The following post is Part 1 on an innovative delivery approach on how we can use behavioral data to increase sender reputation. I’d like to introduce you to Steve Henderson of Communicator  He’s head of deliverability for a well known ESP based in the UK. Our goal is to position both posts as an “ideas” platform rather than a technology solutions piece. Let’s start with content filters.

Email Content Filters
Email content filters check inbound emails against sets of rules looking for potential spam and other email problems. For example:  Spam Assassin publishes their tests here. They have tests such as:

  • Attempts to disguise the word ‘viagra’
  • Information on growing body parts
  • A loop hole in the banking laws?
  • URI contains suspicious unsubscribe link
  • HTML font color similar to background
  • Javascript to hide URLs in browser

As you can see a lot of the attention is focused around some of the higher profile spam types. But what about the less-obvious cases?

You know it when you see it
Email content filters can make a guess at what is spam using pre-defined rules and spam word lists with a bit of heuristics thrown in to make it seem clever; but will always struggle when one person’s spam is another person’s purchase confirmation.  You know all about your own interests, the brands you follow and who you shop with and you know what emails do not belong in your inbox.  You may not know the legal definition for spam, but you know it when you see it.  This is why the larger email service providers use the only truly accurate source of information for their filters: you.

Sender Reputation
The emails you open, click and reply to; the emails which you immediately delete, junk or unsubscribe from; and the senders which are in your address book and personal blocked-sender list are all used to build a reputation profile for email senders.  These sender reputation profiles are now a significant part of email filtering; and while they have undoubtedly been successful, email senders have a new set of problems to contend with. Instead of just having to run content checks, inbox monitoring and test campaigns, senders can now be hugely impacted by inactive data, low open rates and bounces.

Take a quick look at sender requirements on the postmaster site for Yahoo!

“The mission of Yahoo Mail is to deliver messages that users want to receive, and filter out messages they don’t want. The simplest way to ensure that your messages are delivered is to avoid looking like a spammer”

  •      Send email only to those that want it
  •      Consider removing or sending a reconfirmation email to inactive subscribers
  •      Sending mail to users who are not reading them, or who mark them as “spam,” will hurt your delivery metrics and reputation

The importance of active data and sender reputation has forced a change in email sending behaviour and changed how email domains react and respond to email campaigns – and this has brought about new challenges for email servers.

A new delivery paradigm
Instead of full mailing list sends, the more sophisticated email marketers may now send hundreds of thousands of discrete one-to-one campaigns and separate campaigns for active and inactive data.  But for every sophisticated marketer there are five more sending every campaign to their full list. Sender reputation has brought about a change in behaviour from marketers and other email senders, meaning that we need to rethink our approach to delivering their emails. Equally challenging is that we have a new set of delivery considerations when handling emails which don’t yet meet the new delivery standards and ISP requirements.  Dedicated IP addresses for each marketer is a common approach; but with marketers splitting transactional, active and inactive sends, the new delivery landscape can make this a less than optimal solution.

In Part II we’ll learn more about Steve’s new approach, in delivering email, showing all delivered email broken down by behavioral data and explain why dedicated IPs are not always the silver bullet they seem to be and show you how you can use PowerMTA more intelligently; using recipient activity data to dynamically prioritize and optimize email delivery.