Gmail Outage Causes Erroneous Hard Bounces

Gmail Outage Causes Erroneous Hard Bounces

You may have heard by now that Google services have experienced major outages on Dec 14 and 15.

Not only Gmail users had difficulties logging into their accounts, but emails sent to Gmail accounts have been rejected by google with:

“code”: “550”,

“extCode”: “5.1.1”,

“message”: “The email account that you tried to reach does not exist. Please try double-checking the recipient’s email address for typos or unnecessary spaces. Learn more at https://support.google.com/mail/?p=NoSuchUser

 

This means that if you had been sending emails to Gmail addresses during the outage you likely had a high bounce rate for your Gmail addresses and possibly your campaigns and accounts overall. Since BigMailer pauses campaigns with high bounce rate you may have received notifications about your campaigns being paused due to high bounce rate.

You should review engagement by domain report on any campaigns you sent on Monday-Tuesday.

You might see a high hard bounce rate for Gmail.com domain:

high hard bounce rate for gmail emails

If your Amazon SES account got suspended you should reply to the email you received from Amazon and explain that most of the bounces were erroneous from Gmail due to outage (if this is in fact the case). A screenshot of the report, like the example above, and a link to this post may help with a faster resolution and account re-instatement.

While the original issue is outside of our control and influence we are monitoring situation and exploring ways we can rectify it by possibly reseting the bounce status on the affected addresses.

We will post an update once we take any action on this situation. If you need a faster advisory on rectifying this yourself please reach out to us via live chat once you log into your BigMailer account.

How to Segment Your Email Lists

What is Segmentation and Why Use It?

Email list segmentation is a technique that email marketers use to send highly targeted emails by dividing their list up into smaller groups, or “segments.” The goal of segmentation is to provide more relevant content to your email recipients.

You want your marketing campaign to be as precise as possible so the right message can hit the right people at exactly the right time. For this, email segmentation is an absolute must.

How to Segment Your Email Lists

In BigMailer, you can segment your campaigns on:

  1. Your custom fields. For example, last order date or subscription status.
  2. Pre-defined fields like DateAdded and Email, specifically email domain (e.g. gmail.com or yahoo.com).
  3. Campaign engagement – sends, opens, clicks on a specific campaign or any campaigns in a given time period.

Here are some examples of segmentation rules you can use in BigMailer with screenshots:

DateAdded – this value is added when a contact is added to BigMailer:

Campaign engagement – sent/not a specific campaign:

Campaign engagement – opens on a specific campaign or any in a given time period:

​​

Campaign engagement – clicks on a specific campaign or any in a given time period:

​You can combine your inline conditions and your pre-defined segments with either ANY or ALL rule.

how to segment your list

If you’re reading this, that means you’re serious about creating the most targeted email campaigns possible. And we are here to help.

Before you’re able to segment your audience, you need to get their emails and collect relevant data. Using BigMailer webforms to collect your subscriber data gives you a few advantages. For example, we automatically capture your user’s IP address (but we don’t save or store it) and convert it to non-PII data points (country, state, city, zip code, and latitude and longitude), which allows you to target your audience by location.

Need ideas on how to leverage segmentation? Check out this article – 50 ways to segment your list from OptinMonster.

Want to learn more about email marketing? Head over to our email marketing automation or email deliverability guides.

Happy email marketing!

How to Setup an Automation (Drip) Campaign

There are many terms used by marketers to describe automated emails – marketing automation, auto-responders, drip emails, email sequences, and more. Whatever you call your automated emails, BigMailer supports them. While RSS to email and transactional (via API calls) email campaigns are technically automations, in this article we focus on auto-responders and sequences.

