Maintain high-quality contact data to maximize deliverability and  performance with Dynamics 365 for Marketing

One of the fastest ways to lose sender reputation when doing email marketing is to generate a high number of hard bounces and spam complaints from your email blasts. Your deliverability rates will fall together with your sender reputation, and you risk ultimately landing on blacklists operated by internet watchdogs, major corporations, and major inbox providers. Once that happens, you can expect that very few of your marketing messages will land in recipients’ inboxes. To avoid this fate, be sure to establish and maintain high-quality contact data to ensure that you only target valid email addresses and that your recipients value your content.

Read this post to learn why high-quality contact data is important, how to obtain it, and how Dynamics 365 for Marketing can help.

Sender reputation is key for getting messages through the internet

Internet watchdog organizations keep an eye out for red flags in email content and sending behavior. Based on this, they assign a sender reputation to each IP address that sends email. A low sender reputation can stop your messages from passing through the backbone at all, not to mention landing in an inbox. But these watchdogs also know that marketing messages aren’t necessarily spam—they are just as often an important part of legitimate, day-to-day business where both senders and recipients benefit—so it’s possible to run high-volume email marketing campaigns while also maintaining a good sender reputation. Here’s how:

  • Avoid hard bounces
  • Send constant volumes
  • Include an unsubscribe link
  • Include your organization’s physical address
  • Include text-only content that matches HTML content
  • Don’t send image-only messages
  • Don’t send spammy content. You know what spam looks like—don’t look like that!

Dynamics 365 for Marketing includes features that help you meet these requirements, and even checks each message before you publish it to make sure it conforms with them. It also keeps an eye on your send results and if any hard bounces are detected, it will stop sending to those addresses in the future. However, the damage is already done if you produced lots of hard bounces on the first try, so already here, good data-quality practices will help ensure that your messages get through now and in the future.

Inbox providers implement personalized deliverability

Inbox providers are organizations that provides basic email send and receive features to large numbers of end users. They include companies running their own email servers for employees (like Microsoft Exchange), public email services for individuals (like or Gmail), and general internet service providers (ISPs).

Inbox providers don’t just filter incoming messages according to the sender score, but also by what each individual subscriber has previously shown interest in. Deliverability is now determined by sophisticated algorithms based on individual behavior. Some of the most important signals include:

  • Individual engagement history: How has this specific recipient interacted with messages like this before? Factors include, but aren’t limited to: whether a similar message was marked as important, whether the sender is in the recipient’s address book, whether the recipient has replied to the sender before, or whether the recipient has opened messages from the sender before.
  • Service-wide spam rate: How often do messages from this sender get marked as spam by other customers of that inbox provider?
  • Spam traps: Do messages from this sender ever land in a spam trap operated by this inbox provider? Spam traps are email accounts with addresses that don’t belong to real users, but which are easy to find using questionable or illegitimate means of harvesting email addresses. Anyone who sends messages to a spam trap is identifying themselves as a likely bad actor.
  • Sender reputation: This is the reputation score described in the previous section. Inbox providers also have access to this score and may use it to filter messages even more strictly than the internet does.

How to implement good contact data quality

Email deliverability is a complex issue with many components, but this post is focused on how to make sure that all the email addresses you send to are functioning and belong to legitimate contacts who are interested in your content. This will go a long way towards eliminating hard bounces and spam complaints, and therefore help maximize your reputation and deliverability.

Never buy or rent an email list

Purchased and rented email lists do not contain contacts that have opted-in or provided consent to receive marketing messages from your organization. They often contain email addresses that are out-of-date and may even include spam traps. They will typically generate many hard bounces and spam complaints if you use them, and may even violate local privacy laws, such as the GDPR.

Use double opt-in

Double opt-in is a system where new subscribers must click a link sent to them in a confirmation email before their new subscription becomes active. Although some contacts won’t complete the process, double opt-in tends to give much higher engagement rates among those that do. Double opt-in also ensures that every new contact record has an email address that works, gets read, and represents an engaged subscriber.

Provide easy and comprehensive subscription management

Always include an opt-out or subscription-center link with each marketing email you send. This gives recipients an easy way to unsubscribe rather than report your messages as spam. A full-featured subscription center will give you the opportunity of presenting several subscription options, some of which may be more appealing to a contact than the one they happen to be on. This will let you know more about contacts’ interests while also building goodwill.

Engage with contacts in ways that match their levels of activity and interest

Keep an eye on your engagement records to see which contacts show the most interest and which seem to have gone cold. Once you’ve identified your unengaged subscribers, you don’t necessarily need to delete them right away—just treat them differently. For example, move them to a lower-touch segment but continue to mail to them intermittently with offers and content that are more likely to get their attention. Phase subscribers out gradually by ramping down messages to these non-responders.

If you do decide to remove a contact entirely based on their interaction record, always send  a  “sorry to see you go” message to let them know and give them a chance to reengage.

