email marketing

Sending From a Web-Hosted Email Address May Bounce Your Email Marketing, Web Inquiries

4-21-2014 8-57-36 AM

If you use an online email marketing service such as MailChimp, iContact or Constant Contact and are sending from a web-hosted email address (such as from Google, Yahoo or Hotmail), you may soon notice a significant increase in bounced emails. This is due to a new Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance or “DMARC” authentication policy these mail receivers have implemented.

Additionally, if your website allows users to “email this to a friend,” those emails may also bounce as well.

An article from Yahoo reads “All DMARC compliant mail receivers are now bouncing emails sent as “@yahoo.com” addresses that aren’t sent through Yahoo servers. Any messages without a proper Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM) signature or Sender Policy Framework (SPF) alignment will be rejected.”

What Exactly Does This Mean?

Oftentimes, when spam or phishing emails are sent, they appear to be from one email address, but a closer look at the email header shows it was actually sent from another email address. That means the email address DKIM signatures or SPF alignment don’t match. When they don’t match, this sends out a red flag to the recipient’s mail host that it may not be legitimate and there’s a good chance the email could be marked as spam or bounced, preventing the message from being received.

If an email appears to be from a web-based email address but is not sent through their server, the email will be bounced.

  • If email marketing is sent from a web-based email client (i.e. Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo), it may be marked as fraudulent and not be delivered
  • If a website has an “email this to a friend” option, those emails may bounce

How Is This Affected by Online Email Marketing Services?

When an email message is sent through an email marketing service, the service inserts its own authentication in the header. So while the email address may be perfectly legitimate, its DKIM signatures or SPF alignment don’t match up, making the email appear to be spam or fraudulent.

Why Is This Happening?

It’s extremely easy to sign up for a web-hosted email address, so if someone is looking to send spam or phishing emails, they could simply sign up for a new email address and send out fraudulent emails until their account was shut down by the host. They could then just create news accounts to continue sending fraudulent emails.

Since the emails came through the web-hosted email servers, it became pretty easy to block such accounts to prevent them from spamming. So spammers found a way around that by using online email marketing services to continue sending the emails without getting blocked by the email host. The email marketing services would put their own authentication in the header so it didn’t appear the email was coming from the email host, but rather another source.

This is a step by email providers to protect its users and prevent their domains from being used to send spam.

How Can I Get Around This?

  • Don’t use web-based email for marketing. The simplest way to get around this is to not send from a Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo email address since these are the kinds of sites blocking these kinds of emails. Instead, the best option would be to use an email address from your company’s own domain (i.e. email@yourcompany.com).
  • Authenticate email with a domain key. Users can add a digital signature that is embedded in the email header so emails can be authenticated.
  • Keep sending consistent. When sending marketing emails, to improve your chances of delivery, be sure to send from the same email and IP addresses.
  • Sign messages with a DKIM to validate your domain name.
  • Create an SPF for your domain to confirm email validity.
  • Publish a DMARC policy to authenticate emails and prevent them from being marked as spam.

 Considerations

While this may be a hassle for those trying to send legitimate email marketing messages, it’s ultimately a good thing because email providers are taking big steps to protect consumers. The biggest drawback is that those who are attempting to get around these precautions can often quickly find ways to trick the system, so the email providers are always having to catch up to fight fraud.

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Combining Text and Images to Increase E-Blast Deliverability

When I create a marketing email, I make a point of combining text and images.  One reason this should be a standard practice is to decrease your SPAM rating.

Email clients have become very intelligent over the past several years and have been trained to filter out messages containing particular words.  However, spammers stepped up to the challenge by omitting those words from the email and instead, embed them as an image.

Because spammers started relying on images rather than text, email clients increased the SPAM rating on emails containing a large percentage of images.  So the higher percentage of images you include in an e-blast, the greater chance it will be marked as SPAM and never read.

Additionally, relying on an image versus text can be risky because if the image does not show up correctly, or your audience is viewing as text only, they will not get your message and will likely unsubscribe.

