Blacklists used to be an email marketer's worst nightmare. If you made a silly mistake and got blacklisted, good luck convincing the admin to delist you.
Thankfully, things have become more civil and professional (you still don't want to get blacklisted though). Here's an up-to-date assessment of blacklists from Al Iverson.
Iverson speaks the truth:
I would note that if somebody is a B2C sender with an average list composition, then blacklists shouldn’t be your biggest worry. Blocking by the top ISPs (AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo, Juno, Earthlink, etc.) is generally more likely to cause greater issues, or happen more often, than a third-party blacklisting of a sender’s IP address
More worrisome, in my opinion, are the Postinis and Barracudas of the world. Those are increasingly becoming the "gatekeepers" of company email servers, and I don't see much of an effort on their part to work with legit email marketers and ESPs (such as setting up feedback loops, or registering for alerts like SpamCop). In those cases, it's just like Iverson says---you better make sure your ESP is on top of things, and is in contact with those groups.
Speaking of blacklists, Seth Godin just posted this page on Squidoo with a good roundup of articles and resources on how to avoid getting blacklisted. Most of the links are to our good friend Mark Brownlow's blog, but you'll also find a link---waaaaay down at the bottom---for our Inbox Inspector. Yay, we've been Seth'd.
10 Emails with Images-Off
Here's a great review of 10 HTML emails from 10 different retailers, and how they all looked with images turned off:
Most of us know that when you receive HTML email, the images are turned off by default. You have to click a button to display them. But I'm surprised by how many new email marketers think that won't apply to them for some reason.
They call us up and ask us, "Before I join MailChimp, how can you guarantee that all my images will display, so that I don't have to click some button?"
Or, after they send their first campaign, they call us up with a frantic tone in their voice, and ask us why all their images are broken in their email program.
"Well, you know how you have to click the Show Images button for all the other emails you receive? Same goes for yours."
Images-Off is a real bummer for the new email marketer.
There are ways to deal with image blocking:
1. Get added to your recipients' address books, or "trusted senders" lists. This is otherwise known as "getting whitelisted"
- When people opt-in to your list, ask them to add your email address to their address books so that your future emails don't get accidentally spam filtered.
- This requires that you setup an email address for your newsletters, and that you stick to it. Don't change your reply-to address often.
- This also requires that your email campaigns have good, relevant content (make it worth their time to whitelist you)
2. Pay for email certification.
- If you're Goodmail certified, images are displayed ON by default in AOL, Yahoo, and more. Details at Goodmail
- If you're SenderScore certified, images and links are ON by default in Hotmail
- Certification in general requires that you send from your own dedicated IP address (so that emails from other businesses don't influence your reputation). So long as you have some good sending history under your belt, and pay the monthly fees (based on delivery volume), your IP gets added to a global "trusted" list.
- Typically, email certification is too expensive for most small business.
- More info on email certification
3. Use alt-text effectively.
- Alt-text is the description you add to your images when you code web pages. They get displayed while an image is loading. Because they're usually a "web-page-thing" they sometimes get ignored in HTML email. Big mistake. Always include alt-text, because it tells recipients, "Hey, there's an image here, and you should really want to see it" Here's an example from a recent Gap HTML email.
- Use CSS on your images to make alt-text look huge and colorful. It's a hack we detailed here.
- We've seen some marketers use paragraphs and paragraphs of alt-text on a single 1x1 pixel transparent .GIF at the top of the email. Once images are turned on, the image goes away, along with the alt-text. It's a hack, and we wouldn't go too far with it (spend more time on quality content, please) but it's an idea that might be useful for one of your campaigns. Keep it in your back pocket.
4. Don't worry too much.
- Images being turned off is a fact of life now. Most people are trained to click the button if they want to see your images (just make sure they know that there are actually images to be turned on).
- Always include a link to "View this email in your browser." MailChimp makes a copy of your newsletter, and links to it automatically for you. It's consistently in the top 3 most clicked links in all the campaigns we send to our own customers.
No matter what: always be relevant. Make it useful, and they will open. Send useless stuff, too often, and you'll start to be ignored.
MailChimp is Hiring
Our customer base is over 10,000 and growing really fast, so we're looking to hire:
- Customer Support Technician - Full time or part time. Some "lite" HTML coding experience preferred (for troubleshooting purposes, not programming) and must have good communication and typing skills. Infinite patience helps too. You'll basically help train and support customers on how to use MailChimp, over Live Chat and telephone. Must like monkeys.
About Our Company:
We have a fast-paced, startup environment here, but we're stable and have been profitable from day one. Think dot-com, but with real customers and real money. Working on MailChimp is like changing tires on a moving car, but then again, we're not pulling many all-nighters either. You'll have a challenging job, but be able to have a personal life, too.
Fit the bill? Contact us.
Postini Likes DKIM Authentication
We've posted in the past how frustrating it can be to get legit email campaigns past the Postini firewall (see: Getting Blocked by Postini?). It just seemed very random how they filter emails. Why do some emails get through, and some don't?
We think we just stumbled upon the answer.
We'd recently been testing some DKIM authenticated MailChimp campaigns with our Inbox Inspector, just to see how things rendered. We were putting in gobbledy-gook placeholder text. I mean, sloppy junk that would normally get you spam filtered in a heartbeat. Our test campaigns were also very image-heavy, which is known to trigger spam filters. Here's a screenshot of how our test email looked in Outlook (just so you get an idea of how truly bad our test email was):
Lo and behold, they all got past Postini with flying colors.
Normally, you'd want way more text in the message to "balance out" the big header graphic. It also helps if you don't use a bunch of random junk text. But DKIM authentication seemed to tip the scales and got our message through.
We still scored high on the content filters (2.0 Spam Assassin Score), so I'm sure that without a properly configured email server, even DKIM wouldn't be a silver bullet to get past Postini. But boy, it sure seems to help.
An interesting side note: In addition to the fact that our email was too image-heavy, almost every spam filter penalized us for having "fda" in our email (as in, "This drug has been approved by the FDA to enlarge..."). One more example how "every word in the English dictionary is now a spam word" (as someone at ReturnPath told us recently) and how you need to be careful if you're sending test campaigns with placeholder text in it.
MailChimp users, you will soon have the option of adding DKIM authentication to your accounts with the click of a button. Look for an announcement soon.
HTML Email on Apple's iPhone
On Friday, our main engineer (and self-proclaimed Mac freak) Mark Armstrong went and got himself an iPhone. Forget that our whole company has a T-Mobile corporate account. The rogue has gone off and joined AT&T.
Anyways, we've been testing how HTML emails render on the iPhone, and so far it's been great. Follow the link to see the video, and some notes for email marketers...
Related: Mark Brownlow's scoured YouTube and found lots of other cell phone videos here.