a reputation driven error/tempfail you’re getting, don’t open a ticket at all. Fix the underlying problem and the delivery issue will go away.”
L.S. – As both a consumer of mail and former gatekeeper of AOL’s inboxes, do you have a litmus test for a marketer’s mailing practices? What defines a good mailing practice from the standpoint of an ISP?
A.F. – My personal litmus test is pretty direct: “does it annoy me?” Having spent a few years checking IPs stats against my annoyance, I’ve found the results to be pretty consistent. A good mailing practice as defined by an ISP is one that doesn’t require any attention and that does not create problems. That’s a squishy definition, I know, but no single ISP does things exactly the same way as the others. If an IP is getting good delivery, has a good reputation, and isn’t burdening the ISP’s infrastructure, that tends to make them happy, across the board.
L.S. – In your opinion, how much do consumer’s preferences or activities affect deliverability?
A.F. – Consumer preferences drive deliverability! User preferences trump nearly all spam fighting rules at AOL, and I’m fairly sure that is the case at the other major ISPs also. ISPs are increasingly empowering their users: consumer opinion and response are the heart of reputation, and reputation drives deliverability. Mailers who do not take that crucial factor into account will have a very rough time.
L.S. – What are the top 3 or 4 metrics ISPs track to determine the worthiness of a mailer?
A.F. – Complaints, engagement, user unknowns, and spamtraps.
L.S. – Do you feel domain reputation will improve deliverability for legitimate mailers? If so, why?
A.F. – Yes and no. I don’t believe it will be the silver bullet people are hoping for. I think it will be very helpful when dealing with existing, good mail streams that need to be moved – it will obviate the need for warm up and all the pain involved in bringing up new IPs. It will not, however, fix delivery for broken mail streams, and in fact, can make things even more tricky if multiple, various-quality campaigns are being sent using a single domain.