Where to Listen
There are a lot of myths in the email marketing industry. Issues over email deliverability being one of the major ones.
Here, we have Laura Atkins, one of the most well-known thought leaders in the email industry for two decades, to talk on this subject.
Dennis Dayman and Laura debunk myths in the email marketing industry and the misconceptions that follow email deliverability. They discuss if DMARC setup matters to inboxing rate or not, and how authentication protocols can affect email deliverability overall.
- Do high unsubscribes mean low deliverability?
- Does using the words spam/free/promotion get your email into spam?
- What does the 250 response code mean in deliverability?
- Does the way people design campaigns affect deliverability?
- Do noreply and promo in sender IDs affect email deliverability?
- Is having authentication records like SPF, DKIM, and DMARC set up correctly, enough to get an email to the inbox?
- Can you target your emails to land in the primary tab of Gmail?
Dennis Dayman: Well, hello everyone. And welcome to another brand new episode of, ForTheLoveOfEmails podcast by Netcore solutions. As you know, I’m Dennis Damon, your host for these podcasts. And once again, the Netcore team has been hard at work again, to bring us some great stories and people who bring great advice to you in terms of the different aspects, about sort of email and the world as we see it today.
[00:00:20] And again, this week is no different from us. So this week we bring you a very well noted email, deliverability expert Laura Atkins for a chat about some of the email deliverability myths that need to be debunked. I’ve known Laura for at least 20 years, if not more than 25 years, in email and she has been helping companies, you know, mitigate and manage their mailing risks.
[00:00:43]And they do that by a lot of different processes, including when you know how to respond to spam complaints and interact differently, with those mailbox providers that some brands and mailers are having trouble with. She and her husband have regularly helped, mitigate and, and migrate client delivery and blocking issues with anti-spam blocks and mailbox providers before Laura founding with her husband, WordToTheWise, I had the pleasure of meeting her way back in the first, early days, even before I started work.
[00:01:13] Laura was along with many other folks, working kind of well, not part-time, but more volunteer if you will, and helping, stop spam in the early days.
[00:01:22]And I had the pleasure of working for her at an organization called Mail Abuse Prevention Systems or MAPS. And for those who historically know what MAPS is, it was the industry’s first anti-spam blocklist, you know, in that role, you know, she advised mailbox providers on how to manage it again, customer complaints and behavior.
[00:01:41] Yeah. you know, again, Laura could, you know, it can be seen yeah, a lot. She’s very active in a lot of different groups that are out there. Some of them you’ve heard us talk about this past week, working group and other places like the email geeks Slack group, where she’s always been very busy solving and advising those other email professionals on their deliverability problems.
[00:02:00] So Laura, welcome to the podcast. Thank you for being a part of this. I’m so glad that we get to have such an expert like yourself on this, but welcome to the podcast.
[00:02:09] Laura Atkins: Great. It’s, it’s wonderful to be here. And I’m so excited to be able to talk with you guys today about email and deliverability, and finally, put some of these myths to rest because they drive me insane.
[00:02:19] Dennis Dayman: Oh, I know. I know. Well that sometimes what people do, I know that I’ve seen the responses that we’ve all had to make over the years. Pretty even most recently you hear these questions and these thoughts from people. And it’s very hard sometimes for us to have to sit back and go, okay, you’re probably new to this.
[00:02:37] I’m going to explain it again. So, but yeah, no, it’s, it’s an interesting place to be these days. Well, I think as, as the listeners know, right email deliverability stands for what we know is the rate of emails, which landed the inbox of their subscribers as opposed to something like a spam folder or some other secondary or tertiary folder, right? And we’ve always talked about whether this is a science or an art, but the art of mastering email deliverability has become more and more of an illusion to some extent. and that’s changed because the days that Laura and I and many others in the industry were involved, that this was a very manual process for a very, very long time.
[00:03:12] But over the years, algorithms and spam filters, you know, at these major mailbox providers like Gmail and Outlook and Hotmail are now doing these things on their own. And they’re getting updated, you know, if not daily, if not hourly, because things were changing. So often, and with those new updates come, those new challenges for those, you know, deliverability folks and experts like Laura, who were trying to keep those brand email in the boxes.
[00:03:34] So again, you know, what we’re going to try to do is we’re going to sort of, you know, talk a bit about sort of the issues around the myths around email deliverability and see how we can bust a couple of these, give these listeners some advice in terms of what they need to do. And so with that, Laura, you know, let’s, let’s sort of talk about, you know, some of these things that they’re truths or myths and whatnot.
[00:03:51] You know, they say that unsubscribes are the worst thing that can happen to any reputation, you know or deliverability. And I, and I remember this, especially in sort of my early days on the sending side, right with companies like Strong Mail when we were there, that, you know, Oh my gosh, you know, people are unsubscribing.
[00:04:05] And if they do, that’s just going to be terrible. Right. You know you don’t want people doing that. I mean, outside of ruining your list size, but then, the mailbox providers are going to see this and they’re going to start to block you. Is that true at all?
