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Email Marketing and Newsletter Administration


Some time back you heard about the low cost and undeniable benefits of upselling to your existing customers. Remind them of your services and the value your products can bring them. Regular informative and welcomed newsletters keep you "top of mind" and also help prevent that attrition where you lose that customer to a competitor.

So you tried a (rather primitive) newsletter mailing and were soon convinced of the benefits. It's really worked well and you decided that these had to be repeated at just the right intervals or at seasonal times and with good content as they were becoming an important part of the marketing strategy. The mailing lists got bigger, you began A/B testing, you segmented for client focus and all was good in this new venture.


Finding and writing the content wasn't too much of a problem. You know the questions your customers ask and you know what you need to promote. You were cracking these newsletters out using your standard email client, such as Outlook. You had run into limitations on the number of BCCs but by grouping in batches of fifteen or so your ISP was accepting them. But there were increasing problems.....

  • The list was getting to around 200 or so and you now had some 14 or so separate mailings to do to get them all out. The sending is becoming a tedious and major task.
  • There's a need to embed some photographs and maybe an attachment or two.
  • The newsletter is largely text based and doesn't look very slick or professional.
  • You discover the newsletter is unreadable on smartphones. You think that maybe half are read first on a cellphone (the RSA average is around 60%) and wonder if they are then ignored.
  • Someone has reported you for spamming and your ISP has threatened to close your website if you can't prove a double opt-in subscription. They want comment on your compliance with their acceptable use policies.
But now you begin to suspect that a significant number of your emailings are not reaching the recipients.

  • Some customers are complaining that they are not receiving the mailings.
  • Others are finding your newsletters in their spam bucket folders.
  • Some servers are refusing and returning your emails due to "reputational" domain issues.
  • Then a complete mailing fails with half the mails being rejected for a blacklisted router.
  • Emails are also being returned to you with references to SPF (Sender Policy Framework) and domain record inconsistencies.
  • Customers are asking you to authenticate with DKIM. What ?
Basically, what started out as a simple mailing was getting technically complicated and unreliable. And these newsletters are clearly important to your business. You have discovered the issue of email deliverability. You need to solve this problem and you need an alternative as you have moved beyond the DIY methods of newsletter distribution.


Dedicated mail distribution systems are now available. And some of the names are familiar - MailChimp, Constant Contact, Everlytics, AWeber, GetResponse, Drip and ActiveCampaign among many others. And they all have pros and cons which are different for each business. But which to use? You need to look first at the pricing model to see if it fits your mailing patterns and then you need to identify your critical issues to make sure they are addressed by the service you choose.

There is a considerable amount of time and effort that goes into learning how a service works, setting up your templates and uploading your lists. This is a sunk cost which works against making changes to other services so best you pick a suitable supplier from the start.

Some systems (ie. Constant Contact) work on the size of your mailing lists. So you may have a 12,000 list and two lists of 1,000 each. You would pay for a list total of 14,000 which would fall into a specific price bracket. With Constant Contact (this could vary with others) it would not effect price if you sent to only one of the small lists in a month, or if you sent to all three, and sent four times in the month. Your pricing is determined by the size of the lists and not by usage.

This type of model suits a promoting scenario where it is not too important if maybe 1% of recipients do not receive the odd mail and it is well adapted to where you have a large amount of mails to get out. But the "large amount" means that some users have dodgy lists, their mails may not be welcomed by all, and as a result the server (and the Constant Contact service) with have a less than perfect reputation with the blacklisting services. This factor alone will significantly drop your mail deliverability rate.

Other services that work on volume (ie they count your emails sent per month) are attractive to users with smaller mailing lists and consequently there is less spamming activity. Server reputation is much higher and the mail deliverability rates are very good. Everlytics is an example of a volume service with high deliverability rates.

It's not an easy task to evaluate what the mail deliverability rate will be for any particular service. Your own domain configuration and the content of the emails will even have some effect on deliverability.

Some suggestions would include:
  • Google the brand name of the service to find forums where this very discussion is taking place. Others who have travelled this road ahead of you will normally be happy to share experiences.
  • See if you can get a demo account. Then send test mailings to Mail Tester to get a scoring and detailed analysis of deliverability.
  • Check the service's domain name reputation at MXToolbox. Actual mailings may be made with different "From" domains and the sales people should be prepared to give you that information. If they dodge the issue then take that as a red flag.

The good news is that you will receive some great reporting of the recipient's behaviour once they receive your email. Each recipient has a unique code on the distribution server and any clicked links in the newsletter will call that server first which records the action (and the recipient's identifying code) before passing the link call on to your own server, or other destination. There is even an embedded hidden link in the emails which executes automatically on opening the email which records the fact that the user has actually started to read the email by opening it.

This means that the distribution server can report on the percentage of mail openings, bounced mail (hard and soft bounces), list the failed deliveries (with reasons), as well as a number of different behaviour metrics. Effectively, if you were announcing four new car model launches, you could get lists of your customers that clicked on (ie. are interested in) each of the new models.

As a general rule, the Big List services (such as Constant Contact) are not that big on support and you have to wade through clumsy knowledgebase systems and FAQs to find answers. Some provide forums as well which their own support staff do service - but not too many offer that.

The Volume services (such as Everlytics) are usually much better with support as there is less going wrong and they need to ensure their deliverability rates are high. Live support obviously works best but a quick response to a decent ticket system can give just as good problem resolution results.

Time Zone issues are linked to the support subject. If you can only get support from daytime staff then USA West Coast located services (Pacific Time) are only available from 5:00pm South African time. Not very useful if you have issues to work through and then have to wait an hour or two for an answer.

If you are required to contract for a lengthy period (over 6 months) then try to negotiate out of that as it effects your ability to move if the service does not deliver on promises. Once you have provided credit card info (the usual means of payment) they will present every month on your signed obligation and you will have to repudiate with your bank every month. That's a lot of extra admin and it's best to not have to go there.

Related Topic   :   Mail Administration
Related Topic   :   Solving Missing Email Problems