Dedicated IPs are Good

You may or may not have heard of the phrase ‘Dedicated IP’ but if you keep any eye on t’internet about email marketing you should have by now.
Often it is perceived as uber tekki so marketers tend to shy away from it and some even panic at the prospect, well there is no need, it is a good thing and here is why…

Why a dedicated IP?

Out of the box most ESPs will put you straight into a shared pool of IP address and your emails will go out of all of them as will a few dozen-hundred other senders.

This is normal and will suit most good low volume senders, you all share the same sending reputation and due to the volumes being low individually, together they maintain a good rep.

Once you are sending over 50k a month consistently, your volumes will start having a larger affect on the shared reputation and this can make your own deliverability ambiguous.

In order to have full control over your deliverability you want a dedicated IP address. This is a single spot that your emails and only your emails go out from.  You have full control over your reputation and subsequently your deliverability. This is very good thing and as well as your own success getting you better deliverability, it will also get you closer to being able to be Return Path Certified thus making your deliverability even more low maintenance.

How do I do it?

To get one all you need to do is ask your ESP for one.

You will probably need to send slightly differently for the first two to four weeks of having a dedicated IP just to make sure it gets off on the right foot, here’s what you do:

Week 1: send about 10k a day
Week2: send about 50k a day
Week3: up to 100k a day
Week 4: up to 250k a day

If you haven’t got more than 100k a week to send, it means you can go back to your more regular sending habit that much earlier. However, you may find that you don’t want to just fall back into your old ways as you have found that more targeted sends are far more profitable – which you should!

If you normally send one big chunk a month, eg: 600k-2million on a Friday afternoon, break it right down into smaller chunks and send them in small daily batches during this month.

If your total volumes take you over the preferred limit, take out the addresses that have not opened an email in over 3 months and only add address that have a verifiable opt-in – eg: sign-up form.

You may find that by only emailing the people who frequently interact that your open and click count does not go up or down but the percentage flies up. This will be because you are only emailing the people that are likely to open the email. All of the other people who were getting it but ignoring it are out of the way. So you will still be getting opened by the same people as before and the those who are useless too will not be in the way. Once the IP warming period is up you can break down the historical non-openers into to small groups and target them differently each week so see if you can save them or if you should just leave them out forever.

Avoid Bounces and Complaints

It is vitally important that you avoid hard bounces and being marked as spam even more vigilantly than usual because they will do a little more harm during this first month.

Avoid Spam Traps

If you are a big B2C sender, taking out your consistent non-openers (often called ’emotional unsubscribes’) for this period is vital. Very old email addresses can often be turned into spam traps by ISPs. Most of them will hard bounces for a while first so your ESP will have suppressed them but if you have woken up and old list – take it out and put it one side.

Any address that is more than 12 months old and has not opened in the last 6 months, just chop them off, they will do more harm than good in any situation.

It’s not an exact science

No matter how hard you try you can’t manufacture a reputation. Nothing is set in stone and ISPs can be fickle as. However most of this is from experience and research. Other people might start with 10k a day and slowly increase it every day for a month. Some people might just plough into it and just ride the storm until the ISPs makes a decision but the general census is that you start small and slow and gradually increase. One thing is for certain though, negative responses count for more in the early stages, so avoid them at all costs.

The Credit Rating Analogy

If you’ve never had any debt at all, you won’t get a mortgage. This is because you are an unknown as far as lenders are concerned, so they won’t take the risk.

If you’ve had a credit card and even sometimes missed a payment, you are more likely to get approved because at least the lenders can analyse the risk.

IPs’s deliverability are a mortgage from an ISP. They won’t just let you in until they figure out what you’re about. So in order to get in their good book early, play the game and don’t kill of your deliverability whilst you are making yourself known – it’ll be so very hard to come back from.

If you just get your head down and follow best practice, you will be fine.

Pure360 will not only give you a dedicated IP on request but I may realise that you need one before you do & offer you one and I will be there to hold your hand through the warming process.

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Edit 30/10/2010: Since writing this we have had a glowing reference from Al Iverson about this, so in case there is any doubt here is some back-up statements:

Al Iverson

@aliversonAl Iverson
Don’t just take my word for it– here’s some good info from Pure360 on why you should send from a dedicated IP address:http://bit.ly/dsI1BG
28 Oct via web

– – –

in reply to @getintheinbox ↑
Al Iverson
@aliversonAl Iverson
@getintheinbox good advice! this is very near what we recommend to clients.

– – –

Captain Inbox
getintheinbox Captain Inbox
@aliverson Thanks Al, I’d be interested to know what other methods are in use if any?

in reply to @getintheinbox ↑

Al Iverson

@aliversonAl Iverson
@getintheinbox Well, my struggle is with clients who want to use shareds to avoid a rep issue…doesn’t work the way they think it does.

– – –

Dangerous Reconnections

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Reconnection Campaigns

A recent email marketing craze has been the reconnection campaign.

