Ask MailChimp: My emails are setting off phishing alarms
Q: "We just sent an email campaign, and a few of our recipients called me up concerned that we're 'selling our list' to people. What gives?"
A: If you code your hyperlinks in your email a certain way, you could inadvertently trip phishing/scam alarms in some email programs...
You've probably received a phishing attempt before. It's when someone sends you an email that claims to be from your local bank, or PayPal, or eBay or something like that. They ask you to log in to your account. But when you click the link to login, they actually take you to an imposter's website. All they're trying to do is trick you into entering your password. Read more at Wikipedia.
I'm a legitimate marketer. What's this got to do with me?
So let's say I send an email with a link to the MailChimp website, and I choose to track clicks to that link.
9 times out of 10, I'd do it like this:
Want more monkeys? Visit the MailChimp website.
I wouldn't experience any problems if I coded my link like that.
But if I coded it like this, I'd set off phishing alarms:
Want more monkeys? Visit http://www.mailchimp.com
That's because in order to track clicks in your email campaigns, MailChimp (or any email service for that matter), has to change all your hyperlinks (behind the scenes, in your HTML code) to point to a redirect script on our server.
When a hyperlink is coded so that the text description is a full URL, but the actual URL is something different, it looks kinda suspicious. Like phishing.
So what can I do?
- Don't use URLs in the description portion of your hyperlinks. Use descriptive phrases instead, like "Visit our website at..." or "Take the survey here" (Note: avoid using spammy phrases, like "Click here now!")
- You can simply turn off click tracking, if you don't really need to know how many clicks you got (you can leave open tracking on, though). Just un-check the "track clicks" boxes in MailChimp.
- Use special tracking tags in MailChimp to selectively track only when certain links are clicked (leaving out the ones with your URLs in the description)
Gmail's Spam Filter Getting Smarter
According to a study by Lyris, (via ZDNet), Gmail's spam filter accidentally trapped only about 3% of legit email this year, as opposed to 44% last year. Maybe Google just needed a little time to train their algorithms or something. Now if they could just get CSS in HTML email working a little better.
Are you wondering if your emails are even making it into the inbox? DeliveryMonitor is a nice, quick way to find out (read our review here then MailChimp customers can take advantage of this special offer from DeliveryMonitor).
Free Download: Marketer & Agency Guide to Email Deliverability
The Interactive Advertising Bureau has a great deliverability guide available here as a free download. It's 14 easy-to-read pages that anybody can understand.
I just read through it, and think it's an excellent guide for increasing your email deliverability (whether you're an agency or not, it's very useful). Some of the topics it covers:
- Main causes of deliverability issues
- The 7 primary ways email gets filtered
- How to tell if you're having deliverability problems
- How you can improve deliverability
- How to reduce spam complaints
Here are some random snippets from the report that I liked:
- "According to a 2004 DoubleClick study, 72% of people think that hitting the "this is spam" button in their email client is the best way to unsubscribe from a list. This means that every time your customers decide they don't want your email, you are susceptible to complaints at the ISP level..."
- "Deliverability itself is not a metric, nor is it something that can be tracked through a single metric. A series of metrics are used to measure deliverability." So don't believe any company (even MailChimp!) if they brag about their deliverability rate. It depends on too many different factors, and there's no single standard being used. Our customers who are interested in measuring their own deliverability can take advantage of a special offer from DeliveryMonitor (details here).
- "There is a tendency to point the finger to everyone other than in the mirror when looking at blocking issues. The truth is, though, that you control nearly every facet of blocking and filtering that happens after you hit the "send" button on your campaigns." The report goes on to list a few things under your control.
Not to toot our own banana or anything, but MailChimp has a few resources you can read about email deliverability, spam filters, and preventing abuse reports too:
All this HP "Pattymail" news is really making the rounds in the email marketing world. People are discussing whether companies should disclose the fact that they're using "web beacons" to track email opens (web beacons are tiny graphics embedded in HTML email, that when downloaded, tell the marketer if the email was opened). ZDNet has a pretty thorough article covering this issue here.
So for all you small businesses who have been too busy working to keep up with this stuff, here's a quick summary of what all the experts are saying.
- If you track who opens your emails, AND you actually provide that information to any 3rd parties or something weird like that, then you should probably give your users the option to "opt-out" of your web beacons. Remember your bank sending you opt-out forms by snail-mail?
- You might even want to disclose your use of web beacons in the footer of your emails. We think this is a good idea for big companies who need to look "official" but it's overkill if you're a little company sending a simple email newsletter every month. Yahoo's been doing this in their emails since at least 2005. Here's a screenshot of one of their emails:
Stock Halloween Photography for $1
Check out iStockPhoto, where you can get some very nice work for $1 a pop.
DeliveryMonitor Offer For MailChimp Customers
Hey, this is pretty nice. DeliveryMonitor is offering a special discount to all MailChimp customers. Their prices are already pretty low, but if you enter a special promo code when you sign up, they'll give you an additional 10% off.