The below image is a screen shot of an e-blast I received today that relied on images to provide the message:

As you can see, there is no message, only an apology and a frown face, which doesn’t do me  or any viewer any good.  Wait, I just received this message, why isn’t the image available and why is it referred to as a page? This makes me question their planning.  If this was a scheduled email marketing message, they should have tested prior to sending to ensure all links were working correctly.

Their biggest saving grace in such a situation is the message at the top that reads “This message contains graphics. If you do not see the graphics, click here to view.”  This allows the viewer to see the intended message, but should not be relied upon for the viewer to click the link to see the message.

To ensure your customers get the message you are intending for them to receive, make sure your e-blast is mostly text with minimal effective images added where necessary.  Viewers prefer images over text, but as far as email deliverability a primarily text message will get your e-blast in their inbox.

7 Steps to Increase Usability

Whether you are sending an e-mail, designing a website or setting up a store, the easier you make the experience for your customer, the more likely they are to be a repeat customer and refer your company.  This also goes for anyone with a website they want others to view.

Using the following steps, you can create increased usability and a more positive customer experience:

  1. Determine the call to action and create a clear pathway to the end result.  What do you want your customer to do?  Whatever end goal you are intending, make it as easy as possible for your customer to get there.  If you’re sending an e-blast and you want them to purchase a particular item, link directly to a place where they can purchase the item.  If you want customers to request a quote from your website, place links in very visible places.
  2. Create a layout prior to designing. Sketch a basic layout of everything you want to include, create category headers that make sense and start designing from there.  That way, you have a clear idea of how everything should fit together and it will make sense to your audience as well.
  3. Keep it clean and concise. Use short paragraphs, bullet points and limited words so viewers can easily skim to find what they are looking for.
  4.  Break sections into chunks with headers. There are times when you need to have a lot of information on a page, but you can make it easier on your viewers by breaking it down.  For example, on a health website, perhaps someone has been diagnosed with a condition and only wants to know about treatment.  By breaking the condition article into smaller sections, the viewer can quickly skip to the treatment section.
  5. Test and observe. The best way to determine usability is to give it a test run.  If you are getting ready to launch a new website, get a group comparative to your target audience and have them test it and provide usability feedback.  Adjust as needed to make the website easy to navigate.  Another option is to use a website heatmap to see precisely where your viewers are clicking.  Integrating Google Analytics is also an excellent way to track trends, clicks and time spent on your website.
  6. Use bullet points and text formatting. Rather than write a paragraph that will likely be skimmed, try breaking the information into a bulleted list for easier reading.  Bold important keywords that your viewers may be looking for.
  7. Make links (and non-links) obvious. It may look cleaner to not underline links, but we have been conditioned to understand that underlined text is usually a link.  That being said, be cautious when underlining non-linked texts because it can be confusing to the viewer.

By making your website, e-blast, store or whatever easier for others to navigate, you are increasing your chances of them returning.  What other ways have you found to increase usability?

Netflix: A Big Business Decision Gone Awry

Last week, I wrote about the New York Times sending an email to 8 million recipients in error and how it quickly ended causing no real damage. However, emails that aren’t well thought out can cause serious repercussions, damaging the company’s reputation, causing the company to lose significant profits.

Consider the email from Reed Hastings, Co-Founder and CEO of Netflix, back in September regarding the splitting of streaming and DVD services and websites. This was following the July price increase that already caused many subscribers to drop their subscriptions. So in addition to the already unpopular price hike, subscribers now faced the inconvenience of managing their account and movie queue on two different websites if they wanted to keep both services.

Three weeks later, another email was sent out announcing that there would not be a division of the services and that the site would remain as is. Unfortunately, due to all the confusion, Netflix lost 800,000 U.S. subscribers during the third quarter of 2011, the largest drop they’d seen in seven years.

The email from Hastings almost comes off as an internal email, a suggestion for a new idea. But generally, ideas of such magnitude require planning, research and marketing. Suggesting such a big change to generally satisfied customers through an email was quite a blow. Being a subscriber to streaming services myself, I know I was shocked at this announcement and felt unsure about this new venture.

So how could this have been handled better? Rather than sounding like a cross between an internal company email and a message from a stern uncle on “how things are going to be,” Netflix could have taken a few steps to make this new idea more exciting and acceptable to subscribers.

