​Optimizing SparkPost for Deliverability and Abuse Prevention

John Pinson
Feb. 19, 2015 by John Pinson

SPGA1The launch of SparkPost takes Message Systems into new territory, away from the relatively peaceful world of enterprise, on-premise email management and into the more freewheeling world of cloud email services – a place populated by SMBs, as well as some who try to disguise their bad intentions. That’s why Autumn Tyr-Salvia was a key hire for the SparkPost team: She will rely on the invaluable experience she gained while working at Marketo (a company which runs Momentum) as she manages SparkPost’s Standards and Best Practices group.

“I’ve done a lot of setting up internal infrastructure and processes, so we can handle incidents as they arise. I also advise our product and engineering teams to make sure we’re optimized for both great deliverability, and ways for us to detect and prevent abuse,” she explains. “There’s a wide segment of customers I didn’t see at Marketo that I expect to see at SparkPost. We’re definitely looking into what our best practices need to be in order to avoid becoming the preferred email service of spammers and computer criminals.”

While SparkPost is in its early Beta phase, Tyr-Salvia says the business unit is “making sure we know who those initial adopters are and getting an idea of what they might want to do with our system. We’re checking their privacy policies and overall reputations. In the long term, though, anyone will be able to sign up for an account, so a lot of those checks will go under the hood.”

She continues: “There’s been a lot of discussion in our meetings about how we provide a product with great deliverability for our good customers but which will also make it easy for us to spot users who want to abuse the system. Maintaining good sending reputation and high deliverability for our well-intentioned customers will depend on our ability to remove abusers before they create problems for everyone else.”

Why Abuse Prevention Matters

Autumn stresses that she expects there to be a learning curve for many SparkPost adopters as they scale to higher volumes of email. “Most developers are not marketers or email experts and they don’t want to be – that’s completely understandable. But having a basic understanding of deliverability principles and what constitutes abuse is important for maintaining solid deliverability rates, which in turn has a direct bearing on the success or failure of your app or web-based business.”

She explains that ISPs on the receiving end of emails sent from the SparkPost platform have enormous power over what emails get delivered and which do not. “A key concept for developers using SparkPost to understand is that the ISPs and inbox providers (the big four being Google, Microsoft, Aol and Yahoo) do everything in their power to keep unwanted email from reaching their users’ inboxes. So for instance if your messages start getting tagged as spam at a certain rate, or your messages aren’t getting opened regularly, the ISPs might start sending all your messages directly to the graymail or spam folder. Or they could block you outright. There are many ways for even the best-intentioned senders to run afoul of ISPs.”

Autumn explains that empowering SparkPost users with the knowledge to maintain reputations as responsible senders will be an ongoing effort. “In the weeks and months ahead we’ll be spending a lot of time here on the blog and through webinars and events to help our developer customers get a basic working knowledge of how the email ecosystem operates. Like I said, we don’t expect our users to become email experts. But if we can arm them with a basic level of what constitutes best practices, and what practices to avoid in order to stay in the good graces of the ISP community, then we’ll go a long way toward building and maintaining a community of successful senders.”

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