In this article, you'll learn many of the deliverability best practices you should follow when sending your Higher Logic Thrive Marketing Professional (Thrive Marketing Professional) mailings, including:
When it comes to mailings, your organization's reputation is of the utmost importance, and is something every organization should be vigilant about at all times.
How does IP warming help? It attempts to establish a positive sender reputation from an IP address that has little to no recent sending history. Establishing a good reputation before sending a high volume mailing is highly recommended because if an IP address’s reputation is not in place (i.e., “warmed”), mail receivers may classify the mailings as spam and block them.
While there's no set method to guarantee a positive sender reputation, there are some steps you can take to help prevent your mailings from being marked as spam or worse. Let's learn about a few of them now.
Stagger your mailing
One critical step when sending from a new IP address is to slowly introduce mailing traffic to receivers. If your list is more than 100 subscribers but less than 10,000, spread out the mailing over the course of a few days. If the list is larger than 10,000 recipients, send over the course of a week or more (Thrive Marketing Professional's "distributed" option allows easy control of these functions).
Once you've established your reputation, continue to send at a regular, consistent volume. If there is a spike or dip in volume, this may also act as a spam trigger. Remember, receivers like predictable sending patterns.
IP warming considerations
The following actions can help establish a good reputation:
- Authenticate your sending domain(s) through Thrive Marketing Professional before sending your first mailing (make sure your SPF and DKIM records are in place).
- Create a target group that contains your most recent engaged subscribers (those who have been sent an email within the past three months and have had open/click activity).
- Ensure your list only contains subscribers who have opted in to receive the mailing (if necessary, remove opt-outs and unsubscribers).
Once you begin to send, make sure to check your mailing reports regularly to see if any blocks or bounces are occurring. If you are seeing less than desirable results, you may need to slow your sending volume and frequency and troubleshoot (look at bounces, domain blocks, unsubscribe reasons, complaints, and content).
On the other hand, if you're noticing positive results in your reporting, you may slowly increase your daily send rate.
One of the best ways to understand the best practices for building a positive sender reputation is following a step-by-step example of staggered mailing. Below is an example scenario of how you might schedule your mailing to a list of 10,000 recipients.
Remember, this is only an example; following this pattern doesn't guarantee a positive reputation! However, if you monitor your delivery numbers (blocks, bounces, unsubscribes, etc.) with each day’s mailing, you have a better chance of establishing and keeping a good standing with different mail receivers.
- Day 1 - Send a mailing to 1,000 of your most engaged subscribers (make sure they've received a mailing from your organization within the past three months). Use the “distributed” option with this mailing to send it over a 24-hour period.
- Day 2- View your mailing activity report to see if you're experiencing any blocks or bounces from your first send. If not, increase your next mailing to 2,000 recipients, and again use the “distributed” option to send your mailing over a 24-hour period. (If you're experiencing any blocks or bounces, create a case and don't send your next mailing until you've adjusted your plan).
- Day 3 - View your mailing activity report (as above). If your statistics are good (little or no bounces/blocks), increase your send to 3,000 recipients and use the “distributed” option to send your mailing over a 24-hour period.
- Day 4 - View your mailing activity report (as above). If your statistics are good (little or no bounces/blocks), send to your remaining 4,000 recipients and use the “distributed” option to send your mailing over a 24-hour period.
- Day 5 - Based on your delivery results from your mailings, decide whether or not to send at your planned volume. Remember, it's a best practice to continuously check your delivery numbers for each mailing and address any issues immediately. Additionally, always use the “distributed” option to increase your chances of delivery.
Just like building trust with any type of reputation, it can take more work to build that trust again if it is lost. Going through the IP warming process may sound like a lot of work, but it's far better to start on the right foot.
Maintaining a good sender reputation
If getting messages delivered to your subscribers is important to you, then your sender reputation should always be in the forefront of your sending strategy. Sender reputation is typically built on the IP you're sending from; this is similar to how your credit history reputation is built on your "spending" habits, except in this case, it's your "sending" habits. If you don't follow best sender practices, such as sending only to opted in lists, sending at a consistent volume, or following email content rules, then your reputation could be negatively impacted.
Remember, if your sender reputation is poor, then your deliverability is likely to suffer as a result. To avoid falling into any bad habits, let's take a look below at some recommendations that help you maintain a positive sender reputation.
- Ensure that the domains you use through Thrive Marketing Professional use the proper sender authentication. See Sender Authentication to learn more.
- Send at a consistent volume; try to avoid significant spikes and dips in frequency and list size.
- Maintain an active list of engaged subscribers as well as opt-outs and unsubscribers. Remember, do NOT send to opt-outs and unsubscribers!
