It’s not enough to simply send lots of email or write compelling content in order to reach the supporters of your cause. It is as important to ensure that those messages are being delivered successfully so that they actually reach inboxes. A well-tuned digital organizing program needs to track whether emails are being placed correctly into inboxes, and not marked as spam.
Optimizing your email deliverability is critical to your mission because it determines how many of your supporters actually receive the messages you send. If your messages are landing in spam folders, no one will be able to take action based on them. Improving your delivery rate will also improve all of your other stats as more members will be able to take action.
There is no single definitive set of steps that will ensure that your messages will be delivered successfully, but there are many things you can do to improve the likelihood of your emails being delivered. Email providers like Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, and others utilize sophisticated statistical techniques and machine learning to ensure that the inboxes they host only receive the messages their users want to engage with.
Sender authentication is a set of technologies that allow your organization to claim your email sending identity and verify that the software you are using for email delivery is authorized to send on your behalf. When configured correctly, these technologies can certify that the emails you’re sending from your domain are legitimate. It’s also possible to use this set of technologies to block spammers from reusing your domain reputation to send fraudulent emails as if they originated from your domain.
We strongly recommend that all of our customers complete the wizard we provide to authenticate ControlShift as a sender for your domain. To do this, we support technologies called SPF (Sender Policy Framework) and DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) that authenticate us as a sender for your domain via DNS records set up with your DNS provider.
Once you’ve successfully set up SPF and DKIM to authenticate all of the services that send email from your domain as legitimate (your organizational inbox provider, your CRM, any other tools you use for email), you can use another technology called DMARC to block email from being sent fraudulently and monitor reports from ISPs about how your email is being received. We recommend a service called DMARCian to verify your DMARC configuration is correct.
Setting up DKIM, SPF, and DMARC sends a strong signal to email inbox providers that your domain is a trustworthy source of email and that you are a responsible member of the internet community. Some senders report that the strictest DMARC setting of “reject” is helpful for improving inbox placement in addition to preventing sender impersonation.
Some email inbox providers will send you feedback to special email addresses when they detect problems with the emails your domain is sending. It is a good practice to have both abuse@ and postmaster@ inboxes setup for your domain. Monitoring these inboxes and responding to complaints from ISPs can help you to quickly learn when there is an email delivery problem and work to resolve it.
Only sending email to recipients who want to receive those messages is a critical component of deliverability. Ensuring that everyone who is being added to your email list took explicit and affirmative action will ensure that you will continue to be able to send emails to all of your supporters. Never purchase an email list or upload a list of email addresses from dubious sources where recipients may not have explicitly consented to receive your messages. There is no quicker way to have your domain reputation ruined so extensively that you are unable to successfully deliver messages of any kind.
ControlShift helps you maintain a good quality email list through a variety of features and technical mechanisms.
- Making it easy for customers to configure email opt-ins within the platform. We offer a variety of email opt-in styles, from double opt in confirmation to checkbox questions and implicit consent.
- Spam report processing. A small number of inbox providers notify us of spam reports from their users. We treat these as unsubscribe requests.
- Bounce processing. When email addresses bounce permanently, we unsubscribe them from your email list. When an email address bounces temporarily, we make that visible to you to decide what action to take. Bounces can sometimes be an early indicator of email inboxes that are blocking delivery from your domain.
- Unsubscribe processing for emails sent through ControlShift.
We’re able to automatically synchronize bounces and unsubscribes to some CRMs that we provide official integrations with. Currently our integrations with ActionKit, Blue State Digital and NationBuilder sync unsubscribes automatically. For other platforms, it is a good idea to carefully develop an organizational strategy for keeping unsubscribes in sync across all of the tools that you use via CSV exports and imports or our API.
Our API has rich support for both responding to unsubscribe events that happen within ControlShift via webhooks and marking members as having been unsubscribed via our REST API. Several customers have used the API to build their own unsubscribe processing behavior.
Depending on how your instance of the platform is configured, a wide variety of unsubscribe behaviors are possible. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Improve Your Content
Writing compelling content that engages your audience and makes them want to open, read, and click through on your emails is the best way, by far, to improve your content. However, there are also some best practices that can help improve your email content.
