Some would say email and spam go hand-in-hand. I would say that spam was created to keep the balance of the amazingness that is email. You know — the whole yin yang principle.

Nice to Make Your Acquaintance

If you’ve worked at all with Simpleview, then you’ve met our famous Director of Network Operations (and all-around-will-help-you-with-anything-guy), Sean Smith.

He is your go-to for anything that is connected to an IP address or a wireless signal in some sort of fashion. And if not — he can find out why.

I sat him down with a Google Doc and let him loose on some burning questions I have received from some email peeps on such topics as spam filters, email reputation, email authentication, and email content. Let’s see what he has to say!

Let’s Get This Party Started!

Q: How does the DMO IT Team have an effect on spam filters?  How much control do they have to make changes?  

A: This is kind of a loaded question - LOL! The amount of control they have on spam filters depends on the amount of control they have with the spam filter itself. Some are very basic filters that don’t allow for much “tweaking,” and some are super sophisticated and can literally bring email delivery/reception to its knees. The key here is for DMO IT staff to know the filter service they are using and how best to configure it so that things are not crippled but have a reasonable degree of security. It really is a very delicate balancing act.

Q: How well do you feel spam filters safeguard against actual spam?  

A: I have seen the backend of a number of filters. They work and are very valuable. Anyone that says otherwise just needs to disable one for a while and watch all the garbage filter into their inboxes (bleh!).

Q: With a company the size of Simpleview, on average, how many spam emails do you think we receive in a month?  

A: We do most of our spam filtering at the user level, meaning that we don’t trap email at the admin level but rather trust our staff to be diligent about not replying to or clicking on baited emails, so we don’t have any “real” good numbers for what our spam per day quantity is. Based on the reporting that we do have, which doesn’t account for someone removing email from the spam folder, over the course of a month (19 Oct to 19 Nov) we had 26,116 spam messages out of 166,448 total email messages. About 15% of the email that came into Simpleview was spam or at least initially marked as Spam. A little frightening, eh?

What else is there besides your reputation?

Q: What top one or two things would a DMO IT Team have to do to make sure their team’s email reputation remains good?  

A: I put reputation management into a simple phrase, “don’t be a jerk.” If someone has not opted into getting your solicitation emails, then don’t send them. Instead, work on ways to entice them to opt in. Of course, there are all the technical things that should be done if you are marketing via email. Some of these include maintaining a good SPF (Sender Policy Framework), record and ensuring that you have DKIM setup for all your mail-send domains for all your sending platforms such as Act-On, Distribion, Simpleview CRM, etc.

Q: Do you suggest using subdomains for sending email addresses to separate consumer sending and member/partner sending?  

A; There are a lot of benefits to separating B2B and B2C communications. Mostly, they are generally two different types of email campaigns, so you wouldn’t expect B2B to flag your communications as spam, where B2C would be more inclined to take that approach versus unsubscribing from your email campaign. So yes, I feel that having a dedicated subdomain for each mail type is a good idea. Several email service providers (ESPs) have started to recommend and support the same.

DKIM, SPF, and DMARC - oh my!

Q: Can you please explain why DMOs should set up DKIM, SPF, and DMARC when using an ESP?  

A: First, it would probably be best to define what each of these are:

DKIM - DomainKeys Identified Mail— an email authentication method designed to detect email spoofing. It allows the receiver to check that an email claimed to have come from a specific domain was indeed authorized by the owner of that domain. It is intended to prevent forged sender addresses in emails, a technique often used in phishing and email spam.

SPF - Sender Policy Framework — an email validation protocol designed to detect and block email spoofing by providing a mechanism to allow receiving mail exchangers to verify that incoming mail from a domain comes from an IP Address authorized by that domain's administrators. The list of authorized sending hosts and IP addresses for a domain is published in the Domain Name System (DNS) records for that domain in the form of a specially formatted TXT record. Email spam and phishing often use forged "from" addresses and domains, so publishing and checking SPF records can be considered one of the most reliable and simple to use anti-spam techniques.

DMARC - Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance — an email authentication, policy, and reporting protocol. It builds on the widely deployed SPF and DKIM protocols, adding linkage to the author (“From:”) domain name, published policies for recipient handling of authentication failures, and reporting from receivers to senders, to improve and monitor the protection of the domain from fraudulent email.

As you can see, all three really designed to help to the same basic thing: validate that an email coming from Joe@market-this.com is coming from an approved source whether that be Joe's actual email client or from one of the several ESPs that Joe uses to help him manage his email campaigns and his sender score. However using just one of these will not truly cover the bases as some mail servers will scan SPF, some will scan DKIM and some will scan a combination of all three in an effort to validate the email. Yes, there are still some email servers out there that don’t scan any of these records but instead just trust in heuristics to determine if an email is spam or not. This was an old-school method of spam and anti-virus scanning from back in the early 2000s.

Tips from the Master 

Q: Being in IT for as long as you have; do you have any tips for our email marketers?  

A: Work with your IT team, and your ESPs so that they are all on the same page regarding your desired outcome.  Make sure that everyone knows what the desired outcome is so they can all plan and design accordingly. An ideal situation would be to have their tech folks talk to your tech folks and ensure that everyone is on the same page. Email marketing has a huge potential to help grow your business, but if it is not handled correctly, your business will suffer by being identified as a spammer and your trust score will drop significantly.

Next Steps

Why don’t you set up a meeting with your IT Department to let them know that you are interested in what they do and how it can help with the email marketing program. Find out from them a few things:

  1. Are our spam filters set up in a way that would affect our email marketing campaigns? This can give you an insight into how your recipient's filters might be set up and how you can craft your messages.
  2. Do you have DKIM, SPF, and DMARC set up?  If not, find out if you can set them up.
  3. Have you thought about setting up a subdomain if you are sending consumer emails and member/partner emails?
  4. Is there anything that the email marketing team can do to make the IT Department’s life easier?

Also, make sure to bring goodies to the meeting!  It is always easier to brainstorm on a full stomach!