- Check your mailing content for spam triggers (exposed URLs, short links, excessive image use, suspicious subject lines, etc.).
- Unsubscribe hard and repeat bouncers (Thrive Marketing Professional has an auto-unsubscribe feature that can help with this). Also, provide a clear way for recipients to unsubscribe from your mailings. Recipients are less likely to mark an email as spam when this is easy to do. Periodically test the functionality of your opt-out/unsubscribe process to ensure that it's working correctly.
- Run a monthly report to understand the reasons your recipients have chosen to unsubscribe from your mailings.
- Avoid using any lists that haven't been directly obtained by your organization. These may contain spam trap email addresses and increase complaints.
- Always send your mailings out in the smallest possible batches. To assist with this, use Thrive Marketing Professional's distributed mail option and target your message to smaller groups.
- Remember to send mailings to your subscribers in a recognizable pattern (use similar Friendly From lines and Addresses, send at a consistent frequency, etc.).
As you can see, taking your sender reputation seriously requires several tactics, including choosing content that doesn't trigger spam filters. However, once you get into a good pattern and find out what works for your organization, you'll build confidence and trust with your recipients.
User inbox preferences - Gmail & Microsoft deliverability tips
Each mail receiver/spam filter has its own set of algorithms for receiving mail, so it can be a tricky to pinpoint the reason why a message was not received in the inbox (or other mailing classification folders). Gmail and Outlook/Office365 tend to look at user-specific preferences when filtering mail (they look to see if the user typically opens the mail, moves it to a folder, flags as spam, replies to the sender). Completing sender authentication (see Sender Authentication and maintaining a good sender reputation provides a good foundation for getting mail delivered to the inbox, but some mail filters go beyond those mechanisms and include user engagement.
NOTE: Refer to Maintaining a Good Sender Reputation above to learn more.
Some examples of well-known inbox categories are the Promotions tab used in Gmail and the Clutter folder used in Outlook. Remember, these are not considered junk folders, but more like special inbox classification folders.
Unfortunately, there is very little a sender can do to guarantee placement to the inbox or "primary" folder, but below are some resources that can help you define how these particular user-defined preferences work.
Most filters tend to look at several different things:
- The sender ("from" address/IP address - good or bad reputation)
- If sender authentication is in place (SPF/DKIM/DMARC)
- If you're a bulk sender
- If the user has engaged in a two-way conversation
- The user's open rate
- If the user moves the message to the filtered folder or inbox
- The user classifies the message as a safe sender
There are two key things a sender can do to encourage users to route mail to the Primary tab:
- Separate different types of content with a unique "from" address, domain, and/or IP address. This gives users more options when classifying different types of mail (this could mean the difference between all of your mailings going to the Promotions tab versus some of your mailings going to the Promotions tab).
- Encourage users to classify your mail as Not Spam, "star" them, or move them to a folder. The mailings are more likely to end up in their inbox or Primary tab.
NOTE: Learn about Gmail bulk sender best practices.
For Outlook and Office365, Clutter and Junk mail are filtered prior to reaching the inbox. When receiving a message that meets the criteria for junk, Outlook/Office365 places the mailing in the Junk folder. If not, it passes through any custom rules in place so that it can be classified in the corresponding folder. Next, Clutter analyzes the message based on the user's interaction history. Note that users have the ability to turn off clutter or to adjust its settings to prevent messages to be classified as such.
NOTE: Learn about how Clutter classifies mailings.
Below are a few things that senders can do to help with inbox delivery:
- Complete sender authentication (SPF and DKIM)
- Keep your messages consistent with your "from" address
- Send to opted-in and engaged subscribers only
- Encourage subscribers to interact with your messages
- Ask subscribers to add your email address to their safe senders list to ensure delivery
Feedback Loop/ISP Complaints
A Feedback loop is a system where receivers (mainly ISPs) send feedback to the sender for users that complain or mark an email as spam. All major Feedback loops are configured through our system to automatically unsubscribe recipients that submit these complaints (classified as an ISP Complaint in the subscriber record). However, Yahoo requires that the sender be involved in the setup. If this is something you would like to complete, click here for instructions.
You can view complaints for your sent mail by navigating to Mailings > Reports > Mailing Results and then by selecting the particular mailing report you want to view. Within that report, click the Key Metrics tab to see the number of complaints and drill down to see whom they came from.
Complaints are detrimental to your sender reputation, so it is best to do everything you can to avoid them from happening. If you are seeing a lot of complaints (or just want to prevent them), Higher Logic recommends that you check the source of your lists, purge existing lists that may have invalid addresses or un-engaged subscribers, and make sure you have a clear unsubscribe mechanism in place.