Examples of Automation Campaigns

There are many different type of automation campaigns – here are some of the most common examples:

  1. Newsletter subscriber welcome. This can be a single email or a sequence. The 1st email can set expectations on the the type of emails to expect and frequency of updates, and any special offers or coupons that may have been promised for getting on a lit (common for online retailers). Consider including links to your most popular content either in the 1st email or in the follow up email.  Email Marketing Automation Example - Newsletter Signup
  2. New customer on-boarding. These type of emails help your customers get started with a product or service by addressing friction points, answering FAQs, or providing links to helpful resources, and often reduce the number of support inquiries. Email Marketing Automation Example - User On-boarding
  3. Existing customer nurture. Feature highlights, usage tips, learning resources, review/rating requests, and customer case studies can help build product loyalty and encourage ongoing use of service and/or upgrades.

    TIP: Consider giving your customers sufficient time to use your product/service before asking for a review/feedback.

  4. New blog post email updates via RSS. This type of campaign goes out automatically when a new blog post is published.
  5. Success stats. These can be weekly or monthly stats for any type of activity – usage, balances, or progress.

Setting up an Automation Campaign in BigMailer

An Automation campaign in BigMailer can be a single email (e.g. a signup confirmation or welcome) or a sequence of emails, that are typically triggered based on something happening to the subscriber record or an action performed. In addition to action, an automated email can be triggered with a time delay in hours, days, or weeks, or have no delay.

After the Automation campaign sends the 1st email the future steps in the sequence can be scheduled in 2 ways:

  1. Relative to the first email, e.g. X days after the same trigger as the 1st email. For example, you can send a welcome email immediately after someone signs up for your newsletter or creates an account, then send weekly emails after 7, 14, 21 days, etc.
  2. Relative to the previous email and/or action taken, e.g. X days after a previous email in the sequence is sent or after a contact opens or clicks on the previous email.

Ready to get started? Here are the steps to setup your Automation campaign.

  1. Log into your BigMailer account and select a brand you want to create a campaign under. Don’t have a BigMailer account? Create a free account – all accounts start on a Free plan, no credit card required.
  2. Click on Campaigns tab in the site header, then on “Create Campaign” button.
  3. Click on “Create” under the Automation section.

Once on the Campaign page you need to give your Automation campaign a name, click on small “rename” tag next to name.

Automation Campaign name

Click on “Add Email” to create your first email step, then click on “Edit” links to define each element of an email – trigger, message type, and segment (optional).

The most typical trigger for a 1st or only step in an Automation campaign is subscriber record being added to a specific list.

TIP: Create a List named Test and always use it for testing your automation campaigns before finalizing against customer list.

How to Add Contacts to a List:

There are several ways to add new contacts to a List in BigMailer.

  1. Manual import of a CSV file.
  2. An email collection webform that sends customer data to a List. In BigMailer you have 2 options, embed the form into your website or just link to a form as a standalone page on BigMailer.
  3. An API call (e.g. to create a contact when someone makes a purchase).
  4. A Zapier integration (when someone performs an action on a 3rd party platform a record of contact is created at BigMailer). So the data can first enter your CRM or a Google spreadsheet, then pushed to BigMailer.
  5. Manual adding of records one-by-one, useful for adding your own records for testing.

How to Use Segments in Addition to Triggers

In BigMailer, in addition to trigger rules available, you can also narrow down your target audience for a given email via custom defined segment. You can use segments to:

  1. Only send an automated email to customers based on their aggregate engagement with prior campaigns.
  2. Send an automated email only if a certain field in customer record has a value, e.g. LastPurchase > 30 days.
  3. Split a certain step in a sequence into multiple versions to customize email content based on certain customer attributes, like interest, gender, or certain interaction with your product, for example offerRedeemed or similar.
  4. Target your audience based on non-engagement, e.g. anyone who did not open a previous email. This is useful since an email trigger can’t be based on inaction.

Automation Campaign Analytics

Automation campaigns have the same analytics as marketing campaigns, once they are activated and emails are sent. You can see engagement metrics like open and click rates, as well as unsubscribes, bounces, and complaints.

The stats for Automation campaign do NOT reset when an email is modified or moved around in a sequence. So if you want to track performance of a single step in a sequence you may want to pause the step and create a new version to replace it so you can compare engagement stats before/after the changes made.

