Email Validation for Improved Deliverability and Marketing Results
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Post on 13-May-2015
DESCRIPTIONEmail is quickly becoming the preferred method of communication for businesses across the world, regardless of industry. Email is faster and less expensive than traditional mail, and many customers choose to receive messages from the companies they do business with through the email channel.
1.EmailValidation for ImprovedDeliverability and Marketing ResultsAn Experian QASWhite Paper2. EmailValidation: How to ImproveDeliverability and Marketing ResultsReduced inbox delivery andperformanceInternet Service Providers (ISPs)like AOL, Hotmail and Gmail activelyscreen and filter incoming mail fortheir users. Increasingly, ISPs rely ona mailers reputation to determinewhat email messages will get throughto users inboxes. In fact, a studyby Return Path found that 77% ofdelivery problems were based onsender reputation. Sender reputationis based on several factors:Bounce rate- the number ofmessages that are returned asundeliverable divided by the numberof emails sent.Complaint rate- the number of peoplewho report your messages as spamdivided by the number of emailsdelivered.Spam trap hits- the number of emailsdelivered to addresses that areexplicitly used to trace and catalogspam.With all of these metrics, the higherthe numbers are, the worse thesender reputation. A slightly poorreputation will cause some messagesto go into the spam folder, and, asreputation worsens, messages maybe partially or fully blocked.WithAOL, for example, a complaint rateover 0.1% may cause some messagesto go into the spam folder, and a rateover 0.3% may lead to messagesbeing blocked.For most ISPs, a double digit bouncerate or mailing to a single spamtrap can lead to some blocking.Once senders reputation has beendamaged, it takes time and effortto return to a positive relationshipwith the ISP.This means that whilemessages in the current campaignreceive less-than-desirable inboxplacement, future email campaignsmay also be negatively impacted.Email marketers looking to improveand/or maintain positive reputation,to ultimately improve marketingresults should evaluate potentialemail validation tools to improve thequality of email lists.Improved reputation and resultsEmail validation starts with theidentification of undeliverable emailaddresses, but more comprehensivevalidation services can also flagspam traps and addresses that arelikely to generate complaints. A fullsuite of validation services leads to: Reduced bounce rate-RemovingEmail is quickly becoming the preferred method of communication for businesses across theworld, regardless of industry. Email is faster and less expensive than traditional mail, and manycustomers choose to receive messages from the companies they do business with through theemail channel.The success of your email marketing program depends on your subscribers seeing and respondingto the messages you send. Effort spent optimizing the content, relevance, and timing of emailsis wasted if subscribers never actually see these communications. Getting email messages intothe inbox is essential for email marketing success, and mailing to undeliverable emails, peoplewho will mark your messages as spam (a.k.a. complainers and screamers), and spam traps cancause emails to be lost in the spam folder or even blocked. Email validation tools enable you toprevent bad addresses from permeating your list, improve deliverability, and capture more leads ultimately leading to stronger ROI on email communications. 3. invalid email addresses from your list or preventing themfrom getting onto the list in the first place means that agreater percentage of emails sent will be delivered. Fewer complaints and spam trap hits- Not mailingto people who will mark your messages as spam andavoiding traps results in a lower complaint rate and abetter sender reputation. Increased inbox delivery and results-With a betterreputation from fewer bounces and complaints, moreif not all-messages will make it into the inbox of yoursubscribers, resulting in greater open, click, and responserates. Lower mailing costs- If you use an Email ServiceProvider (ESP) to send email, fewer messages senttranslates to lower costs. Improved deliverabilityalso means less effort managing your mailings andinfrastructure. More usable leads- Validating emails when theyreentered on your website ensures that you capture aworking address, increasing data quality and the numberof deliverable addresses on your list.After implementing email validation, companies havereported as much as a 75% reduction in bounce rates and20% growth in open rates. For a retailer, higher open ratesmean additional sales that directly benefit the bottomline. For email newsletters, more opens result in greaterbrand exposure and better response rates to ads, thusrepeat advertisers and higher advertising rates.Validating emails at the point of entry online reduces dataentry errors and fraud, resulting in fewer lost leads anda larger email list. In an analysis of real-time validationresults across its clients, Experian QAS has found that asmuch as 8% of emails entered on websites are incorrector invalid. If you pay a penny every time you validate anemail, catching bad emails and capturing good ones hasa positive ROI if the lifetime value of an email addressis at least $0.125. For businesses that measure the valueof an email in dollars, money is clearly being lost if emailvalidation has not been implemented.How to validate email addressesEmail validation can be as simple as checking if there isan @ sign in the address. But to achieve the cleanestand most mailable set of email addresses, there areseveral steps that should be performed.Catch and correct syntax errorsThe proper syntax for email addresses is defined by theInternet standards document RFC 5322, yet it is importantto note that there are some email address formats thatare used in practice that do not meet the standard. Forexample, the RFC prohibits the use of a period beforethe @ symbol, but some domains allow it. It is therefore 4. essential to use a validation tool that is sophisticatedenough to both accept the full range of valid emailaddresses and also catch emails that on the surface lookacceptable, yet in fact will never work.Free