Focus groups and subscriber polls could have been used to determine how subscribers would feel about the drastic change. With the outcry of threatening to cancel Netflix subscriptions quickly spreading across the internet after the announcement, Netflix could have quickly determined this might not be the best decision.

Rather than sending a long explanatory email to subscribers, the message could have been better controlled and spun to demonstrate the benefits to the customer of having these split services. Is splitting a service that works fine for me convenient for me? No, not at all. I don’t want to have to manage my one service through two sites. If you want to do that, then tell me why I should be happy about it and how it will benefit me.

The end-user doesn’t care how your company works internally and definitely doesn’t want to complicate their life to make yours easier. Stating “we realized that streaming and DVD by mail are really becoming two different businesses, with very different cost structures, that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently,” is something you tell your employees, not your customers. You tell your customers “here’s what I’m going to do for you to make your life easier and make your experience with my product or service even better.”

The message could have been conveyed better as well. Rather than sending a long-winded email letter, placing internet ads, commercials announcing the “exciting new service” and easing customers into the change using controlled messages to build their confidence in it would have been much more effective. Sometimes it is better to slowly inch into cold water than to dive right in.

Waiting three weeks to announce the change was not going to occur was another blunder. Granted, big decisions take time and I’m sure it took a long time to field all the calls and emails from unhappy subscribers, but had they responded earlier, perhaps they could have prevented some of the subscriber loss.

In the end, Netflix, a company that had been functioning perfectly fine in the eyes of its subscribers, upset and confused the very people it needed to exist. The company made a very bold move that ended up backfiring, giving the impression that the company was unafraid to make drastic decisions without regard for its subscribers.

What other companies have made drastic decisions that didn’t turn out well?  Which ones made big decisions that worked out?  How would you handle a negative backlash of a recent business decision?

Article: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-10-24/netflix-3q-subscriber-losses-worse-than-forecast.html

The New York Times: A Case of Accidental Spamming

On December 28, 2011, more than 8 million people received an email from the New York Times regarding a recent cancellation request for their newspaper delivery. The problem is, the majority of those people had not cancelled their subscription and many didn’t even have home delivery.

This could be considered SPAM, however it appeared to be actually sent by the New York Times, there were no harmful attachments or links to phishing sites, and it instructed the recipient to call an actual New York Times phone number if interested in receiving a discount using an actual New York Times discount code.

Any time an error like this occurs, it leaves a negative impression on the recipient. Even if the recipient has had nothing but incredible service, a foul-up like this can be confusing and conjure the question of if a company can make a mistake like this, what other mistakes are they making?

What’s important is how the situation is handled. Customers don’t need to be bogged down with details but it’s also important to not leave them confused and questioning the integrity of your company. If past experiences have taught us anything, it’s that the truth will always come out.

While the New York Times initially stated the email did not come from them, after further investigation, they realized it had been sent to a large number of recipients in error, when in actuality, it was meant to only go to a small number of recipients—those who had actually cancelled their delivery services.

So while 8 million people may have been confused for a couple hours, there was really no harm other than the confusion and the quick resolution prevented this from becoming a big ordeal. Commenters on one news site reporting this incident joked that they had been spammed and should start a support group, obviously taking the error very lightly.

Luckily for the New York Times, this error will probably end up barely causing a blip on the e-mail blunder radar, but not every company survives with recipients joking about the error.

Have you had any email blunders?  What happened?  How did you handle the situation?

Article: http://gawker.com/5871684/why-you-just-got-new-york-times-spam

10 Reasons Why This E-Blast Sucks (and how it could be improved!)

E-blasts can be effective ways to engage the interest of your customers or to gain new customers.  However, unless they are carefully planned out, they can be a disaster like the one I received today.

Here’s an image of the e-blast pieced together.  It was so long and rambling, I had to cut it into multiple pieces.  I circled the 10 offenses outlined below.

