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5 Ways Email Service Providers Protect Their Senders

David Harris
by David Harris on February 8, 2016
6 Ways Email Service Providers Protect Their Senders

Ahhh, the challenge of managing multiple senders. 

You’ve heard the expression"one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch." It's not just an old-timey expression – it’s actually true.

But why should you care? These days we don’t worry about long-term storage of our apples. Instead, we find fresh apples every time we go to the grocer. The same kind of "Bad Apple" problem can happen in email delivery. One client sending bad email can ruin the reputation of your entire mail flow and cause email for other clients to be blocked or directed to the Spam folder. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are 6 ways ESP's protect their 'good apples' just like a good produce manager.

As an Email Service Provider (ESP) managing delivery, protecting your good apples from a bad apple is an essential part of your operation. So the question is, how do good ESP’s keep those bad apples out of the cart? 

1) They start with an Acceptable Use Policy

As an ESP, your first line of defense is an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). This defines exactly what emailing behavior you consider acceptable and unacceptable on your network. Your contract or terms of service should reference the Acceptable Use Policy and give you the right to terminate clients who violate the AUP. You need this to protect your network from the effects of rotten apples.

The most important thing in an Acceptable Use Policy is to exclude sending to purchased, acquired, or appended lists. Sending unsolicited email in any form is poison for email delivery. It's important for your management team to support this, because enforcing it will mean turning away new clients or terminating existing clients – but these clients are not worth the collateral damage. 

Your AUP should also cover a bit more than just “don’t send unsolicited email.” It’s good to define terms and go into a little more depth. You can see our Hosting Acceptable Use Policy as an example. 

2) They interview and vet new clients

As an ESP, you’ll have to function as a front-line spam filter, preventing spam (as defined by your AUP) from being sent through your network. Vet your new clients to ensure they comply with your AUP. This starts by asking the client if their list is organic or purchased. Some ESPs do this automatically as part of the list upload process.

Vetting can also be as in-depth as reviewing the client's sign-up page, comparing their mailing list to a list of known email addresses on purchased lists, or manually reviewing their email for warning signs.

3) They monitor clients and enforce their policies

Just as some apples start out looking good and then turn bad, you will have a client who starts out with an organic, high-quality list but then succumbs to temptation and purchases a list. You will have client accounts compromised and used to send spam. You will need a structure in place to detect these situations and address the problem.

4) They build a deliverability operations plan

Now that you are keeping the bad apples out of your basket (also called Policy Enforcement), there is still work to be done called Deliverability Operations.

The primary work of Deliverability Operations is to manage the technical details of your Mail Transfer Agent configuration and your email sending setup. This can be more complicated than it might seem. 

Here are some basic Deliverability Operations responsibilities: 

  • Warm up new IP addresses
  • Determine if you will offer a shared pool service and, if so setup and organize the shared pools and assign customers to different pools
  • Determine if you will use different domain names for different customers or shared pools to segment reputation
  • Monitor SMTP failure and deferral rates
  • Monitor other statistics, such open rates and complaint rates
  • Monitor blacklists and respond if an IP address or a client gets blacklisted
  • Respond to complaints sent to the abuse mailbox at your domain

As you can see, there’s a good amount of work involved. The better the quality of the email sent, the less maintenance work will be needed in Deliverability Operations.

5) They set client expectations

If you have promised or guaranteed all of your client’s email will go to the Inbox, you’ve made a promise you can’t keep and you're creating an expectations problem. 

Even with a well-configured Email Service Provider, where all clients are sending email to their own organically collected lists, not all email will go to the Inbox. Inbox delivery is affected by the quality of the mailing list, the content, and the subscriber engagement—having permission is required but is not always enough. Also, sometimes spam filters make mistakes.

So at GreenArrow, we believe it's best to talk straight with your clients about email deliverability. 

This is just the start. 

When you’ve ensured your network is clean of bad senders and you're doing deliverability operations, each client will get the best email delivery their email can receive (given their individual complaint rates, engagement, domain reputation, and content). And you’ll be on your way to building your reputation (and your bottom line) as a quality email service.

In Part 2 of this series, we will address consulting with clients to help them improve these factors to achieve better Inbox delivery. 


What bothers you about a bad apple?

How do you achieve email deliverability for your clients? Need help managing your policies? Send us your comments below or reach out, we would be happy to help.

Leave a comment

David Harris
Written by David Harris
David first started his own business when he was still in high school. DRH Internet, Inc. began as a web hosting company, but as David's consulting experience grew, he found himself working frequently with open source email servers and writing custom software to solve problems. Over time his software grew into a full-fledged email platform called—you guessed it—GreenArrrow. In his spare time, you can usually find him taking classical guitar lessons, drinking gourmet coffee, playing Go, and spending time with his wife Penni and their four amazing children.

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