Tools for Improving Email Delivery

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Many of us have heard in recent months and years about how big email marketing has once again become.  In fact, for some, the ability to effectively leverage email marketing to follow up with their leads is the difference as to whether they can afford to compete or not in competitive marketing spaces such as pay per click.  But far too often people find those emails they’re trying to deliver end up not getting delivered or worse, end up in the feared spam folder.  So what can you do when this happens?  There are a few simple diagnostic steps one can take to figure out where the problem lies and how to fix it.  Here’s what I’d suggest:

1. Spammy Content – Perhaps the first and easiest thing to check is the content of the email itself.  Because of the spam problem with email over the years, email service providers (ESPs) have implemented fairly sophisticated content filtering tools to weed out emails that appear to contain spammy content.  Things to avoid are a high image-to-text ratio, too many hyper links, and too many “hot” words.  Hot words are just about anything associated with popular affiliate marketing topics such as hotels, credit cards, gambling, etc.  Each of these things and each hot word is assigned points and if your total point-count exceeds and acceptable threshold, your email will most likely be put into the spam box. There are many free tools that can be found for checking spam content such as EmailSpamTest.comWilsonWeb.com goes further into this topic and provides a list of common spam words that you can memorize. CampaignMonitor.com also further expands on this topic with a good post.

2. SenderScore – Is a free reputation management service from ReturnPath. If you’re landing in spam filters consistently, this can be an excellent diagnostic tool to better understand what is going on.  They provide a score from 1-100, telling your reputation based upon your recent behavior.  With a score of 50 you’re most likely not going to get delivered but a score of 95 is really good.  Because their scoring data is used by many of the ESPs, this can be an excellent window into what’s going on with spam filtering.  As far as why your score might be low, several things can get you into trouble such as too many recent spam reports, sending too many bounded emails, or landing in ESP’s spam traps.  When you look up your IP address, SenderScore will tell you if you’ve run into any recent trouble and can be the first step to correcting it.

3. Email Header – The next thing to check would be the header of the email itself.  Some applications such as Email.app on the Mac will allow your to view the email header directly from the application (view>email>header).  Or, if using something like Outlook, you can simply drag the file to your desktop and open the corresponding .eml file with a text editor.  In the header you may be able to spot other issues such as the email originating from a different domain than the from email address that you’d want to correct, are the DomainKey and DKim signatures valid(?), is it using the correct IP address(?), etc.

4. MXToolbox – Another diagnostic tool for figuring out if you have a reputation problem.  Type in your IP and this tool will indicate if you’ve been blacklisted by any of the major spam lists, using the “blacklist” command.  For example: blacklist: 123.456.789.0.  Or use the spf command to identify configuration issues on that end.  All too often if you’re just delivering from your website’s server at “ACME” low-cost-hosting provider, you could be sharing your IP address with hundreds if not thousands of other sites, any one of which could have damaged the reputation of that IP.  In that case, you really should find a dedicated SMTP server to side-step this issue.