Apply best practices to ensure Outreach-generated emails have the best chance of reaching every recipient inbox.
- Outreach Users
An Overview of Emails and Spam
The most basic definition of spam is “unsolicited email that is sent in bulk to a list of people in a short period of time”. Every country has a different definition of what spam in their country means. Email itself is not inherently bad, and not all emails sent in bulk are marked as spam, however, it's important to understand the laws and governance around email, especially for Sales professionals. For example, a law passed to prevent spam in the United States is the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, which requires that each sender follow the guidelines below:
- Never use deceptive headers, From names, reply-to addresses, or subject lines.
- Always provide an unsubscribe link that works for at least 30 days after sending.
- Include your physical mailing address, usually in your signature.
Being marked as spam can have a detrimental impact on an organization's deliverability rates, but can also create risk of fines if the organization is not sending email responsibly and in line with local and federal laws.
What is a spam filter and how are they created?
Since the first spam email was sent in 1978 there has been a need to filter email messages that are unwanted, but it wasn’t really until the late 90’s and early 2000’s that spam filtering became widely adopted. In its infancy, spam filtering and detection was elementary and relied on very simple definitions and rules to identify malicious messages and what to do with them. As time has passed, technology has matured, and malicious actors have evolved, and so has the way that spam is detected.
The criteria and variables that are considered in spam detection vary by provider, however, most entities calculate a risk score to each sender to determine deliverability of email sent. Examples of these types of entities include inbox service providers, internet service providers, email service providers, security companies, and global anti-abuse organizations that track spam. These risk scores are generally tied to a domain or IP address, but in some cases may be at a user level. Most current day detection is much more mature than previous models and incorporates a multi-layered approach that includes some level of AI or machine learning to identify and predict if emails are considered good or bad. In addition to using many different data points, most providers share data and weigh that data as they see fit.
What factors contribute to spam score?
Sender reputation dictates whether an email is going to go into the inbox, spam folder, or rejected altogether. Reputation is calculated using many factors, including the topics listed below. Good reputation leads to better deliverability, where negative reputation can drive the message to the spam folder or in some cases not delivered at all. Some parties call this action generating a sender's "spam score".
- Age of IP address and domain "marriage", or the length in time that email has been sent from a domain using the same IP address increases trust and promotes better reputation.
- Senders should strive to have consistency in volume. Red flags are raised when a sender has a spike (low or high) in their typical sending volume. Any dramatic changes in behavior can set off a change in reputation.
- Abuse complaints are when recipients mark received emails as spam. In many cases, when users receive unwanted email and they have no recourse, they will manually mark an email as spam because they have no other option. When a human marks an email as being abusive it can hold a greater weight to hurting reputation.
- Sentiment plays a large role in the calculation of reputation. This reputation is calculated by inbox service providers to determine future email deliverability on their platform. Sentiment is how the recipient responds to receiving the email. That can include positive and negative signals. Some of the points looked at include how long a user looks at the email (or if they even open it), whether or not they scroll through it, or click through on links.
- Including unsubscribe links (and corresponding unsubscribe headers) improve sender reputation because they generate trust by demonstrating best sending practices and allowing recipients to opt-out of communications. Yes, the mailbox service providers know if the links are legitimate.
- Blacklisting/Graylisting will have a detrimental impact on a sender's ability to drive emails to the inbox. Blacklisting can occur when a sender is labeled as a spammer or sending malicious email and in turn tarnishes their sending reputation. There are several types of blacklists that are managed by different organizations that manage and propagate to additional entities. This information is generally shared among many providers. In addition to domains and IP addresses, URLs can also be blacklisted.
- Authentication has a huge bearing on calculation of risk. Authentication, like SPF, DMARC, and DKIM in good alignment provides proof that the email is authorized, authenticated, and lists instructions of what to do with messages that do not meet the guidelines.
- Spam traps.
- 3rd Party Security Filtering Products (in-between-ware) have an effect on reputation because in many cases data is shared by providers. The way customers interact with their email security products can have a profound effect on deliverability and reputation. Many email security products allow users to block incoming email by domain and sender which can bypass decision making at the mailbox service provider level.
- Sending email with quality and safe links can effectively prevent reputational issues associated with using shared pool domain click-tracking (not using branded urls). When a sender's domain and branded url are in alignment, it promotes trust with the recipient and shows the user that it is a trusted link which also makes them more likely to interact with the email. Additionally, using a branded url ensures that the reputation of the domain in any links included in email is not shared with other companies that may not be sending email responsibly.
Email Best Practices
Following best practices is important because it encourages interaction with content, which promotes better engagement and sentiment, which in turn creates better reputation, a higher probability of reaching the inbox, and more responses/bookings.
- Know Your Audience by sending relevant information to your target audience.
- Subject Lines should be interesting and encourage users to open your email. Think of them as a hook! Most mailbox service providers include actual opens (calculated on their internal end) as positive sentiment.
- Avoid language that could appear untrustworthy or may be associated with phishing or abuse. Using language or promotions that seem “too good to be real” does not establish trust with the recipient and makes users unlikely to interact with the email.
- Include content that encourages users to interact with it. Providing clickable links to the company website or calendar is instrumental in understanding the success of an email campaign as well as providing another opportunity to gain positive sentiment.
- Use branded URLs. Ideally all links should go back to the sending company domain to develop trust with the recipient and prevent cross-contamination of reputation between different organizations.
- Include unsubscription links. Allowing unengaged recipients the opportunity to opt-out of communications cultivates an environment where abuse complaints are low, engagement is improved, and general sentiment is increased resulting in better reputation and better inbox placement.
