Tips on how to improve email deliverability and email sender reputation by Rob McEwan

  • Invaluement started off from the ground up as particularly good at blocking that very elusive kind of spam that was slipping past other spam filters.
  • More recently, though, a lot of old email addresses that just haven't been used for many years have been recycled into spam traps, so it's slightly more questionable as to whether it was spam or not.
  • But it's our position, basically, that when the recipient doesn't have a reasonable way to connect the dots from whatever they're receiving to whatever they signed up for originally, then at that point all permissions are null and void.
  • It was so fascinating because when I was listening to your podcast and reading through your book, I got about 25% into your book before I saw the clarifications that made me feel comfortable with it.
  • Yeah, your domain reputation's going to follow you around everywhere. Make sure your practices are really good, and if you inadvertently get blacklisted, fight for it and explain to any blacklist that might blacklist you what it is that you're doing good that's causing recipients to get angry if they don't receive those messages.
  • But, you know, having really helpful high-quality information is so important now for that engagement to keep Google Office 365 happy, because they focus so much on engagement, is very, very helpful.
  • When marketers get blacklisted, there's almost always something going on, like an insecure form that wasn't CAPTCHA protected that your worst enemy signed a spam trap upon, or some bot did.
  • Well, one of the things that's happened with the industry, in terms of email, is so much has gone to Office 365 and Google, and a few other large providers, but mostly those two. It's helped the industry a lot because of the way they're focusing on engagement is forcing the industry to do better, and that's great and it's improving the industry.

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To improve email deliverability make sure your email practices are really good.

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Doug: Well, welcome back, listeners, to another episode of Real Marketing Real Fast. Today we're going to talk about email and email marketing, but we're going to come at it from a different point of view. We've all heard that the money's in the list, but, obviously, your list is no good if you can't get your email delivered, or if you end up in the spam drop. My guest today in studio is Rob McEwen, and Rob has a long history of managing email web servers since 1996. At that time he was a computer programmer and then later a web developer. Then, in early 2000s, Rob pivoted towards a high-quality email spam filtering and hosting services. Then, 2005, he was already heavily involved with a blacklisting company that some of you may be familiar with called SURBL. It's He was there as a volunteer near their very beginning when that new type of anti-spam blacklist services started to come up.

Doug: Rob has a wealth of experience, so we're going to talk today in today's episode about how to stay off of a blacklist and how to have a higher reputation for your domain and for your emails, and how to get your email delivered. With that being said, I want to invite Rob onto the Real Marketing Real Fast Podcast.

Doug: Hey. Well, welcome to the studio, Rob. I'm super excited to talk to you today. You've got a great topic.

Rob McEwen: Yeah. Me, too. I'm very excited to be here. Thank you for having me.

Doug: So, listeners, today we're going to cover off a whole bunch of topics. Rob's a super smart guy, so he's going to try to keep it simple enough for those of us that aren't technicians to understand. We're going to talk about how to stay off a blacklist, how to get better deliverability and to look after your reputation online as you're emailing. So, Rob, do you wanna just share with our listeners a little bit of your background and how you got from where you were to this place now where you're helping people to do a better job?

Rob McEwen: Well, I've been managing email servers and spam filters since 1996, so I've been doing this for a long time. Along with that, I started off doing web development. I was a computer programmer, still I am, and along the way I started focusing heavily on email security back in the early 2000s. Then, around 2005, I started volunteering heavily. I spent a lot of time on that for, which a lot of people call it They are an anti-spam blacklist that pioneered the whole concept of blacklisting domain names in order to catch spammers based on the domain names they were using within the clickable links and the body of the message.

Rob McEwen: As I was working with SURBL, I noticed some loopholes, or blind spots, for all the major blacklists, where spammers were finding ways around them. I was hoping, at first, to merge that into SURBL, but that just didn't work out. So, I started my own anti-spam blacklist called Invaluement, with their blessings. It also expanded. Invaluement expanded to an IP blacklist. Basically, to make a long story short, the gist of it is this. Spammers are finding ways around blacklists based on creating distribution lists that didn't have a single honeypot trap in them. Then, whenever the complaints about their spam would bubble to the service, by that time, they'd already moved on to new IPs and new domain names. Invaluement started off from the ground up as particularly good at blocking that very elusive kind of spam that was slipping past other spam filters.

Rob McEwen: So, a lot's changed over the years, but one of the things I've noticed is that a lot of times somewhat legit marketers that, maybe, have a small number of mistakes, like a bad email address will get into their distribution system, will get more easily blacklisted than other people just based on doing some basic things with their setup not correctly. A lot of that stuff gets missed in a lot of the literature that you find out there that's overall very good, but sometimes misses a few of the things that somebody from my perspective would see. So, I'm going to share a few things today about some of those things that if senders do these things, they will stay off a blacklist more often and get more of their mail delivered to the inbox.