Changing your From address
Changing your "from" address sounds simple, right? Just update your templates and mailings with the new address and you're set!
Well, not quite. "Warming" your domain is equally as important as warming your IP address. Below are some recommendations for when changing to a new "from" address on your mailings:
- Make sure the domain in the "from" address is authenticated to send mail through Thrive Marketing Professional.
- Inform your subscribers that you are switching to a new address; ask them to add your new "from" address to their safe senders list to ensure uninterrupted delivery (this may be something to add to your pre-header).
- Consider keeping the same "Friendly From" address to maintain consistency throughout the transition. Also, maintaining familiarity with your recipients could help your deliverability.
- When you are ready to send with the new "from" address, run a few tests. First, send to a few internal contacts to make sure the message is received. If so, you may want to send to another small, engaged group to make sure you are getting a good amount of opens. This provides insights about whether messages with the new "from" address make to the inbox.
- When the tests are successful, you can either begin using the new "from" address for all of your contacts or send messages to larger groups incrementally until all mail is transitioned.
List best practices
In order to maximize your deliverability and maintain compliance when sending mail through the Higher Logic system, you should familiarize yourself with international spam laws, our rules of use, and list best practices. Below are some tips to assist you in maintaining a good list.
As part of our Email Policy and Rules of Use, we strictly enforce permission-based sending, so it is required that all contacts on your lists have directly and affirmatively opted in to receive mail from your organization. This means any third-party (purchased, leased, email appended, etc.) list cannot be used if the recipients did not directly opt in.
The first thing to look at when building and maintaining your list is how your subscribers get onto it in the first place. Whether you have your own subscription form or one that is built with Thrive Marketing Professional, it's important that accurate email addresses are obtained. This can be accomplished by providing an email address confirmation field to prevent typos and/or a captcha to deter bot sign ups, or a confirmed (double) opt-in process.
Having an unsubscribe mechanism is not only the law, but is necessary in maintaining a good list, deterring spam complaints, and providing you with priceless information on how your organization is being perceived.
Thrive Marketing Professional allows you to set up custom unsubscribe forms to capture reasons why recipients are unsubscribing which allows you to easily adjust your content and audience for better overall deliverability. If you send mail through multiple platforms, make sure all unsubscribes, opt-outs, or other suppression types are being carried over.
If you send out different types of messages, allow your subscribers to choose what types of communication they receive. This can lesson the amount of unsubscribe requests and spam complaints which keeps your audience engaged and improves overall deliverability. We provide a preference management form that can be customized to your needs.
We have an industry standard in place to suppress repeated bouncers, however waiting until they are suppressed is too late. It is important that you look at your sent report metrics to find potential list issues before causing further damage to your sender reputation; this may mean unsubscribing hard bouncers from your list.
NOTE: Refer to the Bounce Management section of the Troubleshooting page to learn more.
NOTE: Refer to Maintaining a Good Sender Reputation above to learn more.
It is important to periodically look through your email list(s). If you see "role" addresses (which are not tied to a single person like admin@ and info@) then it is recommended to suppress them and see how they got onto your list in the first place; the same recommendation applies for non-existent domains (such as "example.com" and "test.com"). Also, see if you have any .mil or .gov addresses on your list which means they will most likely see only the text version of your mailings.
We strongly encourage sending only to recipients who are actively engaged in receiving mail from your organization. Many email providers and spam filters have adjusted (or may be in the process of adjusting) their approach on how they filter mail and look more closely at user engagement. If recipients are not actively and recently engaged by opening, clicking, replying, marking, the mailing, then this can drag down your list and harm your overall deliverability.
If there is a particular list or audience that you have not sent to in more than 3 months, then you may want to consider not sending at all or come up with a plan to send more often. Think about why you are not sending to this list, why the frequency is so low, etc. It could be that these were opt-ins wanting to receive specific types of messages (maybe a yearly conference) which are only sent a few times a year. Sending to contacts who have not received a mailing from you in the past 3 months can be very risky and may cause a lot of bounces and spam trap hits. If you are not sending often enough, you don't have an indication if someone has changed addresses or made any other changes that would prevent mail from your organization to be received.
Higher Logic reserves the right to suspend/cancel an account if sending to subscribers without their consent.
Email address validation
Thrive Marketing Professional has a process that checks email addresses for things like unnecessary tags, characters, spaces, and punctuation. We also cross-reference the address with industry-standard email suppression lists and apply our suppression rule.
If the email addresses were manually uploaded, you can see which were removed and corrected.
Navigate to Subscribers > Upload > Upload History.
NOTE: Click Columns to add and remove columns to customize your view.
This process removes "bad" email addresses and corrects email address issues that could harm your deliverability and sender reputation.