Social Distancing Highlights Need for Sender Alignment

Social Distancing Highlights Need for Sender Alignment

New world changes

Businesses are putting their work-from-home technologies to the test by allowing their employees to start earning a check at home. 

For many, this new ability to access work remotely has been an eye-opener. Industries that had not yet fully embraced the WFH option have been pushed into the future as remote work has become a necessity rather than a nice-to-have.  

Doctors are making initial clinical diagnosis, fitness instructors are giving lessons over video chat, therapy sessions are happening online...the list goes on. 

With this large shift to distance interaction, it’s a great time to refocus on your outbound game. The king of safe distance marketing for most will continue to be email, making this an ideal moment to revisit best practices, such as sender domain alignment.

For those of us who are fortunate enough to make that work-from-home transition; email marketing will make it possible to continue penetrating new market verticals and maintaining a dialog with consumers to determine ongoing needs, wants, or interests. 

We see this demonstrated by local food spots that are blasting announcements and letting everyone know “Hey! We’re still open!” Thispandemic, if nothing else, also contains an ancillary benefit to the Email Service Provider (ESP) community; as there seems to be an anticipation for many more senders to start entering that market later this year. Senders who, maybe, have not delivered emails in the past or are now looking at increasing their email blasts. 

In this transition to refocusing on email strategy, senders should not forget about what those ESPs look for when verifying your campaigns. One of the main ingredients is the domains you use in content and to pass email authentication. Do they all resolve back to the same location? 

That is an important step when the filters assess risk to the users. Make sure you take some time to digest this with your marketing team and consider a serious look at what your domain alignment is and what it means for your outbound campaign.

What’s your alignment?

Disasters often accelerate bad trends and practices. The world's latest rediscovered dependence on the web via “social distancing” measurements will probably mean a feeding frenzy for email filters this year. 

As more businesses are being forced to seek out digital solutions as a means for survival, this will also create a natural proliferation of bad senders entering the market for the first time or who plan on ramping up their production without improving best practices. This is already on top of the increased threat from the bad actors sending malware, Spoofing, or Phishing. 

That’s right, you can bet that the bad guys have escalated their attacks as well!

We feel this is an important aspect that senders should know more about, especially if you’re going to be reliant on outbound emails during these times. 

You should first look at how to improve your campaign and streamline what domains are being used in the email. This is where we are focusing today, anyway; how the domains are used in an email can oftentimes be an easy way to get filtered. Why? Well, in the email delivery process the domain use and presentation in the message is the sole responsibility of the sender.  

As a sender, you may not necessarily have complete control over all of the reputation factors. For example, things like spam complaints, spam traps, or hard bouncing. However, you are in complete control of how the message is delivered. So conforming to things like DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) and Sender Policy Framework (SPF) may already be an important step that you’re taking, but are the domains passing those verifications aligned? That is the best practice. 

Then you need to ask yourself:  are you also passing Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC) back through to that same domain, and what does that acceptance policy look like (p=none)? These are basic technical setup questions that seem to miss the discussion for senders when setting up in their outbound technology.

Try running a test and determining your alignment.  An easy way to understand this is by testing an email to yourself and then viewing the original html source. Once it is determined what each of these domains are, see if they align.

An example of mis-alignment in the domain for an example business called ABC Company, Inc would be:

DKIM

SPF (envelope domain)

DMARC

Custom Link branding

@abc-example.com

@email.esp-example.com

Not published

@click.esp-example.com



Below is an example of what optimizing domain alignment would look like:

DKIM

SPF (envelope domain)

DMARC

Custom Link branding

@abc-example.com

@email.abc-example.com

abc-example.com (p=reject)

@click.abc-example.com

 

Why is alignment of the domains so important? Each domain comes with it’s own unique reputation. When you narrow down which domains were used to impact deliverability then it’s easier to understand, report on, and control the sender reputation. 

It’s also the technical solution to proving that an email received is, in fact, not a forgery. In other words it provides a way for the recipient to verify that an email comes from who it claims to be from.  Domain alignment offers a level of certainty greater than if one of those authentications was passed through domains unique from one another. 

The mail servers checking for this alignment offer advanced ways for filters to block harmful uses of email such as spam, spoofing, or phishing. Without domain alignment in the content and header, the receiver’s mail server may enter into logic when accepting a message that elevates suspicion or sends the email to spam as a precaution.

The Monetization of Alignment

Interestingly enough, domain alignment has become widely appreciated by the sending community and email providers as a baseline for best practices. 

That’s not stopping many of the ESPs out there from starting to restrict access to completing domain setups until you pay for a higher level service package. To us, charging senders for something so basic and widely accepted by the industry is a disservice to the sender.

The ISPs/Filters want to see authentication setup; reputation aligned with a single domain and the links custom branded. For any ESP to be suppressing the opportunity for senders to customize and deliver email on the merits of their own domain’s reputation is not the best practice. 

In fact, it’s actually counteractive to what is recommended by industry standards. Doing this may help the bottom line at the ESP, but it hurts the unwitting sender who is lacking the knowledge base of best practices. If this is your ESP, then strongly consider accessing that feature so you can customize these domains.

DMARC Adoption

With domain alignment, we also see an ever-increasing value in implementing a more strict DMARC policy. On the other hand, that is the direction the industry has been going in anyway.  Part of making that policy change to DMARC will also require you to align the root domain in both your DKIM and SPF.

Most senders, if participating in DMARC, will have it setup using an open acceptance policy that will complete the delivery regardless if DMARC passes or fails (p=none). This setting is okay if you’re just getting started with DMARC, but the email providers are going to track everything you send. 

What they are looking for is a trend that moves your DMARC acceptance policy, over time, from (p=none), to (p=quarantine), and eventually that you make the move to the coveted status of (p=reject).  The Quarantine and Reject policies are favored by the email providers as it shows the domain owner’s willingness to mitigate or bounce failures to DMARC policy. This inspires more trust with those systems receiving the email.

Domain Alignment = Better Deliverability

The intention of a sender (with regards to domain alignment) should be to try and narrow the presence of all but one domain. This will reduce the exposure coming from other domains that you aren’t in control of.. 

Also, remember that if you don’t set up the account correctly, the ESP serving the email will default your domains so that it authenticates over a domain they are sharing with other users.  It’s also possible that you may need to pay more before the ESP allows you to customize these domains.

The ambition for each sender reading this today should be to figure out what the domain alignment looks like in their campaigns - DKIM/SPF/DMARC and if the custom link branding is set up (hover mouse over email link). Realizing this and making adjustments that align all of the domains used at the root level is a best practice. 

We encourage you to sit down with your technical contacts and marketing team to discuss more. Happy sending!

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