When sending emails, to make sure you are not going to get into trouble with Spam lists, or worse, a violation of Federal law, here is a summary of the CAN-SPAM act:
By: Chris Lewis
From time to time we get questions concerning email address verification. Though many SMTP servers allow the verification of email addresses there are probably just as many that don't allow it. So, email verification at it's best is about 50% accuracy using the method the internet RFC guru's designed. Thanks to SPAMers this built in verification system is not very usable, especially with the big email providers.
Campaign Enterprise and Email Marketing Director do not have this email verification capability mainly because doing mass email verification can cause your SMTP server to become blacklisted. Many SPAMers use this technique with fabricated email lists in hope of getting valid email addresses (ie: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org,...). So while it is an important thing to keep your list clean it should be done as if you were a normal one-at-a-time emailer that gets a bounce when the email is bad, then you don't send to it again. When you send out the first email campaign on a new list you will receive bounces if the email addresses are not valid. It is important to receive these emails and mark them as bounces to not send to them again. There are two reasons for this: First, you don't want your campaign to waste time sending to these addresses again. If your list is small, this may not matter, but if your list is big, or you are paying for each email sent out through a service, it is especially important. Second, if you keep sending emails that bounce your SMTP server will acquire a bad reputation will eventually get blacklisted.
There are verifications services that specialize in the field of email list cleaning that have good internet reputations, are known for being good citizens of the internet, and are allowed mass verifications of lists. One of them we recommend is http://freshaddress.com. You send them a list and they will make sure each address is usable, and they also do other services like email forwarding if the email address has changed.
If you use sending services like SMTP.C
Taking the time or spending the money to get your list clean will have many benefits over the cost. If you try to save money here and do it marginally you may end up spending a great deal more in time and money trying to get your SMTP server off blacklists.
By: Chris Lewis
Sometimes it's best to go back to basics to understand some of the issues that can hamper your email distribution efforts. One of those basics is just how email is sent through the internet to the destination. You may set up the perfect email and it may never reach your destination because it was blocked from getting there. Most of the "hoops" that need to be jumped through is because of SPAM and open SMTP relays (servers that will allow anyone to send from it). Below is a quick explanation of how the email system works and how your email interacts with sending and receiving SMTP servers. Here is the path an email takes:
1. Your email client sends an email to your SMTP server, say it was sent to email@example.com
2. Your SMTP server grabs the domain name in the email, in this case THEIRDOMAIN.COM
3. Your SMTP server looks up the MX records for THEREDOMAIN.COM from your DNS Server (this is the MXLookup you find in MXToolbox.com website)
4. In the order of priority, your SMTP server attempts to connect to the first destination SMTP server based on the first MX record.
5. If the first destination SMTP is unavailable or busy, your SMTP server will move on to the next destination SMTP server, and so on.
6. Once your SMTP server has connected to a destination SMTP server, before the email is transferred, the full return-path (or FROM) email address to is sent to the destination SMTP server
7. If the destination SMTP is setup correctly, it will take the return-path email address and extract the domain name (in our case ARIALSOFTWARE.COM if we were sending the email)
8. Now the destination SMTP starts authenticating the email by one or more methods. The most common are below:
10. Exceptions - Sometimes these methods will create a SPAM score, and if the score is exceeded then the email is rejected. So it is possible for one of these to fail but the email still makes it through
So, the answers to why an email does not make it is within this flow. The MXToolbox.com website is a big combination of different tests which may confuse the issues. Blacklisting ONLY has to do with the "sending" SMTP server and has nothing to do with a particular domain because you could use the same SMTP server to send out emails for multiple domains…so the IP address is king. If you try to send out emails through your SMTP server that is blacklisted, most of the time the emails will be rejected by the destination SMTP server.
So, to effectively use the MXToolbox.com tool for blacklisting detection, you need to do two things. First, you need to get the SMTP server they are using in Campaign Enterprise or Email Marketing Director. You need to translate that SMTP server setting to an IP address if it is not already one. Then you go to the Blacklisting tab and put that IP address in and then see if your SMTP server is blacklisted.
One last spin on this…if the SMTP server setting they are using is an "internal" IP address, like 10.10.10.1 or 192.168.1.100, then you will have to find out what the "external" IP address of the SMTP server is to see if it is truly blacklisted in the world.
