Maximizing delivery of bulk e-mails for an e-mail newsletter?
September 13, 2004 12:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking to help a client set up a totally legitimate outbound e-mail newsletter (all opt-in, for a known audience, etc.), and I'm trying to help them minimize bouncebacks on known addresses. Any experience with maximizing delivery of bulk e-mails? [more inside, and no, I don't want to spam anyone]

Let me just reiterate a couple of points up front

1) This is for newsletter/announcement mailings to a group of recipients who have all given their e-mail addresses, and given explicit permission to mail them.

2) The issue is not bounce back on bad/out-of-date e-mail addresses. We're putting separate processes in place to deal with those.

The main problem is that they've used other, well-established mailing-list service providers, and gotten bounce-back rates of up to 40%, because of blacklists, outbound SMTP thresholds, and all the other infrastructure anti-spam hurdles that have cropped up in the past few years. They've now gone back on the other end of the spectrum so far that they're actually using an outdated version of "majordomo", and pasting in e-mail addresses one at a time. Not only is that a huge waste of time, but they have no tracking, etc. On the other hand, because it sends out the mails one at a time, they all seem to pretty much get through.

Here's what I'm looking for--a legitimate way of sending out several thousand e-mails (not all at once, but at least within a 24 hours period) in a way that won't either flip out their little local ISP, or send half the mails down a black hole. I think I've found a pretty good list management client, that's actually got a lot of flexibility in how it can send out the mails, but I want to tap into some previous experience, if I can, on setting this up. Any ideas?
posted by LairBob to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I had to deal with this a little while ago. The tihngs i learned that would tip off things like spamassassin were:

No real name in header
Phrases liike "click below"

Also, hotmail seems to have a grudge against cfmail cold fusion, but doesn't see to mind PHP-based mailers as much.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:41 PM on September 13, 2004

Best answer: My list:

Don't use HTML.

Keep outbound links to a minimum.

Don't attach images, especially web bugs or tracking shims. Don't even link to web bugs or tracking shims.

Link to as few images as possible.

If you do link to images, make sure they are found in custom domains and not on any of the for-hire storage services, particularly those devoted to bulk mailers.

The domain for the sending SMTP server should be the same as the From and Reply-To addresses.

Don't use lots of white space.

Spell-check everything.

Write very original copy. Make it shine: the better written it is, the less it will look like spam.

Keep it short.

Cut back on the hype: do not include "on sale," "for sale," "buy now," "click now," "click here," "limited time," "improve your," "I am the son of deposed president Sonny Abache."

Remove boilerplate: do not include "to be removed," "to unsubscribe," "this message was sent."

Don't fake the User-Agent.

Don't use over-the-counter "burst" or other mailing list software. Such packages tend to have banned user agents because of abuse by others. Best to roll your own or use an Outlook add-on.

Do not use domains which include a 4 or a 2 between words, such as "" or "" Do not use domains which include any of these words: offer(s,z), deal(s,z), best, better, top, sites
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:15 PM on September 13, 2004

I highly recommend Mail Chimp.
posted by spilon at 1:39 PM on September 13, 2004

Best answer: I small company I own (but no longer work at) ran into this all the time (spam disclaimer: We sent out newsletters to people who went onto our clients site and specifically signed up to receive them (i.e. not just forgot to unclick a checkbox))

Although all the above tips are good, the biggest problem we had was that no matter what you did, you eventually got blacklisted as spam. All it takes is for one disgruntled user who forgot they signed up for this thing, or who cant find the desuscribe and privacy info, to report you to spamcop. They then blacklist you, no questions asked. Luckily, unless users continue to report you, the blacklist wears off, usually after a few days.

Unfortunately, for us, this meant having to have several mailservers at different addresses. After we used mailserver #1 for one mass mailing, if it got blacklisted we'd rollover to mailserver #2. And so on, rolling back to mailserver #1 after its blacklist had expired. I know this makes it sound as if we were spamming, but unfortunately, these are the kinds of hoops all legitimate email companies have to go through these days.

I subscribe to flavorpill, for example, which I always look forward to getting. Usually though, I have to look for it in my spambox.
posted by vacapinta at 1:55 PM on September 13, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks all. It's not too hard to get a basic handle on the _content_ side of things (like don't use "Viagra" ;) )--although I appreciate the tips--and the HTML construction, if we were to use it, really isn't a problem. (The domain is pretty much fixed as the client's source domain, so that's not really an issue, either.)

The real issue I'm trying to get current on (again) is what you might call "delivery mechanics"...along the lines of your suggestions like "make sure the domains for the SMTP and 'From' addresses are the same", vacapinta's comments, and any suggestions for valid, legitimate bulk mailing services that are able to deliver good pass-through rates. (I mean, I assume there's a market niche for someone to act as a kind of an SMTP intermediary, and spend the time to work within the bounds of the blacklists, etc, to help deliver better results?)

I appreciate this, though. With all the "how to spam" crap out there, it's pretty much impossible to catch up on this just via Googling and newsgroups.
posted by LairBob at 2:25 PM on September 13, 2004

Response by poster: [On immediate re-read...I meant "get current on (again)" as in "deal with again for the first time in several years", not in a snarky way.]
posted by LairBob at 2:27 PM on September 13, 2004

Response by poster: On some more research, the "whitelist"/"bonded e-mail" idea sounds interesting--anyone have any experience with Habeas, or anyone like them? (I also found MS's "Bonded Sender" program, but I know that's already caught up in a lot of controversy...any insights?)
posted by LairBob at 2:45 PM on September 13, 2004

The company I currently work at is partnered with Constant Contact, which does what you're looking for, I think. They are very, very careful about complying with regulations, and in general, being nice. Lists are supposed to be opt-in, and if a recipient opts out, they can't be opted-in again w/o their express choice. They also work with ISPs to see that their stuff is greenlighted when possible.
posted by weston at 2:50 PM on September 13, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks for the ref, weston--I had actually considered them pretty closely, but it's hard to sort through the huge welter of providers out there. This client had apparently used a similar online service ("Cooler E-mail", I think) with similar claims, but that's where they had gotten the huge bounce-back rates, so I was a bit leery of recommending one without some kind of voucher.

I'd basically started looking at a standalone mailing list app (Group Mail Plus), which also had the advantage of ODBC integration (which is where I really came into the picture on this stuff--we're developing online DB tools for them, and they begged for help on just getting their mail delivered). The downside of the standalone, though, is getting the mail _out_...if they do opt to go without the dedicated SMTP services of someone like Constant Contact, I want to make sure I understand the best way to get the messages out there from a standalone app.

With your recommendation, though, I'll take another look at CC. They definitely seemed in the top tier of online providers, so that could be good. (And MailChimp, as well).
posted by LairBob at 3:07 PM on September 13, 2004

Best answer: eROI is an email newsletter company that I've worked with many times. They actually are HQ'd in the same building that I'm in right now, and I've never had a problem with them being bounced from my nefariously blacklist-happy host.
posted by SpecialK at 5:31 PM on September 13, 2004

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