Review results and performance each time you change sending platforms

When you change sending platforms (for example to switch from a third-party system to Dynamics 365 for Marketing), you’ll probably start by importing your existing contact database into the new system. However, your new import might include many hard-bouncing addresses that your previous system suppressed automatically, and it may also include older contacts that have unsubscribed or otherwise stopped interacting with your messages. So, to keep from generating a punishing number of hard bounces and spam reports, do the following when you switch sending platforms:

  • Study interaction data from your previous system to identify your most and least-engaged contacts. Create campaigns with messaging and send frequencies that are appropriate for each level of engagement you find.
  • Extract any manual or autogenerated suppression lists from your previous system and either remove those contacts or use them to create a new suppression list on the new system.
  • If you’re not sure whether the contacts you are about to import include hard-bouncing addresses, consider using a third-party service to test them for you so you can remove them before you import to the new system. Some services even clean out spam traps and other problematic addresses.

How Dynamics 365 for Marketing helps implement good data quality

Microsoft is dedicated to helping all our Dynamics 365 for Marketing customers achieve maximum deliverability for the marketing campaigns. The system provides detailed analytics that help you make the right decisions, and automated tools that both help you implement those decisions and also automatically apply best practices.

Deliver detailed email results

After each email campaign, Dynamics 365 provides detailed results that list deliveries, opens, clicks, bounces, and more. This information will help you manage your mailing lists much more effectively, and also inform many of the automated features described later in this section.

More information: Analyze results to gain insights from your marketing activities

Provide detailed segmentation control

Every email campaign that you run in Dynamics 365 for Marketing starts with a marketing segment, which establishes the collection of email addresses that campaign will target. You can program each segment to include only those contacts with the level of engagement that each campaign is intended for.

More information: Working with segments

Report and quarantine hard bouncing addresses

As we’ve mentioned, avoiding hard bounces is one of the main goals of maintaining good data quality. Hard bounces occur when:

  • The email address is inactive.
  • The email address doesn’t exist.
  • The domain in the email address doesn’t exist.

To help prevent hard bounces, Dynamics 365 for Marketing checks each outgoing address to make sure the domain exists. If you try to send to an address that uses a domain that’s expired or never existed, then the system will automatically flag the address as a hard bounce without even attempting to send to it.

Even if you maintain good data quality, hard bounces can still occur from time to time. When they do, you’ll be able to see each address that produced a hard bounce after each campaign. The system automatically flags the offending address and will add it to its internal suppression list to make sure the system won’t attempt to send to it again. However, the address will remain visible on the relevant contact record in case you want to review it.

More information: Analyze results to gain insights from your marketing activities

Convert soft bounces into hard bounces

Soft bounces are less serious than hard bounces, and often occur for some temporary reason, such as:

  • An email account has exceeded its storage or email capacity.
  • The email contained suspicious content. This usually happens because an email message’s spam score was too high based on its content.
  • The subscriber’s email server was temporarily unreachable or was not configured correctly.

If an email address consistently produces a soft bounce for several campaigns in a row, the system will instead handle that address as a hard-bouncing address to prevent further soft bounces from occurring.

More information: Analyze results to gain insights from your marketing activities

Automatically react to spam complaints from previous campaigns

We cooperate with all major inbox providers to implement feedback loops (FBLs), which automatically inform Dynamics 365 for Marketing each time a recipient marks one of your messages as spam. When the system receives an FBL, it will automatically stop sending messages to that recipient from then on (these messages will be shown as having been blocked in your email results).

More information: Analyze results to gain insights from your marketing activities

Double opt-in support

Dynamics 365 for Marketing is fully prepared to support double opt-in if you choose to use it, which we highly recommend. This helps ensure that all newly registered contacts have provided a legitimate email address that they can read, and that third parties can’t subscribe others without their knowledge and consent.

More information: Set up double opt-in

Subscription center support

Dynamics 365 for Marketing provides a subscription center where contacts can see all the various mailing lists you provide and can easily choose which of them are most interesting. This fulfills the requirement that all messages include an unsubscribe link while also giving contacts an opportunity to choose (and let you know) which topics interest them most. Dynamics 365 for Marketing validates each message you try to send to ensure that it includes a subscription center link, thus helping to ensure that you don’t overlook this important requirement.

More information: Set up a subscription center

Protect the sender reputation of Microsoft servers

One of the ways that Microsoft maintains a consistent and high level of email deliveries from our Dynamics 365 for Marketing sending IPs is by sharing these IPs among all our customers and load-balancing as needed.

Microsoft defends the reputation of our sending IPs by monitoring all hard bounces and complaints associated with them. Organizations that consistently generate a large number of hard bounces and/or spam complaints may be contacted by Microsoft Support with advice for how to improve their sending lists and/or messaging. Organizations that continue to generate hard bounces and spam complaints may eventually risk having their accounts closed.

Learn more

For more information about how to maximize your email deliverability with Dynamics 365 for Marketing, see Best practices for email marketing and Set up DKIM for your sending domain to keep up with recent Office 365 changes.