With the big B2C ISPs focussing more on recipient engagement to allocate reputation and deliverability, chopping off the people who just aren’t opening the emails is a must.

You then email your engaged recipients as usual, maybe a little better now you know who they are and target the non-openers differently.

What appears to have happened is people are adding older lists onto these reconnection lists to try and wake even older addresses up.

While this may have seemed like a logical decision, empathetically it’s moronicy!
We know this because the recipients of these reconnection emails are hitting the spam button across the board.

When I call senders up and ask them about it they are surprised at my concern and often quite put out at my audacity. They are able to prove that they had permission – about 3 years ago – so why should I have a problem with them sending them an email. They will then blame me when their IP can’t get into Yahoo too!

If you are going to re-target your emotional unsubscribers and tie in some older lists here are some tips:

  • Get the subject line & preheader right.
    • These are the bits that will get the email opened and not marked as spam
  • Make it obvious that you know it’s been a while.
  • Tell them why they are getting the email
  • Tell them how they gave you the email
    • If you can’t prove to them you have permission, don’t send them an email
  • Ask for permission again, nicely
  • Be humble
  • Sell the opt-out;
    • if they don’t want your emails they are of no value to you, so help them hit the unsubscribe link and not the spam button – stick it at the top and the bottom and even in the middle!
Super Safe: the opt-in email

This is when you send people an email with a link to click to stay on the list!
Yes you read it right, if they don’t click that link, they don’t get emailed again!

Sometimes called the ‘List Killer’, however, if you only want addresses of value, this will iron it out.

Of course there is the concern that if it just gets missed you’ve lost them, so some people like to do a three stage process:

  1. Send them a reconnection email, asking them to optout if they don’t want it anymore.
  2. Retarget the non-opens with similar email but a little more blunt.
  3. Take the non-opens from there and send them an optin email, and anyone who doesn’t click the link, take them off all lists.
Old lists are full of Spam Traps

We already know that many ISPs, especially Hotmail & Yahoo turn off inactive addresses. What you may not know is that the ISPs will let these addresses hard bounce for a few months and then wake them up again as spam traps. So people who don’t clean their lists and list sellers who stick in old addresses to get more money get caught in the spam traps and the IP sending the email gets battered!

In my opinion any address that has been inactive or not been emailed for over 9 months, is worthless, so sack it off! It’s not worth the consequences.

And don’t buy lists – it’s not what email is for!

Email Image Alt text – size does matter

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On reading Campaign Monitor’s recent ALT text review by Ros Hodgekiss (05/10/2010), we find, amongst many other cool things, that the length of the alt text can decide whether or not the alt text is displayed at all in Windows Live Mail, Yahoo Mail, the iPhone, Gmail and Apple Mail.
(Although the CM article also states in another table that Windows Live Mail doesn’t render alt text at all?)

Apparently if your alt text will actually extend it longer than the width of the image, it will not be rendered.

So the short solution is to keep it short.

I find my self asking why?

Back in 2009 I wrote Spammer vs the Spam Filter, for Pure360, explaining the evolutionary path of spam filters and image blocking. One statement I made was that the filter  – most commonly Spam Assassin – tests your image to text ratio. It will calculate the total image coverage with a bit of maths on the dimensions of all of the images in your html version and then count all of the visible characters, presume or pretend that they are 12px each and then calculate the total coverage. It will then compare the two and if it is any more than 60 / 40 text to image, you are likely to get a warning of some sorts.

Since then I have found that when you get a warning, by adding a bag load more alt text you can lower the score, but you cannot remove it completely. One gestimation could be that alt text chars count as 6px for instance.

One could say that if you need to add more alt text to fix your spam warnings you are obviously doing something wrong – I won’t disagree with that but some brands have very complex and ignorant decision making process which means that the execs are forced to send image heavy emails, so this can help.

Also the alt text should be a description of the image, according to W3C, so it supports screen readers. I say that the rules are slightly different for emails and you can be a bit more flexible in getting the message across while the images are blocked and for screen readers. For instance the image button could be the call to action text and not describe the image. A spacer image should not need any alt text at all.

Now these new discoveries from CM mean that we have far less to play with in our emails’ alt text and those people who are used to packing the alt text in, no longer have that luxury – although I suspect that people who are adamant about giant images don’t care about the alt text any way.

So you could say that some inboxes are doing it for the same reasons that they hid images in the first place and to give the good marketers even more opportunity to separate themselves from the spammers. Or it cold have been a UI decision with everything trying to be better for smart phones – so rendering long alt text would be a bad user experience and having two rendering engines for desktop and mobile was not worth the effort…This adds another feature request to go the Email Standards test.

According to CM: Yahoo Mail, iPhone, Gmail, Apple Mail & Thunderbird will all allow you to style the alt text using in-line CSS with a style attribute to the <img> tag.

I’d be interested to see is if styling the alt text to make the chars smaller, lets you get more in or not?