[00:04:17] Laura Atkins: No, it’s not. I mean, that’s just one of those myths that’s kind of been going on and on and on.
[00:04:22]It will lower, you know, the size of your list, but it’s the size, doesn’t matter. It’s about the conversation and it’s about the relationship that you as a sender have with your subscribers and, and how you are interacting with one another. There are some newer technologies where you get the unsubscribed button, that’s mediated by Gmail and mediated by Microsoft and mediated by say your Apple mail client. And that’s the only unsubscribed that anybody will ever see. And certainly, as providers and as senders, we can use that unsubscribe metric as a way to better understand how our subscribers think we’re doing and do they want to continue receiving the mail?
[00:05:11] But if they say they don’t, then you got to let him go. This is a relationship. This is not a, we just throw mail at you as fast as we can. They’ve gotta be willing to receive it.
[00:05:23] Dennis Dayman: Well, yeah, it’s quality over quantity, you know, mentality, right? Like you just said, it’s like, you know, the same way.
[00:05:30] And I know that you’ve used this example many times, right? We always talk about the grandmother test and the industry writer, you know, your family tests, you know, would you do these sorts of things to your own family? And if you wouldn’t then why would you do it to the subscriber base that’s out there?
[00:05:43] Laura Atkins: Exactly. Yeah. You know, what, what kinds of things are you doing to bring value to your subscribers? What are you giving them? It’s not just about what they can do for you. And I think that’s kind of part where some marketers get stuck is they’re all about, I want to do this. I want, I want, I want, it’s not about what you want.
[00:06:05] Deliverability is really about how you’re interacting with those subscribers. You have to pay attention to what they want.
[00:06:12] Dennis Dayman: Right. Exactly. Exactly. Well, I remember in the early days for us, right, we, we had learned, or at least we were telling people and you know, at times of change, it wasn’t that we were wrong or that we were right.
[00:06:23] You know, but they always said that certain words like free or, you know, percentage off, you know, or sale or something in the subject line you know, would trigger the spam filters, certain mailbox providers, and we still hear it that day in and day out today. you know, is that still true for the mailbox provider side and or how the consumers sometimes might protect themselves from things that they don’t want to see?
[00:06:43] Laura Atkins: So it’s, it’s not true and it hasn’t been true for a very long time. I’m sure you remember back when we were in the late nineties and there were no spam filters and there were no IP-based lists and there were, there was no way to filter spam. You know you didn’t have the tools that we have now.
[00:07:03] And at that point, people started doing very crude things to just to try and manage the volume. And it’s kind of funny, cause I went back and looked at some numbers. And when, you know, we were doing this and I was doing this as a volunteer before I got the job, and it was like, you know, I got five spams today and it’s like, I’ll get five spams in an hour these days
[00:07:24] So the volumes were different, but we had no tools. And so a lot of the original, very early things were very crude filters and subject line filters, or, you know, big, broad brush, domain-level filters, or the IP-based filters. Because we didn’t know what we were doing and we were just trying to stop.
[00:07:46] Plus at that point, there wasn’t nearly as much online commerce and there wasn’t nearly as much opt-in permission-based email for commerce. No, you didn’t. We, we didn’t have, have a way to, you know, buy stuff online. Amazon didn’t exist. eBay was just a baby kind of thing. And so, so, what we could do.
[00:08:10] We were using what, what tools we had and subject line filters were that, but since then, you know, it’s just not, that’s just not the way filters work. We have a lot more computing power. We have a lot more experience. We have a lot more tools. And so the filters are very, very sophisticated. And it’s not just whether you not, you put a word in the subject line that gets you filtered.
[00:08:35] Dennis Dayman: You know, you make a good point, cause I’ve always, you know, you know, I’ve thought about this change that you and I have seen over the last several decades about this and that. Yeah. You know, we don’t see the filters doing that sort of stuff, filtering out on free and whatnot. And I, you know, in the back of my mind, I’ve always thought, Oh no, that’s just because we’ve just sort of gotten smarter about how we do things and, and you make a point that you know, that the filters are smarter, but data.
[00:08:56] Because it’s become a massive sort of use as well in all of this, right? These companies, mailbox providers have massive amounts of information and not just sort of people clicking on unsubscribes, and that’s what they use. But they’re also looking for other things too, within that stream to say, you know, what’s the dwell time on these emails that are coming in from brand X and you know, and the dwell times versus clicks versus opens and whatnot, but there’s a whole lot more.
[00:09:20] Then just, again, those filters going into this, you know, I hadn’t thought about that point, but the other thing that kinda came to mind too, is something you just mentioned, which was Amazon, right? Yeah. Back then we weren’t doing online shopping. I mean, we were, but not to the extent that we are today.
[00:09:33] And so again, the industry has had to change and grow and, and go in a direction for email, if you will, that will allow those, those sorts of the data-driven economy, things to happen for us. And for those emails to be able to get the consumers.
