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Move your message to the front of the line: Revisit ‘add-to-address book’ whitelisting

by Andrew O'Halloran, Chief Privacy Officer

Yahoo Mail came out with a nifty new enhancement that makes it easy for users (so far only in the US and Australia) to sort and display messages from contacts or connections.

This feature addresses directly the problem of inbox overload and allows recipients to focus on what will presumably be their most important messages – those listed in their contact or connections lists. Heavy Yahoo Mail subscribers will see value in using the feature frequently to prioritize their email management. But even light Yahoo Mail users will see value in such features as managing a flooded inbox after a long vacation (great timing with summer vacations coming up!).

Great for senders, too

The enhancement is also good news for senders. It means that your messages — if recipients have added you to their contact lists—can essentially move to the front of the line. What marketers wouldn’t want their messages to go from the last quartile to, say, the top 10 in a click of a button!?! The catch, of course, is that your subscribers have to have added your “from” address to their address books.

While this new Yahoo feature provides more of an incentive for subscribers to add you to their contact lists, there are other important sender benefits, including:

  • Mail that is sent from senders listed as contacts in the address book bypasses Yahoo’s Spamguard anti-spam technology.
  • Mail sent from senders listed as contacts in the address book is displayed with images enabled (contrast this to other senders where messages will be displayed with images disabled).
  • The fact that you are on the Yahoo users’ contact lists means you are less likely to be forgotten should subscribers abandon one — and start using another — account (exporting and re-importing the contact list will remind users to update their addresses with you).

Move to the front of the line

The first and most important thing that you want to do is make sure that your “from” address (brand@co.com) will remain consistent over time. The last thing you would want is to have your subscribers add your “from” line and then you decide to change it (branddifferent@co.com)! This is also a good time to review the relevance of your “from” line (I hope you have already gone through a testing period to get it just right).

Also, you may want to provide instructions on how to “add-to-address book / safe senders” list. You may want to consider providing resources on your website on how your subscribers can whitelist your messages based on the mail client they are using. The idea is to provide a small link in your message to provide them with the information. Only do this, though, if you are willing to keep your FAQ updated with mail client changes.

Tell them what you are gonna tell them

The best time to ask for inclusion is at the signup process even before your first email goes out. You will have already explained the benefits of signing up for your newsletter and have set the expectations to the subscriber (the format and content of the messages, the mailing frequency, privacy information such as how you will use the subscriber’s personal information, and so on). Use this opportunity to tell the subscriber about the value of adding you to his/her address book and finish off by explaining that a welcome message will be sent.

Tell them

Make sure to send out a welcome message after the subscription process is complete. If the welcome message lands in the spam/bulk folder, subscribers will know to look for it there, and, at the same time, be more likely add you to their address books. Another reason to do this is in case subscribers mistakenly gave you an incorrect email address – the fact that they never received your message will clue them in on this possibility.

Finally, assuming the welcome message is received, this is a great way to reiterate the value of your messages and as well ask again for inclusion in subscribers’ safe lists.

Tell them what you told them

Email-message real estate is, of course, valuable, but even so there is benefit in using a small piece of this real estate to remind your subscribers in every message you send out. If you are providing instructions on how the subscriber can do this, you may also want to track who clicks on your FAQ and use this an indicator for the subscriber’s appreciation of your messages. Possibly, too, you may see a benefit in performing a periodic whitelisting campaign and can use the clicks to target to those subscribers who presumably have not added you to the safe list.

B2B and other mail clients

Many ISPs and anti-spam engines use this logic: Contact in address book = safe sender = whitelist these emails for inbox delivery.

Outlook 2007, for instance, has two different databases: “contacts and “safe senders”. The junk filter that comes with Outlook by default considers “contacts” as “safe senders” (i.e. “also trust emails from my contacts”). As such, emails sent from contacts bypass the Outlook junk filter program, providing a deliverability boost to the inbox. In other cases, the anti-spam setup may be different where an “edge” server is in place that performs the filtering even before the message comes near the mailbox. For example, many corporations deploy MS exchange server with Forefront, an anti-spam solution that can be configured to “read” each recipients’ “safe senders” list and then make the appropriate filtering decisions at the network edge.

There are, again, some third-party solutions that work in a similar way. Some read the recipient’s safe sender’s list automatically and others require the recipient to manually import. In the end, though, the net effect is the same.

Broader implications

It, of course, will take time for Yahoo’s inbox-sorting feature to gain widespread user adoption, but it meanwhile has some interesting implications on other debated questions such as “the best time to send”. Timing the sending of your message so it lands at the top of the inbox just as your subscriber logins becomes less important. Similarly, over- sending to your subscriber who has you listed in his/her contact list also becomes something more important to watch out for. The last thing you want is to annoy your subscriber by monopolizing real estate in the contacts-only view, which may cause you to lose your privileged position in your subscriber’s address book.

Best practices becoming must practices

The beauty of permission-based email marketing is that, as the industry evolves and new features and enhancements are released by ISPs and anti-spam companies, it works in your favour as a permission-based email marketer . Good marketing practices are, in the end, where the industry is converging and those who follow suit will enjoy happier subscribers, better deliverability, and a higher ROI.

This entry was posted on Friday, June 26th, 2009 at 2:12 pm

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