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Email Advice for Newbies

First off, apologies for the long read but I feel some really need to know some of this information before continuing…
I work for a financial institution as an email developer and CRM associate and have worked in the email industry for the past seven years, so I’ve picked up some knowledge on how to go about email correctly.
I am not affiliated with any tools/platforms.
I am also by no means an expert but I thought it was important to share my two cents on what seems to be a widespread issue for a lot of my fellow devs.

:link:
There are some prominent threads about issues people have been facing and I’m hoping this will address some of those concerns and inform people out there who don’t yet have the appropriate knowledge on this method of communication.
Here are just a few of them:

  1. SendGrid Warning for Newbies - Probably the most prominent.
  2. Emails go to SPAM since connecting to SendGrid - I’ve specifically linked to the 10th response by @geniusdibya who gives a really good point by point breakdown of things to consider and a background on how your reputation works from day one.
  3. Helpful tip for authenticating Sendgrid *without* an admin email - @deadpoetnsp points out a really good option for authenticating your domain, which I mention further down when fixing issues with my gf’s new mailing list.

:warning:
It’s important to note that signing up for a free account with a platform isn’t going to give you the best results.
With a free account, you’re almost certainly going to be on a shared IP with actual spam accounts. Unfortunately, not a lot of people understand the issues with email and simply sign up for a platform and send away.
Some get lucky, many do not.

If email is major to keeping your customers/users/subscribers informed on your service, it then deserves investment. No doubt about it. Especially if your volume is high, you are growing steadily or you foresee your volume getting high.

Email is delicate and should be treated with care as you would with any other platform.

  1. If you can, pay for an account and get a dedicated IP. If the option for a dedicated IP isn’t available, or would require a higher plan, then I suggest going for it. If it isn’t in your budget, then you’ll have to take the risk until you can afford it. There are other steps you can take to help your reputation though, so do everything in your power outside of your budgetary constraints.

  2. Set up domain & IP authentication and have an actual dedicated domain (linked to your app/website domain) behind your email platform account.

e.g. My gf just started her own mailing list for her business.
She signed up for Mailchimp with her Yahoo account, which she was only using for her business (so not a business Yahoo account, if that even exists) and got to the point of send. She sent a few tests but none were delivered.
I took a look and as soon as I purchased a domain for her and set up authentication (setting up CNAME records in Google domains, that were given to me by Mailchimp to prove ownership (super easy)), tests were delivered and every live send has gone without a hitch. She only has a handful of subscribers so far, but a good test.
Important to note - her issue was using a free email address as a sender address. You cannot authenticate these free addresses (@gmail, @outlook, @hotmail, @yahoo etc). Because these are free to create, spam filters are highly sensitive to spam servers sending in bulk from these addresses and so her sends were completely blocked by the respective email client spam filters.
Being on a free plan also means she is using a shared IP, but Mailchimp’s handling of spammers is obviously a lot better than say SendGrid.

:lying_face:
Now, I’m not saying the above points will absolutely fix the issues with SendGrid (or any other platform for that matter), but you need to prove to email clients and their respective spam filters that you are legitimate.
Seeing a dedicated domain behind a sending address and the appropriate domain authentication certificates against your sender address & IP will put you in a good position.
However, you aren’t done. You need to warm up your IP address and subsequent IP reputation by emailing consistently and not bombarding the same addresses over and over on the same day.
So you may need to be careful with how you notify your users when warming up your IP, i.e. maybe limit to one email notification, per user, per day for at least a couple of weeks. Slowly ramp up from there.

:see_no_evil:
Monitoring reputation…
There are a few tools to monitor reputation as well as when an email provider/client flags you as spam. You’ll get a few chances before you’re temporarily blocked, at which point you then need to stop breaking the rules for a short period before you’re unblocked.
One tool I’ve used at my current employer, with success as we switched IPs and servers was Validity (previously Return Path).
I don’t know the pricing structure and I couldn’t find it when quickly looking at their site, but their tools helped us immensely when switching between email platforms and the associated IPs & servers.

Granted, my employers example is very different to all of yours (financial institution with millions in our database), the same rules apply and gives you an idea of how important server & IP reputation is.

So, once our IPs and servers were set up for us in Adobe Campaign (new platform), we then had to plan out a warm-up strategy.
The month long strategy consisted of:

  1. Continuing to send from the current platform and the associated IPs and servers. This is important for keeping your current level of reputation but also is a contingency plan for issues during warm up.
  2. Picking brand awareness campaigns for use in the warm up to send to our most engaged customers (those who open your emails consistently). Highly engaged customers because you’re going to use these customers to open the emails coming from the new servers & IPs to show email clients that their user was expecting the email and that it is safe i.e. not spam!
  3. Splitting the volumes for these brand awareness campaigns over numerous but subsequent days. You want to slowly increase the volume you send and so we split these campaigns up with a progressive volume increase over three or four days and then moved on to another campaign.
  4. Monitoring this slow switch, campaign by campaign and making daily calls on whether we need to stop increasing volume and continuing a bit longer at a certain limit or whether our plan wasn’t working and we needed to completely switch back to our current platform, which was the contingency plan if we noticed our simmering reputation tanking.

:sunglasses:
I hope this shows how important setting up and investing in email is.
Simply blaming platforms for your issues, isn’t always the answer and/or the reason for your poor results. But, it could be.
I have to admit, it does seem odd that SendGrid’s issues are so widespread and that could actually speak to an issue with their platform being used heavily as a spammer paradise.