By: Chris Lewis
Here are Arial we get many instances where clients send email perfectly for long time and then bamm! things start falling apart. Many times a software is, like ours, is blamed for the issues because it is a logical thing to look at first. The truth of the matter is that Campaign Enterprise, Email Marketing Director, or any other emailing software does not change...but the circumstances around it do. Sometimes a dreaded OS update happens overnight and introduce new "support files" that your emailing software requires that causes a difference in functionality than before. You might have a corruption of some of the email software files, but this is rare.
The #1 culprit of these "it just started happening" scenarios is Blacklisting. The internet is a dynamic place. New technologies to protect the general public from SPAMers, Phishers and the like come online unknowingly and what was working great before all of a sudden just falls apart. Email distribution management is not a noun but a verb. It is an active thing that requires monitoring and maintenance. Part of your maintenance schedule to make sure everything is working well should include a scan to see if your SMTP server system is on any blacklists. We recommend using a website called http://mxtoolbox.com. With using this website, you can find out in an instant if you are being blacklisted by many blacklist sites. It only take a few problems with your SMTP server or a few complaints from cranky recipients to be blacklisted so check it at least weekly or before you send out any major email blasts.
As email distribution professionals, we need to play by the rules and be good internet citizens even if the rules changes. Remember, it is not IF the rules change, it is WHEN, so stay diligent.
Also, with visiting a free analysis tool like MXToolBox, be sure to visit a few of their advertiser and support their effort.
By: Chris Lewis
Mass Email Professionals have a job to do, and that is to get the emails into INBOXes. To make an email campaign successful, there are things that need to be in place before you hit the send button or it is possible that even though all your emails seemed to go out, many of your emails could be in the SPAM box which is as good as the recipient not getting the email at all. So, in order to increase your effectiveness in getting those emails delivered correctly, there are some guidelines you should follow that will be true for many of the big email providers like Gmail, AOL, and hotmail.
Make sure you have an SPF record in your DNS!
This is the #1 problem why email does not make it to the recipient, and many times you wont even know it. Gmail requires this, and every email sent to it, it makes sure the SPF record is there. At best, it goes into the Spam folder, at worst, it does not make it at all.
Make sure your links in your emails are not IP addresses and that they use port 80 (HTTP)
Many times you can just cut and past a URL not really noticing that the URL is an IP address or that it may even use a non-standard port. These are huge red-flags to recipient email systems. Also, try not to make the "test" part of a hyperlink the same URL. Use real words like, "Click here to see..." or something.
Make sure your subject line is not too "flower-y"
Using all upper case words or lots of punctuation in your subject line can cause a higher spam score. You want to attract attention to your subject but it should be done tactfully. Use some type of useful information that is very specific to the recipient so that you may attract their attention. Just mentioning their name is not good enough, and can sometimes be annoying and look like SPAM. Be specific! Think about what you would click on if you saw your subject line. Getting an email to an INBOX and not having the recipient even open it is a crime! Bad examples of this are:
YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS!
Hello Chris, I think you will like this
It sounds simple, but you would be surprised by how many do this type of thing in the subject. This happens a lot too when the email is not written by a person not using primary language skills or different cultures. I don't mean to be harmful here, but many terms and sayings can be outdated or actually repelling, so make sure you edit things before sending out. Overall, write emails like you were just writing to one person in a normal scenario.
General Bounce Information
Managing bounces is one of the most important steps you can take with email marketing. Remote servers (those responsible for delivering to your customers) tally up the number of failed emails to their domain and will score you based on the percentage. If your bounce percentage is high, they can start blocking you on the fly to other emails in their domain. Identifying bounced emails the first time, and filtering them or removing them from your list is critical for email deliverability.
In order for Campaign Enterprise to manage bounces, you must set up an email account exclusively for Campaign Enterprise's use. Create a new POP3 or IMAP4 email account as though Campaign were a new employee. This account cannot be an alias of another account and must be exclusive to Campaign. Once you configure the account, use it as the return path address, which is identified as the bounce email address on the compose message page in the Campaign edit screens.
The Return Path email address is where non-delivery failure notifications go, also known as NDFs or bounces. These are notices from your mail server, or subsequent mail servers in the delivery chain, indicating a problem with sending the message. A permanent NDF is considered a hard bounce, either the domain or address doesn't even exist. These are identified by Campaign as a hard bounce, and can be filtered or removed from your list immediately in most cases. A temporary NDF is a notice from an email server that there was a problem with delivery, but your mail server may retry the message on a scheduled retry. You'll need to talk to your mail administrator about the number of retries your server has. These are identified as soft bounces by Campaign and you can use more discretion on filtering or fixing these addresses.