[00:09:46] Laura Atkins: Exactly.
[00:09:47] Dennis Dayman: Yeah. so, you know, there’s we had a podcast earlier this week, actually, with some other, you know, great folks in the industry.
[00:09:57]We had talked a little about sort of the definitions and defining certain things. We can talk a little bit about, you know, opens versus clicks and delivery versus non delivered. And as you know, right. A lot of us have debated back and forth on sort of what all that means. And then we’ve had every other expert in the world telling us, no, it should be this.
[00:10:12] No, it should be that. But, you know, when, when marketers are looking at their platforms and whatnot, right. You know, a lot of them are talking about how they’re delivered or they’re delivered rate shows how many emails were delivered to the inbox. But. You know, I’m not sure if people are looking at that correctly, does it, you know, you know, the question has been, you know, is delivered when it leaves the ESP or the, you know, the, you know, the sending engine, if you will, that you’re using, and it gets to the intended network, not the actual inbox or is it the inbox, but even in today’s world around Gmail and stuff with email tabs or Gmail tabs as they call them.
[00:10:45] Right. You know, is that considered deliberate as well? Right? I mean, that’s one of the big questions that we keep hearing is what is delivered. And I’m kind of curious from your perspective, what it is. In terms of your consultation with your clients.
[00:10:59] Laura Atkins: So I tend to go with, if you are reading a report and your ESP, or your service provider or your interface, and your dashboard tells you something, then you need to know exactly what it’s doing.
[00:11:16] And so, you know, I, when I’m working with my clients, I tend to talk about things like delivered to the inbox or delivered to the spam folder, you know, very specifically along the lines of where did that message end up. And then going through a lot of what I do for them is going through the docs that they’re getting back, the API calls that they’re getting back, the information they’re getting back and figuring out for them and helping them understand what that data means, because you know, certainly there are a lot of, ESPs and interfaces out there.
[00:11:47] We’ll consider the message delivered once they get that, you know, we’ve received the message, the 250 from the receiving mail server, they will count that as delivered because in the whole scheme of SMTP, and if you read the SMTP stack at that point, it is no longer the sending server’s responsibility of what to do with that mail when you get that 250. That means that the receiving server has taken control and has taken responsibility and it is no, you can no longer affect that delivery. But I’ve also seen other places where, you know, there is that deliverability rate and there is that they have, you know, internal tools and they can go and they can follow it to the inbox or the bulk folder.
[00:12:28] And then you get the testing companies out there, the inbox testing companies, and they all have different definitions as well. So everybody kind of uses their language. And so, you know, the way I deal with that is to just let my customers tell me what their language is, and then try and adapt to that.
[00:12:45] Dennis Dayman: Yeah. Yeah. That’s interesting because yeah, we’ve, again, this is, this is still the biggest debate that I’ve done and, you know, and I can’t determine whether or not if one company is saying, yes, it’s delivered based on the 250 response from the SMTP code, versus like you just said, other providers who have insight or who are using deliverability tools that are out there today that have a little bit of insight to that inboxing effect or that, that, that mantra, you know, you know, it’s.
[00:13:10] Yeah, I guess it’s, I can’t determine who is ever going to win this sort of, you know, mentality. Cause you know, every company out there is still pushing deliverability as a rate of success is how they’re winning new clients. And every time that the salesperson goes out there to sell an ISP or an ESP, excuse me.
[00:13:26] Right. They’re always talking about how we have the most delivered emails and if you’re not careful as a, as a buyer, right, as a, as a brand marketer or otherwise, you could be duped into buying a platform that isn’t doing the job that I’m being told that it is typically doing.
[00:13:42] Laura Atkins: Yep. And, and the other piece of that is that the ESP has a lot less impact on your deliverability.
[00:13:51] Once you go to a certain level of competence, then, you might think, you know, right. Once you get to somebody who can send legitimate SMTP, who, who understands, you know, the technical end of things your deliverability is in your hands.
[00:14:09] Dennis Dayman: Right? Which is actually kind of a good question because, you know, one of the things that we’ve always talked about over the years and, and the stuff that you and I had experienced, and I mean, again, we were on the, you know, IP blacklisting side of things, but we had dealt with a lot of the anti-spam technologies, the content filters if you will.
[00:14:25]you know, the, I think the oldest one that I remember working on with a lot of both was the old Spam Assassin, which still is out there. But you know, we hear from again, you had talked about deliverability companies and me I worked for one called return path a, which is now a validity, but you know, is the way that people then design the content of their campaigns.
[00:14:46] Will that ever affect deliverability? Cause we’re kind of saying that the word free and, a percent off and sale and the subject mine aren’t that effective anymore. Because again, as you said, we’re using lots more data. You know, we’re seeing a lot of AI technologies out there in the anti-spam world. Is content still an issue then to have to worry about, you know, or are there other parts of the content in terms of how you develop that, you know, can it affect deliverability?