Doug:  Let's push pause just for a sec, and for the benefit of our listeners, why don't you explain to us what a blacklist is?

Rob McEwen: Okay, so a blacklist is … I mean, there are all different types, but, generally, when you're talking about email and spam, you're talking about a list of either sending IP addresses or domain names for the most part. Most of the most famous ones that people have traditionally thought of are … You know, if somebody uses it more generically, they're almost always talking about a list of sending IP addresses. Those would be IPs that, different blacklists will have different standards. Some don't really care that they might create collateral damage and false positives, and you know, just one spam hits their trap, and you're blacklisted. That's one extreme.

Rob McEwen: Others are more careful about not listing IPs that would cause collateral damage in situations where legit senders and spammers are sending from the same IP address. Some are very good about having good D-list policies and expiring, and responding to complaints, or responding to D-list requests, while others are more draconian. Of course, it ranges, again, because there are hundreds of them out here, but there's really only several that are very good in a high amount of use where people put a lot of weight in them, basically.

Doug: Then, just for one more definition, why don't you explain what a honeypot or a spam trap is, so our listeners understand that.

Rob McEwen: So, in the old days, so to speak, when blacklists were first starting off, what the blacklist operator would do, and that person's partners, would be to create email addresses that they would put on websites hidden so that a human being would never see that email address but a bot, or also called a spider, could collect that email address and add it into a list of email addresses to send spam to. Because that address was never used ever in history by a human being to ever sign up for anything, any hit on it was like, “We've caught your hand in the cookie jar.” “We caught you red-handed,” and you're definitely in trouble. In that particular situation, there's not really that great of an excuse. You had to have done something wrong for that to happen, or you had an insecure sign-up form and your worst enemy signed up a spam trap address where you weren't doing confirmed opt-in, it didn't have it CAPTCHA protected.

Rob McEwen: More recently, though, a lot of old email addresses that just haven't been used for many years have been recycled into spam traps, so it's slightly more questionable as to whether it was spam or not. I mean, there are situations where an ISP will have gone out of business 15 years ago, and then the company that's sending them messages didn't even exist until five years ago. There's just a lot of that going on where it becomes very suspicious and contributes towards getting caught on a blacklist when you send to old addresses like that. You know, where it's not reasonably likely that they really did sign up.

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To improve email deliverability make sure your email practices are really good.

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Doug: Right. So, that's probably people that have scraped a database, or scraped websites, like you said, by using bots, put people in the database, and they've shared or sold that data over and over again so you, as a potential buyer, loads that data, and then, boom. You're out of business immediately.

Rob McEwen: Right. What's happened is a lot of the blacklists, traditionally, have been very good at catching spammers that either do those tactics or buy lists from people who use those tactics. The problem with it is around, say, about in the late 2000s, as it was getting towards 2006, 2007, 2008, a lot of spammers, like I said earlier, started getting very good at cultivating lists where they knew for sure there wasn't a single honeypot trap on them, and they were sending to them. Then, by the time they got blacklisted because the complaints had already moved on to other domains and IPs.

Rob McEwen: Invaluement specializes in blocking that very elusive spam. We still are really good at catching a lot of that stuff that before it gets on Spamhaus or SURBL, or the other different blacklists, yet with a really low false positive rate. So, we still have a very good edge in that niche that's really helping us out to help our subscribers to have a much better spam filtering.

Rob McEwen: One of the things that's happened along the way is sometimes people will cultivate lists based on things that people really did do. Like, maybe they filled out a form, they downloaded a white paper, then, all of a sudden, that person will start receiving a lot of spam because they didn't know that there was something in the fine print that said: “receive offers from third parties.”

Doug: Yep.

Rob McEwen: Then, the person collecting the email address thinks that that's just a lifetime license for anybody to send however they distribute that email address. But it's our position, basically, that when the recipient doesn't have a reasonable way to connect the dots from whatever they're receiving to whatever they signed up for originally, then at that point all permissions are null and void. That position really makes a lot of sense, because, otherwise, that loophole would be so large that we'd all start waking up with 500 spams a day in our email box.

Doug: Well, and that's how you and I got connected. I mean, we got connected, because I had put a post, and I was really pleased to see your interaction. It was good to have somebody shine some light and say, “Hey, if this is the direction you're going, that's spam. If this is the direction you're going, that's the right direction.” So, yeah, I often come across people who are looking for shortcuts, and I'm saying those tactics are not a shortcut. They're a recipe for disaster, lawsuits, and toast your domain name.

Rob McEwen: Yeah. You have written a book and posted some information about list rental. It was such a fascinating thing because we both came at it from such different perspectives that we had kind of a misunderstanding, where you were thinking of it from a pure white hat standpoint, in a sense that you would be paying somebody in order to send to their distribution list. But it would still be branded as from the original owner of the list so that the recipients would still recognize who it was coming from and that this was sort of like a sponsor, kind of like, “Here's a word from our sponsors,” kind of thing. Then, the person renting the list would send out a message. But the whole way through, the recipient wouldn't be confused about how it is that they opted into this.

