You may not even realize what you’re missing.
Or, for that matter, what your email list subscribers could be missing.
In my survey results so far, many of you want to know more about list building.
Of course! As we all know, that’s where your true readers are, and any other list on any other social media platform pales in comparison to the engagement you will get from your very own list on your very own website.
But, and this is a really big BUT … can you even be sure your emails ever arrive?
I learned over the past week that we are sending our emails out into a hostile environment; a virtual mail delivery obstacle course.
Email into the Ether
Gone. Vanished. No more to be seen.
I’ve been testing a variety of plugins for this website and some of it involved email.
To be certain of my results, I used three different destinations: Outlook, Gmail, and self-hosted (email with your own domain, like: “firstname.lastname@example.org”). All emails arrived with lightening speed to my Gmail account and all of them arrived through my self-hosted account, eventually.
But on Outlook? 50% of them disappeared into some kind of ethereal black hole. They weren’t in a junk folder and they didn’t land in the trash. Creating business rules to make Outlook recognize the sender address did absolutely nothing.
Gone, Vanished. No more to be seen.
After a day of trying to get answers and getting nothing but excuses, I walked away. Don’t we all have better ways to use our time?
However, it wasn’t a complete waste of my time because I’ve learned, yet again, that it is never safe to assume that what you send out ever arrives at its destination.
There are strange forces at work, my friends, and it’s a good idea to do all that we can to mitigate their effects.
Just in case you may be thinking that my case is unique, here are some stats that I was rather surprised to learn.
91% of all email sent is spam, which means super-powerful filters are being created all the time to block email, whether you think it’s spam or not. And those filters can be pretty effective, working behind the scenes without us ever being aware of what arrives or doesn’t arrive. The fact is, 20% of commercial email is never delivered! Even if you have a subscriber who has repeatedly confirmed that they want your email, they may never see it.
The way I see it, it’s a two-edged sword. I’m really thankful I don’t get all that garbage but, on the other hand, I’m really frustrated that I may not be getting what I want to see … and my subscribers may not be getting what I send. It’s hard to know for sure.
After learning the stats and seeing firsthand how email can vanish into thin air, I couldn’t help but ask: who really decides what’s garbage? How does an email platform know what we want to see and what we want trashed forever?
My experience with Outlook and the business rules tool that supposedly gives us control over what arrives in our inbox tells me it’s not always in our control. By the time I stopped trying to make it work I was, quite frankly, super-pissed off.
Email List Delivery Rx
What’s the point in having a list if your subscribers don’t get what you send them? And, more to the point, can you do anything about it?
I started doing some digging and, it turns out, there is a lot you can do.
I’m not going to go into all the gory tech details in this post, but at the bottom you’ll find some links to information and resources to help you.
At first, I thought I’d lay it all out for you. But, it’s simply too much for one blog post. Each Email Service Provider (ESP) has a unique work flow to get it done and so does each Internet Service Provider (ISP).
If you’re concerned and the material below scrambles your brain, feel free to contact me for help.
However, regardless of your ESP or ISP, the following high-level steps will apply.
Step One: Send Email From Your Own Domain
This was where I made my first big mistake. I thought I could use Outlook the same way as a self-hosted email account. I mean, Outlook is a trusted name right?
Not! (BTW – I’m now in the process of trashing that account. 50% loss! Seriously!)
It’s along the same lines as the principle that I mentioned in the beginning about your lists: there’s nothing quite like having your very own, on your own host with your own specially chosen domain.
Step Two: Get Authenticated
Using a self-hosted email address in the FROM field of your emails is not enough.
(Why would you ever imagine that it could be that easy?! )
Getting authenticated informs the ISPs of the world that you are authorized to use that domain. It’s along the same lines as getting a key card for parking access, a passport for traveling, or a license plate for your car.
Guaranteed: if you haven’t done this, you’re feeling it and may not even know it.
Step Three: Avoid Spammy Behavior
You may already know these things, but it doesn’t hurt to review:
- Don’t ever buy an email list. The only emails on your list should be those who have requested to be on your list.
- Send only what subscribers request. If you promised a monthly newsletter and an e-book, don’t start sending daily sales letters for a product you get a commission for selling. If your business model changes and you’ll be sending emails for different purposes, consider segmenting your list and building a separate one for those new purposes.
- Don’t write like a spammer. Starting emails with things like, “CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve WON!” could get your message trashed. That’s the sort of thing the filters eat for breakfast. Your SUBJECT and FROM lines should accurately describe what readers can expect in the rest of your email. Also remind them why they’re getting the email and always offer a way for them to unsubscribe.
Step Four: Test Your Email Delivery
Even after you cover all your bases, it’s a good idea to run some tests. If you don’t have a variety of platforms to use for your testing (Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo, self-hosted, etc.), create them or ask a friend to help out.
I made a mistake using Outlook, but testing helped me understand the extent of the mistake and impressed upon me that it had to be first priority on my To Do List.
It’s worth the time.
Helpful Email Resources
Most Email Service Providers will have information for you in their knowledge base, and most will give you a step-by-step guide.
I found the following pretty quickly:
- MailChimp: Email Authentication (Knowledge Base)
- AWeber: What’s Email Authentication? How Does It Apply To Me?
- ConvertKit: Using A Custom Email Sending Domain With ConvertKit
- Constant Contact: What is Constant Contact Authentication?
- Ontraport: Remove “via ontramail.com” From Your Email FROM Address
Internet Service Providers also tend to be pretty helpful. Here’s a few of the bigger names:
- 1&1: Add or Remove TXT Records
- A Small Orange: DNS
- Bluehost: Modify a DNS record
- Cloudflare: SPF, DKIM
- Dreamhost: SPF, DKIM
- GoDaddy: Plesk Panel 9, Plesk Panel 10
- Google Domains: DNS Basics
- Hostgator: Manage DNS records
- HostMonster: Modify your DNS records
- Hover: Edit DNS Record
- Namecheap: SPF & DKIM
- Network Solutions: Edit DNS Record
I hope my story helps you.
Before my recent escapade, I had no idea how bad it was. (50% loss!) How many emails have I missed? How many of my emails sent have been lost?
I may never know.
In the big picture, taking care of this is a pretty small task that could do a lot for your list. But, if you have no desire to engage in anything “techie”, just give your friendly tech person a call and get them to confirm you’ve been authenticated.
And then test!
Oh, and if you’ve heard how bad it is to deal with Microsoft and the whole Windows 10 fiasco? Trouble with Outlook is just as bad. Don’t bother—just get out!
As always, I’d love to hear from you. Do you have a story of email woe to share? Or, do you want to know more about how to avoid the trouble all together?