Women’s apparel merchant Coldwater Creek sends the 2.5 million customers on its e-mail file roughly two e-mails a month. But a year ago nearly 30% of those e-mails were getting blocked by Internet service providers (ISPs).
“We see a direct correlation with our online sales and e-mail campaigns,” says Christine Laczai, vice president of e-commerce for the Sandpoint, ID-based cataloger/retailer. “If 30% of our e-mail isn’t getting delivered, we could see a 30% variance in revenue.”
Looking to improve its e-mail deliverability, Coldwater Creek signed with New York-based e-mail service provider Return Path in May 2004. By looking at public and proprietary data sources, Return Path can determine if customers are causing e-mails to be blocked by reporting them as spam to their ISPs or if an e-mail list has too many “unknown users” or other problems that could possibly lead to ISP blockage.
For example, last summer Yahoo! was sending e-mails from Coldwater Creek into customers’ bulk folders instead of their inboxes. Return Path detected the error and contacted Yahoo! to ensure that Coldwater Creek had “white-list” status and was therefore considered a legitmate e-mailer rather than a spammer.
Almost immediately Coldwater Creek saw its e-mail deliverability rates climb from 70% to an average of 98%, primarily because of Return Path’s efforts with the ISPs on Coldwater Creek’s behalf. Coldwater Creek pays Return Path a monthly fee; costs vary depending on how many e-mail campaigns are sent during a month. A marketer such as Coldwater Creek can expect to pay $2,000-$5,000 a month, says Jennifer Wilson, vice president of marketing at Return Path.
Getting on the ISPs’ good side
By now most marketers understand that certain words can trigger an ISP to flag a legitimate e-mail as spam. What most marketers don’t know, Wilson says, is that ISPs also flag messages with discrepancies in coding and domain names.
“Their filtering systems look for your coding on the back-end of your e-mails,” Wilson says. “Marketers are just beginning to understand this.” If, for example, an image in an e-mail was tagged “bikini,” but the copy didn’t contain any references to “bikini” or related words, an ISP might consider the message spam.
Or say the domain name on the “from” line doesn’t match the domain from which the e-mail was sent — to an ISP that’s a warning sign. According to Wilson, upon receiving an e-mail at its gateway, an ISP will look at the name of the sender on the “from” line, then “view the publicly accessible record for that sender to see if that sender is authorized to send that e-mail.” That entails searching for the sender’s name on the Domain Name System (DNS), a database available to the public that identifies the Internet protocol addresses of every domain name, to confirm that the sender’s domain name is the same as the domain from which the e-mail was sent. If there’s a discrepancy or if the sender doesn’t appear on the DNS, “it can cause your e-mail to look spammy even though you are not,” Wilson says.