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eMails are the communications backbone of modern business. We routinely send and receive them throughout our normal business day without giving it a second thought.

What if your emails don’t arrive?

How annoying/costly would it be if suddenly people start not receiving your emails!  Worse, what if it appears your emails have been delivered but they weren’t.  Busy as we all are, you move on to other matters and promptly forget about the communication, assuming that the recipient will eventually respond. But of course, they don’t.

I’m surprised at how many people are naively operating with occasional business email failures, blissfully unaware of the underlying cause.

Here’s an example of email non-communication

A recent personal example, involves a service provider that sent me their invoice and also no-payment follow-ups also via email, but none of their communications ever arrived into my InBox.

Their emails were all promptly directed to my junk/spam email folder, which frankly I rarely look at.  Eventually, their debtor person called me asking why I hadn’t paid their account. Of course, I hadn’t seen their invoices or followup emails so wasn’t aware of the debt.

After promptly paying  their account, I checked their email authentication and discovered they had an issue, but the Accounts person wasn’t interested and/or didn’t understand the impact such an issue had on their business.

She was focused on recovering Outstandings. The business owner would think she was very good at it, because she bypassed their email deliverability issue and actually talked to people. So she was very successful because she didnt rely on emails. You have to wonder how other parts of the business managed to survive if they reliaed on email communications.      

Why aren’t my emails being delivered?

If you discover your emails aren’t being delivered how do you figure out how to solve that issue?

Let’s look at some potential causes.

Are you blacklisted?

‘Blacklisted’ sounds nasty, and frankly, it is for business.

The email world has been trying to eliminate email spam for years. While it seems they arent doing much of a job, they have made a progress on a number of fronts. Blacklisting is an example of a spam minimisation initiative. 

If you click the Report Spam link in your email program because you received a spam email, this information is passed to one or more of a legion of spam policing systems. These in turn flag that email source as a spammer to email servers far and wide.

If your email server (often co-located with your web server) has been identified as a spam source, sending emails becomes much more  problematic.

 How do I tell if I’m blacklisted?

Check if your domain is blacklisted for emails by using a tool like MX ToolBox’s blacklist checker. Type in your domain and the tool will display the results of checking around 100 blacklist reports.

If you get results something like this, you’ve been flagged as a spammer, and definitely have got an email deliverability issue.

email blacklist checker

Are you a good email citizen?

OK so we’ve discovered you are email blacklisted, but you are a good ’email citizen’. You haven’t been spamming people. Maybe. So how come you’ve been blacklisted?

Re-check your computer for viruses. These might be sending 100’s or 1,000 of emails. If you send an email newsletter, use an email system like MailChimp to do this to ensure it doesn’t negatively impact your email creditability.

Is it your or your neighbour?

Your email blacklisting might be unrelated to your activities but also may be caused by another and apparently unrelated user or website that just happens to be on the same web server, and shares the same IP address as you.

How can someone share the same IP address as me?

In a large scale commercial hosting business its not uncommon for many websites to share the same IP address. There maybe hundreds of websites on the same web server IP address.

Now you’re being punished for their bad email behaviour…

Yes, email blacklisting is just like everyone in the class being punished for the bad behaviour of one bad student. Unfortunately, like our classroom analogy, you can’t control the bad behaviour of the other websites on your server, but unfortunately, you do suffer the consequences.

Not being able to deliver your emails reliability can be a huge issue for businesses.

This is another reason why bad hosting can cost you indirectly. Saving a few pennies on your hosting bill may well cost you dearly in the longer term. 

How can you extricate yourself from this lunacy?

Spoiler Alert. Bad news coming. There’s nothing you can do to escape this situation immediately. Well nothing reasonable anyway.

I have relocated a client’s website into my high performance hosting environment to escape their ‘IP Neighbours’ unrelenting spamming. The web hosting company was unfortunately ambivalent about this client’s dilemma, so it was good to be able to help them, and the next day everything was back to normal.

Some eMail Blacklist tools allow you to appeal to the blacklist rating, but this action isn’t immediate. Worse, if your ‘IP Neighbours’ is still up to their email mischief, the IP is likely to be re-blacklisted straight away.

Consider moving your website to another IP that’s free of emails spammers. (read: to better quality hosting)

I’m not backlisted, but my email deliverability is still bad

This can occur when your email authentication settings aren’t in place or are incorrect.

eMail authentication has evolved significantly in recent times to help combat email spam. If your email system is not configured appropriately, even your innocent, non-spam quote, proposal or marketing email may be treated with the same contempt as spam and chucked into the oblivion of the recipients junk folder.

How does email authentication work ?

Contemporary eMail authority is established by the email source declaring its credibility using these important but somewhat cryptic frameworks:

Sender Policy Framework (SPF)

Essentially, SPF determines if the sender email address is valid for the IP address the email was sent from. If the receiving email infrastructure determines that this isn’t the case, the email will be marked as ‘suspicious’ and can be/likely to be  rejected by the email recipient’s email infrastructure.

ie if the email doesn’t appear to have come from where it claims, it will likely be rejected.

More recently, email systems are increasingly less tolerant of suspicious emails. Hence more frequently, suspicious emails are flagged as spam and treated accordingly.

An email flagged as suspicious may be:

  • Automatically and silently filed into the recipient’s Junk/Spam folder, completely bypassing their InBox
  • Silently ‘dropped’ by email servers so it doesn’t even reach the intended recipient’s Junk folder.

An end-user’s experience might be that emails from people using a certain ISP (those that choose to strictly observe the SPF framework) don’t arrive into the intended recipient’s inbox, while others appear unaffected.

Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM)

Is intended to protect email senders and receivers from spam, spoofing and phishing. DKIM uses Public Key Cryptography (a digital signature) to verify that an email message was sent from an authorized mail server. 

Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC)

DMARC attempts to prevent email spoofing. A DMARC policy allows a sender’s domain to indicate that their emails are protected by SPF and/or DKIM, and tells a receiver what to do if neither of those authentication methods fails – such as to reject the message or quarantine it. (courtesy Wikipedia)

Deploying SPF, DKIM and DMARC

Deploying SPF, DKIM and DMARC requires additional fields and/or edits in your domain’s Domain’s DNS.

This is a technical process, and if performed incorrectly can compromise your businesses ability to send and receive emails, kill your website and create a host of other delightfully fiendish symptoms.

Worse, the DNS takes time to propagate across the internet. So by the time you discover things don’t work after your edits, it will take another period (up to 24 hours) for your latest round of edit corrections to take effect.

Diagnosing eMail Deliverability Issues

These are my favourite tools for diagnosing email deliverability issues:
 

  1. Check if your domain is on an email Blacklist
    https://mxtoolbox.com/blacklists.aspx

  2. Test the ‘spammyness’ of your emails
    https://www.mail-tester.com/

  3. Check your site’s email authentication status
    https://mxtoolbox.com/spf.aspx
    https://mxtoolbox.com/dkim.aspx 
    https://mxtoolbox.com/dmarc.aspx

I hope that I’ve convinced you that email deliverability is indeed an important aspect of business communications and that it warrants close attention.

If you would like a complimentary review of your domain’s email deliverability, or would like me to investigate why your emails arent being delivered, please contact me here