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Email Deliverability: Design Won't Matter if It Isn't Delivered

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The following are excerpts from my interview with email expert, Chris John. You can download the mp3 here of my complete interview with Chris where he talks about deliverability, IP addresses and reputation here.

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Your email newsletter templates are meticulously crafted, down to the last color and font, for maximum visual appeal. You know your audience and write relevant articles. You follow opt-in email list rules (aka CAN/SPAM).

As for what happens between "send" and "receipt" is a technical detail -- something that happens automagically in a swift, direct line from you to your recipients... right?

Not always.

A veritable course of land mines -- or should I say ether mines -- often get in the way:
  • The recipient's inbox is full or the recipient server is temporarily unavailable at the time of delivery.
  • Something in the subject line or some other unforeseen factor traps email in a junk filter.
  • Your mail server is on the "blacklist."
  • You exceeded the maximum number of emails/minute your ISP will let you send.

That's why the last vital step of email delivery deserves much more attention.

Email Servers Weren't Designed to Deliver Bulk Mail

Many companies rely on email marketing service providers like Constant Contact, AWeber and MailChimp. These providers are "free-standing," which means your email database is contained within their system along with design templates and analytics. You pay providers like MailChimp to take care of the email scheduling and delivery.

Yet in the end, no matter how the lists are maintained or messages get sent, it comes down to a system flaw: Traditional SMTP (email) servers were never designed to deliver bulk, outbound email. The primary workaround for bulk email, especially those that involve large lists, is batch deliveries. The practice is known as "swaddling" and it can cause delays of a day or two for some recipients -- something to remember next time you decide to email a special offer with a 24-hour deadline.

Even with swaddling, any notable traffic spike can raise a red flag at ISPs (Internet Service Providers) such as Google and Yahoo, as well as large corporations trying to guard against business security threats on the one hand and productivity interruptions on the other.

Many of the messages that are sent on a daily basis could be classified as spam. It could simply be unsolicited email, or it could be spam that's generated by computer-infected bots. The large ISPs and large corporations or cable operators that are maintaining a large number of inboxes have had to create very sophisticated systems to try and prevent that from coming onto their networks. Without these preventative actions, the sheer volume of email traffic in the world would keep the internet in virtual gridlock. According to technology market research firm Radicati, total worldwide email traffic was over 182 billion emails per day in 2013, a figure they expect to top the 200 billion mark by the end of 2017.

In order to make email useful, sophisticated systems immediately scrutinize every message that comes on the network and decide what to do based on certain characteristics. Sometimes this scrutiny gets in the way of legitimate email delivery.

Email Deliverability Experts

Enter SocketLabs, a company specializing in a vital piece of the bulk email puzzle: message delivery.

SocketLabs has developed an intelligent delivery platform that eliminates the challenges associated with building, delivering and tracking email messages that are sent to long lists of recipients. SocketLabs makes sure that messages get to the inbox by providing an optimized infrastructure between the sending and receiving mail servers. Once the message is delivered, SocketLabs provides in-depth statistics and real-time reporting to answer important sender questions: Who is opening my message? Who's clicking on the links and which ones? Who has unsubscribed from my list? How many bad email addresses were there?

Chris John, director of business development for the company, explains it this way:

There are two sides to deliverability: One is the infrastructure side. Without getting too technical, you need to have certain things in place between your mail server and the receiving mail server that creates a trust mechanism between the two, so that your mail is received more favorably. The other is accreditation, or making sure that the receiving server can verify that you are who you say you are. All of our IP addresses are on an accredited list, adding another level of trust for email coming from SocketLabs.

In addition, SocketLabs understands the various "throttling" rules, which are different for each ISP. These rules govern the number of connections and the number of messages per connection. Understanding these protocols and playing by their rules is another way that SocketLabs can prove that it's a legitimate sender.

The Postman Always Delivers

We rely on the U.S. Postal Service for physical mail because we trust that the postman will always deliver, come rain or come shine, through snow or sleet. That assumption works because only one organization is accountable, and also because human logic is more forgiving and capable of interpreting address errors.

Senders of newsletters and other bulk messages hold that same expectation of their email, even though multiple systems, different vendors and the hard digital logic of technology can work against them.

Before you make that umpteenth font change to your email newsletter, take a step back and think about deliverability. If you're not doing everything you can to make sure your message reaches your recipients, your great design won't really matter.

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John Fox is the founder and president of Venture Marketing. He writes about issues especially important to B2B businesses leaders.

© 2014 John Fox. All rights reserved. Image(s) licensed by Ingram Image