- Avoid shortened links: While it may be tempting to use link shortening tools like bit.ly, these tools are also used by spammers to obfuscate URLs or direct users to fraudulent sites. If you must use a link shortener for some reason, it is possible to set up a custom one for your domain.
- Ensure that you only ever include links to trustworthy sites in the emails that you send. Including a link to a site that contains malware, or is associated with criminal activity can cause your email reputation to decline.
- Ensure your emails have a text-only version; don't rely on large images of text. Supporters using screen readers and other assistive technology will also benefit from being able to read your text.
- Make it clear how to unsubscribe and avoid making it hard to unsubscribe. A clear and straightforward unsubscribe process will reduce the number of subscribers who mark your messages as spam when they can not figure out how to unsubscribe easily. Being marked as spam is much worse than an unsubscribe, because it hurts deliverability for all of your other recipients who still want to get your messages.
- Allow recipients to quickly identify you as the sender while glancing at the email. Anti-spam legislation varies by locality but it is generally a good practice to identify the legal name of your organization and provide a mailing address and phone number somewhere in the footer or body of your email. This is a legal requirement of CAN SPAM for senders in the United States https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CAN-SPAM_Act_of_2003
When you send an email, we attempt to deliver it to the address at the domain where the email is hosted for that subscriber. Sometimes, we or the ISP that is hosting the mailbox for the subscriber is unable to deliver the message to that address. These delivery failures are called "bounces" and there are two main types: hard and soft bounces.
A soft bounce is a temporary problem. The email address used was valid but the mailbox was full, the server was down, or some other transient problem happened that made delivery of a single message fail. We automatically continue to try and deliver future messages to inboxes that experience soft bounces in the hope that the underlying problem will be resolved by the recipient in the future.
A hard bounce in contrast is a permanent failure because the email address is invalid does not exist. We automatically unsubscribe or remove these email addresses.
Sometimes, inbox providers may block emails from your domain. This can happen for a variety of reasons: your DMARC settings may be misconfigured or the recipient may have a strict policy validating senders as legitimate. Make sure everything is correctly configured in the Sender Authentication section of this guide and use a third party tool to verify your "DMARC Alignment" as a first step. Ensuring your organization has done everything possible from a technical perspective to make your messages appear legitimate is the first step before reaching out to particular inbox recipients to unblock delivery.
Some institutions and ISPs may still block your messages even though you've correctly ensured your domain appears legitimate from a technical perspective. In these cases if messages are still being blocked after completing all of the sender authentication steps, it's likely that your domain has been blocked by the ISP as being associated with fraud or spam. You'll need to reach out to the inbox provider to explain that your messages are legitimate messages sent to people who explicitly opted in to receive them.
To assist customers in this process we expose the blocked bounces we receive back from ISPs within the ControlShift platform under Settings > Deliverability > Bounces. It's a good idea to skim the bounces that are coming in from time to time in order to identify deliverability problems, and reading the bounce messages is a good way to diagnose specific deliverability problems you may be experiencing with specific ISPs.
The blocked bounce messages from many ISPs explain how to resolve an underlying technical problem that may have caused them to reject the message and how to take action to fix it. Alternatively the ISP may be blocking your messages because they believe them to be spam or fraud even though all of your technical email delivery settings are correct. In these situations, you or your supporters will need to work with the ISP to remove the block.
If there are specific users who would like to receive your messages but whose ISP is blocking those emails, it's often a good idea to ask those subscribers to contact their ISP directly. Hearing that a message is being incorrectly blocked from their customers is often more convincing than reaching out to the ISP as a third party. We'd recommend drafting a message that your supporter can send to their ISP on your behalf requesting that the issue be fixed, and noting that your organization is a legitimate sender whose messages they would like to receive. We're happy to assist the ISP with technical data as part of this process if you ask your supporter to cc both your organization and email@example.com when they send a ticket in.
Slow and Steady
Improving your email deliverability will not happen overnight. It’s a slow process that will take time as email inbox providers slowly build trust in your organization and its email domain, and recipients grow to trust you as a sender. While a good reputation and deliverability can be slow to build, achieving success will have significant benefits to your organization.