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Site Administrators: Make Sure to Reach Hotmail Users (5 Tips)

If you own a Web site, chances are that you send emails from it, being auto-replies, mailing list or others.  This post gives a list of very useful tips to make sure your messages do not end up in the Junk folder of Hotmail's users (and quite possibly of other mail systems).

These steps are based on the experience I had with my micro-blogging site IRateMyDay.com.  My site sends a high number of automatic messages that users subscribe to.  On a daily basis, there can be thousands of messages sent.

In the last months, I started to see some of the messages being detected as spam by Hotmail.  In fact, many messages started to get delivered directly in the "Junk Folder" of the users.  I then saw a dramatic difference in my site visitor statistics.  And there's quite a reason why: almost half of my users have a Hotmail account.

I needed a way to fix this back.  Here's what I did to correct the situation.

Tip 1: Create a Sender Policy Framework (SPF)

If there's only one thing you want to do, creating a Sender Policy Framework (SPF) should be it.  Today's anti-spam systems check for forged sender addresses.  The problem is that even legitimate messages might not get through if you do not have a SPF for your domain.  The solution is to specify your SPF by adding a TXT record in your domain's DNS.

What does this SPF entry should look like?  Here's the one for digg.com (don't forget, this is a TXT type record):

v=spf1 a mx ip4:64.191.203.30 mx:mail.digg.com mx:old2.digg.com ip4:64.191.203.34 a:www.digg.com -all

But how do you to create yours?  Microsoft has simplified the task of creating this SPF entry with their Sender ID Framework SPF Record Wizard.

Sender ID Framework SPF Record Wizard

Simply follow the 4 steps, and then add the result to your DNS record.

Tip 2: Be Added to Microsoft's SenderID Program

Once my SPF record was added, I did some more search and found a way to tell Microsoft about my changes.  This step might not be necessary, but I guess this will improve the time Microsoft notices the changes.

I first sent an email to senderid@microsoft.com containing my domain name, iratemyday.com.  But I received an automatic message, redirecting me to use this MSN Support page instead.  So I completed this form.

A day later, I received an email from Microsoft confirming that my domain was added to the Sender ID program.

Tip 3: Improve Message Unsubscribing

One thing I overlooked from the start, is how users can unsubscribe from my different mailings.  I included a link at the bottom of all my messages, but users needed to log on the site to actually unsubscribe.

This was a design flaw.  Users that want to unsubscribe usually don't care about log in your site.  They want the most basic way to get removed from the mailing list.  So I changed my messages to include one-click unsubscribe links.

Most users that will receive your message for the first time will click this link.  However, if they keep getting your messages, they will simply notify it as spam in Hotmail.  This is why my messages were flagged.

The one-click link helps.

Tip 4: Understand Your Users with Smart Network Data Services

This one is a really great tool from Microsoft: Smart Network Data Services.  It's a free service that provides feedback on how users are rating the emails they receive from your service.

First, you need to sign-up by adding the IP of your site you want to monitor by completing the Request Access page.

Smart Network Data Services

You will need to go through an activation process (but simple) and you need a Windows Live ID to log to the site and view your data.

Once logged, you can view your data, like this:

Smart Network Data Services

The filter result indicates the level of spam, for that day.  Red is wrong, and your mail will get to the Junk folder.

Based on these stats and on the recommendations provided by Microsoft, you should use this data to improve your mass-mailing habits.

Tip 5: Clean up Recipient List with Junk Mail Reporting Program (JMRP)

This last tip, I have enrolled, but I'm still waiting to see it in action.  The Junk E-Mail Reporting Program (JMRP) is a free program intended to help large senders remove unwanted recipients from their email lists.

Junk E-Mail Reporting Program

By applying to this program, I will receive any email that is reported as junk.  This way, I should be able to remove those users from my recipient list.

Take note that enrolling to this program is a bit more complicated.  The first step is to complete this form.  You will then need to establish an agreement with Microsoft.  I'm still waiting on this part to complete it.

Conclusion: with these tips, you should be able to get your mailing back on track.  There is a lot of Hotmail users out there, and we must make sure we reach them.

Good luck.


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