[00:15:11] Laura Atkins: It can. But the thing to remember is that when we’re talking about deliverability and when we’re talking about content or we’re talking about domains, or we’re talking about IPS, or we’re talking about the reputation that again, we’re back to, this is a relationship between you and your subscribers.
[00:15:29] And a lot of this is really specific to the consumer ISP because the business I have the business ISP is, and the business filters have different things. But if we’re talking to the consumer ISP, what they’re looking for is an indication that the recipient wants that message and that that recipient is happy to receive it and is thrilled to get it in their inbox or their tabs, or, you know, if they’ve got a specific special filter put up and put it into its folder or whatever it is that that message, that, that receiver is happy to receive that message. When you think about content and when you think about domains and when you think about IPS, all of those things are not the reputation. That’s the identity that the reputation is hung on.
[00:16:15] So your reputation is how your recipients react to a particular message. And then that reputation is hung off of identity and that identity can be content. That identity can be a URL. That identity can be a DKIM signature. That identity can be, you know, a firm address, whatever it is. So it’s, it’s recipients that receive content that looks like this or content that has these formatting idiosyncrasies. They tend to want that mail. And so we’re going to deliver that well, but if, for instance, you’re using a freely available tool and you’re using it to generate content. And so are 15, you know, other spammers out there who are sending 50 million emails a day using that same content, then that content and that kind of underlying structure of the message is going to be seen more often in spam than not spam.
[00:17:15] And so that could hurt your delivery. But overall it’s about the identity of who are you. Is this mail wanted, and if it’s wanted, then we’ll deliver it to the inbox or the tab or the folder.
[00:17:31] Dennis Dayman: Right. Right. Yeah. Yeah. Which goes right back to sort of like, you know, how these, you know, mailbox providers are using the data, right.
[00:17:37] They’re using again the dwell times and other things as well. I mean, especially the smart ones that, where you’re browsing the inbox through the web browser and Gmail’s a good example of that, but they’re looking at that sort of interactivity as well. Not just again, whether or not that’s not open or click, but they’re looking at other aspects of it, whether or not it’s going to be put into the folder or somewhere for, for a later read or something to that effect.
[00:18:01] Laura Atkins: Yeah, Google has a patent on, following your mouse and knowing where your mouse is on the screen, you know, and it strikes me that they’re using that data in their emails, and in their reputation system, they know that they. If Google can track it, they will. If they can use the data, they will.
[00:18:22] Dennis Dayman: I bet that was a huge wake-up call to everybody listening to this podcast, going, wait a minute here. We’ve heard of heat mapping and stuff like that, but never really thought about heat mapping technologies or mouse tracking technologies being used in the browsers for things like anti-spam that’s gotta be a wake-up call for folks listening to this.
[00:18:38]Yeah. So, you know, this is both a legal, but non-non-legal sort of question, but you know, we still see this quite a bit. And I, I know that you and I have, I’ve read your responses a couple of times on the email geeks Slack channel, but you know, the use of, of no reply or at promo in the sender ID or the sender front I should say, of someone’s domain and whatnot.
[00:19:02] Can that affect deliverability at all? Is it legal in some cases? Is it not legal? I mean, you know, what’s, what’s sort of the best practice around what the firm should be. you know, if you’re sending a campaign out.
[00:19:13] Laura Atkins: So I don’t think there are any real legal requirements. And I certainly know that there are, that there are senders out there that are sending mail that cannot be replied to, even legitimate senders. But I think that’s a really bad practice just to get that out there. You know, and in fact, I do know that there are also places where, you know, they use no reply, but that mail goes to a mailbox. And in some cases, they do read it.
[00:19:42] And so just because it says no reply or just because it says promo or just because it’s a role account doesn’t necessarily mean that the company is ignoring that message. Likewise, if it’s a person’s name or if it’s a real sender, you know, or it looks like Bob at, or, you know, a penny at whatever that doesn’t mean that that mail is being read and responded to either.
[00:20:10] So there’s a little, you know, it’s an opaque token. It does what it does. And I don’t think there’s any, I don’t think there’s any real legal requirement that that has to work, you know, certainly under CAN-SPAM and some of the other laws out there, you have to be able to accept on subscriber requests.
[00:20:29] And one of the ways to accept an unsubscribed request is to get a reply that says unsubscribed me, but that’s not as if you have a link to do the unsubscribe, that’s fine as well. So I don’t think there’s a legal issue there. Again it is how do you want to present your company to your recipients?
[00:20:51]And fundamentally there are a huge number of very big companies with, you know, millions and billions of dollars and email addresses and volumes that blow your mind that use no reply and there they get to the inbox. So there’s, there’s a presence. And there is a, there’s a common thread there that a lot of companies do this and it doesn’t hurt their delivery.