I used to work for a platform that in the past, allowed decent sized spammers to use their systems because of how much they were making from these spammers. So it’s not out of the question that platforms are turning a blind eye to these operations, especially if they’re struggling or fledgling services.

Just be smart, invest your time and money wisely in these tools and ensure you’re actually doing everything you can to show (not just appear) that you’re legitimate.

Feel free to point out any issues with anything I’ve said.
I’m always up for learning something new and as mentioned at the beginning, I am no expert.
My aim is to inform those in the community that there is more to email than simply signing up for a service and hitting send.

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Thank you @niven for this info. I had no idea it was this complicated.

Which platform(s) do you recommend? (i.e. which ones have the best reputation for not hosting spammers?)

Unfortunately I can’t help there, in fact no one actually would be able to give any insight into which are/aren’t the best platforms for reputation.
They would need intimate knowledge of the overall reputation of all platforms available and that is impossible. Especially considering platforms wouldn’t share how well their shared IPs are doing, with outsiders or even general staff. It would be those who run the servers and ensure their service is running that would have knowledge of that.

And it’s such a jungle out there. Take SendGrid for example, there are some who have followed the steps I have outlined as well as other steps such as DKIM, SPF etc and they have no issues at all.
Some have even put these steps in place after having issues. Following correct procedure helped fix their issues completely.
It may even be the case that there are a lot more people with favourable results from SG than those without, but obviously it is those with issues who are raising flags, as they should.

To be honest, I am yet to get to the point in my build where I’m specifically sourcing tools and then testing them for general app notifications. But I always keep an eye on topics here that are linked to my future integrations and I was starting to see a trend.

So far I have these tools on my list to checkout, which I have found as suggestions in this forum:

  • Sendinblue
  • Mailjet
  • Mailer Lite
  • Email Octopus
  • MailGun
  • SendGrid

And on top of this list, there are also the usual suspects:

  • Mailchimp
  • Klaviyo
  • Campaign Monitor
  • etc

Budget, ease of ability to authenticate & ease of integration into Bubble will be my main filters for this. I haven’t vetted any of these tools yet. I’ve literally bookmarked any suggestions for when the time comes.

3 Likes

Oh and I also saw this tool suggested in one of the threads I mentioned in the original post:


Apparently a good way to test send to this service to get a reading of your reputation. And from there you’ll see any holes in your setup to work on.

I have not tested this tool, but this is now also bookmarked for checking out.

1 Like

Great post and thank you for putting this together. You make a great point that email needs to be approached carefully and handled correctly. I would add Postmark to your list of providers since a number of people on the forum (me included) are using it.

In general, what I tried to look for is how “clean” does the email provider try to keep their IPs. If a provider is allowing both marketing and transactional emails to take place over the same IP, and they have lax standards about who they let use their service, then that increases the likelihood the provider’s IPs are abused, resulting in the IP getting blacklisted and your transactional emails getting blocked.

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Great points!
Since I’m a part of a Slack email community, I’ve specifically reached out to the SendGrid group to see if there are any guides on setting up authentication in SG. Obviously this is aimed more at those who don’t have the time or haven’t got the point of using alternatives. Hoping someone in that group, including SG staff who frequent that channel, can give me something and it can be used as an overall guide for SG and any platform.

Postmark was actually a part of my original list but it seems to have been disappeared, so thanks for the reminder :slightly_smiling_face: , now bookmarked again!
It’s one of the more favoured alternatives from what I’ve seen in numerous threads. I think I remember one limitation being PM being aimed more towards transactional email.

Have you used PM for marketing comms as well?

Postmark is hands down my favourite for Transactional emails.

They recently got into ‘Broadcast’ emails which I have allowed my users to send Marketing emails through, but the API only takes 500 emails at a time so it’s not really practical for very large lists right now. They are monitoring this closely and easing into Marketing emails to keep the quality very high, as their main value props are fast and reliable emails

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I haven’t. I’m not at the stage of marketing emails, just focusing on transactional, where I need to be as sure as possible they get through, otherwise it would prevent signups and sales. Note that Postmark splits their “transactional” and “broadcast” into different streams with different IPs. I’m not sure if that’s common practice among email services, but it’s smart.

Multiple IPs is a good way to operate. At my aforementioned employer we use dedicated IPs for different messaging types.
One for acquisition/salesy stuff, one for brand awareness, another for servicing (i.e. COVID comms and service issues) and then the transactional/confirmation ones are handled by each respective commercial team who all have their own platforms and associated IPs.
All eggs in one basket is a major risk.

I guess I could definitely integrate PostMark for transactional and then utilise Mailchimp or something similar for the more heavy hitting brand awareness and marketing style stuff where I’ll be setting up my own hand coded templates anyway.

Ahh yes, I saw that limitation in a few other threads. I’m not anywhere near launch anyway, so I shouldn’t be worried about that and it sounds like PM will definitely be a good starting point.

Good to know PM are on to it too and are listening to the demand to expand their services.
Will definitely be keeping an eye on them come time for my set up.

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Thank You! This is going to help us a lot!

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Thank you so much @niven for this really good summary on the email problem ! I will advise it to everybody who is asking, because you made a very good job. Thanks

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