Amazon SES Blog

Do Your Recipients Know Who You Are?

by Samuel Minter | on | in Best Practices | | Comments

When you send an email for your organization, you want your recipients to read it. For that to happen, your email needs to be delivered, and your recipients need to identify the mail as valuable and worth reading. Of course, you need to provide valuable content in the email itself, but there is more to it: If the email is not clearly branded and identifiable as being from the entity that the recipient signed up to get email from, recipients are likely to ignore your mail, or, worse, hit the “this is spam” button.

As such, SES requires that you clearly align the emails you send with your organization by following the best practices outlined in this blog post.

Before we begin…

First make sure that you are only sending mail to people who signed up to receive email from you directly, not addresses you acquired in any other way. For example, do not send mail to bought or rented lists, addresses collected by your partners, or recipients who signed up with another brand that you own. See the Amazon SES Developer Guide for guidelines on how to obtain and maintain your recipient list.

Clearly aligning your emails with your organization

If you are sending an email to people who signed up to receive mail from example.com, then the following should always be true: 

  1. The "From" address of the email should be @example.com. The "From" address is the address from which you send the emails. This is the email address or domain you verified with SES.
  2. The "Friendly From" name should clearly be associated with example.com. The "Friendly From" name is the name that displays as the sender of the email in the recipient’s email inbox.
  3. The email itself should clearly be branded as a message from example.com. Small text in a footer is not sufficient. A good example of branding is to prominently display the logo of example.com in the email.
  4. The email should include a reminder of why the user is getting the message. For instance, you could include a sentence such as "You signed up to get mail from example.com on March 24, 2015."

Example 1: Promotional mail for partners

One example we have seen a lot is that users sign up with a site that promotes deals of some sort, with the expectation that the site will send them mail about deals, special promotions, etc. However, the mail they actually receive is branded as the product with the deal (the partner’s brand) rather than the brand of the site they signed up with. As far as users can tell, they’re getting messages from the partner company – a company they did not sign up with – marketing a variety of products and services. 

There is no easy way for users to see that these messages are actually coming from the deal site that they signed up with. Perhaps this information is visible if they look closely at the small print in the footer of the email, but generally speaking, this isn’t good enough. In these cases, users can easily end up getting annoyed by this mail and hitting the spam button. They may have signed up with the deal site, but they did not sign up with the individual companies that they appear to be getting mail from.

The solution is simple. Make sure the promotions are sent from the deal site. Make sure the mail itself is branded prominently with the deal site’s logo. Include an introductory statement like, “Here is today’s deal from the deal site.” Underneath that, include the promotion for the third party. Then it is absolutely clear to the recipient that the message from the third party is a service of the deal site that the recipient actually signed up with.

Example 2: Election mail

Here is a similar example in another sphere:  It is election season, and someone signs up with a political party to get mail from that party. The party wants to promote candidates that are running for a variety of offices. The party sends mail that looks like it is from Candidate X to people who live in the right geographic area to vote for Candidate X. Candidate X is from the party that these people signed up to get email from, so this is no problem, right? Wrong. If people signed up with the political party, it is okay to send mail from the party, but unless they specifically signed up to get mail from Candidate X, it is not okay for Candidate X to send them mail.

The solution is the same as for the deal site: The party can send the mail, but the mail has to clearly be from the party itself. The party can indicate this with the "From" domain, the "Friendly From" name, and the branding in the mail. The party should also begin with a quick message that says “We thought you would be interested in this message from Candidate X…” Once again, things are aligned: Users only get email from the organization they signed up with, and this is absolutely clear just by glancing at the email they receive.

This is about best practices, not the law

In both of the cases above, there may well be language at the original site indicating that by signing up with the site, recipients are giving permission for partners, affiliates, or third parties to email them. By including this sort of language, this kind of sending may well be legal, and the recipient may have technically given permission for it.

However, this kind of sending is still problematic and may cause us to revoke your ability to send mail with SES. Unless a user explicitly and directly signed up with the organization that, on casual inspection, appears to be sending them mail, there is a high likelihood that the message will be identified as spam either explicitly by the user or by automated algorithms that track engagement. To protect our ability to deliver high quality mail for all senders, SES requires that senders on our platform make it obvious to the recipient that messages are from an organization the recipient signed up with. If this is not obvious, then we consider the message to be unsolicited.

Remember…

The important thing here is alignment. If a user signs up with a particular organization, then that organization — and only that organization — should send the user email: no partners, no other brands, no affiliates, no third parties. To avoid confusion, the mail itself has to make its connection to the organization the recipient signed up with absolutely clear. Obscuring that connection can confuse users and make your mail look unsolicited, even if the user did in fact sign up for your mail. Mail without a clear connection to the original organization the recipient signed up with is not allowed on SES.

Keep your sign-ups, "From" addresses, and the branding of your messages aligned, and you should be in good shape!