- Avoid large attachments and certain attachment types such as .exe, .zip, .swf, etc. While files that are too large can render an email undeliverable, adding attachments to emails can be detrimental to reputation because of most user security posture and training for employees to not click on attachments that are unfamiliar. In some cases corporate email infrastructure may disable attachments from external sources entirely.
- Send messages at a reasonable cadence. Give recipients the opportunity to respond to messages. Receiving too many emails too quickly can be off putting to many recipients. Consider slowing down the frequency of email based on the engagement of emails. Send to less engaged prospects and customers once a week instead of every day, and then maybe once a month if they trail off. When a prospect does engage, use it as a signal to increase the frequency of communications.
- Know when to nurture (pause communications) a prospect. Persistent emailing a prospect may be overwhelming and could be saturating their inbox. Instead of risking the prospect marking the communications they receive as spam, know when to give them a break.
- Personalize messaging by including prospect or customer name in the To: field (Clark Kent) , rather than just having the email address (firstname.lastname@example.org). This helps establish a relationship with the prospect and promotes trust that the message is not automated.
- Stop recycling content that is not effective. Set up a recurring time to assess and review content strategy. Look at measurable engagement to determine if a new strategy is needed. If a campaign was unsuccessful, go back to the drawing board and try something new.
- Don't buy lists of prospects. These lists are widely inaccurate, contain spam trap addresses, and often when a sender attempts to send to the same group of flagged addresses, that sender will be blacklisted. Additionally, sending unsolicited email to users that have not opted-in are likely to mark unsolicited messages as spam.
- Verify imported prospect data for incomplete and typo addresses to prevent bounces and blacklisting.
- Don't attempt to resend to addresses that have bounced. Hard bounces are considered permanent errors that will not be resolved. One of the most common bounce reasons is that the mailbox does not exist. As a result, these emails will never successfully deliver. Repeatedly attempting to send to these types of mailboxes can generate poor reputation and can cause blacklisting. Additionally, some abandoned addresses are intentionally transitioned into spam traps to identify bad senders. Hitting even just one spam trap is likely to cause deliverability problems.
- Showcase your brand to establish trust. Send your emails from a recognizable name, or use your brand name to help with recognition. Prospects and customers are more likely to trust a personalized sender and email address (email@example.com instead of firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Set a reasonable reengagement window. Finding a reasonable time to resequence a prospect after they have been nurtured or paused is incredibly important to preserve good reputation and increase engagement. If sentiment is not improving after a rotation, sending email to those prospects should cease.
- Stop sending to users that are not engaged. Since mailbox service providers started weighing engagement and sentiment so heavily towards sender reputation, persistent messages to users that are not engaged will damage reputation exponentially. Remove prospects or nurture them aggressively to manage reputation.
- Use a dedicated IP address. Make sure that all correspondence from each IP address is committed to one business. When one IP address is being used by several entities it creates cross contamination of reputation and makes it very difficult to isolate deliverability struggles.
ONGOING BEST PRACTICES
In 2024 Yahoo and Google started partnering to establish standardized best practices for sending email. Outreach recommends following these practices to ensure the best deliverability possible for all customers, whether they are sending B2B or B2C.
- Authenticate all email with SPF, DKIM & DMARC.
- Keep abuse complaints under 0.3%. Several mailbox providers provide deliverability metrics and complaint information to senders. Outreach encourages all customers to monitor and review their reputation with providers frequently. Google Postmaster Tools, Yahoo Sender Hub, Microsoft SNDS.
- Include 1-click unsubscribe headers and links in any email that has a likelihood to be reported as spam. Preference centers can also be used in addition to the 1-click to allow prospects and customers the ability to tailor what communications and at what cadence they receive them. This could be an opportunity to allow customers to pause instead of opt-out. Preference centers do not take the place of 1-click unsubscribe.
- Strive for a bounce rate of less than 3%.
- Monitor for blacklisting. MX Toolbox has a free search available to check domain and IP address blacklisting.
- Monitor email engagement metrics (clicks, replies, bounces, and opt outs) and have a framework to pivot strategy based on the trends. When trends signal that there is a problem, it’s an indicator to quickly make adjustments before reputation takes a nosedive.
- Open data is inaccurate and should never be used as a metric of the success of deliverability. The only open data that Outreach encourages customers to scrutinize is when a campaign has a zero or extremely low open rate, as that could be an indication of a larger deliverability problem like blacklisting or rejected messages.
- Negative Signals (zero/low open rate, no bookings, no responses) is just as important as measurable engagement. When a campaign is unsuccessful, senders should review the sections on Composing and Sending Email Best Practices in this document.
Outreach Safety Settings
Admin settings within the Outreach Platform can help avoid being marked as spam:
- Domain Level Throttling
- Ability to Disable Link Tracking
- Domain Level Safety Settings
- Hard Bounce Limits - Lockout rogue users for 24 hours
- Require unsubscribe links
Admins can mandate the addition of unsubscribe links to individual one-off and bulk emails sent from Outreach in the Org settings > Email > Unsubscribe section.
Unsubscribe links can be configured to be automatically included in sequenced emails by adjusting rulesets. For more information regarding rulesets, refer to the Outreach Sequence Ruleset Overview article.
Control the Message
Governance Profiles are an Admin setting to help limit your user permissions and control messaging that is delivered to your prospects.
BE ADVISED: This document provides information about new bulk sending requirements from Google and Yahoo. It should not be construed as legal advice, and we recommend that you work with your legal advisors and/or compliance team to ensure you are sending emails in compliance with all applicable laws.