Automation Campaign Types

1. A single welcome email sent when a new subscriber is added to the list or a sequence of emails.

2. A product/service on-boarding email sequence with tips on using a product or advice from experts. This type of sequence can start with an event outside BigMailer and contact record is pushed to BigMailer via an integration or via an API call from an internal web application.

3. An email or a sequence triggered by a customer interaction with a website or product. For example, if a subscriber visits a specific article they are tagged as interested in a given topic and sent relevant content or promotional emails. To set this up you have to add code to your website to fire an API call to BigMailer to either a) update your customer record with info on the action or interest or b) add that customer to a new List which can trigger an Automation campaign.

Automation Campaign Sending Logic and Troubleshooting

The emails in the Automation Campaign get sent if the there is an active email step when a trigger condition evaluates. When you create an email it starts in Draft mode until you set it live by clicking “Set Live“.

If you use a trigger based on adding contacts to a list the email step needs to be active before the contacts are added. To trigger an email the contacts can be added to a List either manually one by one for testing, in bulk via CSV import, or via on ongoing basis via signup forms.

The automation emails are scheduled at the time of the trigger event, ignoring any delay rules. So if the trigger for an email step is “after previous email is SENT” then the email is scheduled as soon as the previous email is SENT, regardless of delay rule.

Making and Testing Changes to a Sequence​

Re-arranging steps for a live sequence, or changing delay rules, will not have impact on emails already scheduled.

One way to make changes to a live sequence is to copy the step you want to move, then pause original in its place and set live the new step in new place. This way you preserve stats for the original rules used. Using the copy and pause method doesn’t prevent any subscribers from receiving the same email twice, it’s just one way to not mix up stats for states before/after change is made. You can exclude subscribers from the new version using campaign engagement on a segment as “didn’t open any campaigns in X days” if there are no other emails being sent to subscriber (e.g. transactional).

Ready to get started? Click on Campaigns tab in the site header, then on “Create Campaign” button and select “Automation” campaign from the list. Don’t have a BigMailer account? Try out BigMailer with a free account.

Need assistance with your Automation Campaign? Reach out via chat icon once you log in, help is available 7 days a week.

Improve Email Deliverability – A Guide to Best Practices

Improve Email Deliverability – A Guide to Best Practices

With crowded consumer and business inboxes, email deliverability and inbox placement has become a top priority for marketers in recent years. Getting emails flagged as spam or blocked by mailbox provider has an impact on sender reputation and future inbox placement.

Many marketers use “deliverability” as an equivalent to “inbox placement,” but the terms are not the same. Emails that go into Spam folder are considered delivered, where is marketer’s goal is to ultimately get emails into subscriber’s inbox.

The major factors that affect deliverability are:

  1. Global engagement (overtime, across campaigns)
  2. Content and format of the email (spam words in subject or message body, format – use of images, etc)
  3. Relative engagement for you (sender) versus other senders in the recipients inbox
  4. IP reputation
  5. Sender reputation (e.g. sender being your domain or exact email address the emails are sent from)
  6. Server and domain configuration (DKIM, SPF, etc)

email deliverability factors

Email deliverability factors

On the diagram above, the green box represents factors that vary and change more with each campaign sent and the square on the left with 4 factors are not subject to dramatic changes on a per campaign basis. In this guide, we are covering 5 out of 6 factors, but you can learn more about IP reputation management here.

The list of best practices below can help you achieve better email deliverability from building and maintaining a strong sender reputation, while improving your engagement. 

Global engagement

Keep bounce rate low

An average email list decays at a rate of 2% per month for B2C lists and 3% for B2B lists. The rate is higher for B2B lists because people change work emails more frequently than personal emails, due to job changes. So if you haven’t engaged with your email list for more than 6 months you are likely to have a more than a 10% bounce rate on your first bulk campaign. A bounce rate over 10% can get your account suspended with many email service providers (ESPs), but it also has a negative impact on your email deliverability and sender reputation, not to mention cost (since you pay to send email to invalid addresses). Inbox providers pay close attention to bounce rate and may block emails from a sender that attempts to deliver to invalid email addresses.

