Email authentication is the manner in which we prove that an email is legit. That is isn’t a fake, spam, or a malicious trap. It’s the collection of everything we do as email marketers to ensure that our emails are deemed legitimate by the recipient spam algorithms that guard the inboxes we hope to reach.
The better we authenticate our emails, the better we inbox. The better we inbox, the more conversions we create.
If we don’t complete technical configurations, the chances that spam filters will either quarantine or reject our emails drastically increase. This is something we want to avoid at all costs, especially considering that these technical configurations only need to be completed once, so it’s important to understand these configurations and what they do.
The two primary pieces of email authentication are Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM). Each of these authentication methods is applied to one of the two domains associated with your email sends. The first domain is referred to as the envelope-sender domain. This domain is not immediately visible to casual email users, but it’s important because it identifies the outgoing mail server sending your emails. It also provides a return-path so that the recipient mail server can send a notification of whether the email was received or rejected. In other words, this first domain is where recipients know to send responses when things go right or when things go wrong. This domain is where we apply SPF.
What Is SPF?
SPF is an authentication method that allows the owner of your domain to specify which servers are allowed to send mail from that domain. (In this case, these servers would be the Act-On servers you make use of when you deploy your emails.) An SPF record is published publicly via the Domain Name System (DNS), so that when you send to a recipient (such as Gmail or Yahoo), that recipient can verify that Act-On is a legitimate sender on your behalf.
If a sender isn’t listed in your SPF record and sends an email on your behalf, that email may be deemed suspicious and rejected by those you’re trying to reach. That’s why it’s so important to implement SPF on your envelope-sender domain as early as possible. This helpful article on Act-On Connect will guide you through the process step-by-step.
As I mentioned earlier, the envelope-sender domain is the first of two domains associated with your emails. The second is referred to as the from-address domain. This is the domain that appears after the “@” symbol in your email address. For example, if you send your marketing emails from [email protected], your from-address domain would be mycompany.com. This domain is where we apply DKIM.
DKIM is the second piece of the email authentication puzzle. DKIM generates a “signature” that is associated with your from-address domain. This signature uses a public key and a private key that have to match to prove legitimacy.
This allows recipients to send a quick message to mycompany.com after they receive emails from [email protected] asking your domain, “Should I trust emails coming from this email address? Does the DKIM key I see match the key you have?” If you have correctly configured DKIM, mycompany.com is able to successfully respond, “Yes, the keys match. These emails are trustworthy.”
This double-authentication strategy allows you to prove beyond a doubt that you are a legitimate sender whose emails are not spam, phishing attempts, or anything else malicious. By using SPF and DKIM in combination, you’re able to put your best foot forward from the start, which makes adhering to subsequent best practices that much more powerful.
In the same way that it would be difficult to prove your worth as an employee if you showed up to the interview dressed as Bozo the Clown, it’s that much easier to prove to Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail that you’re a responsible email marketer when you’ve already completed and aligned these email configurations.
Contact Act-On to Ensure Proper Email Configuration
Once technical configurations are in place, you are ready to succeed in the world of email marketing. But if you’re having trouble understanding the fundamentals of email deliverability or struggling to implement these configurations, we’re happy to help!