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E-mail Infrastructure Worst Practices - Part 1

Spam InboxWe live in a world where every e-mail in-basket is protected by some sort of spam filter (some filters being better than others)... If you want your messages delivered, you must

1. Configure/build your e-mail infrastructure, and
2. Craft your messages

with this in mind. If you ignore these two factors, you guarantee that your messages will end up in spam filter limbo, your domain name's e-mail sender reputation will get destroyed and your expensive e-mail marketing efforts will amount to nothing. In this series of blog posts, I'll focus on E-Mail Infrastructure Worst Practices and what you can do to avoid them.

Spam Filters

Most spam filters work by performing reasonableness checks on incoming e-mail and either blocking or isolating (quarantining) messages that fail these tests. Spam filters perform these tests against both the sending mail server infrastructure and the message itself including the message structure and content. If you want your messages delivered, you must ensure that neither your e-mail infrastructure or message content offends the recipient's spam filter. Fortunately, there are Best Practices you can follow and Worst Practices to avoid, to dramatically improve your e-mail delivery rates.

E-Mail Infrastructure Worst Practices

There are some bad e-mail practices, that even the biggest companies engage in, that pretty much ensure that your e-mail will end up in a spam filter trash can... As a an antispam vendor we regularly see companies cut corners and make these critical mistakes.

I'm going to begin this series of blog posts by talking about these two major mistakes you should never make. I'll follow up with additional posts on other mistakes to avoid...

Deploying Ad-hoc E-Mail Servers for E-Mail Marketing Campaigns

Seems reasonable. Your marketing department is under a tight deadline. They need to get e-mails out the door now and don't have time to work with the IT department. Servers are cheap, bandwidth is cheap, bulk e-mailing software is cheap (or maybe even built into your CRM system)... so the Marketing Department deploys their own mail server to blast out those messages. After all, what's the problem?

Big Problem. Ever seen a spam e-mail where the sender's e-mail address originates from your domain (i.e.: you work for xyz.com and a spammer says they are JoeBlow@xyz.com)? They didn't really send from your domain but they lied and said they did. That's called domain spoofing. It used to be a big problem for spam filters but that problem has been solved by something called Sender Policy Framework (SPF).

SPF identifies the mail servers that are legitimately allowed to send mail for your domain (i.e.: xyz.com). SPF records are created and maintained by your IT department for your company's domain. SPF records specify the exact internet (IP) address of legitimate mail servers for your domain. SPF records usually declare all non-compliant mail servers to be SPAM SOURCES - which can safely be blocked. Spam filters query your SPF records upon receipt of your marketing message and will quarantine or outright reject messages that violate your company's SPF rules.

The result? Your e-mail originating within your own company is blocked by your own company's SPF records.

Best Practices:

Buying Marketing E-mail Lists

Seems reasonable. Everyone wants more sales. To improve sales, you need to get your message out... but advertising is expensive. E-mail is cheap (maybe even free) but it takes time and effort to build and maintain a permission based e-mail marketing. So, you buy and use e-mail marketing lists.

Big Problem: Ever seen e-mail messages from List Marketing companies. You know the type. They advertise 100,000+ targeted/focused/verified e-mail addresses for your industry maybe even by SIC code. The price? Just a few thousand dollars. Just what you need to take your e-mail marketing to the next level - right? Wrong.

What's really going on is that you are buying a spam list. The vendor has culled these e-mail addresses from trade shows, spam campaigns, e-mail harvesting techniques, scraping e-mail addresses from web sites, etc. packaged them up and is selling them to you. Companies who sell e-mail marketing lists exist only for a few weeks/months, closing down and then opening up again under a new name. They do this to avoid liability / prosecution over their questionable business practices. Most of them are off shore (despite what they say) and are out of reach of local law enforcement.

Worse, antispam companies seed the Internet with e-mail addresses that are used as spam honey-pots (we do). These are easily discovered e-mail addresses that do not belong to any person. Anyone sending to these e-mail addresses is instantly labeled a bulk spammer (since only spammers would discover these e-mail addresses). The list you just bought is peppered with these spam honey pot e-mail addresses and there is no way to know which e-mail address is legitimate and which address, if you use them, will get you labeled as a bulk spammer.

Best Practices:

Most developed countries have laws about legal e-mail marketing. The minimum standard of practice (to avoid being prosecuted) usually requires a sender to:

Violating these laws can get you in trouble with law enforcement.

Worse, it will get you labeled as a bulk spammer. The Internet reserves a special place in hell for bulk spammers. Your mail server will be identified as a bulk spam source within hours of the start of your bulk e-mail campaign. Your mail server's IP address will be black listed and every antispam product on the planet will block your messages. If you were unfortunate enough to send bulk e-mail from your company's main mail server, then your legitimate e-mail peers will start rejecting your valid e-mail as spam.

You can get off a bulk spam sender list but it will take time and money, and the services of an expert to help you navigate through the problem.

Yes it takes more time and yes it takes more effort, but the only legitimate way to send e-mail is to maintain a permission based e-mail marketing system.

-- Larry Karnis

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Last modified: 2017-10-23, 13:02

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