[00:21:18] Because so many big companies do it I don’t think it’ll ever turn into a negative filter. But there are a lot of end-users in there a lot of recipients that find it kind of icky. And so it’s, how do you want to present yourself to your recipients? And then we get into the whole mess of a lot of clients, a lot of email clients these days and email, you know, your Gmail mailbox or your Apple mail or whatever we’re using just completely hides the email address so nobody sees that anyway.
[00:21:47] Dennis Dayman: Right. Yeah, because it’s all about personality, right? Yeah. You know, as you said, it’s how, how you want your brand to be right. If you want to be in personal than so be it, because we know that that, you know, from all the data and all the different studies, that emails that are clicked on more often are because there is a familiar name or at least some sort of identity.
[00:22:05] We’ve seen it with brands where they will pay like Flow, right. As an example, like from Geico. We’re not Geico, Geico, right. Some emails that I’ve seen, supposedly they’re coming from Flow and it’s kind of a recognizability sort of situation. But the thing that you brought up was CAN-SPAM, right?
[00:22:19] Is that yeah. You have to have some way for them to contact you. And I remember like what, 15 years ago, I think it was Yesmail where they had a problem with their unsubscribe links. And I don’t remember if, whether the reply was working or not, but there was no way for people to unsubscribe and they had to pay a fine because there wasn’t a backup method if you will, in that, in that process.
[00:22:38] Laura Atkins: Yeah. I think that was a company they bought. I mean, Yesmail ended up having to pay the fine, but I don’t think that they were the ones that screwed that up, but I don’t remember completely. So let’s not, let’s not, you know, like diss companies here, but I, you know, but yeah, certainly you’ve gotta be able to accept it and there’s, there’s so much crud that comes back to that from address.
[00:23:00] And there’s so much crap that comes to the reply address because you’ve got places like Microsoft that just we’ll send all of your out of office replies to the place they’re not supposed to send it according to the spec and you know, other places we’ll send them out of office replies. So you get a lot of garbage.
[00:23:14] And so it, it, it can be a challenge to monitor that mailbox. And so I don’t, I don’t hold it against companies who can’t manage that. But if you can manage it and if you can make it happen and it fits with your brand persona, then it’s probably a better idea to stick with, you know, something that’s not noreply.
[00:23:35] At least pretend like you want to hear from your customers.
[00:23:38] Dennis Dayman: Exactly right. Well, I have to give you a soapbox moment because, and you’re probably going to kill me later next time we see each other, but you know, every time that you see a marketing email that comes in with a footer that says this isn’t spam because it’s CAN-SPAM compliant.
[00:23:55] I’m kind of, I won’t be able to hear this as clearly. It’s possible that bad good mean, what’s your thoughts on that one?
[00:24:04] Laura Atkins: Well, it’s just because, just because you’re not breaking the law doesn’t mean you’re not spamming. It is, is my fundamental piece of it. And, you know, you can certainly say, you know, you opted in, no, I didn’t.
[00:24:15] This is a spam trap. I mean, I get, I have my spam traps and I get mail in and they’re like, Oh, you opted in, no, I didn’t. And I think, I think it’s important for folks who are thinking about their, subscription process to realize that if your subscription process happens in a way that encourages people to put fake email addresses in or makes it easy to put fake email addresses in your data is going to be poor because there are a lot of people out there who want, you know, whatever it is you’re giving away for free.
[00:24:52] But. Don’t want any mail from you. And so they’ll make up a completely fake address. And some of those fake addresses, we know some of them we can filter out, but some of them are going to belong to a human being. And now to that human being, you’re a spammer. And if it happens to enough of those, if it happens to enough people because you’re giving something away or because, you know, whatever that’s going to hurt your reputation.
[00:25:21] And so, you know, I’ve gotten away from the whole, and certainly, I don’t think that double opt-in is a panacea and is the only way to collect an email address list. But I do think that there is a, there is a vital piece of what are we doing to ensure that people are being honest with us. You know, if you have a brick and mortar store, you do things to prevent shoplifting.
[00:25:48] If you’re giving away something on the web and the price of that giveaway is an email address and you do nothing to make sure that somebody gives you their email address you’re just letting them steal from you. It’s the same thing. So there’s, there’s that piece of just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s not gonna cause problems. And it doesn’t mean that anybody’s going to give you a pass because we’ve all heard what I’m doing is legal. Yes. It’s legal, but you can’t do that here.
[00:26:20] Dennis Dayman: Yeah. Yeah, because the internet will quickly turn on you. Right? I mean, you know, people think that just because the legality exists, that the free speech piece also plays into that.
[00:26:31] And we hear that a lot as well. It’s like, this is free speech. We’re allowed to do this. And as you and I have learned over the last 27 years, no, it’s my network, my rules at this point. And that has won time and time again.
[00:26:43] Laura Atkins: Right. And you know, there’s case law, there is, Legislation, you know, anybody can do anything with an email that hits their system.
[00:26:51] They don’t have to deliver it. And that you have no right to mail anybody fundamentally.