email validation programs do a relatively simpleseries of checks to see if there is a single @ and a periodin the domain, and ensure that the email as a whole usesan accepted range of characters. Often, these free scriptspermit emails with syntax errors, but also reject perfectlyvalid ones, leading to lost customers. For example, certainweb forms will not accept emails that contain a plus sign,even though domains such as Gmail permit these emailaddresses. However, a plus sign cannot be used in adomain name, and other validation programs will let thisthrough.Most ISPs enforce their own format rules, which arestricter than the overall standard. For example, AOLemail addresses never start with a number, and a plussign cannot be used in a Hotmail address. By using emailverification that incorporates accurate ISP format rules,you can minimize bad data and capture more valid emails.By correcting email addresses with syntax and spellingerrors, you can recover otherwise invalid emails andassist visitors to your website. Email syntax errorscan appear because addresses were mistyped bycustomers online, improperly entered by customerservice representatives, or incorrectly scanned fromproduct registration cards. Domains could be misspelled,someone might type 2 instead of @, or a comma appearused instead of a period. Advanced email validationsolutions can fix these errors, allowing the sender toeither prompt a customer with a suggested correction orupdate the email list prior to the next mailing. Here aresome examples:Invalid EmailSmith, Bessie fred;firstname.lastname@example.org_doe2hotmale.email@example.comCorrected Emailbsmith@firstname.lastname@example.org_doe@email@example.com@aol.com 5. Confirm email domains workProperly validating email domain namesthe portion ofthe email to the right of the @ sign-further increasesthe number of addresses flagged as invalid. For manylists, proper domain validation can find three times moredead emails than syntax checks alone.A valid domain both exists and is enabled to accept email.Many domains have been registered, but email servershave never been set up, so these domains cannot acceptmail. However, email marketers are cautioned not to relyon solutions that verify domains in real time. Networkoutages are a fact of life on the Internet. If there was anynetwork interruption during a real-time domain check, alladdresses at that domain would be falsely categorized asdead.Enterprise validation services maintain a domaindatabase and monitor the status of a domain over days,not seconds. A domain is classified as invalid only if itfails repeated checks over several days, which ensuresthat no valuable data is lost.Verify mailboxes existThe most important component of email validation isverifying the mailbox at the domain. For example, with theaddress firstname.lastname@example.org, is sarah667 a workingaccount at Hotmail? Experian QAS has typically foundthat invalid mailboxes consistently account for over 70%of the undeliverable emails found during email validation.The most accurate way to validate a mailbox withoutactually sending an email message is to ping themailbox.This is done by pretending to send to an addresswithout actually doing so. It uses the same process asemail delivery software to check for a hard bounce, andit can be just as accurate, as long as the solution canaccurately differentiate the myriad status codes returnedby email servers.It is important to note that this is not a process that canbe carried out by any organization. Pinging a domainmany times without actually sending any email can causean IP address to be blocked. Using an email validationprovider who uses their own dedicated IPs and conformsto best practices will insulate you entirely from any risks.Mailbox pinging will find most, but not all, undeliverableemails.The administrators of each domain controlwhether the domain will provide hard bounce informationduring an email delivery session (using the SMTPprotocol).While the majority does this, some domains usecatch-all accounts and never generate a single bounce,and some domains only send a bounce email if an email isactually sent.Suppress spam traps and risky email addressesEmailing certain kinds of addresses can hurt yourreputation and ability to communicate with subscribers.Here is a description of each kind and how you shouldhandle them:Types of spam trapsSpam traps are working email addresses that are usedto identify spam messages and senders of spam. Mailingto them can get you blacklisted and blocked. Becausespam traps are supposedly never actively subscribed to amailing list, the reasoning is that any email sent to themmust be unsolicited, i.e. spam.Traps may appear on your email list as a result ofabandoned emails, malicious activity, or harvested data.Old, once valid emails are sometimes converted intospam traps. Someone could deliberately poison a list bysubscribing a known spam trap to it. Emails harvestedfrom the Internet frequently contain spam traps, and datashould never be purchased from a disreputable source.The creators of spam traps do not want them to bediscovered, so it is impossible to build a comprehensivelist of these damaging addresses. However, by workingwith a validation provider that has a long history in theindustry, you can minimize the risk. Its important to beaware of the following types of spam traps:Role-based accountsMailing email addresses that represent a group of peopleor a job function such as email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org is not recommended. Because multiplepeople frequently receive messages sent to suchaccounts, those messages are more likely to be markedas spam. In addition, role-based email addresses for olddomains are more likely to be repurposed as spam traps.Fake emailsWhile not nearly as harmful as the categories above,allowing fake addresses onto your list ties up resourcesand allows people access to information you wanted toprotect. Fake addresses can be as simple as email@example.com or contain vulgar words. Using the proper emailvalidation on a web form will stop a list from beingpolluted.Complainers and screamersWithin the email industry, complainers are peoplewho habitually report commercial email as spam, andscreamers are the dreaded individuals who angrily callto complain about unwanted email and sometimes eventhreaten to sue.When working with a large or historicalemail list, it is better to be safe than sorry and weed outaddresses that may increase your complaint rate, ruinyour mailing reputation, and cause your messages to befiltered or blocked. 