At BigMailer, a bulk campaign with a bounce rate over 8% (default, configurable by customer) is automatically paused to protect sender reputation.

Old and unengaged lists should be verified before being imported into an email marketing platform. Most email verification providers recommend that you verify your entire list once a month, or before every campaign you send, to keep your bounce rate as low as possible. While that tactic can be pricey, the good news is that most email verification providers offer great volume discounts for purchasing credits in bulk (that usually never expire).

We have partnered with low-cost email validation services Bouncer (GDPR compliant, recommended for customers in Europe) and TheChecker to get our customers a discount on their services.

Email content and format

1. Use a custom tracking URL in your emails

Using a custom tracking URL in your emails can help your emails appear more authentic and help with inbox placement. Consider customizing tracking URL for your emails, using the same domain as your sender address. For example, if your sender is sales@your-domain.com you can use email.your-domain.com as your tracking URL.

custom tracking URL

Examples of commonly used tracking sub-domains

This will require updating your domain’s DNS records (to create that email subdomain and map to email provider servers) and then adding the updated records to your email provider’s platform as a configuration or setting. Most market leaders allow this, although some call it white labeling and most charge extra for it or make it available on higher tier plans. 

2. Create a plain-text version of your email

While only a tiny fraction of your audience may see the value in a plain-text email, SpamAssasin, a widely used spam tool, considers it essential. The tool assigns two points to your email if no plain-text version is available. If your message reaches a score of seven, it’s identified as spam, so two points is a pretty big penalty for something that’s fairly easy for a savvy marketer to execute.

While some email platforms (like BigMailer) will auto-generate a plain-text version from the HTML version, most of them don’t require one. If you have to create a plain-text version yourself, don’t cut corners – it should match the message in the HTML version and not be any shorter. Check out this article from Litmus for more guidance on formatting plain-text emails.

3. Make it easy to unsubscribe

Making it super easy for users to unsubscribe is not a tactic that’s obvious to benefit the sender, but it is. If email recipients can’t easily locate the unsubscribe link they are likely to hit the Spam/Complaint button instead. Complaint is the worst type of engagement for your email campaigns. 

Your unsubscribe or “subscription preferences” link needs to allow a user to either opt-out from your brand communications or  select the message types they want to receive (see the example below) and not to a page that requires them to log in to their account to retrieve or save their preferences. The latter has become a more prevalent practice among some high profile brands that use their own built-in-house email tools. This practice is actually in conflict with anti-spam laws. It’s advisable to provide users with a straightforward method for getting off an email list and honor that request in a timely manner.

It may be helpful to offer subscribers a way to opt out from certain communications instead of all brand communications at once. Providing this option has become even more necessary with the introduction of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws in May 2018, which states that the consent to receive emails should be explicit and not be bundled (e.g., if subscribers only opted in to receiving product updates, you can’t additionally send them promotional emails or messages on behalf of your partners).

Example: unsubscribe page with preferences format

Example: BigMailer.io unsubscribe page with preferences format

4. Specify a useful sender (from) address

Be it a question or general feedback, email recipients commonly want to respond to the messages they receive. For this reason, it’s best if your reply-to email address is one that goes straight to your support team (or at least forwards to them). You don’t want to discourage your subscribers from responding to your message by using a no-reply address, such as noreply@your-domain.com, because replies are part of the engagement metrics that some email service providers (Gmail, for example) use for determining the importance of your email and whether it belongs in the inbox or spam folder.

Another consideration is that customers will sometimes request removal from a mailing list, and if they see noreply@your-domain.com they are more likely to hit the “Spam” or “Complain” buttons instead – complaints are the worst form of engagement you can have on your email campaigns.

Lastly, no-reply addresses run a greater risk of being sent automatically to the junk folder. As this GlockApps article states, “Some ISPs, network spam filters, and customers’ personal email security settings are set up to move messages with ‘no-reply’ addresses to the junk folder.

In short, if you care about your email campaigns’ engagement rate and future deliverability, specify a meaningful sender address for and avoid using a no-reply email address.