[00:26:59] Dennis Dayman: Right? Fundamentally well, speaking of, sort of, you know, getting the emails to people and having that right. You know, as time has changed and you know, you and I always, along with the rest of the industry, again, we’ve seen how the anti-spam technologies have had to, change right.
[00:27:18] For you know, aging archaic, if you will, sort of protocol right as email is right. I mean, I would think that you would agree like they and the rest of us in the world today would say that the 30 plus-year-old email systems or it weren’t developed for this sort of use of the early days.
[00:27:34] And so that’s why we’ve seen the amount of hacking and spamming and. And other things that are occurring. And so we year after year have taken a new solution, right? The final ultimate solution to the spam problem as we call it right. an attitude at and one of those things that have been fundamentally understood is that you know, authentication on authentication and authorization was a missing piece in the email protocol when it was first developed.
[00:27:59] And so as such, right, we come up with SPF and DKIM and DMARC, and you know, all these different protocols. We still hear, I think from some people from brands that say, well, my email has all the proper authentication. I have a DMARC record. I should be getting to the inbox, but that isn’t the case, right?
[00:28:17] Laura Atkins: No, not at all. the, what DMARC gives you is a way to say an email from this email address is actually from me, you know, like my brand, And, but DMARC is, is kind of a complicated protocol. There’s, there are two big pieces to it. One is the reporting piece where, you know, I don’t think many folks even know this, but, and certainly recipients don’t know this, but basically if you have a DMARC record up, you can say, I don’t care what you do with the email.
[00:28:53] I don’t have a policy. But if you get an email that is not authenticated in the ways that DMARC tells you, they need to be authenticated, then send me an email and tell me about it. And so you can see who is using your domain and a firm address through DMARC. And that’s one piece of the protocol. And that’s used to my mind.
[00:29:13] That’s the really useful piece of the protocol. The other pieces are that you can then say, and if that authentication fails, then I would prefer that you put this mail in the spam folder, or I would prefer that you just not accept this mail at all. But that breaks a lot of mail. I mean, it breaks a lot of mail and you know, a lot of what’s going on in the ITF and the DMARC groups and the various protocol folks right now are trying to figure out how do we fix this breakage that we’ve, we’ve introduced by doing DMARC, but everybody knows that.
[00:29:49] I think everybody well, everybody who kind of runs a big mail server and is handling, you know, billions of emails a day understands it’s trivial for a spammer to set up a DMARC record. It’s trivial. And in fact, it’s easier for spammers who come in, have a domain. Throw up, you know, a website and a mail server and send spam for two days and then take the domain down.
[00:30:18] They can automate all of that. And so, you know, but for those of us who have small businesses or even large businesses and have multiple divisions and we’re sending mail through different systems and all of this, DMARC’s hard to implement. So there’s no, there’s nothing about DMARC in and of itself that says this mail is not spam and there. It just, it, it doesn’t mean anything in terms of getting to the inbox
[00:30:46] Dennis Dayman: yeah, it doesn’t mean about the inbox. It’s just that it’s just an identity piece and that this is me and this is, and this is where I live or this is where anything for me, or is authored by me. It’s coming from the right.
[00:30:56] Laura Atkins: Right. And, and that’s, the identity that you hang the reputation on.
[00:31:01] And so now we can hang reputation on those from addresses, which we couldn’t before, because I can go out and I can put any firm address in my emails that I want. And there’s no constraint on that. and you know, Early on when email was a thing you had to, you had to jump through huge amounts of hoops to get an email address.
[00:31:21] It wasn’t trivial to get an email address and you had to justify it and, you know, back and RFC822 days. you know, it was hard to get an email address and, and you had standards and you had to, and some people would take your email address away and tell, tell you, you could not be on the internet if you did bad things.
[00:31:39] And so there was kind of the authentication and the honesty, and the enforcement happened a step behind email, and now we have free email addresses and people can create email addresses in 20 seconds. And it’s you know, anybody can have any address
[00:31:54] Dennis Dayman: They can have any address, right? Exactly. Well, you know, speaking of Gmail and sort of, you know, email authentication, you know, as we had mentioned earlier in this podcast that, you know, in the inbox right in g-mail has such subtle inboxes.
[00:32:06] Right. But you know, they have the primary inbox and the primary tab as they call it, they have the, you know, the Gmail tabs and whatnot. You know, the question that we still sort of getting back and forth is waiting for my email’s not going to the inbox of Gmail. It’s going to the promotions. This is not good.
[00:32:21] My reputation is, is failing or you know that I’m not going to have any sort of ROI. Do you find that to be true at all? When you’re talking to your clientele? That’s okay. Say something in the, in the non-primary boxes is bad.
[00:32:34] Laura Atkins: There are a lot of people who hate the pro who hate the tab system.
[00:32:38]and I’ve heard it both from my, my friends who like, you know, are big, heavy email users in the tech space. They hate tabs and I’ve heard it from this sender side. So, but from the Gmails perspective and Google’s perspective, any tab is the inbox. You know, if it’s the promotions tab or the update tab, that’s all the inbox.