6. Known bouncersWhile real-time mailbox validation is highly accurate,it is a resource-intensive process and may not be cost-effective for large email databases. A quicker and moreaffordable solution for reducing your bounce rate is tomatch your list to a file of emails that are known to havebounced when mailed. Any company that does largevolume email delivery maintains such a list, and someemail validation providers aggregate this data and offerit as a service. It is important, however, to use only liststhat are recent and were collected using accurate bouncetracking technology.All known bouncer lists suffer from false positives, i.e.,they incorrectly contain some working email addresses,and the problem gets worse with older lists.Whenworking with bounce suppression, you should be wary ofmatch rates that are too high.You can test the vendorsbounce list against emails youve recently mailed to seehow many deliverable emails were improperly flaggedas dead. Depending on the size of the subscriber list,the value of an email address for your business, and yourspecific deliverability challenge, a bounce suppressionfile can either quickly ready your list for mailing or causemore problems than you had anticipated.Do Not MailThe Direct Marketing Association maintains a list ofpeople who have contacted the DMA and asked to notto receive unsolicited commercial email. By matchingprospect email lists against the DMA file, you can avoidcomplaints and support industry efforts to reduce spamand avoid legislation.Wireless domainsAs part of the federal CAN-SPAM legislation, sendingunwanted commercial email messages to wirelessdevices without prior permission is against the law.The FCC maintains a list of Internet domain namesthat are used to transmit email to wireless devices, andprospect lists should be matched against the list to avoidcomplaints and fines.When to use email validationThere are a variety of tactics for keeping your email listclean, but when should you use them?At the point of entryValidating email addresses as they are collected is thebest way to prevent bad emails from getting on your list.In addition, by prompting users as they enter invalidemails, you can increase the number of working addressesadded to your list, which translates to increased revenueand brand awareness.Emails actively submitted to your list are fresh, and thosecustomers have a confirmed interest in subscribing. Inthis setting, the best validation techniques are: Syntax, domain, and mailbox validation Email correction Suppression of spam traps, role-based accounts, andfake emailsPrior to mailing dormant dataIf you have an email list that has not been mailed inmonths or years, scrubbing it before mailing it will greatlyincrease the chance that you will be able to successfullydeliver emails to those subscribers. Some ESPs shutdown mailings that exceed their thresholds for bounceand complaint rates, and only by validating the list firstwill you be able to use it.All of the tactics reviewed in this white paper are relevantto email data that hasnt been recently mailed, and, forvery old or large lists, suppressing known bouncers andcomplainers can be a very effective and low-cost way toavoid damaging to your sender reputation.For regular email hygieneOnce youve cleaned your house list and are checkingemails as they come in, validating unmailed addresseson a quarterly or semi-annual basis will keep your listin optimal condition and ready for mailing. As deadaddresses are removed from your list, consider an EmailChange of Address (ECOA) service to replace abandonedemail addresses with the current addresses of yoursubscribers.How to use emailvalidationEmailValidation can be accessed in any of three methods: In Real-Time- Using an API or web service is the besttool for validating email addresses on a website, mobiledevice, or anywhere an individual email address needsto be checked instantly. Choose an API that has all thefunctionality you require, is easy to integrate, and has areputation for reliability. In Batch-The batch process is the simplest validationmethod with limited requirements. It is best suited forcompanies with occasional projects, limited databaseadministration resources, or that do not have a sense ofurgency. Depending on the size of the file, the lead-time istypically 2- 5 business days. Automated Batch- For frequent submission of emaillists, batch processing can be automated using FTP filedelivery and file naming and format conventions. Files aredetected and submitted for processing every few minutesand results are ready for retrieval within hours. Retailerswho collect data from their stores nightly, for example,use automated batch processing to validate and correctdata the day it was collected, prior to integrating it intotheir central database. 7. Experian QAS125 Summer St Ste 1910Boston, MA 02110-1615T: 1 888 322 firstname.lastname@example.orgConclusionDeliverability is an essential component of emailmarketing success. By consistently and thoroughlyvalidating the emails on your list, you can keep it cleanand improve your sender reputation. A cleaner email listwill deliver to inboxes more frequently. Improved inboxplacement means more opens and clicks, and ultimately,better marketing results. Email validation is a fast,easy-to-use, and cost-effective solution for significantlyboosting the performance of your email marketing andcommunication programs.Experian QAS Products and ServicesExperian QAS provides software and services to capture,validate, cleanse, standardize and enrich customercontact information. We are dedicated to helping our11,000 customers worldwide improve the quality of theirdatabases. For more information visit our website at www.qas.com or call us at 1-888-322-6201.2012 Experian Information Solutions. All rights reserved.Experian and the Experian marks used herein are service marksor registered trademarks of Experian Information Solutions, Inc.Other product and company names mentioned herein areproperty of their respective owners.
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