Recently, I’ve seen a spike in the amount of email communications going through our servers, so I dug into how mail receivers are reacting to the influx of mail to their systems.
I noticed the initial uptick begin in March (shortly after the announcement of many COVID-19 stay-at-home orders). These involved email blasts sent to large contact lists that hadn’t received mailings in months or more.
This caused not only a spike in volume, but a spike in complaints, unsubscribes, and mail going to the spam folder.
If COVID-19 has caused you to change your email strategy, I have some tips for you to make sure your email domain maintains a good reputation and your emails end up in the right place.
Let’s dig into these deliverability challenges and how to solve them.
3 Email Deliverability Areas to Watch
Overall, keep in mind that mail receiving systems are looking for consistency.
Any significant spike or dip in sending volume can raise a red flag; and it’s better to be safe than sorry, so filters will gladly move a questionable message to the spam folder, even if it’s legitimate. Even worse, they may send your message to quarantine, where the user typically doesn’t see it.
If you decide to send an email to your entire database, you run the risk of damaging your domain reputation. Some of these individuals may not have received a mailing in three months to a year or more. Sending emails to individuals that are not recently engaged (past 90 days) can lead to spam trap hits, bounces, complaints, and block-listing.
One unfortunate result of COVID-19 is that organizations who have closed, had to do layoffs, or transition to work from home may have many emails addresses which aren’t being checked frequently or at all.
This situation can cause a significant drop in open and click rates, causing your messages to be misinterpreted as spam and resulting in even lower open rates.
If you must send to unengaged contacts, know there is a risk involved and tread carefully. It may be wise to send your emails to this group at a very slow rate and watch for any issues.
2. Sending Volume/Frequency
I’ve also noticed a spike in volume caused by sending to larger audiences. The cadence in some sending patterns have gone from weekly to daily and in some cases, more than once per day.
If this is outside your normal sending pattern, you may have seen a lower open rate or complaints from engaged individuals that messages are no longer going to the inbox.
Try to slowly ramp up to this new sending cadence, otherwise you may have issues getting your messages delivered.
Most mail receivers and spam filters have tightened their security due to the influx of pandemic scams and phishing attempts, causing legitimate mail to be flagged. Each mail receiver/spam filter has its own filtering algorithms, so it can be difficult to generalize what their rules are.
However, I have heard of some filters adding an additional level of scrutiny for inbound mail that use the words “COVID-19” and “coronavirus” in the subject line.
As an example, New York State put out guidelines cautioning individuals about COVID-19 related communications:
“…Cyber actors may send emails with malicious attachments or links to fraudulent websites to trick victims into revealing sensitive information or donating to fraudulent charities or causes.
Exercise caution in handling any email with a COVID-19-related subject line, attachment, or hyperlink, and be wary of social media pleas, texts, or calls related to COVID-19…”
Fortunately, there are some changes you can make to ensure your email lands in the subscriber’s inbox.
Key Takeaways to Maintain High Email Deliverability During COVID-19
Keep these email deliverability solutions in mind as you move forward.
- Maintain a consistent sending pattern. If your pattern does change, make it gradual.
- Always send as slowly as you can, using a distributed sending option.
- Don’t send on the hour. For example, send at 7:18 am instead of 7 am because many organizations choose to send on the hour.
- Consider the audience and organizations you’re sending to and if it is worth the risk to send to a potentially unengaged audience. Think through whether your subscribers are still conducting business during this time.
- Be aware that spam filters and mail receivers are on high alert and may be flagging legitimate mail if it contains pandemic language or any other spam flags.
The email landscape will continue to change and remain uncertain, so it important to understand that good deliverability could be more difficult to achieve during these times. Rules for receiving mail will only become stricter due to the ongoing cyber threats, putting additional scrutiny on legitimate mail.
But as we all transition to the new normal, I am hoping mail receiving systems will too. Until then, focus on adopting a smart email strategy to to make sure your emails get where they’re supposed to go.
Information Security Assurance Specialist
Amanda DeLuke, CIPM, is an Information Security Assurance Specialist at Higher Logic and certified in privacy management. Her deliverability expertise turned into a curiosity and passion for all things privacy & security. She is a Program Chair for M3AAWG (Internet Anti-Abuse working group) and a member of the International Association for Privacy Professionals (IAPP). While she’s not busy at work, she is a mom to identical twin boys and a volunteer mentor and cycling coach for young girls.
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