Domain and IP warming is not a simple, quick sprint, but instead is a marathon exercise in building reputation.
If you’ve been following this email warming series, you’ve already invested valuable time in the warming process. We’ve covered the basics of IP warming, what you need to do before starting the IP warm up process, and how to create an IP warming schedule.
But we aren’t done quite yet.
Now it’s time to execute your IP warming plan and discuss some IP warming best practices. And combat the email warming blues.
The warming blues
You did your research, asked all the right questions, did all the right preparation, but you’ve got a case of the email warming blues.
First, don’t despair. The warming blues happen to us all. The warming process can be more than frustrating. And despite your experience with warming, issues can arise even if you’re doing everything right.
This is to be expected and likely the result of anti-abuse measures by mailbox providers. Mailbox providers take steps, like bulking, to protect their customers from unknown senders until they can determine if the senders are legitimate or not.
Although some are lucky enough to breeze through warming, you may get the blues at some point.
Managing Your Expectations
Here are a few thing to expect during the warming process to help ease those blues:
Your plan will change
Although you have a warming plan, expect that it will change. The warming process is slow and steady. Often it can be achieved in 4-6 weeks, but depending on your campaign composition, cadence, previous history, and what you experience through warming, it could last 8-10 weeks or longer.
There is a rough correlation between the length of time needed for IP warming and list hygiene issues. Cleaner list = shorter (and easier) warming process.
Your mail will be deferred
The second of the warming expectations is deferrals and delays.
Receivers do this by limiting volume per hour and day for new senders. Yahoo/AOL nearly always throttles the mail, even at volumes below 500 emails a day.
Often the response code is tied to “complaints” and “unusual traffic patterns” (“421 4.7.0 [TSS04] Messages from 0.0.0.0 temporarily deferred due to user complaints”). As a new sender, this response is likely due to warming volume. If, however, your list is poor, you have other issues at play.
Comcast and international receivers also temper mailflow. Many B2B filtering companies, such as Mimecast, will temporarily reject a message with reason code “greylisting” and will ask for another attempt.
This helps them weed out spammers. Spammers’ goal is to be in and out, so they often don’t attempt retries or typically want to deal with mail queues. Greylisting allows the receiving system time to vet the sender and check for any changes to their sending behaviors.
Because deferrals are run of the mill, time-sensitive campaigns are not recommended. Instead, use your current provider for extremely time-sensitive campaigns.
Your mail will be filtered
In addition to deferrals, bulking is another typical issue seen during warming. Think of bulking as another protection technique used by mailbox providers to help them vet a new sender and see which recipients will correct their placement decisions.
For example, Microsoft will throw new senders into the bulk folder for at least (but likely more) 2 weeks. Microsoft is extremely hard to get into the door. Gmail has been known to bulk to see customer response (if unknown) and then adjust.
IP Warming Best Practices
Warming doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, nor is it completely out of your control. There are some overall behaviors and warming best practices that you can employ to manage and prevent the warming blues.
The most successful plans are those with strong data. If you have a strong list and campaigns that generate positive results, you often will only deal with a smooth warming. Even if the volume and cadence isn’t ideal, you won’t have as many issues. But, even with a perfectly defined plan, if the data isn’t there, your warming won’t be either.
Ensuring you use strong lists, setting expectations, and getting your users to change their behavior is the most effective way to ensure your mail hits the inbox right out of the gate.
Add on your campaign and MTA throttling and you now have a great preventative strategy for deferrals.
Avoid knee-jerk reactions. There is importance in giving yourself enough time to get a pulse on one-time issues. BUT don’t let negative results sit for too long.
With a delicate reputation, when adjustments are needed, they may need to roll a little faster and more aggressively than when dealing with an issue that arises after years of mailing. If problems aren’t addressed promptly they may exacerbate the problem by reaffirming to the receiver that the filtering decisions are correct.
Remediation tickets are the best responses to issues like deferrals, false positives, etc. However, they should only be submitted once you know the issue has been addressed (employing rate limiting, updating segmentation, fixing a configuration mistake).
If you are working with an ESP with a services team, they will file the remediation tickets. It’s important to be transparent about what and who you are mailing throughout the entire process. It’ll make your ESP’s and your life easier, which means things will move faster.
Trying to deceive will only put you back in the same situation and make future attempts at remediation much harder.
In some cases, remediation alone won’t do the trick. For example, severe rate limiting will require a break in sending. Sometimes an hour will do, sometimes more. This is where those preparation questions about system throttling will come in handy.
Throughout warming, performance indicators should be monitored closely through campaign metrics, reputation sites, and third-party email deliverability tools, like blocklist monitors, inbox placement reports, DMARC monitoring, and pre-check spam analysis.