Managing Bounced Emails with Campaign
Other write back features in Campaign Enterprise use the unique id, but the id is frequently stripped out of bounced email messages. The only thing that is always preserved is the original to address. Unlike other features with Campaign Enterprise, the record that bounces is updated by comparing the original to address with the address field in your source table, not the unique id. Since this is the case, you will need one bounce email account for each table to which you are connecting.
In the example below, there are three different campaigns, all using the same source table. In this case, all the campaigns use the email address for bounce account 1, but only one campaign needs to actually have bounce enabled. All bounces, regardless of which campaign sent them, will update in the source table.
Since the source table is updated, all three campaigns will be able to identify the bounced emails and apply the filter to prevent those emails from going out again. Using this scenario, you can create a Bounce Campaign, which is open to the entire table, no filtering, and enable it to monitor the account. It will monitor the account for all of the campaigns connected to that table and using that bounce email account.
This example shows how bounces should be managed with multiple tables, one for each campaign. Since the source table has a specific group of addresses, you cannot check that account with the same bounce account being used by another campaign, the email address may not appear in the table. Each campaign would use the email address for the specific bounce account to which they are connected.
Finally, you can set up your bounce account to monitor an email account that accepts wild cards. With this option you can use VERPS, or Variable Envelop Return Paths. This is explained in more detail in these two articles.
More on VERPS
Unfortunately, MS Exchange Server 2010 does not support email accounts with wild cards. For more information on setting up your bounce email account, check with your email service provider.
By: Chris Lewis
The choice of the SMTP server you use is as if not more important that the email marketing tool you us. You can create the best looking, most effective email ever but if your SMTP server setup is not set up well then it is like you never sent it.
SMTP servers are the email work-horses of the internet. In the world of amazing technology, it is sometimes hard to be impressed, but I am constantly amazed by the thought and foreknowledge of the whole SMTP server framework. As time has moved on, the SMTP framework has changed, and the biggest change is that of SPAM control. There are to main problem areas we see daily with SMTP servers: How to connect to your SMTP server, and how "good" your SMTP actually functions.
SMTP Connection - The problems that are encountered when connecting to SMTP servers are varied and usually include these:
SMTP Providers - There are specialized companies out there that will act as your SMTP server. They will ensure your emails going out are appropriately make to conform to SPAM rules, they monitor their servers to make sure they are not blocked, and they will help you resolve issues that do come up is there are any problems with email recipients. Now it is true this will cost you some money, but if you add up all the time you or someone you will hire to work on these issues I think the value is there. If you are sending 100,000 emails a month, then the prices are really reasonable. If you send over a million, then that is maybe when you can start thinking of having your own SMTP server, but it really depends on the connectivity, your budget, and your expertise. One of our partners is SMTP.com (http://arialsoftware.smtp.com) and they have been a great partner with us for years. There are others, but I think they are the best, so check them out if this seems like a solution for you.
By: Chris Lewis
When you send out an email and something goes wrong with it being delivered it is usually returned to you or "bounced". Bounced emails can happen for various reasons, some of them being permanent and some of them being temporary.
Hard Bounces - Hard bounces happen when any of the SMTP servers down that the email address you used to send will just never work. One of the first reasons an email will not reach it's destination is that the domain name does not exist. The second reason is that the mailbox on the mail server for that domain just does not exist. Hard bounces are usually characterized by a 500-series error. When an email is returned with a 500 series error inside, Campaign Enterprise and Email Marketing Director will categorize these as hard bounces. Usually when a hard bounce like this occurs, you mark a hard bounce field in the corresponding database record, and then when you send using that list again you filter out any email records that have this hard bounce field marked. Since it is a permanent failure, there is no reason to try sending to that address again. Aside from other information you want to keep in that record, the email address is virtually useless.
Soft Bounces - When a returned email not a 500-series return code, it is assumed to be a temporary or soft bounce. These types of bounces usually mean the domain is good and the email box is valid but for some reason the email server is not accepting any emails for this address at the present time. The reasons can range from the mail box is full, the server is too busy, or the person has marked his account as being on holiday. In the case of soft bounces, it is ok to try again the next time you send using that list. There will come a time though when maybe too many soft bounces really means a hard bounce...where an email box is always full (maybe not in use). In this case, you many not want to filter soft bounces out until a certain point, say, you get 20 soft bounces for that email address. In that case, you can filter the email list to exclude any records that have over 20 soft bounces. Now this is very arbitrary so you will have to set the number of times a record can soft bounce before you remove it from the list. Many times, sending emails to these addresses over and over is ok because the destination mail server does see the email box as valid, just not reachable, and that is not a bad mark on you.
