What the heck happened!? When your deliverability takes a hit

Community Manager
Community Manager

Let's say that you have a weekly newsletter that you send out through Marketo and every week your deliverability is 95% or better - except last week!  Your deliverability was only 80%!  What the heck happened!?


To find out, we pull up a quick Email Performance Report for the email in question and see what it says.  Let's say, for the purposes of this entry that you see a big spike in hard bounces.  (Soft bounces deserve their own write-up.)  I should clarify what Marketo considers a Hard Bounce.  Marketo considers a bounce to be a hard bounce if we get a definitive "NO" from the recipient server.  The server might say "NO" to the delivery because the email address is invalid, or it could say "NO" because it believes the email is spam.  How do we tell whether our spike in bounces was due to invalid emails or due to spam rejection?  We can do this with a Smart List, using the filter 'Email Bounced' and the 'Category' constraint.  Category 1 bounces are spam bounces, Category 2 bounces are invalid email addresses.


If the majority of the bounces are Category 2 - Email Invalid, then you will want to go back to your lead database to see if new leads were added, perhaps incorrectly.  However, if the majority of the bounces are Category 1, we need to figure out how you got flagged as spam.


When an email to a lead bounces as spam, a couple things happen.  The first is that the lead is set to Email Suspended, and the suspension lasts 24 hours.  During that time, it cannot receive any emails from Marketo, and it is not possible to undo the Email Suspended.  You just have to wait it out.  The field 'Email Suspended' is a historical field.  A more accurate name for this field would probably be "This email was suspended at some point in its history."  The actual suspension only lasts 24 hours, so to see if the lead is currently suspended, check the timestamp on the 'Email Suspended' field.  If it is more than 24 hours ago, the lead is not currently suspended.


The second thing that happens is that the actual bounce message received from the recipient server is written to the 'Email Suspended Cause' field.  This field can be full of great information.  To make use of it, let's go back to our Smart List of Email Bounced, Category 2 leads and edit the view so we can see the 'Email Suspended Cause' field.  You will probably need to extend the width of the field to be able to read the bounce messages, but once you've done so, you will be able to scroll down the list of leads and read all the bounce messages we received.


A note about bounce messages: they aren't standardized so don't get too wrapped up trying to decode them.  The admin of an email server can configure their bounce messages to say literally anything.  I saw one bounce message that simply read "Go away."  Some will be totally generic, some will be strings of meaningless characters, but some of them - the ones we are looking for - will tell us the name of the blacklist that caused the email to be bounced for spam.  The most common is Spamcop and the bounce messages may look something like this:


550-"JunkMail rejected - em-sj-00.mktomail.com []:48340 is in an 550 RBL, see Blocked - see http://www.spamcop.net/bl.shtml?"


You may also see blacklists for Symantec, TrendMicro, or ATT.Net.  While they are independent and maintain their own reasons for listing, they often reference major blacklists such as Spamcop and so a Spamcop hit can have far reaching consequences.  Marketo actively manages our relationships with the various blacklist organizations, and some delist automatically after a certain period of time, so by the time you get around to looking at your deliverability for an email, we may be back off the blacklist.


Seeing Spamcop in your 'Email Suspended Cause' field, your next question is likely to be "Did I hit a spam trap?"  The answer to that is a maybe, but maybe not.  If you are on a shared IP, it may be that someone else on the IP hit the spam trap, but everyone using that IP is affected.  I think of being on the shared IP sort of like being a tenant in an apartment building.  If one of your neighbors accidentally starts a fire in their living room, you get evacuated from the building along with everyone else, even though you never so much as struck a match.  It's one of the downsides of sharing a resource with other people.


If it was you that hit the spam trap, Marketo will notify you and request that you go through the remediation process to remove possible spam trap leads from your database.  If you fail to do so, you will be moved to the quarantine IP so that you can't continue to impinge on the deliverability of your neighbors.


Chances are, however, it wasn't you.  The short-term solution is to wait out the 24 hours and resend the email to the people who didn't get it.  But what's the long-term solution for people who don't hit spam traps and who don't want to suffer because of someone else's poor sending practices?  There are two options.  If you send at least 100k emails per month, you can get a dedicated IP - move out of that apartment building into your own home, so you aren't sharing a roof and walls with anyone else.  If you send less than 75k emails per month and you haven't hit any spam traps yourself, you can apply for the Trusted IP range, which is a range of IPs reserved for Marketo accounts whose clean email practices keep them out of spam traps and blacklists.  If you would like to apply for the Trusted IP range, you can do so here:  http://na-sjg.marketo.com/lp/marketoprivacydemo/Trusted-IP-Sending-Range-Program.html


If you don't see any indicators of blacklists in the "Email Suspended Cause" field (which is what it will be, 90% of the time), and instead you find a lot of generic bounce messages - "Blocked by policy", "Access denied" - then make sure your DKIM and SPF records still verify.  I've seen more than one SPF or DKIM record removed by IT staff who didn't realize it's importance, and more than one email sent using a domain in the From: line that wasn't set up with SPF and DKIM.

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