List Buying Guide: How Does Your Garden Grow?
If you handle any part of your e-mail program in-house, then an audit of your e-mail programs can reveal both the good and the bad—allowing you to take action to eliminate the weed-like practices spoiling your overall garden.
Curious as to how such an audit could help a marketer identify potential weak spots in its e-mail address collection, maintenance and usage practices, Target Marketing put its own file to the test. We worked with Eclipse Direct Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm in New York, that offers I.D.E.A., or Independent Deliverability E-mail Audit. I.D.E.A. is an e-mail auditing tool developed by Pivotal Veracity, an e-mail delivery optimization firm in Phoenix. This tool scrutinizes a marketer’s e-mail technology infrastructure, permission/notification practices, advertising practices (third-party sponsorship, banners, list rental, etc.) and reputation.
The auditing process involved three main steps, as follows.
First Step: Gather Information
The I.D.E.A. auditing process begins with your IT or e-mail services department filling out a questionnaire that assembles comprehensive details about your company’s e-mail technology, practices and policies. For example, one of the questions under the IP/Mailserver section asks “Are you able to distinguish Spam Block bounces from other types of bounces? If yes, what is your Spam Block bounce rate?”
In addition, your company needs to send a specific e-mail (text provided by Pivotal Veracity), using the “from” address being audited, to a list of 38 e-mail addresses (also provided by Pivotal Veracity). These e-mails must be deployed from the same mailserver identified in the questionnaire as the server from which you regularly send your e-mail campaigns.
Second Step: Information Evaluation
By combining the questionnaire responses with insight collected from receipt of the test e-mails, Pivotal Veracity is able to assess how well your company meets Can Spam requirements, as well as whether it follows established sending protocols, considers ISPs’ concerns, and pays attention to best practices for list owners and advertisers. Obviously, flagging any practices that are not Can Spam compliant is critical to avoiding fines and legal trouble, as well as protecting your company’s reputation and ability to use e-mail effectively.
The other areas of the audit speak to deliverability and reputation—and thus, the capacity to effectively use the e-mail channel for marketing contact. While not legally required, these activities can make a difference in how ISPs and e-mail recipients perceive your ability to respect peoples’ privacy and the ISPs’ mail-processing challenges. For example, ISPs increasingly are looking at bounce rates to determine how well marketers maintain their e-mail files; rates higher than 10 percent generally will cause ISPs to block, delete or redirect your e-mail messages to their customers’ spam folders, says Michelle Eichner, Pivotal Veracity’s vice president of client service.
Third Step: Review Audit Reports
After conducting its audit, Pivotal Veracity provides two reports to the marketer. The first report lists the audit scores; details the practices as reported and pairs them with any issue flags; explains the problem areas; and offers advice for how to improve weak practices. The second report is a stripped-down version of the first that can be shared with companies who might choose to advertise in your e-mails or rent your list. A technical expert and an account manager then review these reports with you, going through each issue flag and the advice section to make certain you understand the infrastructure issues and the recommended course of action. Another goal of this guided review is to identify any information the audit participant might not have reported accurately due to confusion or simple oversight—something that came up in Target Marketing’s audit report review. A quick fix to the details, and Pivotal Veracity was able to update our reports and improve our audit score.
What We Learned That Can Help You
It doesn’t take much effort to undergo an e-mail audit. The most taxing step is the gathering of information, especially if you’ve developed a complex e-mail program with a variety of different contact types: e-newsletters with advertising, product offers, free event invites, etc. In fact, just the act of ascertaining such information can be eye-opening; a sort of informal audit before the audit. Filling out the questionnaire spawned discussions about e-mail best practices within my company’s Web services department, and led to additional conversations with circulation, marketing and list rental managers.
To get the most out of your e-mail audit, consider the following tips based on our experience:
• Ask questions. If you don’t understand what the audit service is looking for, request clarification. To get a true picture of how you’re doing, along with the best corrective advice, the service needs accurate data on your e-mail program.
• Make sure every department involved with your e-mail program reviews the questionnaire and provides feedback regarding the impact their group has on your company’s e-mail address collection, usage and messaging.
• Share the results. Conduct an internal review so all departments understand where practices could be more buttoned up. Some employees might not be aware of all the intricacies of Can Spam legislation, or realize how their business activities affect your e-mail deliverability and opt-out rates. And if any part of your program is outsourced—such as the promotion of your e-mail file—make sure the vendor receives a copy of the audit report. You may or may not want to release your score, but your vendor should be aware of how your e-mail program fared in an independent audit.
Other e-mail program assessment tools to consider include Return Path’s Sender Score Reputation Monitor, and the certification/authentication services provided by Habeas and TRUSTe, to name a few.