[00:32:59] Right. And so from their perspective, they are not punishing you by putting mail in the promotions tab. What they’re trying to do is help their recipients organize their mail better. What I have seen from folks is that when mail goes into the promotions tab, and I did an interview with the markup a couple of weeks ago about, some activist mail that’s getting put in the promotions tab and.
[00:33:26] You know, what folks are seeing is that if the mail goes into the promotions tab opens decrease, and they think that means engagement decreases. And they think that means that their deliverability is overall worse because they’re seeing less engagement. I know that you know, people have tried to figure out how to get out of the promotion stuff.
[00:33:51] What can we do? How can we keep our mail going to The primary tab. And fundamentally there doesn’t seem to be any way to defeat that. You know, I can tell you how to get the mail out of the junk folder at Google. I can tell you how to get mail to the junk folder at Microsoft. I can’t tell you how to get mail from the promotions tab to whatever the primary tab or the updates tab or whatever. The algorithms that they use there are very, very, They’re so black box. You can’t even really poke it. And I know, I know people have poked it and I know people have figured out, Hey, if we take this, you know, if we take for a while, it was, if we take the list, unsubscribe, header out, it won’t go to promotions. And that lasted all of about three days.
[00:34:33]And then everything went back into the promotions tab. So, you know, there’s, there’s active development going on where Google is trying to classify mail.
[00:34:41] Dennis Dayman: Yeah. You know, what’s funny about that is I remember, I can’t remember. I want to say maybe it might’ve been 2016, 2017 timeframe, but you know, as I was sort of making some news over in the return path, back in the day, right.
[00:34:52] We had done some studies back then that had shown that actually, you know, being in the promotions folder didn’t affect your deliverability. Right? Nor did it affect your inferior opens in your clicks. In fact, in some cases, we have found the opens and clicks were higher. In the promotions, folders, or promotions tabs.
[00:35:07] And the reason we thought and what we kind of understood was that instead of us waking up on a Monday morning and removing all the email that we don’t want to deal with and the first thing on Monday morning, but we wanted to go right to our work. Right. Which is always talking about the time of day and time to send a message.
[00:35:21] But. You know, we found that when it was moved off for later, it was done automatically that when the user had time on their hands, they were bored it was a Friday, whatever it was, then they were more apt to spend a little more time with those emails because they had the time and it wasn’t disruptive to their normal day of life and, you know, sitting in their primary inbox.
[00:35:38] So it actually can be a good thing is from what we had found back then.
[00:35:43] Laura Atkins: Yeah. And, More, you know, I refer to that study all the time. When people come up to me, it’s just like, no, this is, this is what people who have looked at this say. I have had clients come up to me just, you know, in the last three or four months saying things like we can tell when we go to the promotions tab because our opens are 10% less.
[00:36:02] But I also think that we are in some respects over prioritizing opens, you know, That we put way too much emphasis on whether or not a pixel gets loaded. And just because a pixel gets loaded does not mean that a message was read and a message was interacted with. And so we have to be careful.
[00:36:29] To say the promotions have as bad. It is bad. My open rates are lower because maybe those people are just like clicking through their mailbox and they didn’t read it. They just happen to click through and, you know, email A email B, email C, email D I didn’t read any four of those, but they all triggered his opens.
[00:36:48] Dennis Dayman: Right, right.
[00:36:50] Laura Atkins: So it’s a challenging one. And I don’t, I don’t think the opens being lower means that engagement is lower, but it does upset people and people don’t like being in the promotions tab. On the other hand, Google is attempting to make the promotions tab, a happier place, and there are things like AMP and there are things that you have Google actions, and I’ve not kept up with all of it, but those things will only happen if the mail is in the promotions tab, they will not happen if it’s in the primary tab or a different tab. So they are trying to say, yeah, we’re going to put you in the promotions tab, but here we’re going to give you a cookie.
[00:37:32]Dennis Dayman: Oh, wait, I’m sitting here thinking about a cookie, but I’m thinking privacy could be talking about actually you’re talking more like positive reinforcement, sort
[00:37:41] Laura Atkins: Here, have a Scooby snack.
[00:37:43] Dennis Dayman: Yeah, exactly. Okay.
[00:37:44] Laura Atkins: Sorry.
[00:37:47] Dennis Dayman: Cookie. I’m like, wait a minute. Privacy. Doesn’t make sense. Okay. Now I get it. Yeah. Well, Laura, with the last couple of minutes that we have for, you know, for our chat, I kind of was interested, you know, again, you’ve been doing this as long as the rest of us have.
[00:37:59] And, you know, I would have told you years ago that I would’ve put money on, on certain technologies and then found out later that would have been completely wrong. And in some areas, I think we were right, but you know, what are the trends that you’ve got as you’re seeing in terms of, you know, what, like word of the wise is seeing.
