If you have been working in the email space for any time, you know that delivery is complex and dynamic. A prudent email service provider (ESP) with good Internet service provider (ISP) relationships can be your greatest ally in uncovering and helping resolve issues when a problem arises. However, if your ESP isn't aware of all of the email activity going on in your organization, or you don't fully disclose the details of campaigns you are executing elsewhere, great ISP relationships are not going to help clean up the mess you may create.
Most ESPs start an engagement by reviewing your permission policies. If you don't have good processes in place, many won't begin a business relationship until you clean up your permission act. Many organizations have built a very clean opt-in list and are working with an ESP, but then decide to run an email campaign through a third-party email provider using a purchased list of dubious origin. Or perhaps they have a group of affiliates that are emailing in ways that would make a true permission marketer cringe. When these things happen, the perfect storm starts to brew on the delivery horizon.
Email marketers generally know that an IP address with a good reputation is critical to their email success. However, many erroneously believe that if the IP address is white-listed at the major ISPs, then the messages from their email program have a virtual free pass into the inbox (for this article, we'll disregard the fact that not all major ISPs have a white-listing program).
While the IP is important, reputation extends well beyond it, including all components of the message, from the subject line to content elements of the message itself. Today, messages can be flagged as spam if they contain certain characteristics common to other messages that are portrayed by recipients as spam. One company, CloudMark, refers to this as the message "fingerprint."
In a criminal investigation, the fingerprint often points to the perpetrator; in email, a fingerprint can point to the organization (not just its IP). Likewise, if you are sending similar messages with similar content around the same time through both "good" and "bad" email programs, your "good" program may be flagged as spam and stopped at the border, even if it is a 100% opt-in list sent from a clean IP.
The bottom line is that the email landscape is shifting. While many emailers worry about complying with CAN SPAM (as they should from a legal perspective), the reality of the marketplace is that reputation is much more important -- and the rules are more stringent -- than the legislation.
To stay safe, always let your ESP know about all your email efforts, not just the ones you are sending through them. It can help them determine the impact the other mailings may have on your program. But remember: It's going to be difficult to maintain a good reputation when you are seen cavorting on the bad side of town.