Consulting the Oracle aka The ISP Wishlist

I hear a lot of “Hey, ISPs! Tell us exactly what to do, and we will do it!” from ESPs and marketers. Then last week I read this excellent post by Jamie Tomasello over at Cloudmark, and it got me to mulling over the whole thing.

So, okay. Ask and ye shall receive. I think I can probably safely speak for every major ISP in business with the following list. In no particular order, we wish you would do the following things:

– Do a stellar job of adhering to best practices, keeping complaints low and engagement high.
– Vet prospective clients carefully. Consider the consequences to your reputation if you assume them as customers.
– Don’t obfuscate your identity, or allow your clients to do so.
– Keep a close eye on the quality of the lists they send to, how often they send, and what the response is to the mailing. Make adjustments accordingly.
– Shut a customer that is causing a problem down immediately, no matter who they are, and fix the issue before resuming the send, unless there is a legal reason why this should not happen (and such instances will take place once in a blue moon on a leap year on the planet Pluto).
– Send less mail, and content of higher quality, to people that want it and are expecting to get it, and ONLY to those people.
– Set recipient expectations clearly at the outset, and don’t change the rules mid-game.
– Never send to a suppression list by accident. Render such an accident impossible.
– Don’t buy mailing lists.
– Don’t let your clients use purchased mailing lists. Learn how to spot one.
– Co-reg is nearly impossible to do right. So is e-pending. Consider the implications.
– Don’t listwash, or waterfall. Have high quality lists to begin with.
– Don’t hit spam traps. This is not as hard as it may seem, especially at AOL.
– Don’t send a ton of seed emails with every single triggered email. This will hurt your IP reputation.
– Ensure a low percentage of unknown users in a given send.
– Learn what ISP rejection codes mean. Abide by them. If a user no longer exists today, he will not exist tomorrow either.
– Be sure you have the network and server capacity to accept all your complaints and bounces.
– Look at your logs regularly.
– Unsubscribe people immediately, and don’t make them wait, or have to ask more than once. CAN SPAM may say ten days, but human nature says Right Now. Little is more infuriating and will drive your brand’s reputation down faster than getting more mail after having been told that one has been unsubscribed. Consider what humans do when they get angry.
– Don’t send to people who unsubscribed, a couple years later. Permission, once revoked, remains revoked. Consider what humans do when they get angry.
– Realize that marketing mail is a lot more important to you than to the network and end-user you’re sending it to, 98% of the time. Really.
– Don’t try to game the systems. We will figure it out, and that window will get more foggy for everyone. And your specific network will find itself unable to send email to that ISP.
– Study what IP reputation means at each major ISP. Learn it, and live it.
– When you bring new IPs online, warm them up slowly. Be aware of what to expect from various ISPs in such a scenario, and work accordingly. New IPs get rate limited. It’s a reality.
– Use consistent domains and congruent IP ranges whenever possible. Snowshoeing is bad. – Looking like you’re snowshoeing is not great either.
– Sign with DKIM.
– Do your own investigation before you contact the ISPs. You should already have a good idea what client X did wrong.
– Be able to do basic SMTP troubleshooting, or have someone on your team that can. Involve that person before you go ask the ISP for help.
– If you do ask the ISP for help, include useful data like IPs, error messages, time/date stamps, log lines, etc.
– Use the appropriate channels when asking for help. Don’t bother Barry unless you really have to. He’s a busy guy, and his primary focus is not on your marketing mail emergency.
– If you need to, hire a deliverability specialist to help you. You could even hire me!

These are not rules: these are the things we want you to do, and that I personally believe will improve deliverability in most cases. What we will not do is tell you how to go about doing them, what the thresholds are, or what the secret sauce that allows us to measure your success is.

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