[00:38:14] Your time in the industry, but what are some of the trends that you’re seeing develop in the email deliverability space with the next five years? Is there anything that you could think of?
[00:38:23] Laura Atkins: Yeah, we’re going to have to rethink how we measure deliverability. we’re going to have to figure out way better ways to determine how people are interacting with our messages, all of the technology that we use.
[00:38:43] In terms of inboxing in terms of filtering opens, even though even the data hygiene stuff that folks are doing, you know, all of that is 20-year-old technology. And that stuff, most of that stuff was, was invented around the time email became a major engine for commerce and that’s not kept up. That doesn’t work.
[00:39:09] You know, I look at my clients who, you know, have various inbox testing tools and those inbox testing tools, particularly at the consumer ISP are essentially worthless. You know, if, if my client comes to me and they say, well, you know, this inbox testing tool is telling me we’re only hitting 50% inbox at Gmail.
[00:39:32] And then I look at their open rates. And again, open rates are a problem, but, you know, and then I look at their open rates and their open rates are 30 to 40%. And it’s like these two, these two things do not make sense together. One of them is not correct. And you know, for me, the only time I trust inbox testing tools these days is if it says that mail is a hundred percent going to the inbox, then I believe that that customer that the vast majority of their mail is going to the inbox. Some of their mail is still going to spam because individual users can set up their filters, individual users. Once you’ve hit the spam button inside that interface, then the mail will go to the spam folder regardless of how anybody else is receiving it.
[00:40:19] But all of these technologies have not kept up with what the ISP is are doing and what the filters are doing. And we’re kind of hitting a place where, you know, I don’t know, I don’t know how to fix these problems. I don’t, I don’t see a path through, but I also know that you know, there are folks who are technically smarter than I am and who probably can be more creative and come up with a way to get a better handle on deliverability. But the tools that we’ve got are our tools for a system that no longer exists and companies are still making money and they’re probably going to continue still making money, but the tools themselves are becoming less and less relevant. Right. And that’s, and that’s a problem, you know, we’ve got to come up with ways to see what our deliverability looks like.
[00:41:19] We’ve got to come up with better ways to understand that relationship between ourselves and our recipients, you know, between the sender and the recipient, that doesn’t rely on, you know, various bits of decade-old, two-decade-old technologies.
[00:41:37] Dennis Dayman: Well, yeah, or yeah, to date to two-decade-old technologies, but like you just said, or people who are wanting to work on this a little bit longer than I, and you had been working on this cause it’s been a, it’s been a very long ride and all of this, to be honest.
[00:41:49]Laura Atkins: It certainly has.
[00:41:51] Dennis Dayman: I don’t know. Well, Hey, Laura, I want to thank you for being a part of the Netcore ForTheLoveOfEmail podcast. Can you tell our listeners so you know how they can get in touch with you and Steve if any of these sorts of help or, or where they can maybe even see your advice and whatnot on Slack or Twitter?
[00:42:04] Laura Atkins: Yep. So I’m on the email geeks, Slack channel. And I don’t, I don’t remember how to sign up, but there’s a, there are a URL and Dennis, Dennis can find it for you. So I’m on the email geek Slack. I’m also, I’m at wordtothewise.com. And if you want to go see, some of our blog posts, we’ve been blogging since 2007, and I’ve taken a bit of a break the last couple months cause things have just been a little crazy with COVID and everything else going on. But you know, we have, we have, I think, close to 3000 blog posts over the last 12 years. so go, you can see that wordtothewiese.com/blog. I’m also on Twitter as @wise_Laura and, there’s contact information on the blog site.
[00:42:47] If you want to contact us.
[00:42:49]Dennis Dayman: That’s perfect. That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much for that. I appreciate that. Listen, folks, we hope that this has helped you guys understand sort of clarifying the truths from the fiction regarding some of those emails, deliverability myths, and concerns and that what Laura has provided you guys have been, you know, great insights to solve some of those inboxing issues.
[00:43:05] And again, Well, you know, she’s more than happy to help you out if you have other issues like that. But also if you still need help with, with your email platform, you know, again, check out Netcore, right? They are a global email engagement leader, as you already know, and they are using their AI-powered, email delivery and campaign solutions that have been driving a big ROI, you know, for more than two decades to its customers across the globe.
[00:43:27] Don’t forget. you know, since March of this year, when we were starting this podcast, They still have their COVID relief program. And that continues if you enroll now again, you will still be able to send unlimited emails at zero cost until September of this year using all of their, AI-powered solutions.
[00:43:42] And don’t forget folks, subscribe to Netcores, a weekly podcast. You can do that by going to Spotify, iTunes, Google Play Stitcher, or you can visit netcore.co and find all of our episodes from the past on their website and we drop these every Thursday. So tune back in again for our next one. And again with that, everyone stays safe and healthy.
[00:44:01] And again, thank you so much Laura for being a part of this and thank you to our listeners. And we’ll see you next time on our podcast. Thanks a lot. Take care.