5. Use a descriptive Sender label

While a clever subject line can certainly help you stand out in a crowded inbox, your subscribers will still need to recognize your brand’s communication when they scan their inbox. You don’t want them left wondering why they’re getting an email from someone they don’t know with a cryptic subject line that promises to solve pain point XYZ.

Consider these three basic options for sender labels:

  1. Brand or Product Name
  2. Brand or Product Name + Function (e.g., Support, Sales)
  3. First Name at/from [Brand or Product Name]

With the third option, consider the name of the person as well as your product name. Is your product name a single word, one to two words or longer? Will the entire label fit in the “From” field? Whatever format you choose, make sure to be consistent across all of your sender accounts and test for appearance before you start using a new sender label.

6. Use preview (aka preheader) text

While it isn’t always a visible element of your email’s design, preview text provides valuable real estate to expand your message. You should think of it as a second subject line – an additional opportunity to convince your recipients to open your email. The better your open and engagement rates are, the better chance you have of landing in the inbox. Many platforms, including BigMailer, support specifying this text. If your platform doesn’t support it, you can still have a preheader element as part of your email template design.

7. Test emails with spam tools

Testing every email adds an extra step, but it’s an incredibly important one. Because testing typically has to happen outside of an email marketing platform using tools provided by websites like Litmus, Email on Acid or GlockApps, you may be tempted to skip it. You shouldn’t – it may mean the difference between your message being successfully delivered or it being flagged as spam.

With that said, even experienced marketers using these tools can’t avoid landing an email in the spam folder every once in a while – this is especially true for Gmail and is often due to the topic of the message.

Starbucks email in spam folder

Example of a high-quality email and sender in spam folder

Don’t stress – if the occasional email gets a low engagement rate because a few spam keywords made it into your message, know that you are not alone. It’s become necessary at this point for email marketing platforms to embed email testing into their platforms to simplify a marketer’s campaign workflow. This is exactly what the team at BigMailer is currently working on, and we hope to delight our customers with this workflow improvement soon.

Relative engagement

Mailbox providers keep track of how your email recipients interact with your emails, so you need to maintain a high engagement to achieve a high inbox placement rate. Consider these tactics:

  1. Periodically remove unengaged subscribers from your list. Identify anyone who hasn’t engaged with (didn’t open) your emails for 90 or 120 days and either permanently remove them, or exclude them from your frequent mailings (you could send them your highest engagement/appeal content or only critical service notifications regarding their accounts).
  2. Send emails with appealing call-to-actions (CTAs) and make it necessary to click and interact with your email. It may seem obvious, but it’s not uncommon for some marketers to include phone numbers to place orders or have the website address in giant font to make it memorable, which may push a user to simply type the address when they are ready to place an order instead of clicking on a link in an email (and for a marketer to correctly attribute a conversion or sale to the email sent).
  3. Engage in email exchanges with your customers using the same email address that you use to send emails, or at least using the same sender domain, for example for customer service inquiries. Any email interactions between your and your customers signal trust to mailbox providers.

Manage sender reputation – keep complaint rate low

Just like with an IP reputation, the sender reputation is affected by email recipients marking the emails as “Spam”. An industry benchmark is to keep complaint rate below 0.1%, but it’s more nuanced than that. The lower the volume of sending the less sensitive a mailbox provider is to the complaint rate, due to statistical insignificance (just 1 complaint can change the ratio dramatically). High volume senders have to be more vigilant – being close to the 0.1% ratio can trigger a manual campaign review from an ESP they use and can be followed by an account suspension.

A site/domain can also be blacklisted as unsafe with various monitoring services, like Google Save Browsing. You can monitor your domain/IP health by signing up with various providers, like Google Postmasters, or blacklist monitoring services.

Manage your sender domain identity

1. Configure DKIM and SPF

While this step is optional with most email service providers and requires a little more technical knowledge than the other items in this guide, most email platforms allow you to configure Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) for your domain to help improve your sender reputation by making it appear more authentic and safe. We highly recommend getting both SPF and DKIM configured for every sender domain you use to send emails. 

