Are Your Pushpage Communications Bouncing? [Customer Support]

April 6, 2015 Todd DeSchuiteneer

If you have sent a Pushpage within the last year, you may have had questions or seen reports of users not receiving emails due to an odd bounce reason. Back in November of 2013, Blackbaud’s K–12 group switched from using an internal server to using Amazon’s Simple Email Service, an industry-leading and highly reputable service, to send Pushpages.

Here are some FAQs you may find useful in dealing with users that had emails marked bad as a result of a job or just bounced due to another issue.

When did Blackbaud K–12 begin using Amazon SES?
Blackbaud K–12 began sending through Amazon SES in November 2013.

Why does Blackbaud K–12 use Amazon SES?
ISPs take considerable measures to prevent their customers from receiving spam. Correspondingly, Amazon SES takes proactive steps to decrease the likelihood that ISPs consider your email to be spam. Amazon SES uses verification, authentication, sending limits, and content filtering. Amazon SES also maintains a trusted reputation with ISPs and requires high-quality email content to be sent.

Amazon allows us to spread our delivery to all of our receiving domains across hundreds of IP addresses, which allows us to deliver an extremely high number of messages without getting throttled. Occasionally, some of those IP addresses do get in trouble with the various email services, but Amazon is very quick to remedy that.

Before switching to Amazon we were only able to send messages from a single IP address, which prevented a huge volume of emails to never leave our systems because newer spam filters would not accept the volume of messages being sent from a single IP address. In 2013 Blackbaud K–12 had a tremendous amount of trouble delivering to just about every popular email domain including Comcast, Verizon, Gmail, Hotmail, etc. because we were sending from a single IP address.

Amazon also provides the ability to sign all messages with a DKIM signature to verify that we are authorized to send messages from pushpage.org. This was something that was not possible previously. (For additional information about what DKIM is, please visit http://www.dkim.org/)

Why can’t we remove one email from the suppression list when we need to?
Amazon does not have a way to programmatically remove messages from the suppression list. It therefore requires manual intervention by the Blackbaud K–12 hosting department to clear a suppressed email. Amazon attempts to deliver messages for 12 hours before suppressing the email address. Email addresses that cannot receive email for 12 hours should be considered bad. Continuing to send email to “bad” email addresses that bounce hurt the reputation of the sender, in this case pushpage.org, schoolnotifications.org, AND Amazon SES.

The school can actually sign up for an Amazon SES account and get the email address cleared themselves. You will need to set up an account with Amazon SES.

To do so, you can start here: http://aws.amazon.com/ses/pricing/

When you input the email to be removed, it will ask you to put in a credit card, there is no fee initially but it will begin billing after a certain time period. Once you have removed the email from suppression you will want to remember to also remove your credit card information.

Why does it take 2 weeks for the suppression to be cleared?
This is not an uncommon practice in bulk email delivery. In fact most bulk email providers permanently suppress all bounced email addresses. They do this to protect the sending reputation of both parties and to give the sending party time to contact the recipient to make sure they have the correct address or that the reason for the bounce has been fixed (such as a full mailbox).

Why is the suppression list shared across Amazon SES?
The Amazon suppression list is shared across all of Amazon SES customers because of the importance of having a good sending reputation. It is highly likely that an email address on a pushpage.org list would also be on a list managed by another Amazon SES customer. Therefore, any time an email address bounces when sent through Amazon SES, it is suppressed for every Amazon SES customer to ensure that Amazon does not repeatedly bounce the same email address even if it is from different customers.

Parents expect to be able to get their child’s information when they want it. What do you suggest we tell them for the reason we cannot do anything for them?
There are many reasons for not getting an email message.

Spam: If the message is not being received but not bouncing is probably being marked as spam. In that case, we would advise all schools to have parents, alumni, etc. add your pushpage sending address (schoolname@pushpage.org & schoolname@schoolnotifications.org) to their address book as a contact. Additionally, most email providers such as Gmail, Hotmail, and Comcast allow for the creation of rules/filters in which you can specify that messages from a particular address should never be marked as spam.

Additionally, Blackbaud K–12 maintains a Whitelist Guide, http://whi.pl/KB-Whitelist that includes email whitelist instructions.

Bounced: If a message bounces in most cases it means that the email address is bad and should be replaced with a good one. Common reasons are typos, but email addresses can generate a bounce message for a variety of reasons, such as mailbox full or because of a server failure. An email address that bounces because the email address or alias does not exist should be replaced with a known good address. If a message bounces for a correctable reason, such as a full mailbox, the reason for the bounce should be fixed and the address will automatically be or removed from the suppression list within 14 days. In cases where numerous email addresses to the same domain bounced, Blackbaud K–12 can make an exception to remove those addresses from the suppression list if the school confirms that the reason for the bounce has been fixed.

Multiple methods of communication
Schools should be encouraging Parents to come back to a page on your site or behind a password at least once a week so that they make sure they did not miss any important messages or announcements. Email is a great way to reach your constituents, but for the reasons outlined below, it should not be considered the only method of communication.

How reliable is email newsletter communication in the Education space?
MailChimp is powered by another bulk email provider, Mandrill, which sends billions of emails every month. If you click on the link below you’ll see a breakdown of those statistics by industry. If you scroll down to education you’ll see that the average open rate is only 22% and the average click rate is only 3%. Looking across all industries you can see that bulk email such as newsletters is almost certainly a better medium for getting your message out to people than traditional mail, but probably should not be considered the only communication option for delivering important messages.

http://mailchimp.com/resources/research/email-marketing-benchmarks/

Our Pushpage customers have a much higher open rate than the industry standard that MailChimp sees, but 100% is not possible. It is important to set expectations of those who will be both sending & receiving your messages about the reliability of bulk email in general. Having a high open rate also requires that you work diligently on your list to make sure that you update email addresses for people who consistently do not receive your message.

Should you find that your users have valid email addresses but have ended up on the suppression list in error, feel free to contact Support with the user’s e-mail address and what steps you have taken to verify that the address is valid. We will be able to reach out and have the users removed from the suppression list.

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