Rob McEwen: I had just never heard of that much of that happening, but from my perspective, running a blacklist, I'd come across a lot of situations where list rental meant that when the person sent to the distribution list, it looked like it came from the person renting the list, where the recipients wouldn't have any reasonable way, like I said, to connect the dots and understand how the permissions worked. I had only come across it from more black hat scenarios, where you were only thinking of it from a white hat scenario.

Rob McEwen: It was so fascinating because when I was listening to your podcast and reading through your book, I got about 25% into your book before I saw the clarifications that made me feel comfortable with it. It's just that you were so innocent about it, because you just weren't even thinking of it as being a black hat thing. So, it was kind of a fascinating way that we misunderstood each other, and I'm glad we cleared that up, you know? So, I'm-

Doug: But it's great to get pushback, though, right? I mean, 'cause sometimes, regardless of what you're doing, listeners, you're in your own business and you think you know it so well, and you talk to somebody and they misinterpret it because they have a different experience than you do.

Rob McEwen: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. One of the things, basically, that … I've run across things that legit senders that really do have permissions that get them more likely to be blacklisted, either because the blacklist is being a little bit too strict due to a mistake that the sender's making, or maybe the mis-sender really did have some kind of problem, like a security problem, that caused them to do something they shouldn't have done. But it really wasn't that bad, but yet it's affecting a lot, yet they're getting more easily blacklisted because of some things not being set up correctly.

Rob McEwen: I know a lot of this stuff, as one of the books I highly recommend, is Delivery Inferno from Chris Arrendale from Inbox Pros. What I'm going to basically cover is if you read his book, here are the things that … And I think his book is excellent, can't find anything in it that I disagree with, but this is sort of like what he didn't say, or what he didn't emphasize enough. And this comes from more of a person managing a blacklists' perspective. So, I'm going to give a few things that are really good suggestions about that.

Rob McEwen: One of the things that I highly recommend is making sure that the … A lot of people, I guess, if you're using an ESP, sometimes you have to pay attention to this and sometimes you don't, but it doesn't necessarily mean you don't if you're using an ESP. Because sometimes ESPs will customize these things for you, but generally speaking, it's good to have the PTR record end in your main domain name and not end in some sort of generically assigned PTR record [A Pointer (PTR) record resolves an IP address to a fully-qualified domain name (FQDN)]. This is sort of like the A record at DNS will convert a domain name to an IP address. The PTR record sort of maps the IP address back to a host name. So, when the IP of your sending IP, even if you are running your email, let's say you're using an ESP for sending your marketing messages, but, maybe, you're running your own mail server for just your regular transactional stuff, or maybe your regular stuff that your own employees use. This would still apply to that situation, or possibly both.

Rob McEwen: The idea is you want to have, for your sending IPs, you want them to end in the main domain name of your business and not some variation of it or throw-away domain name, the one that people would go to your website and have the best reputation, with not too many dots or hyphens to the left of it, basically. So, it might be like mail.yourdomainname, or something, or outbound.yourdomainname, or something like that. Then, of course, you want, along the way, this almost goes without saying, but you want forward-confirmed reversed DNS, where that hostname resolves back to the IP, the IP resolves back to the hostname so that they circularly reference each other. That's about as technical as I hope to get in this call. But that's very, very important.

Rob McEwen: The other thing to try to do is try to avoid, what some people will do, some marketers have this idea that “Okay, I don't want to use my main domain name in our email send-outs because what if that get blacklisted? What if something we do is bad that gets blacklisted?” But it's so fascinating because when you use those throw-away domain names, you masquerade almost as if you're a [inaudible 00:13:08] spammer burning through bogus domains, basically. It almost makes you look worse because it has no good reputation built up. It's more easily blacklisted, so the better solution is really careful about making sure your sending practices are good and you're not sending to purchase lists and that sort of thing. I'll give some other suggestions about that in a moment.

Rob McEwen: But proudly put your main domain names in the links in the messages and the from address to, basically, give the message that we're not scared, we're not trying to hide our practices. We proudly stand behind them. Changes are if ever there is a small security hole, you probably won't get blacklisted because of using that domain name that has a lot of good reputation.

Doug: So, just to clarify your point, what you're saying is that a brand new domain name, so if I set up a dot net so I don't use my dot com, it has no reputation because it hasn't been used. So, you're going to likely get a lower deliverability rate because it's an untrusted domain name. Is that …?

Rob McEwen: Absolutely. A good way to check it, this is not one of the metrics that Invaluement uses in our actual system, but it's something I personally use if I'm just quickly on the fly visually double checking something, that any of your users could easily do. It's so simple your grandmother could do it. Basically, if you just take the domain name without the www dot or the http, just the domain itself put it in Google in quotes. What that'll do is, Google will pull up a list of all the websites that mention that domain name. You may get a little extra stuff in it every once in a while that you're not really looking for, but for the most part, it works pretty well.

Rob McEwen: Then, look at the number of links it returns back, whether it's returning back 10 pages or 10,000 pages, or 100,000 pages, whatever it is, generally, the more the better. Then, the second metric to look for is looking at the quality of the top 10. If the top 10 involve really high-quality websites, very important websites that are linking back to your site, that's a really good sign. If the top 10, instead, is full of mediocre domain analysis websites that are going to have every domain name cataloged in existence, kind of thing, then, if that's in the top 10, that means you're not really getting high-quality traction on the Internet. That heavily corresponds to the kind of reputation tools that we use to determine whether a domain name might be too risky to blacklist, because of possibly too much collateral damage. You want to-

Doug: One other point … sorry. One other point I want to mention to you, in terms of that, is, listeners, I've often heard people say, “Hey, I'll just go change my ESP.” Let's say, for example, you're using, I don't know, let's pick one. You're using HubSpot to sell now, and you have a problem, so I'll just go move to iContact. I think what Rob's saying is that this problem is not going to go away because you've damaged your domain name, so only the best practices will keep you in the inbox.

Rob McEwen: Yeah, your domain reputation's going to follow you around everywhere. You definitely don't want to, if something goes wrong, don't immediately think, “I'll just use this sub throw-away domain name.” It's better to stand behind your main domain name. If it's a new domain name because you're a fairly new business, you want to kind of warm it up, a similar concept to warming up an IP address. Make sure your practices are really good, and if you inadvertently get blacklisted, fight for it and explain to any blacklist that might blacklist you what it is that you're doing good that's causing recipients to get angry if they don't receive those messages. Then, little by little, as you build a good reputation through the normal things you should be doing anyway to get traction on the Internet behind your domain name, just base, organic SEO, basically, is going to help improve the quality of your domain's reputation.

Rob McEwen: What happens is, like I said, when the PTR record ends in that domain name, it, basically, then … I see that PTR record, the domain at the end of it as infusing both identity and reputation upon the IP address. That helps give that IP additional good reputation. I mean, that's not the only thing we do. You could screw that up and do everything else right and not have any problems. But just when you combine a mistake that might've been an innocent mistake, like a marketer, or maybe a form not being secured, and a bunch of spam trap addresses being added, combine that with a bad PTR record, or using a throw-away domain name that could be a bad thing.

Rob McEwen: I'm going to give you a few examples of situations that have happened. So, basically, there's been two that were really famous in the past couple of years. One was with Marriott Corporation and another was with, it's the credit bureau, Equifax, yeah. Both Marriott and Equifax had egregious security holes. In both situations-

Doug: Yes, they are. Yep.

Rob McEwen: They sent out notifications to their customers about the security hole that happened where their data had been broken into using brand new throw-away domains. The security industry just went nuts and said, “This is really dumb because we're having trouble telling the difference between what you just did and a phish.” It would've been much better if they had just said, or something like that, rather than using the domain name they used that referred to it because any phisher could go out and buy off other derivatives. Then, people don't know the difference.

Rob McEwen: One of the fascinating things is that my position is that when you read those articles and granted, these were worse case scenarios, because they were talking about situations where the notification itself could've read similar to how a fish might've read, so these are definitely worst case scenarios. But when you step back and you start peeling back the layers and thinking, okay, where's the dividing line between all the reasons everybody's giving Marriott and Equifax a hard time for using these extra domains, and some other company just having a domain name like email-theirmaindomainname, as another domain that they're using in their from address and their clickable links.

Rob McEwen: There's no good dividing line there. It's like all the points that go for the more egregious example, the security industry went crazy about, really, kind of, sort of, to some extent still apply to all those other situations too. Basically, how you do it can really make a big impact. Just this past week, my system at Invaluement struggled with two different domain names from two very famous companies that are doing a few good things, but a lot of bad things. I'm going to kind of list out what they did. It's kind of shocking, but this kind of shows that this isn't just a situation where some small sender who doesn't really know what he's doing could have this problem. It can happen to even big Fortune 500 corporations, as well.

Rob McEwen: The first one is Warner Music. They're big music, billion-dollar corporation, basically. They came out with a domain in their advertising called, Here are some of the things about it that caused our system to struggle with why they're not to blacklist this. Basically, when I got to the end of analyzing these two domain names, I went ahead and whitelisted them, because I think these are legit. But there is a tiny possibility that I'm wrong and these are being run by spammers that have nothing to do with these companies. I spent more than an hour doing this research and they were really run by.

Rob McEwen: Another possibility is that they could be run by affiliate marketers being paid by these companies that are still doing very shady practices. But I'm just assuming, for now, that they're legit, but they just made some mistakes along the way. Both of them, and the other one was from Chase, the financial corporation. This one's Both of them had no website with and without the www. So, if you go to or with or without the www, there's no website. That's really bad. It used to be, not too many years ago, I would get death threats and lawsuit threats and stuff every once in a while because of what I was doing. I don't get that much anymore because people know that, “Well, in order for me to follow these practices that would keep Office 365 and Gmail happy, I don't really have to worry about Invaluement, because I'm not likely to get blacklisted by Invaluement.” That's been something that's been really good for the industry.

Doug: I'm always surprised when I look at my spam filter because once a week, at least, I go look at my spam filter. I use the Gmail Suite platform for a number of domains and companies that I have, and how many people, legitimate mailers, that end up there. We talked about kind of the dark side. What are some of the major issues for people who are trying to do it right that have, you know, they're investing in their people, they're investing in their content, they're using best practices, but they're still getting dumped into this ban box?

Rob McEwen: Well, I mean, doing a lot of the things that I suggested already would be very, very helpful. Then, of course, sending high-quality content that people really would desire, I think, is very helpful. You don't want to send so infrequently that people don't remember you anymore. But I just can't help but notice that with everything I've signed up for lately, with things I'm working on that involve getting on people's radar in terms of getting on people's distribution lists for email sending, I just can't tell you how annoying it is sometimes that I'll sign for something, and I'm getting … You may disagree, and a lot of people may disagree with me on this. But to me, it rubs me the wrong way if all of a sudden I'm getting five marketing messages a day from that person that I just signed up for.

Rob McEwen: I mean, to me it seems like maybe one or two a week would be a lot better. That could be possibly a problem and contributing to people hitting the spam button. Of course, it depends on the industry and what type of products you have. But, you know, having really helpful high-quality information is so important now for that engagement to keep Google Office 365 happy, because they focus so much on engagement, is very, very helpful. Not doing the things that I talked about is really good, you know, the bad things that I mentioned and doing the good things that I mentioned, will be very, very helpful.

Rob McEwen: When marketers get blacklisted, there's almost always something going on, like an insecure form that wasn't CAPTCHA protected that your worst enemy signed a spam trap upon, or some bot did. One of the things that's also really important, as you remember, I mentioned early that it's our position that if the user doesn't recognize who the sender is, the permissions are null and void. Along with that line, having really consistent branding, same color, same logo, same name, across all your different social media platforms and all the messages you send so that there's no question on the user's part, that they immediately recognize you. That's very, very helpful.

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To improve email deliverability make sure your email practices are really good.

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Rob McEwen: Having more transactional messages. If you sent a receipt to somebody and it goes into a spam folder or commercial folder, like a junk mail folder, and the recipient complains back to the ISP, “Why is this not in my inbox?” That can only probably help you.

Doug: Sure.

Rob McEwen: Sending stuff that, you know you're teaching your users to complain about stuff like that will probably be really helpful for situations like that. I think that the things that I mentioned that don't get emphasized a lot by different people who are in this industry trying to help senders is, like I said at the beginning, the PTR record, right?

Doug: Yeah.

Rob McEwen: And CAPTCHA protecting your forms and doing confirmed opt-in. There's still so much resistance to confirmed opt-in, but there may be ways around that in the sense that you really should do confirmed opt-in. But if you know you got their contact information through a social media that provided it for you, maybe it's not quite as critical. If they purchase something from you with a credit card, then that alone is proof that they're a real person and really that person, and you don't really have to confirm.

Rob McEwen: So, there are some ways around confirmed opt-in that makes sense. One of the things that's fascinating about it, that's really a cool trick here that I a lot of people don't use is, so let's say that I send an email to sign up for something from. A lot of times the sign up's not through email, but if I did send you at least one email for some reason, if the SPF and the DKIM pass, that means that it had to have come from you. 99.9% of the time, you can almost bank on it that that really did legitimately come from that person sending the email. So, that can be very helpful sometimes as its own confirmation where in some situations like that it might not need to go that extra step for the confirmed opt-in.

Rob McEwen: Also, segmenting lists can be very helpful. I can't tell you how many times somebody calls me panicked about getting blacklisted at Invaluement, and we'll have them caught sending to egregious spam traps. They say they have a 50,000-person distribution list, they don't want to start all over just because of one constant hit, or a few constant hits, on spam trap addresses that may just be a couple of bad apples in their list. Having that segmentation where they kind of have a good track record of knowing where those email addresses came from, which ones got confirmed, how they got confirmed, which ones purchase product, which ones show real engagement that looks legitimate, could help a situation like that where when they go to do the pruning, it's not so deep and painful as they try to get rid of the spam trap address that's causing the problems.

