Are your transactional emails getting through?

Are your transactional emails falling foul of spam filters? Is nobody getting your order confirmations or password reminders? Here’s why…

sealed with a kiss

I just booked a night in a motel with a major UK chain and the booking confirmation got marked as spam by my mail host’s SpamAssassin filter.

Most websites send a variety of different emails but they can usually be grouped into two basic types: transactional and promotional.

Transactional emails are anything that is triggered by an engagement on the part of the customer – creating an account, submitting some information to a directory, placing an order on an e-commerce site.

Ever get a call from a customer asking “where’s my order confirmation?” Your transactional email is probably being sent to the junk folder (or worse).

What’s stopping them?

There are many reasons transactional emails get blocked, often because they may have a similar profile to promotional (newsletter type) bulk sends.

How to test?

It’s a good idea to regularly trigger transactional emails yourself to test accounts on a variety of email services. Create accounts for yourself with Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo to cover a decent percentage of the global email space and any other significant webmail providers in your country. Try also to test with a variety of other spam filtering solutions that are installed on hosted services such as the open source SpamAssassin and various other commercial filters. There are web based tools that will enable you to run some tests too but these aren’t quite real-world enough to catch all the errors.

How to fix?

Some spam filters insert the results of their tests into the email headers of the message, you can usually find pointers as to what to fix and often it’s just bad message composition. Sending only HTML in an email is a minor black mark. In the case of my booking confirmation email, the biggest penalty was for “FUZZY_XPILL Attempt to obfuscate words in spam”. Googling that found a 2006 bug report that the word ‘Oxon’ (abbreviation for Oxfordshire) is the reason. That’s a 4 year old bug in a filter that hasn’t been fixed yet. Let’s assume it isn’t going to be. If you have an issue like that in your email, stop using the abbreviation and your mails get through.

What if the problem can’t be fixed by changing the email itself?

You might find that your email is being marked of spam not because of what’s in it but who it is sent by. If you have a bad sender reputation then you have your work cut out for you. Hire an email deliverability consultant and do what they tell you, no matter how harsh their criticism of your past practices.

Image credit: abrinsky via Creative Commons on Flickr

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *