Emails - Understanding How to Deliver Well

Spam is a real problem for the Internet community so they are always fighting it by changing the way mail servers work.  You may not know this but when you send an email from your phone, computer, or InflatableOffice/EventOffice, you are not actually sending the email.  You are submitting the email to your mail server.  Then your mail server sends the email to the recipient's mail server.  A lot can go wrong in this process so it's important to understand how it works.  Additionally, our software must change frequently to meet the latest standards or we will be unable to deliver your email.  


Step 1: Sending to your mail server

The first part of the process is sending the email to your mail server.  No matter where you are sending from (phone, computer, our software) you will need to have your SMTP (send mail transfer protocol) settings correct for that device/software.  In our software, you do this at Settings-Email Preferences.  It's similar to your phone or computer.  We support an email for your entire organization, each worker, each location (multi-location accounts) and each worker/location combination.  There are many help articles on how to set these up.  

IO/EO Email Preferences
You'll notice that you can turn the custom SMTP server on or off.  You should always have it on and have your settings correct.  You can check your settings by using the "Test Login" button.  If you receive an error, read it carefully.  Most of the time it will tell you what the issue is.  We do not have any other information than what you see.  We have entered some common email server settings for your convenience.  If you use one of those services, choose it, and we will fill in the server and port information.  This is the same thing you do when you setup your email on your phone or computer.  You may need to refer to your email host for what the settings should be.  

Most of the issues we see with email sending are due to having an incorrect password, so please double and triple check it.  Verify you can login to your email with the password via another method, such as a webmail login.  If you are using Google/Gmail or Microsoft/Office365, you should use the special links instead of entering your email settings.  These special links will connect us in a more secure and reliable way.  Remember if you change your email password at any time, you'll need to update it in our software too.  

Sending Email via Our Service and SPF Records
We encourage you to enter your email settings so that we can send through your server because if we try to send on your behalf, it will most likely be flagged as spam or deleted altogether.  Since 2022, most large email providers will reject any email that is not authorized by an appropriate SPF record. 

SPF records are a value set in your DNS records (domain data) that will tell a receiving email server whether the server sending your email is allowed to do so.  Receiving servers almost always require this before they will deliver these days.  Below is what an example SPF record looks like.  

    v=spf1 ip4:208.64.38.12 include:_spf.smtp.com include:_spf.google.com ~all

There are many places you can check your SPF record or learn more about it.  The beginning and end of the record are pretty standard.  I've bolded all the information that is unique.  You can see that you are able to add server IP addresses as well as domains/subdomains.  In this example we are authorizing 1 server and 2 subdomains to send on our behalf.  Gmail is one of them.  The other is a place called SMTP.com which is a paid email service.  

We use SMTP.com for mail sending frequently.  In fact before SPF records were so important, we would send all your mail through that service.  If you still would like to use it instead of your email server, you have to do 2 things: 1) set your SPF record appropriately and 2) request that we send that way for your account.  You'll want to add the following to your existing SPF record.  

    include:_spf.smtp.com

If you do not have an existing SPF record, you should ask your email host and/or domain host to help you set one up.  You should have one identifying your email host as a legitimate email sender.  We may be making this more available in the future.  

What now?
After step 1, our software (and your phone/computer) is out of the loop. If it says we sent your email, we sent it to your email server. If you are having delivery issues still, the problem exists outside our software.  Proceed to step 2 and 3 for more help.  


Step 2: Your mail server sending the email

Getting your email from your phone, computer, or our software to your email server is only step one.  Now let's look at potential issues involving your email server.  If you've ever gotten an email returned with error messages, this is where these come from.  The goal of this section is to try to help you get the best possible delivery rate by doing everything you can with your email server.  

Email Limits
All email servers have limitations on how many emails you can send per different periods.  For example, a free Gmail account is limited to 2,000 emails in 24 hours.  So if you sent a newsletter out to 3,000 customers, 1,000 of those would not send until that 24 hours expires.  Additionally you may have used up all your emails and not be able to manually send any emails until that 24 hours expires.  That's why we give you a way to set the email rate on a server/newsletter basis.  In this case you would want to set the newsletter rate to 2000/24 = 83.3 or 70 per hour so that you have 13 per hour you can manually send.  This is another good reason not to use a free email service that limits you.  You should know what your email service limits.  If you don't, check into it.  We will not be able to connect and send an email to your server if the limit is reached.  

Email Testing
It's very important to test your email server and even your emails on whether they are setup well and well formed. In fact, you should probably test all of your email templates because email subject and content can affect your spam score.  At the very least, you should test one of your emails from our software to see what issues you may have with your email host server configuration.  We like to use https://www.mail-tester.com/, but there are many options to test with.  You should stop and test an email now so that the rest of this section makes more sense.  These testing services will help you identify issues and give you some direction on how to fix the issues.  

SPF Records
We covered SPF records above pretty well.  You absolutely need one setup properly.  You may only have one, and it should include all potential email servers in it.  

DKIM Signatures
DKIM signatures are where your email server adds an encrypted signature to the header of the email being sent.  When the receiving server gets your email, similar to SPF records, it checks with your server to see if it's a legitimate email sent from you.  This is more difficult to setup.  You have to have access to the server configuration.  Most of you will not have this access and will have to request help from your host to set this up.  It's not as important as SPF records, but it all helps.  

Blacklists
Blacklists are used to help the Internet identify and ignore servers that are sending spam.  Most of you probably do not own your own server and are either using an email service (like Google/Microsoft) or a shared host (like GoDaddy/Siteground).  If you find that your email server is on a blacklist, you should look up how to remove yourself from the blacklist.  Sometimes you can request removal, but most of the time as long as you don't continue sending spam, you will fall off the list automatically.  If you are using an email service, they are pros and probably will be monitoring this and taking steps to remove their servers as soon as possible.  If you are on a shared host, you might struggle to get removed.  You may need to request to be moved to a different server for your email.  At any rate, you will need to discuss this with your host.  It's often the case that someone else on the server is sending the spam, not you.  But blacklists don't really care.  They ban the entire server.  

Spam Assassin
Spam Assassin is a program that checks many things to determine whether an email is spam or not.  It is heavily used by many email servers.  It gives the email a score based on a number of parameters.  Some of the things mentioned earlier are things that it tests.  It also tests email headers and content.  For example, we had for a long time sent our alert emails to our users with the reply-to header set to the customer's email so you could simply reply to the email.  Spam Assassin does not trust emails with a reply-to email different from the sending email that is from a free email service like Gmail.  Consequently many alerts were not being delivered.  To resolve this, the only choice we had was to change our alerts, forcing you to take an extra step of copying and pasting in the customer email when replying or clicking the customer email we supply at the top of the email body.  


Step 3: Delivering your email to the recipients mail server

If you've done everything you can in step 1 and 2, great.  Because in step 3 you are at the mercy of your recipient's email server.  There is generally nothing you can do at this point to force proper delivery.  You can make suggestions to the recipient, and that's all.  Let's look at the potential issues you may have.  

Spam/Junk Folders
If your recipient is not receiving your email, the first thing you should suggest is that they check their spam, junk, and trash/deleted folders.  If they find it there, they should not move it.  Instead they should highlight it and set it to not be marked as spam/junk.  This will help their email to learn that your emails are emails they want to see.  

Email Missing Entirely
If your email is missing entirely from the recipient's email, you most likely would have gotten an email sent to you from their server telling you why they didn't deliver the email.  Use this information to improve your email server configuration and email content.  You may not have received an email from their server though, or you may not be able to find it.  In any case, you should also ask your recipient to add your email address to their address book and whitelist you on their email server or email settings.  Often if this is where you find yourself, it's because you haven't done a good enough job in step 2 above.  You should revisit it.  

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