Doug: Well, I'm doing some stuff that might be a bit weird. I mean, on my email list, if people hit reply, it actually comes back to an email to me. So, I'm not a huge fan of the ESPs where you can't reply to the person that you're talking to.

Rob McEwen: Yeah, the no-reply.

Doug: I really want the engagement, right? So, if you have a problem, you have a question, you agree, disagree, just hit reply. I find you get better engagement that way.

Rob McEwen: Yeah, it is really helpful for people to feel like they can reply and that there's someone that they can communicate with on the other side. That's very beneficial. I highly recommend having that as an option in the emails you send. It always feels kind of rude to get communication sent from a no-reply address and then getting a message back saying, “We're not accepting email at this address.”

Doug: That's right. “We just want to send you our stuff, but we really don't want to talk to you unless you want to buy something.”

Rob McEwen: Yeah. Yeah, that does come across as rude.

Doug: Tell us a little bit more about protecting your signup forms, because that's something I see on sites, 'cause, obviously, I'm in the business. So, I have a domain name and an email I use specifically to sign up for people's offers. I see lots of forms. So, why don't you explain to our listeners what it means and really how simple it is?

Rob McEwen: Yeah. Okay, so it's very easy. It's just called a CAPTCHA. All it is, I know your listeners have seen this all the time when they visit websites whereas a part of the form they'll see a graphic with some characters in it, but their characters have something funky going on. Like, they're a weird font, and they might have some stripes in the background or something, kind of distortion going on to make it a little bit hard to read but, hopefully, easy enough for a human to read.

Rob McEwen: They're trying to prevent those graphics from being OCRed, where a spammer might use optical character recognition to translate it to letter. Then, it'll give you a little box where you type that in, and that's CAPTCHA protecting it. The whole idea is that that way only a human being could get through that form. It prevents bots from using that form.

Rob McEwen: What's happened is the bots have really vandalized forms all over the Internet a lot this past couple of years. In some cases, they've really done a lot of disruption, because sometimes they've banked on those forms hundreds of times a second just to cause problems. That's caused systems to get shut down and things like that. So, having that CAPTCHA is very important. I think Google has a free CAPTCHA option that you can use. There's a number of other options as well that are very beneficial for … I just think every form now needs to be CAPTCHA protected, unless it's a situation where somebody had to be logged into their social media platform to fill the form out, then it's not really necessary 'cause they've sort of already gone through some authentication to get there.

Doug: Yeah. They've been vetted, so that definitely gets rid of the bots. Then, the other side is people hiring cheap labor to fill out your forms and use the CAPTCHA. To your earlier point, that's where double opt-in gets rid of a lot of that, because they're not going to go back and click “confirm” through all the emails they signed up for in their shift.

Rob McEwen: Yeah. I've heard of that, what you're describing, happening. I don't think it happens that often. It's definitely rare enough to where even if it CAPTCHA protected your forms, you're not going to be in huge danger of that happening. But that is a possibility, 'cause I've heard of that happening for sure. I mean, I'm sure. I know it does exist. But yeah, the thing is that criminal who's actually typing something in to get through your CAPTCHA, they're not going to be able to click the link on the email that it goes to, 'cause it's going to go to the real person and not to them.

Rob McEwen: The other thing, though, is that the CAPTCHAs don't protect you from you is, there really are incidents where people will go, especially with political websites, it's not uncommon for extreme conservatives to go to extreme liberal websites, or extreme liberals to go to extreme conservative websites and fill out forms all day long just to put bogus addresses in there, or people that they know will complain about why is this person sending me spam. That could also happen between competitors that are being nasty with each other. People will sign up all kinds of stuff just to get the other person in trouble. So, making sure that you do that confirmed opt-in can keep your distribution list free of those types of things.

Rob McEwen: A lot of times people don't want to go through that extra step 'cause it will reduce your number of sign up when people have to click the link. But the argument for doing it is that you're going to get a higher quality distribution list by enforcing it. You'll have fewer signups from people who are maybe in a hurry and not really paying attention or didn't really care that much about your product. Now, they may be more likely to hit the spam button mistakenly, forgetting that they signed up for it. So, at least you're going to have a higher level of intention for the people that sign up. That's so much more important with the way that Google and Office 365 are rating things more based on engagement. So, that's very, very helpful. I just think every form now should be CAPTCHA protected, and I think confirmed opt-in's extremely important.

Rob McEwen: I guess, one of the things about confirmed opt-in, too, that another twist on it could be a combination of “Click here to opt into our newsletter and receive the special download that you requested.” You know?

Doug: Yep. Absolutely.

Rob McEwen: That way, you're kind of giving them a carrot at the end of the process to entice them and make them feel like they're not just jumping through hoops that are wasting their time, gives them an incentive, it's helpful. That would be really good.

