Are Your "Invite A Friend" Emails Ending Up In The Junk Folder?

I suspect that the answer is yes and you are not alone. More and more social services that encourage their users to invite friends via email are facing email deliverability problems. It’s one thing when I send an email to my friends from my personal mailbox, but it’s quite another when I do it via a new and relatively unknown social networking service. Spam filters were built to filter out that kind of thing and they are doing a good job at it. Except I really do want to invite my friend to this new photo sharing service I like.

Fortunately, there’s a solution to this problem and it’s called Return Path. I’ve been an investor and board member of Return Path since 2000 and I have watched them slowly but surely grow into a large and important company which is all about making email work better for everyone. Return Path helps email senders get their mail practices right so they can get their mail through filters, Return Path helps email receivers make their filters better so the right mail gets blocked and the right mail gets through. And in the end, Return Path helps email users get a better experience with email.

About three months ago, I was at a Twitter board meeting and Jason Goldman was explaining that most of Twitter’s users’ "invite a friend" emails were ending up in junk folders. I told him about Return Path. I said, "they help you get mail through spam filters" and he said "that sounds sketchy." I then explained that they do it by measuring your mail sending reputation and helping you fix/improve your reputation so that you can get your mail through legitimately. Jason wasn’t totally sold, but he agreed to try it out. I think he’s glad he did.

Two month’s ago Twitter had a Sender Score reputation of 30/100. That’s bad. Today they have a Sender Score of 70/100. That’s good. As a result, they have increased their deliverability by about 100%.

How did they do it? Well it was a lot of little things, not one big thing. The whole case was written up by Return Path and is available via pdf here.

If you have this issue, I suggest you contact Return Path. You can try to solve it yourself and you may get good results that way. But this is what Return Path does for its clients and they are the best at it. I am sure they can help.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. OurielOhayon

    Good point. How about also declaring your service to big webmails? (Yahoo, MSN, Google, AOL cover most of them)

    1. fredwilson

      What does ‘declaring’ mean?

  2. OurielOhayon

    contacting those services to prevent them to put you automatically in blacklist. they usually have someone in their team in charge of monitoring black list/White list of services and problematic domains and DNSs. I remember having done that myself at the time with Yahoo and other guys in France

    1. fredwilson

      You can do that but it’s not so easy to get on the whitelist

  3. OurielOhayon

    this i can confirm. i am just wondering if this adds to contacting and working with return path or duplicates the effort

  4. tobin

    Good white paper, however I was hoping to see some more detail from a technical provider. I looked into Return Path for my service, however since I am bootstrapping the product I was hesitant on the pricing. Instead I choose to do some technical tweaking to make sure I’m doing all that I can to avoid the spam filters.First I made sure my DNS and MX records were set up properly:1) Made sure my mail host was a valid A record. I originally made the mistake of setting up the host as a CNAME.2) Made sure my MX record is set to the full host name of my mail host (which is set up as a A record)3) Made sure I can do a reverse lookup of my mail hosts IP address. (This will be important for setting up SPF/Sender ID records)4) Set up SPF/SenderID information as a TXT record. (…I was able to verify everything with the DNS record was set up by using Making sure there were no warnings or errors before contacting support for any of the email services (such as Ouriel pointed out). If you contact any of the major email inbox services before making sure the DNS is properly configured, you will most likely be declined. I was able to contact Yahoo, MSN, and AOL to make sure I was not on their black list. I was even surprised to see that Yahoo and MSN validate the information you send then (especially the opt out functionality on your service).Another test to do is to run a self “audit” against Spam Assassin. I sent myself an email from my web application and copied the raw message (including headers) to a text file and run it against spam assassin’s command line test. All my emails had a score of 0… the lower the score the better. A score of 5 or more means that your email will most likely get filtered out by any spam filter. I’ve also been told that anything 3 or higher is bad too. But it’s a good idea to see what may be triggering other email services from declining your email.After I tested out my emails in spam assassin, I tried testing it out across other services. I initially was using Email Reach ( I think it’s a great service, but it’s still a young/small company. So if you find issues/bugs with their product, you will need to have patience with their customer service. It’s a cheap product for what it does. It will test delivery of your email to a large list of email providers, ISPs, and even email clients. The reports are pretty comprehensive too.I think it’s best to contact the big webmails AFTER you’ve done all this.I personally would have liked to gone with a solution such as Return Path, however I think for someone who’s trying to do this on a modest dime (read personal income) there are a lot of things you can do to better your odds of successful delivery.T.

    1. vincell1

      hello tobinI am also facing the some of the issues that you are. I totally agree with maxkalehoff, my site, like any social web 2.0 site lives and dies of email. Our emails have domain keys, spf records, sender ids, and domain stamping… we use all the feedback loops we can get on.. hotmail snds has us on green………….but we face a serious issue of throttling from them… I have been unsuccessful in getting a responce from them… Can you pls tell me how you are contacting them and how often do they respond to you. PS – pls let me know of yahoo responces to you as well — they always send me a generic canned responce that points me to their postmaster help pages.Thanksvince

  5. maxkalehoff

    Fred,This underscores that email is the ultimate social network. All social networks default to email. No social network can succeed if it doesn’t also master email marketing. Max

  6. Doug Williams

    Thanks for passing this along. The PDF is full of things I never knew about successful email marketing. It goes to show you, it’s easier being successful if you are willing to play by the rules.

  7. Lloyd Fassett

    Does Return Path more leverage technology than experience? Or are they more like an experieced service providor that knows how to do it and your savings is in not having to figure it out yourself? EIther can be valuable to me. Like going to an MD for your illness vs. self diagnosis, or are they more like an equipment manufacturer that creates a tool for discovering your ailment (maybe like a digital mamagroph that can find tumors earlier than other technolgies)Is there a technology edge to doing SEO?

    1. fredwilson

      It’s both but there’s a lot of technology and automation to what they do

  8. Jeffrey McManus

    Man, it would be easier to get excited about doing business with these guys if their products and pricing were clearly explained on their web site.

    1. SteveGooder

      Agreed. If I could sign up for a low cost basic service and get reports plus advice I’d give it a go and be open to upsell if it worked. But I get the impression there are sales guys waiting with a whole load of questions before they’ll indicate a price and I just can’t be bothered.The report hadn’t “seen” any emails from our domain so couldn’t give us a score. I figured that’s because we outsource our SMTP, so I tried which gets 70/100. It costs $14 to send 10,000 emails/mo through authsmtp, so I’m guessing this is a cheaper way to get twitter’s level of email deliverability if your volumes are low. Or am I missing stuff?

      1. Sam

        your missing stuff dude!

  9. Tuyen

    Was trying to get my company’s Sender Score but it didn’t show up on the results page. Am I missing something on the test result page?…Tuyen