Campaign metrics used to focus heavily on opens, but opens are quickly moving into retirement. Use open rates as a gauge, but don’t rely too heavily on them. Instead use them for trending purposes. Other campaign metrics like clicks and complaints can gauge engagement and inbox placement.
When you are warming you are mailing to the best of the best, so engagement should reflect some of your all-time high numbers.
In the same vein, bounces should be at their lowest and should be well below 1%. Bounce rates by type (hard or soft) help you identify list quality issues versus deferrals due to warming. If you see bounces greater than 1%, review the type and adjust your targeting if you are hitting unknowns or add throttling if the bounces are due to volume issues.
Complaints should be low (less than 0.1%) as well as unsubs (less than 0.25%). However, just because complaints are low, does not mean you are free and clear. Low complaints and low engagement rates indicate a significant bulking issue.
As you expand your volume and targeting selections, these metrics will shift. At some point, the metrics will plateau and even out towards what you typically see today. Don’t expect an apples-to-apples comparison across providers as metrics can be calculated differently.
Don’t forget to look at other metrics like website visits, ROI, etc. Compare with reputation sites and third-party sites to see if they all say the same thing.
If campaign metrics are down, but inboxing is strong, it may mean your audience is behaving differently than the seeds you are using. Adjustments may be needed to make the content more relevant for your audience.
The devil’s in the details so all data points carry important information and none should be discounted. Something as simple as campaign counts pre-launch can identify a mistake in targeting.
You have your plan so your volumes should be following along. If a suppression was done incorrectly, you’ll know as soon as you see those counts.
There will be ups and downs along the way. For issues requiring remediation support, rectifying an issue may take time. Although the support team at the mailbox provider may be able to identify an issue quickly, it doesn’t mean they can respond or adjust as quickly. For example, Gmail could take 2-3 weeks to course correct.
If your warming plan changes to tackle an issue, you may get the urge to make up some time after it’s addressed. Follow IP warming best practices. Don’t rush the process or the volumes. It’ll only delay you further.
Warming is fluid. Expect to stretch your plan (be it with cadence, volume, length, etc.). Be prepared with additional campaigns and don’t be tied to specific launch days. Volumes may change (expand or contract) in response to warming recommendations.
In some cases, you can increase volumes if your plan is running smoothly and your list is strong. Or you need to retain or reintroduce your campaign throttle because you are seeing an elevation in deferrals. You may even need to ease volume growth or increase a campaign throttle as you move to the lesser engaged population.
It’s being able to adapt to what you are seeing. Moving things around to accommodate changes will help you to complete your warming as smoothly and quickly as possible.
Although flexibility is a must, follow your plan and IP warming schedule as best as possible and stick to predetermined volumes and cadence. Custom plans are crafted with a lot of experience and expertise—try to follow them.
Avoid the urge to go off script to meet a deadline or to experiment. If you get stuck, don’t keep moving through the plan. Stay at the volume, targeting, throttle that you are at until you can adjust. And in some cases, a 24-48 hour pause is needed to cool things down a bit, then you can either start back up or go back and start over on an earlier day in the plan when things were running smoothly.
There are times when you need to completely abandon the plan and revisit the program and/or setup configuration as it may not be the right fit.
There are also times when you just need a deliverability expert to come in and support you.
Use the resources on staff for your platform, reach out to the Kickbox consulting team or the many wonderful consultants out there.
Steer clear of anything new or any major testing initiatives. Don’t change your normal sending behaviors otherwise it’ll be hard to determine if issues are due to warming or a change in the customer experience. The fewer moving pieces the better off you are until you are up and running.
Prepare for the Unexpected
Sometimes mistakes happen…
It’s not unheard of to make a mistake in targeting. Although not intentional, it may trigger a filtering response. The key is to fix the mistake and follow IP warming best practices.
If the response is severe and ongoing, pulling back on your plan for the mailbox providers impacted and filing a remediation ticket are the best next steps to take to reestablish your sending reputation.
And sometimes the filters get it wrong because they don’t have enough information or there is an odd combination of data points tipping the scales in the wrong direction. This is where patience and communication are crucial. Talk with the mailbox provider, but continue working through your plan and doing it in the best way possible.
“I love it when a plan comes together” Hannibal, A-Team.
There is nothing more satisfying than building your plan, executing it, and getting to the end unscathed (hopefully). It’s not only rewarding, but it lays the foundation for a strong sending reputation. Then, you just have to maintain it.
Up next: Maintenance and series wrap up: Staying warm: Maintaining your IP reputation. Keeping your well-earned reputation is an ongoing effort that expands beyond warming and will last the lifetime of your program.
Need help with domain and IP warming or creating an email warming schedule? Kickbox has deliverability experts to help you craft the perfect warming plan for your new IP or sending identity. Contact our Consulting Services Team.