Awful E-Blast

Here are 10 things that ruined this e-blast for me:

  1. There was a misspelling in the subject.  That is my number one reason to instantly dismiss the legitimacy of an e-blast.Misspelling in Subject
  2. The logo is blurry.  Hopefully, an advertising piece such as this would be created by the marketing/promotions department and they should have quality versions of your company logo.Distorted logo
  3. Strange choice of words.  “We most likely handled…” This isn’t horrible, but it is awkward and could have been worded differently.  It also doesn’t make me feel valued if I was a customer last year—don’t they know who their own customers are?Strange word choice
  4. Broken image link, the most obnoxious offense in e-blasts.  Need I say more?Broken image link
  5. Unorganized rambling list of both cities and entire states as serviced locations.  A better way to have handled this would be to either omit it completely since there’s already a map illustrating general service locations or to list cleanly in alphabetical order, and choosing either cities or states.  Unorganized rambling list of both cities and entire states as serviced locations
  6. “Just to name a few…” Last time I checked, 37 was not just a few.  I get what they’re trying to say here, but in this case, I’d even accept 10 as a few.  But 37 as “just a few” is obnoxious.Just to name a few
  7. Inconsistent capitalization combined with centering and odd sentence splitting makes it confusing to read this simple sentence.  This is a sentence, so don’t write it in heading format.Inconsistent capitalization
  8. Extra spacing between lines.  There is a random extra space in this paragraph that is highly distracting and unnecessary.Extra space
  9. Unnecessary abbreviation.  With all the space the rest of the email took up, they choose to abbreviate the contact information.  It took me a minute to try to figure out what w or e stood for.  Either spell out phone, fax, email and website or omit it so I don’t get distracted trying to figure out what they’re saying.Abbreviation
  10. Incoherent sentence.  It looks like maybe the sentence had previously read “Click here to unsubscribe, or reply…” but that’s not what it says now and it doesn’t make much sense.  Kudos for offering an unsubscribe option (as required by CAN-SPAM law) but strike for the odd way of wording it.Unsubscribe

Here’s how I re-did the e-blast to show an example of a clearer, cleaner message.  Click to view the fully functioning html version.

Better-E-Blast

What are things that annoy you about bad e-blasts?

Red Robin E-blast: Marketing Genius or Disaster?

I received an e-blast from Red Robin today with the subject reading “Are you Jim? A FREE burger awaits!”  I was a bit excited because I recently signed up for their royalty card and had thought maybe they confused me with someone else—nevertheless, they think I get a free burger so maybe I’d take them up on the offer!

Then I open the email and see this:

Red Robin e-blast - Free burger if your name happens to be Jim, James or Jimbo

Red Robin e-blast - Free burger if your name happens to be Jim, James or Jimbo...

I did forward it on to my father-in-law, Jim, but then I started to think about how it made me feel.  Granted I’m a vegetarian (yeah for RR Boca burgers) and I’ve sworn off Red Robin for receiving poor service the last few times I’ve been there, but I’m also human and a fan of free stuff and equal opportunity.

I went to Red Robin’s Facebook page to see what others thought about the promotion:

  • There were a lot of excited people, as I was in the beginning, sharing this with all the Jims they knew.
  • There were confused folks who didn’t get it and thought Red Robin thought their name was Jim
  • There were some who were disappointed they couldn’t get the deal and hopeful for a Carol or Melissa free burger day.
  • There were all the happy Jims (and derivatives of the name)  announcing their excitement for the free burger.
  • There are those who think this is a fun and cute promotion.
  • There were the naysayers, not thrilled about being fooled into thinking they got a free burger.
  • There were the extremists exclaiming how sexist this awful campaign is because it’s only valid for people named Jim and even states to forward on to “him,” and many even suggesting boycotting Red Robin.
  • There were the regulators telling the extremists to calm down and just be happy for the Jims.

There’s a couple sides to this reputationally-risky promotion: is it good to get any publicity even if it is negative or do the risks of negative lashing out by the public outweigh any positive attention this campaign could get?

The Red Robin representative on Facebook has been commenting like crazy, making sure the rules are clear, responding quickly to positive comments and laying low in response to the negative comments.  Is it wise to focus on the positive and avoid drawing attention to the negative?

It will be interesting to see the reactions of Red Robin executives over the next week to see if there is an apology or if they stand behind their marketing campaign.

What do you think about this e-blast: genius or disaster?