Doug: Well, and I just wrote an article that'll come out in the next couple of weeks about increasing your deliverability, and the resource that I had done before, and I still see today, is that people are expecting, most people, I think the numbers were over 70% of the people are expecting a welcome message, and less than half the marketers send one. So, I'm saying if they're expecting it, that's going to help your deliverability again, because it's an open and you may send them a short sequence after that. But people are expecting that, so I think the days of people being like, “Oh, I have to double opt-in, such a pain,” I don't know, I just think there's less and less of that. If I go sign up for somebody's newsletter, I go to my email box right away, because I'm waiting for the confirmation message to come in.

Rob McEwen: That also makes sense because, I have to admit, I have signed up for stuff before and what the marketers are trying to do is make it so easy to sign up quickly, where you just click, click, click, boom, it's done, you know? Maybe your information was auto-filled in by your social media platform, so you didn't have to type it all out. And you've gone from reading their add to clicking the “send me more information” and literally 12 seconds have passed. Well, that makes it a lot easier for me to forget what it was I signed up for. Having a welcome message comes in right after that to sort of connect the dots back to that signup will kind of boost their imprint on my memory so that then later I won't mistakenly, not that I would do this, but somebody else in the same situation would mistakenly hit the spam button thinking, “Oh, I don't recognize that. That must be spam,” when they actually did sign up for it. So, it's a good way to reinforce the branding while it's all fresh in their mind. So, that's a wise thing to do as well.

Doug: Well, I've seen that for sure. I've seen lists that we're managing for people where I know were built an opt-in, in this case, we're using Infusionsoft, so I can go, I could look at the spam complaint. I'm going, “This person opted in out this date. They clicked the double opt-in. They opened up the first two newsletters, and now they're hitting spam. It's clearly not spam. They're just, obviously, not happy with the content or, maybe, the brand anymore, but it wasn't a fair spam complaint. But it doesn't matter whether it's fair, me, as a marketer, I can't control that if the end user reports it as spam. I just have to live with the outfall from that.

Rob McEwen: Yeah. I mean, hopefully, no systems will put too much weight on a few outliers. There was one feedback loop that I had subscribed to for many years. It was very beneficial, where it would send the spam back to my system whenever somebody hit the spam button within their email system. It was a good early warning system in case an account had gotten broken into on my system, and the spammer, maybe, was sending slowly from my system to try to get under the radar. It was a great system for that for me to be able to quickly find hi-jacked accounts and fix them.

Rob McEwen: Occasionally, hand-typed messages to people's own relatives would show up, so I could tell the person either made a mistake, or they confused the spam button with the delete button. There's always going to be a little bit of stuff like that. You hope that it averages out to be such a tiny percentage, ideally, that's what would happen. If you're doing all these other things right, that's what should happen. Mistakes like that in the reporting should be so tiny that they fall off the map and don't really impact your deliverability, ideally, but that's why it's all the more important to do all these other good things so that, statistically, you overcome that.

Doug: Sure. Absolutely fair comment.

Rob McEwen:    Yeah.

Doug: So, in terms of what you're doing today and where the industry's going, what are you most excited about in the next six months?

Rob McEwen:    Well, one of the things that's happened with the industry, in terms of email, is so much has gone to Office 365 and Google, and a few other large providers, but mostly those two. It's helped the industry a lot because of the way they're focusing on engagement is forcing the industry to do better, and that's great and it's improving the industry. But the downside to it, though, is sometimes some of those large platforms don't do as much good with their abuse, in terms of making sure that the spammers that get accounts on their system are not sending spam. Sometimes they're kind of slow, 'cause they have this idea that “We're too big to blacklist.” So, they're not really motivated to fix those problems. I think that part, though, is starting to damage the industry, unfortunately.

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To improve email deliverability make sure your email practices are really good.

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Doug: Yeah.

Rob McEwen: So, what I'm trying to do in the coming year is, I think that it's the right time for people to re-examine the whole setup. Where some people may find that it's better to move back to running their own mail servers, a lot of people have been frustrated by trying to run their own mail systems because of how hard it is. There are all these different hoops you got to jump through, and they all get fairly complicated. Just making one mistake can be really catastrophic, and that's what's pushed a lot of these people over to these other platforms.

Rob McEwen: If you're doing everything right, all the things I talked about, all the things in Chris Arrendale's book, and you're following best practices, you could potentially get in a situation where your deliverability is better than some of these other platforms, and your spam filter might even be better than some of these other platforms. And it might be a lot less expensive. It's kind of funny that right now people that automatically think that all mail should go through an ESP, it's always funny for someone like me that's been managing mail service since 1996. To me, it sounds sort of like if my deceased grandfather, if he came back from the dead and I told him about how I was going to the store to buy bottled water, he would probably say, “That's crazy. There's plenty of water coming out of the tap,” you know?

