An Elementary Guide to E-mail Deliverability

For anyone who’s ever been in grade school, you’ve probably learned that one troublemaker in the classroom can make life extremely difficult for everyone else. In the same way, a handful of e-mail spammers have forced the rest of us to miss out on a well-deserved e-mail “recess”.

As a result, innocent e-mail can often been identified as spam if it doesn’t adhere to (unfortunately) ever-changing standards.

But don’t worry – in this blog entry, I’ll provide you with the best practices I use to ensure e-mail delivery for my clients – one grade at a time.

Kindergarten: Don’t color outside the lines.

In other words, follow the letter of the law. In 2003, the first national standards for the sending of commercial e-mail were established. Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act (better known as the CAN-SPAM Act) established the following basic standards for e-mail marketing:

  1. A visible and working unsubscribe option must be present in all e-mails.
  2. All opt-out requests must be honored within 10 business days.
  3. From, To, and Subject lines must not be misleading.
  4. A physical address of the sender is provided.

The law was again updated in 2007, and additional information on the CAN-SPAM Act standards can be found at the Federal Trade Commission website.

First grade: Always ask for permission.

To further ensure deliverability, gain your subscribers’ permission in two different ways:

  1. On your initial e-mail sign-up page, have subscribers specify their preferences about the type and frequency of e-mails they receive from you. That way, you’ll provide subscribers with what they want, and be less likely to have your e-mail marked as spam.
  2. In each e-mail, encourage subscribers to add your e-mail address to their address book or “safe senders” list.

Second grade: Clean up after yourself.

Before sending an e-mail, it’s essential to:

  1. Make sure your code is clean. Have someone proofread your HTML, or run it through a code-checking tool to help ensure that your e-mail won’t be marked as spam.
  2. Test your e-mail on a spam-checking website. Several websites stay up-to-date on the latest spam trends, so that you don’t have to.

Third grade: Don’t be afraid to say you’re sorry.

When sending out e-communications, mistakes sometimes occur. Did you provide incorrect information in your e-mail – or worse – send an e-mail to the wrong people? Don’t be afraid to send an apology e-mail to the people impacted. Most subscribers will appreciate that you took time to acknowledge the issue, correct it, and apologize for the inconvenience.

Fourth grade: TEST is not a four-letter word.

Testing is one of the most essential aspects of e-mail preparation. Before sending an e-mail, I recommend sending test versions of it to the most popular e-mail clients – Yahoo, Live Hotmail, AOL, and Gmail (according to an August 2008 Marketing Charts report).1 This ensures that they render properly, and that all links work correctly.

Extra credit: As the trend toward receiving e-mails via PDAs/Smart Phones grows, it’s a good idea to send a test e-mail to an e-mail enabled phone, as well.

Fifth grade graduation: Always keep learning.

E-mail deliverability standards are continually changing. The good news is that many outstanding resources exist on the web to help you stay up-to-date on the latest trends.

This concludes my series on e-mail marketing. I hope you’ve found these articles informative, entertaining, and a bit unconventional. As always, if you have any questions, or would like to pursue an e-mail marketing campaign, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

At this point, I’ll hand the blog reins back over to John Whaley, our Internet Marketing guru, who will divulge the secrets of using press releases to increase your online impact.

Lindsay Talsness
Web Content Developer



1 I also recommend sending test e-mails to Outlook 2003, Outlook 2007, and Novell, if possible. These e-mail clients are primarily used for B2B contact.

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