Stop Your Email Newsletter Being Junk – A Case Study

Introduction

AWeber provides a fine email newsletter marketing service, so you might question whether what Tom Kulzer (AWeber CEO) writes in an article on Email Deliverability Tips may represent a slightly biased view of the situation.

Ensuring requested opt-in email is delivered to subscriber inboxes is an increasingly difficult battle in the age of spam filtering. Open and click thru response rates can be dramatically affected by as much as 20-30% due to incorrect spam filter classification.

Having found that my own email newsletter delivery system has encountered even worse problems than that, I can state that Tom Kulzer is not in any way exaggerating.  This article sets out what I found and what you need to do. It all concerns an email version of the SMM Newsletter, which was sent out monthly. 

This has been delivered to just under 1,000 subscribers for many months.  Originally it was a text newsletter but for some months has been an HTML newsletter.  It is issued using the Pimex Mail Express newsletter software.  It was sent out in blocks of 20 with a 5 second gap between blocks.  Suddenly this month something triggered the Shaw Spam filtering system and although it appeared to have been sent, it never got to its recipients.  Explanations and solutions follow.

Although it describes a multi-delivery email message, you should note that some of these problems can affect single email messages that are junked on the way to their recipient, even if they wish to receive the communication.

What Is Junk Mail

You should be clear that there are two definitions of Junk Mail.  You may believe it is mail that you do not wish to receive.  Your email delivery system has a different definition and different email delivery systems have slightly different definitions.  Each has a computer algorithm that applies a host of factors to determine whether any given email message should be deemed Junk or not.  Part of it is determined by who is sending the email message and part by its content.  In some spam filtering systems, particular senders can be whitelisted.  In other cases, this is not possible, for example Gmail.

Your IP Reputation

The key parameter in the system used by many ISPs, the Cisco IronPort SenderBase Security Network, is the Reputation of the individual IP.  This is determined by the Senderbase Reputation evaluator.

The Reputation can be shown as Good, Neutral and Poor.  Only the first Good reputation gives an assurance that email will be delivered.  For both the other categories, mail may be caught in a Junk trap.  The Reputation for the SMM IP (70.70.29.11) at the time of writing is Poor.  By ensuring no continuing transgressions, a weak reputation may gradually be restored.  There are other databases that may be consulted.  SpamCop is another but that has no indication about the SMM IP.

What weakens the IP Reputation

The SMM IP (70.70.29.11) is used for only minimal email apart from the batch of emails once per month.  The ISP tech support felt that this highly bunched up activity might have triggered the Poor Reputation value.  This could have the appearance of virus or trojan related email activity. 500 emails per hour may well be a possible acceptable limit although it is probably prudent to have no more than say 200 going out per hour.  This is undoubtedly affected by whether each is a simple text message for a few hundred bytes or multimedia or HTML messages that could be 25 kb or much, much more.

What Aspects Make Junk Mail

In testing different variants of the SMM Newsletter to try to avoid the Junk trap, some interesting facts emerged.  It should be noted that each ISP or service receiving an email message may have different degrees of stringency.  Indeed with the Shaw email service you can select the level of spam you are willing to tolerate.  It turned out that Gmail treated as Junk what was acceptable to the medium level of stringency for Shaw.

The fact that an email is HTML is perhaps the biggest factor affecting how a message will be assessed in Junk terms.  Another is the quality of the URLs (hyperlinks) that may appear within the message.  Initially a URL shortening service had been used for the link to the online version of the SMM newsletter.  The domain for the URL shortener turned out to be on a URL black list (https://admin.uribl.com/) and this was sufficient to cause the email to be Junk for Gmail (although not for Shaw).  Another black list service is to be found at http://www.surbl.org/ and you can check particular  URLs you are not sure about  at http://george.surbl.org/lookup.html

One way of avoiding that problem is to use your own URL ‘shortening’ service.  The shorter URL for the SMM Newsletter is http://www.otherbb.com/n.htm  The page n.htm does not exist.  Instead a 301 redirect is arranged in the .htaccess file on the domain to transfer automatically from n.htm to the actual online newsletter.

The Junk Mail solution for the SMM Newsletter

Given that the IP being used for transmitting the SMM Newsletter is still rated Poor by some services, the decision was made to use a text version of the Newsletter with a minimal number of URLs included and using the 301 redirect approach for the link to the actual online Newsletter.  Even so there were 1% of bounces due to possible spam content of the Newsletter, although there was no questionable content in the Newsletter.

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A Surer Solution To Avoid Junk Email concerns

Another way of avoidng these Junk concerns and many other concerns of publishing a successful email newsletter is to use one of the commercial services.  One which is highly rated by its users is that provided by AWeber (for which I am an affiliate).  If you would like to check out what is involved, why not sign in for that Free Test Drive in the form on the right.  You won’t regret it. The service provides all you could possibly need.

Whether you’re looking to get your first email campaign off the ground, or you’re now ready to dig into advanced tools like detailed email web analytics, activity based segmentation, geo-targeting and broadcast split-testing, you will find that AWeber has all you need to make email marketing work for you.

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5 thoughts on “Stop Your Email Newsletter Being Junk – A Case Study

  1. I agree that newsletters can sometimes bring more trouble than profits. Badly constructed and sent automatically massages can become nothing more but another spam mails. Good that you pointed that out, many people just make as many subscribers as possible and than do nothing to keep them interested. And that is huge mistake. As you said, IP reputation is very important, just like mail or name reputation. Everyone should think about that twice before start sending informations with no real content included.

  2. Another thing to keep in mind is not to bombard with many newsletters per week. When i sign up for a newsletter I like to receive one occasionally with good information and content. Nothing makes me unsubscribe faster than getting multiple newsletter emails per week or day with nothing more than fluff content that is watered down or of no interest.

  3. I think the thing you need to ask yourself is, Am I adding value for my prospect? Email marketing is relationship building, while you can mix in some sales pitches, you need to offer value. Give your readers a reason to open your email.

  4. The only lesson I have learned through all this is that you are never certain what filtering mechanisms there may be as your email heads towards its intended recipient. These black or grey lists that are created are sometimes very difficult to leave even if there is nothing that justifies your IP being on such a list.

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