TECH TERMS 101: Intro to Email Authentication

 
 

Every good marketer is committed to keeping audiences happy with carefully composed, highly personalized, and opportunely timed emails. But what if all these targeted and relevant messages still bounce back or land in the spam folder? 

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and their defense mechanisms are more watchful than ever as they try to protect their users from unsolicited and malicious emails. The methods and techniques have evolved over the years, but one of the main tools that are still used today is email authentication.

What is email authentication?   

E·MAIL AU·THEN·TI·CA·TION
/ee-meyl aw-then-tik-ay-shun/
noun

Email authentication refers to the collection of techniques designed to provide verifiable information about an email message’s origin by validating the identities of all agents and parties involved in transferring and/or modifying a message.

What email authentication methods do ISPs use?  

The three main email authentication methods currently being used by ISPs are SPF, DKIM, and DMARC. Authentication can be realized with the setup of SPF and DKIM records in the Domain Name System (DNS):

SPF stands for Sender Policy Framework, and it authenticates the mailing IP addresses with the sender (i.e., the carrier of the message).  SPF is an email validation system designed to prevent spam by detecting email spoofing, a common vulnerability, through verification of sender IP addresses. SPF allows administrators to specify which mail servers are permitted to send email on behalf of a given domain. This creates a specific SPF record (or TXT record) in the DNS, which is then used by ISPs to validate emails.

DKIM stands for DomainKeys Identified Mail, and it authenticates the email domain being used with the sender of the message. Essentially, it is a method for associating a domain name with an email message. It allows a person or organization to claim responsibility for the message. The association is set up by means of a digital signature which can be validated by recipients. Responsibility is claimed by a signer, which acts independently of the message’s author or recipient, by adding a DKIM-Signature field to the message’s header. This field is the mark of an authenticated email, as opposed to a sender address that has been forged by spammers.

DMARC stands for Domain Message Authentication Reporting and Conformance, and is a policy that security-conscious domains publish to specify clearly which SPF and DKIM mechanisms a domain employs and under which circumstances a sender email address should be considered legitimate. It is also a reporting mechanism for actions performed under those policies.

What happens if you don’t use SPF and/or DKIM?   

As a legitimate business, authentication is not optional. It is essential to securing your brand and online reputation. First and foremost - if you’re not authenticating your emails with SPF, your messages will get blocked straight away. If you’re not using DKIM authentication, your messages will be flagged and redirected to the junk folder without any other consideration.  

So what should you, as a sender do?

The gold standard for email marketers would be to authenticate your email with both methods, in addition to a published DMARC policy for your domain. Not only will make it harder for your emails to be forged, but more importantly it will improve the chances that your messages will be accepted by ISPs and can reach their intended recipients.

At the minimum, both SPF and DKIM are industry standard authentication methods that should be used in order to establish your brand as a legitimate mailer. In fact, ISPs will often only provide essential deliverability tools like feedback loops and whitelist programs to the senders who use authentication practices for their email.

If you’re not sure whether your email is being authenticated, verify with your IT team or email provider immediately.

Email Insights

We at Selligent Marketing Cloud believe in constantly improving the quality of the data you keep in our system, so we created Email Insights: a service that makes it easy to guarantee higher inbox placement before you even send your first email. Enjoy unparalleled reputation management and flexible options for sending via dedicated and shared IP addresses - all within our platform.

With the Email Insights feature, you can cross-check new audiences to decrease the risk of bounces and improve your sender reputation. Once you have SPF and DKIM in place, you can focus on what matters most – sending messages that your consumers want to receive in the first place. Find out how Selligent Marketing Cloud’s Email Insights can help your marketing team easily perform quality checks and pull detailed reports on your email lists.

Thumbnail of a document entitled "Email Insights: Achieve Higher Inbox Placement".

Email Insights: Achieve Higher Inbox Placement

Find out how Selligent Marketing Cloud’s Email Insights can help your marketing team easily perform quality checks and pull detailed reports on your email lists. Ensure higher inbox placement for your messaging before you even send your first email.

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