Use a different sender domain and IP addresses for any cold email campaigns, which have the lowest engagement and can burn your sender reputation. You may want to consider using a different sender identity for your marketing and transactional emails as well, to ensure your transactional email delivery doesn’t get affected by your bulk campaign practices.

2. Configure BIMI

BIMI is one of the brand trust indicators and can have an impact on your email deliverability and engagement. BIMI adds your logo to your emails in the inbox so subscribers can easily identify and trust your messages. Setting up BIMI involves added a text record to your domain’s DNS that points to an image to use as a logo for your domain. The image has to be square and in the SVG format, served via https.

A mailbox provider looks up your BIMI text file when the email message is received and attaches the specified image to your message in the inbox. 

Consider using a dedicated IP address

IP (internet protocol) address is a unique address that identifies a device (computer or server) on the Internet or a local network. When you start using a hosted transactional or bulk email marketing service, by default, your emails are being sent from a group of servers with different IP addresses, and that group of servers is shared by multiple senders like you. So your emails use a “shared IP pool” and the reputation of those shared IP addresses is shared as well.

The biggest factor in IP reputation is whether it’s blacklisted, which happens when emails sent from a given IP get flagged as “Spam” by the recipients. If the % of complaints is high enough, the IP gets blacklisted and may get blocked by ISPs.

You can benefit from a dedicated IP address IF:

  • You are looking for a fresh start and looking to invest in building a strong email sender reputation
  • You have a small list now, but plan to grow it fast and monetize it, while controlling cost and ROI by using a low cost provider
  • You have built up a sizable list (over 20,000 subscribers) and ready to engage it with high quality content

Unfortunately, low volume senders are limited in their options because most low cost bulk email marketing service providers don’t offer an option to get a dedicated IP address on lower pricing tiers. And if you use an ESP that does offer access to a dedicated IP, it may come with a hefty price tag (for example $250 per IP at ConvertKit). If you use an ESP that runs on Amazon SES, like BigMailer, you can request a dedicated IP(s) from Amazon anytime, at a cost of $25 per IP per month.

Final thoughts

Implementing all of these best practices may seem like a lot of work, but may of them (e.g. sender configuration, email verification) can be taken care of just once and offer the biggest impact and ROI improvement on time spent. Some of them, like testing of the content, have to become a part of your typical campaign management workflow.

Following all best practices can make a huge difference in your inbox placement and subscriber engagement overtime and deliver exceptional ROI for your time and marketing budget. 

Did you find your guide helpful or learned something new? Leave us a comment below.

Happy email marketing.

 

How to Create a Zapier Integration

Using a Zapier integration you can connect BigMailer to hundreds of other platforms and applications. You can sync up your customer records with a CRM or another ESP, or add records to BigMailer when you acquire subscribers or customers in other platforms.

Below is a list of actions and example scenarios that can be setup.

IF [something happens elsewhere] > Add a contact to BigMailer brand

Examples:

IF a new response is collected via Google Forms add a contact into List [some-name] in BigMailer

IF a new row added to Google Spreadsheet add a contact into List [some-name] in BigMailer

IF a new contact is added in [some other ESP] also add a contact into List [some-name] in BigMailer

IF a new customer/sale/order is added in [some platform] add a contact into List [some-name] in BigMailer

IF a contact is added in BigMailer > DO [this action somewhere else].

Examples:

IF a new contact is added to List [Member] in BigMailer also add a record in [some platform].

IF a new contact is added to List [Paying Customer] in BigMailer send a message via [Gmail/Slack/other].

How to Create a New Zap with BigMailer

Log into Zapier with your account, then go to this page and click on “Accept Invitation & Build a Zap”.

When you choose an app in either step 1 or 2, search for “bigmailer” (no space) then select a BigMailer app listed.

Zapier: find BigMailer app

Zapier: find BigMailer app

Once you select the action, you will be asked for an API key to complete the step and a link to the page to copy API key will be provided.

Zapier: authorize BigMailer with API Key

Zapier: authorize BigMailer with API Key

Need an action not listed? Reach out to us via chat to request it.