So, for many, they just worry about hard bounces because those are the ones they can get in trouble with concerning the big mail providers. I would recommend just ignoring the soft bounce recording but it is up to your companies conventions.
BTW: Hotmail just got transformed to a new mail service called OUTLOOK.COM. We will be following this change to see how it affects our customer's deliver ability so check back over the next few weeks.
Bounced email is a subject that comes up very often in our tech support department. In this blog we will try to define all the aspects of email bounced and how to deal with them. But first we need a reason...
Dealing with bounced emails is very important. Many times bounced emails are just ignored because it does not "cost" anything to just keep sending to the same email addresses. The problem is that many mail providers like AOL, Hotmail, Gmail are all sensitive to emails sent to them that do not exist. For instance, if you are sending 1000 emails to AOL addresses and hundreds of them does not exist, AOL will consider you a spammer because you are not a "good citizen" and will at some point not allow your SMTP server to send ANY more email to them. When you do this to all the major email providers all the time you can see why many of the emails you send out will just not make it to the REAL end users. So overall, you need to deal with bounces to keep your reputation clean.
As explained in a previous blog, bounces can happen immediately or delayed. Immediate bounces happen when your SMTP server rejects the email the instant it is submitted. These records can be marked as "bad" in Campaign Enterprise and then you would filter these addresses on the next send or just delete them completely. The delayed bounced emails are the tricky ones. Here is how a bounce is generated:
1. You send an email using your SMTP server
2. You SMTP server verifies the format of the email address and accepts the email message into it's queue
3. Sometime later, your SMTP server looks up the MX record for the domain of the email address (like AOL.COM)
4. If the domain does not exist, then your SMTP server sends a bounced email to your bounced email account
5. If the domain exists, your SMTP server now contacts the destination SMTP server
6. The email message is submitted to the destination SMTP server
7. The destination SMTP can immediately reject the email message, and if it does, then your SMTP server sends a bounced email to your bounced email account.
8. If the destination SMTP does accept your email message, it can then reject it later if it finds a problem. In that case, the destination email address will send a bounce email to your bounced email account.
So, from all of this, you can see that the actual bounced email you receive can come from many different sources. The "Wild West" reference in the title refers to this process and also to the actual contents of the bounced email: There are no rules about the content. This makes if very difficult for us. To properly record a bounce we need to know two major things: The original email address we sent to, and what the error was. Sounds easy? Nope. With all the email systems throughout the world, there are that many different bounced email formats, and they change, all the time. So harvesting information from bounced emails is truly an "art" and is a good reason to keep updating your Campaign Enterprise product because we strive to keep up with all these formats.
In tomorrow's blog, we will discuss the differences between "soft" and "hard" bounces because it is a big subject in how to deal with these.
By: Chris Lewis
Email bounces that occur when you send out email from any email software sending program can occur in two different way:
An Error During Sending - During sending, if your SMTP server deems a certain email address as permanently undeliverable, then your SMTP server will return a 500-series error code which tells Campaign Enterprise or Email Marketing Director to hard bounce that email immediately. These kind of immediate hard bounces usually only occur for two reasons: The email address was malformed or the mail system you are sending through has "authority" over the domain of the email being sent and can just right on the spot if the email address is good or not. We see this happen a lot with Exchange servers where you both you the Exchange Server for receiving and sending emails. If your company domain is hosted on the Exchange server then the SMTP server of the Exchange server will only allow valid email addresses to be sent with those domains.
Returned Email - This is the most common way bounces are recorded because most of the time your SMTP server does not have the immediate authority to say whether or not an email address is valid. In this scenario your SMTP server simply relays the email message you sent to the SMTP server that has authority for the domain (from the MX record). When your SMTP server is talking to the target SMTP server, the target SMTP server might say "that email box does not exist" which is a 500 series error. This triggers your SMTP server to send the email back to you (or your bounce account). This can take seconds to hours to happen.
So, overall, bounces are somewhat difficult to deal with since they may happen from several different source, and since there is no standard for the formatting of bounces, it become the task of our software to decipher a bounced email which may have all or just part of the original message. In the next article, we will discuss the different ways to deal with the returned emails.