I've been using them to run reports on a bunch of campaigns, and it's fascinating. I'm hooked.
Log in to MailChimp, go to the "Account" tab, and scroll down to "Premium add-ons and services" to get the promo code. Read more about DeliveryMonitor here.
Showcase: Happen, Inc. Email Newsletter
We just had to showcase this MailChimp customer. Happen, Inc. is a non-profit organization that holds art workshops for children. For example, their "Happen's Toy Lab" has children picking out a bunch of spare toy parts, and assembling them to make cool new ones (check out the gallery in their "Toy Zoo").
The Happen Inc. email newsletter is fun and simple (and you know we like fun and simple around here). Love all the creative illustrations and logos.
How AOL Designs Their HTML Emails
We've talked in the past about designing for AOL's extremely tiny (194 pixels!) preview pane.
So we thought we'd post an actual HTML email that AOL sent to its members. Considering it's from their CEO, you know it's going to be optimally designed for AOL, right?
Here's what the email looked like in their preview pane:
Notice they made their logo aligned left, and it fits completely within the narrow preview pane. Also notice how they didn't use any fixed-width tables (like most of us do these days). It's just a couple of simple paragraphs that happen to wrap fluidly within the window. His entire message can be read in their itty-bitty preview pane.
Here's how it looked when opened up in full view:
Kinda ugly how the text goes past the logo at the top, but hey---it works. We like simple. You might consider making a template like this just as your own "company letterhead." Use it to send quick alerts to customers and stuff. No need to go crazy with HTML and graphics and tables within tables within tables (not all the time, at least).
Spam filters are making it really hard to get emails delivered. In this latest email deliverability study from ReturnPath, 19.2% of legitimate emails they monitored never made it to the inbox. This study over at Pivotal Veracity says about 15% of emails get blocked. Yikes.
Do you have any idea how many of your emails are making it into your recipients' inboxes? The only way to tell is to setup a TON of email accounts with all the major ISPs, send your campaign, then check each account one by one. Poking your eye with a hot needle would be more fun.
Luckily, you can just sign up for a deliverability monitoring service. They'll do all the mundane work for you. I just recently signed up with one, and tested a MailChimp campaign...
There are quite a few services to choose from. A quick Google search turns up:
We went with DeliveryMonitor.com, because they were the easiest to jump right in and get started. I hear SenderScore and Pivotal Veracity are extremely thorough, but no free trials are readily available. DeliveryWatch looked very promising, but they don't take American Express yet.
Here's how these services typically work:
- They create a "seed list" of email addresses that you add to your subscriber list.
- The seed list is composed of email accounts they've setup with all the major ISPs
- For every campaign you send, you add a little tracking code somewhere in your content. It can be embedded so that recipients don't see it.
- After you send your campaign, you can check back in a couple hours to see how you did (screenshot below).
You'll see which ISPs let your emails through to the inbox, and which ones sent you to the spam folder (and which ones just lost your email outright). They'll also check major blacklisting services and tell you if you were blocked by any of them.
When we tested the service, we sent a campaign to our own MailChimp customers, and we used the same range of IP addresses as all our "new" user accounts (none of our "reserved" or "trusted-customer" IPs were used). Below is a screenshot of the graph that DeliveryMonitor gave us.
I've spoken with a couple people who run these services, and they gave a couple tips for people who are just getting into delivery audits:
- Results are regional, meaning if you send lots of emails to customers in Europe, go with a provider who has a seed list with European ISPs (DeliveryWatch is one).
- Don't try to use these services on small/test campaigns. They need you to send to your actual list, because ISPs behave differently when you're sending a small test vs. a real campaign to thousands of recipients on their network. That means you don't send, tweak, send, tweak. You slowly gather data over several "real" campaigns and make changes accordingly.
- Most of them charge a 'per event' fee. You pay each time you run a test. Sounds like it can get expensive, but think about what a royal pain it would be to actually setup a bazillion test accounts and then run reports on each one. DeliveryMonitor charges a monthly fee, with a monthly limit on tests.
Here's the report we got from our campaign (click to zoom in). You can see that our biggest problem was with AOL. Seems 20% of our emails to their AOL recipients got spam filtered. This isn't enough to alarm me, but if it were significantly higher, I'd make adjustments to my email content. If that didn't work, I'd contact the AOL postmaster for help, or look into some accreditation services, like Goodmail or SenderScore.
If you've ever hit your send button and wondered, "how many of my emails are actually making it through?" you should try one of these services. It can be a huge time saver, and the information you get back can be extremely valuable (especially if you do a lot of e-commerce via email).
That's why this email campaign from Emmaus caught our eye.
We loved the simplicity and hand-drawn style of their "beloved CropDuster" logo. Click around their website and watch the Cropduster monster come to life (or my favorite: just watch his arm slowly detach and fall to the ground).