Salsa Blog

Email Deliverability 101: How to Get off ISPs naughty list for the holidays

Email deliverability for nonprofits

Year-end fundraising season puts organizations under tremendous pressure to not only rake in some serious cash, but also build supporter email lists fast...that is, really fast. You may be tempted to cut a few corners - with the best of intentions - to spread your message to bigger and broader audiences. But these seemingly harmless shortcuts can give you a sure-fire way to end up on Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) naughty list.

Worst case scenario: Being blocked from sending emails altogether.

Think it can’t happen to you? Watch this short clip from our recent “End of Year Fundraising: Campaigns that Work” webinar to hear how it works, including one organization that was blacklisted during the last week of December. Talk about a nightmare!

Here are a few things you can do now to clean your slate:

1. DO - learn the lingo:

  • Spam - Also known as junk email or unsolicited bulk email, is a subset of electronic spam involving nearly identical messages sent to numerous recipients by email. Clicking on links in spam email may send users to phishing web sites or sites that are hosting malware.

  • Spamtrap - Spam traps are email addresses that may or may not exist and are used to judge your sender reputation.

The term “trap” refers to how these types of addresses are scattered throughout the internet to catch people either not using proper list building practices, harvesting emails, purchasing lists from a third party, or marketers who have poor list hygiene (whether they know it or not).

These trap addresses are kept secret to protect their identity and are released to no one because making them public would render them rather useless.

  • Hard bounce - A hard bounce is an email message that has been returned to the sender because the recipient's address is invalid. A hard bounce might occur because the domain name doesn't exist or because the recipient is unknown.

  • Soft bounce - An email message that gets as far as the recipient's mail server but is bounced back undelivered before it gets to the intended recipient. A soft bounce might occur because the recipient's inbox is full.

2. DON’T send too many emails

Problem: ISPs and other mailbox providers do pay attention to sudden changes in volume. Unless they look at the content of the messages (which they're not really supposed to do), it can look a lot like your IP address has been hacked by someone who is just trying to pump out spam.

Solution: Now is the time to begin incrementally ramping up your volume so that you are where you need to be without raising red flags. Generally speaking, you can probably get away with doubling your weekly volume without causing too many alarms. However, if you expect to be sending to more than 3 million addresses/day on a single IP address, you should contact our Support Team immediately (support@salsalabs.com) to make sure that your volume requirements can be met without sacrificing your sender reputation.

3. DON’T send emails too often
Problem: Love it or hate it, we have all come to expect the onslaught of messages appearing in our inbox during the holidays from retailers and nonprofits alike. But nobody wants to feel like your ‘best buddy’ only because you’re asking for something. So build momentum, before you shift into full gear!

Suddenly changing your cadence - or frequency of emails - from mailing once a month to twice a day will likely lead to unfavorable results. Supporters will not hesitate to send complaints or worse, click the “Spam” button to identify you as a spammer just to voice their frustration.

Solution: If you're going to increase your cadence, start testing carefully now - and we mean right now - so that you have a better idea of what will work after Black Friday hits. Don’t wait ‘til December hits to ramp up the urgency.

4. DO replicate what’s working
It may be the holiday season, but mail providers, ISPs, and block lists like Spamhaus don't relax their rules just because they’re in the “giving spirit”. So how do these services determine whether your emails get sent to your supporters’ inbox or their spam folder? It’s a combination of factors including, but not limited to, spamtrap hits, bounces, opens, clicks, and time spent in the message.

So think strategically about how you can reduce the number of spamtraps and bounces and increase the numbers of opens, clicks, and time spent reading your message. Use interesting imagery, powerful storytelling and creative templates to keep audiences engaged. But look to the performance of emails from throughout the year and last year’s year-end campaign metrics to help make final decisions about which kinds of emails will ultimately get sent.  

5. DO segment out supporters who haven’t responded (opened or clicked) in more than a year.

We know that there is a lot of temptation to go ever deeper into your list of subscribers and send to those people who haven't heard from you since last year. However, the older an address is and the longer that it's been since you last mailed it, the more likely it is to have churned so that it either will bounce or (worse) become a spamtrap.

6. DON’T use rented, purchased or tainted lists!

We’ll say it as many times as we have to! If you use questionable data, you should expect questionable deliverability — even during the holiday season. The reason we prohibit the use of rented, purchased, and appended data as a matter of policy is because it causes such terrible results for our clients and ISPs don't want to help us fix deliverability issues for clients who are using this kind of data to create mailing lists. The best lists are those, which feature genuine, transparent permission with clear expectations being set.

7. DO be open and honest.

After you’ve completed your year-end list clean-up, it’s time to start thinking through the myriad of ways that you can ask your supporters to give a little bit more this holiday season. But be explicit in your intentions - clearly identify any promotions, offers, or opted-in email lists as well as any special rules and regulations. For example, if supporters must donate a certain amount before receiving a special gift or prize, make sure that those stipulations are stated before any transaction is made. 

All in all, be a good elf this holiday season and good things will come to you!

Topics: Fundraising Marketing