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Today's Email: The Demands of Authentication and Deliverability

How to Reach Your Recipients by Enhancing the Way You Send Email

Outi Tuomaala, L-Soft's VP of Marketing

By Outi Tuomaala
L-Soft's VP of Marketing

Sending your email with the latest authentication standards will bring you immediate deliverability benefits. Authentication also serves as a step toward open standards for email reputation and certification in the future. This article provides an overview of these key topics, tips on steps all legitimate email communicators need to take and information on how L-Soft software supports authentication and deliverability.

Email Deliverability: The Challenge

The email landscape is now constantly challenged by spam, viruses, phishing and fraud. Despite this, the trust in email still remains strong for messages that originate from a familiar sender. However, the way that legitimate senders – corporations, associations, non-profit organizations and educational institutions alike – need to send email is changing. Deliverability of email is no longer to be taken for granted. According to many surveys, up to 20 percent of opt-in messages do not reach the recipients. Why?

Many opt-in messages fail to reach their recipients because Internet Service Providers (ISPs) use overly aggressive spam-filtering methods: content filtering, internal and external black lists and white lists, volume filtering and bounce- and spam-complaint controls, among others. Popular web-based email services, such as Hotmail®, Yahoo!®, GmailTM and AOL® Mail have incoming mail filters to sort any suspicious mail directly to junk or bulk mail folders. Corporations and organizations have their own array of incoming and outgoing filtering systems to identify and eliminate spam. While such systems reduce spam significantly, they also produce false-positives, i.e. legitimate email messages that are mistakenly rejected or filtered by a spam filter. This is how legitimate email gets lost before reaching the customers who have opted in to receive it.

Use of Email Authentication Methods Is Expanding

Three of the main authentication standards used today are DomainKeys, Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and Sender ID. Major Internet and email service providers are testing authentication and certification methods in an effort to be able to reject obvious spam while allowing legitimate email to pass through their systems.

Many special-interest and industry organizations are working to fight spam, phishing and Internet fraud. Examples include the Email Sender and Provider Coalition (ESPC), the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) and anti-spam organizations such as the Spamhaus Project. Industry associations such as the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) require member companies to use email authentication systems to verify their messages.

New Certification Programs Emerge for Corporate and Nonprofit Sectors

As the reliability and trustworthiness of email has been questioned, additional reputation and certification service programs have also emerged in the marketplace. For instance Goodmail's CertifiedEmailTM program offers senders the possibility to certify their messages for a per-message fee. Certified messages bypass spam filters and are delivered directly to AOL mailboxes and other partnering ISP and ESP mailboxes. The senders, of course, must first be approved by Goodmail's system of accreditation. Another similar program is Return Path's Sender Score CertifiedTM program that allows senders to become accredited in the industry whitelist. Return Path's program has a flat yearly fee instead of pay-per-message fees, which provides for better control of overall certification costs.

It is likely that there will be similar nonprofit programs based on open standards soon. The benefits of such programs are that everyone can afford them and will therefore use them. Once everyone has adopted authentication and certification, ISPs can truly begin to sort mail traffic and make a true dent in the obvious spam traffic that lacks certification.

The market needs several organizations that provide certification and email reputation rating services so that the system will work globally and pricing will be reasonable. Such programs will evolve over time. The development of open standards will be important for net neutrality, too. This way everyone can afford certification, further weakening the position of spammers.

Today's Best Practices Pave the Way to the Future

Permission and relevance of messages continues to be the top priority of email list communicators; the expected and wanted content is the most valuable and visible to the recipients. The less-visible aspects such as efficient email list management, correct bounce handling and unsubscribe function are equally vital. All of these areas constitute good email practices, yet they fall short in today's email climate. Therefore, senders must take new steps.

Using technology that is already available to support authentication and deliverability brings immediate benefits and helps to form the foundation for the future reputation and certification services. Such services will likely build on the main authentication standards of today, such as DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM), an Internet standardization effort combining DomainKeys and Identified Internet Mail.

Tip from L-Soft: Start Today

Sending email today doesn't need to be a big headache. Start with the major authentication standards, and then track your deliverability rates carefully. This approach helps you prevent problems from the beginning as well as identify and deal with specific issues as they arise. If your email system is not up-to-date, now is the time to upgrade. Here are some steps:

  • Publish SPF authentication records in your DNS.
  • Add additional verification to your domain name with Sender ID.
  • Sign your outgoing email messages with DomainKeys signatures.

By doing this you will enjoy the benefits of authentication and, therefore, boost deliverability. If a large proportion of your recipients uses web-based email accounts, your messages will reach their in-boxes instead of their spam folders. For example, Yahoo! is a primary user of DomainKeys; GMail and AOL use SPF; and Microsoft's Hotmail uses Sender ID.

In addition to spam filters, authentication and certification standards, and black and white lists, ISPs also have different speed parameters related to receiving and blocking mail. If you are sending large volumes of email in a short timeframe, certain ISPs might block delivery for that reason alone. Therefore, good ISP relations are important to solve specific situations. The more you know about how your email is delivered, the better you can identify and resolve any challenges.

L-Soft Solutions Make It Simpler to Deliver

LISTSERV® Supports DomainKeys and Analyzes Your DNS Configurations

Email list management software LISTSERV's comprehensive Deliverability Assessment Interface helps you specifically to deploy DomainKeys, SPF and Sender ID. It analyzes LISTSERV and DNS configurations and gives you concrete suggestions on improving your email deliverability.

HDMail Optimizes Your Delivery

High deliverability mailer HDMail helps you to optimize your email delivery further. It takes into account the demands of the current email landscape and requirements of the ISPs. In addition, HDMail supports the leading authentication standards, virtual routing and differentiated sending. The live updates keep your system current with the latest domain policies, bounce filter definitions and domain throttling configurations. These features combine to help you simplify your email operations and improve your delivery rates. HDMail is optimized to deliver high-volume permission-based mailings, helping you to meet the deliverability requirements and speed parameters of ISPs.

L-Soft Adds Visibility to Your Email Deliverability

With LISTSERV and HDMail you get reports of server information on deliveries and performance, such as whether your configurations are in order, how many messages were sent, delivered, or failed, and recipient complaints and unsubscriptions. This gives you important information regarding whether your messages are being delivered to all recipients and, if not, the reasons for it. With this knowledge, your email operations will become more enjoyable to you, the sender.

All trademarks, both marked and not marked, are the property of their respective owners:

AOL® Mail is a trademark of AOL LLC
CertifiedEmailTM is a trademark Goodmail SystemsTM, Inc.
GmailTM is a trademark of GoogleTM, Inc.
MSN Hotmail® is a trademark of Microsoftreg; Corporation
Sender Score CertifiedTM is a trademark of Return Path, Inc.
Yahoo!® Mail is a trademark of Yahoo!® Inc.

Copyright 2006 L-Soft