Doug:    [inaudible 00:35:52] and move the pump handle, it'll come out.

Rob McEwen: Yeah. One of the biggest arguments against what I just said is that these ESPs do a great job of giving really good feedback and tracking the engagement and tracking the opens, and that sort of thing. But I think there may be some open-source solutions out there. I've been looking. We just started to research that to see what solutions there are for running your own mail server and having some other system locally where you're doing that yourself. Of course, you can't just blind carbon copy 1000 or 10,000 people. You still have to have a list component to your mail server. Most of them do have that feature where they'll spread it out and send so many per minute. I hope that more people will consider that. I think that it's not good for the industry for there to be as much consolidation as there is. It's better to have more … I think maybe I'm starting to see signs that more people are going back to that model, both for cost savings and because they now are learning to do it better.

Rob McEwen: I'm working on a publish … Basically, very soon I'm going to be involved in a round table discussion with a couple of industry leaders that I'm looking forward to publishing at, where we kind of just focus more on four people running their own mail server here, the best practices, all in one place where we kind of list them out for you and make a few good comments. It's going to be both, will include a lot of the things we talked about today, in terms of what to do to make sure you don't get blacklisted, but that discussion will focus more on what to do to make sure you don't get spammed and how to improve your spam filtering system.

Doug: That's really cool. Is that something we could hit you up for another podcast, come back and do a session on how to set up your own mail server?

Rob McEwen: Yeah. That would be great. I wanna wait 'til after I do that round table discussion so we can kind of link to that, then there may be some things that I can add at that point in time and discuss further. The other thing that's interesting with Invaluement, I didn't mention this earlier, but basically, right now people use Invaluement all over the world for consumer mailboxes and business mailboxes. But to give you an idea about our impact on the industry, at least 40% of all B2B mailboxes within the United States involve spam filters that are using Invaluement technology in the background to help them improve the spam filtering.

Rob McEwen: In spite of that and the market share we have for very small-medium size senders that aren't these big cloud providers, numbers wise, we really have a very small percentage of market share, probably less than 1%. A lot of small and medium sized companies that manage their own mail servers that haven't moved to the cloud don't know about our system yet, because I've just done a really bad job of advertising it over the years. It's been mostly just growing word of mouth.

Rob McEwen: I've spent the last year learning more about marketing and social media advertising. I'm about to start embarking on a big, massive campaign for getting the word out about Invaluement so that more of these small senders can integrate our products. Typically, the small sender that might have 500 mailboxes will be paying us in the low three figures for the same data that one of these larger cloud providers might pay us well into the five figures for, but for the same protection. It's very affordable, and I'm really looking forward to getting the message out so that more of them can improve their spam filtering.

Rob McEwen: The idea is that becomes another reason for them not to have to move to the cloud. In other words, there's a lot of good reasons to move to the cloud, but one of my goals here is so that people will know that-

Doug: There's an option, right?

Rob McEwen: Yeah, that they have options, and possibly with the combination of Invaluement and a few other things, they may be able to improve their spam filtering systems to the point where whether or not they move to the cloud, it won't be because of needing better spam filtering. That's one of my goals in the coming months.

Doug: Well, cool. That's a great segment into the important question. As you're expanding and getting your information out there and trying to help marketers do a better job with their email, where can people find you? Where's the best place to track you down?

Rob McEwen: Okay, so the best place is just to go to our website, That's Of course, I've got Twitter. I'm on Twitter and I'm also on LinkedIn. The company page on LinkedIn is very new, so you won't find much going on there yet, but my personal account on LinkedIn has been around for a while, so that's another good way to look me up on LinkedIn. If you just type Invaluement in the search, either place, you'll find me easily.

Rob McEwen: We're just about to publish a Facebook and an Instagram page. That hasn't been finished yet, but I'm going to coincide that with the launching of this upcoming discussion on running a mail server that's coming up very soon.

Doug: Well, when you do get us the links, we'll add them with the show notes, and I can verify that Rob really is on Twitter. That's how we connected. For all, you people say that Twitter's dead, not true. I've met lots of people on Twitter where we've had these types of conversations in the past.

Doug: I just wanna say thanks so much for taking time out of your day and trying to share with our audience and kind of give us an idea of what we can do to do a better job and make sure that our emails get delivered.

Rob McEwen: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed this conversation.

Doug: Well, there you go, listeners. There's a little bit of a technical discussion, but you've all heard that the money's in the list, but the list is no good if you can't get it delivered. Hopefully, you've got some takeaways. I'd encourage you to follow up with Rob. You can hear that he's got a wealth of knowledge. I'm sure we could spend a day or two having this discussion, but it's way above my pay grade. I just need to find people who are smarter than me that can help figure out these solutions. Thanks for tuning in and we look forward to serving you on our next episode.

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To improve email deliverability make sure your email practices are really good.

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