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The Microsoft Outlook inbox is one of the major destinations for most email senders, especially those with large numbers of consumer subscribers. It also has a reputation for being somewhat tricky to get into. Here’s what senders need to know to get the best Hotmail/Outlook deliverability and ensure their messages reach the inbox.
Microsoft’s Outlook service—whether known by the brands Hotmail, Windows Live, MSN, or Outlook.com—uses a combination of factors to determine whether to treat a message as credible or as spam. Like all ISPs, Microsoft’s methods are proprietary. But we know that it analyzes signals that include content, authentication, and domain and IP reputation to create a “trustworthiness” score. Less-than-optimum scores can cause your messages to be “delayed” and/or “spam filtered.”
Best Practices for Hotmail/Outlook Deliverability
Here are six best practices to help maximize Microsoft Outlook deliverability:
1. Warm Up New IPs – Microsoft will only allow 10,000 messages per day for new IP addresses. It will delay the remainder of messages sent from new IPs. Delays are normal when developing an IP reputation. As your reputation develops over a 2–4 week probationary period, the delays will lessen and eventually discontinue. The volume of messages that are delivered successfully on the first attempt will rise as Microsoft moves you to a higher reputation level.
Best Practices: to avoid delays, start with 2,000 traffic to Outlook/Hotmail, double every day until you see “RP-001 (DYNAMIC CODE) Unfortunately, some messages from a.b.c.d weren’t sent. Please try again. We have limits for how many messages can be sent per hour and per day. You can also refer to http://mail.live.com/mail/troubleshooting.aspx#errors.” then slow down the traffic until these delays discontinue.” Note: We highly encourage senders to use their own “custom bounce domain”, “tracking domain” and “dkim sign” with their own domain.
2. Listen and Respond to FBL Complaints – It is important to honor any unsubscribe requests whether a subscriber hits the spam button or the unsubscribe link. Continuing to send to subscribers that have unsubscribed will harm your reputation with Microsoft. SparkPost applies for and processes Feedback Loop (FBL) complaint feedback for you to minimize this risk.
Best Practices: Add text reminding subscribers where they opted-in to receive your message. Ensure your messages are relevant and sending at a frequency that the subscriber is expecting. Remove subscribers that do not engage with your messages. If as little as 0.5% of your subscribers complain, it will affect your ability to send to your entire subscriber base.
3. Minimize “Unknown User” Hard Bounces – Do you practice positive list hygiene? Are you sending to an old list that includes a large number of inactive or dead addresses? Microsoft sees this as a sign of email harvesting or spamming.
Best Practices: Practice list hygiene by maintaining your list. Purge addresses that have been inactive for 12 months, change the frequency to addresses 3 to 6 months old. Consistently attempt to re-engage subscribers using different tactics. Normal unknown user rates average less than 2 to 3 percent.
4. Avoid Spam Trap Addresses – Addresses used by ISPs and law enforcement agencies to identify email harvesting/spammers.
Best Practices: Maintain list hygiene with hard and soft bounces. Bounce notices can provide invaluable information about how Outlook (or any provider) is treating your messages. It is critically important that you keep spam trap rates below 0.01% to avoid reputation issues.
5. Properly Configure Your Sending Infrastructure and Content – Microsoft looks for well set up infrastructure and aligned content as an indicator of a good sender. Microsoft also applies a proprietary content filter called SmartScreen. SmartScreen learns from data provided regarding known phishing threats as well as from Microsoft customers to determine what characterizes good mail and unwelcome mail. Filtering is accomplished by probability-based algorithms used to distinguish between legitimate e-mail and spam.
Best Practices: Always use valid, reputable URLs. Avoid using IP addresses in the URL. Publish your Sender Policy Framework (SPF) records. Focus on content, as well as URLs and HTML elements.
6. Sending Frequency and Consistency – Sending from the same IP address(es) with consistent volumes and frequencies month over month is ideal. Spammers tend to “pop up” on an IP and disappear. Infrequent senders who send large volumes once a month or quarterly can be an indicator of a spammer or a compromised server.
Best Practices: Be consistent. Segment your sends. Prioritize sending genuinely wanted content to a smaller number of engaged subscribers over sending generic content to your entire list. Include your call to action early in your content so subscribers will see it quickly as they scan your message. Avoid link shorteners like bit.ly and align your links with your content. Personalize your content to your subscribers’ interest. Don’t send the same content to your entire list, but instead but segment and personalize using dynamic content.
The Golden Rule for Hotmail/Outlook Deliverability
Overall, Microsoft has incorporated content filtering with authentication and reputation for a combined “trustworthy” score with which it determines how to handle messages and determine Hotmail/Outlook deliverability. So the simple answer is to follow best practices consistently. Send to only subscribers the content that they expect, when they expect it. That’s the golden rule of email deliverability to Outlook or any ISP.
For more information about Hotmail/Outlook deliverability straight from the source, visit the Microsoft postmaster page.
I’m in Miami wrapping up #EEC15, The Email Evolution Conference. The closing Keynote Panel Discussion organized by Dennis Dayman and Ryan Phelan was worth the price of admission; the panel they organized featured key postmaster/abuse personal from Comcast, Hotmail/Outlook, AOL and Gmail. Although regular fixtures at M3AAWG meetings, the folks in this room don’t normally have a chance to hear first hand how an ISP measures activity within the inbox and responds to emails as they arrive. There were furrowed brows, heads nodding and a plethora of other emotions as questions were asked, assertions made, accusations levied and laughter enjoyed by all.
One of the most important things I took away from this session and I think you may find this valuable too are the signals that most ISPs read as good vs. bad. Here’s a cheat sheet and take away that you can help you better understand how engagement, which was called ‘a philosophical principle rather than a secret sauce’, is measured by a mailbox provider or an ISP. One of the major disconnects I’ve seen between senders and receivers is the idea that engagement is a single measure. Quite the contrary, senders are not privy to the metrics that receivers are and vice versa, there may be some attribution, analysis through web behavioral data, that leads to a very different picture of engagement on the sender side. This is the fundamental conundrum that I think is best represented by the metric system vs. the english system. Both are valid (well one’s more practical than the other), both are capable of measuring the same distance but use different units. One doesn’t invalidate the other, hence the philosophical nature of the construct.
- Open an email
- Adding a sender to the address book
- Moving a message to a specific folder (filing)
- Rescuing a message from the spam folder
- Replying to a message.
- Deleting a message without opening it
- Marking a message as spam
- Reporting phishing
Thankfully there are more positive signals that inform engagement at a mailbox provider than negative ones. One thing to consider: I’ve seen a number of senders instruct their recipients not to reply to an email, that the email box will not be checked or monitored. Given that replying to emails is a positive signal that will ultimately improve a sender’s engagement, leading to better reputation and finally deliverability, it might be worthwhile to make the sending addresses accept replies and even review them for customer correspondence.
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