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The Impact of Stricter DMARC Policies on B2B Email Marketing

By John Woods  |  January 30, 2024

As technology evolves, so do the tactics employed by cybercriminals. In an effort to protect their customers from spam and email attacks that spoof sender domains, both Google and Yahoo have announced stricter sender authentication requirements, which will come into effect later this week. These changes will have a significant impact on B2B email marketing practices, so it’s important for marketers to understand and adapt to these new policies.

Does this affect me?

Starting February 2024, both Google and Yahoo will impose increasingly stringent email authentication requirements. Sender domains that deliver more than 5,000 emails per day will be required to carry a DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance) policy, which outlines how to handle unauthorised emails sent via your domain.

But even those who send fewer emails will face tougher measures. Failure to meet these requirements may result in the rejection of legitimate inbound mail due to the inability to validate the sender’s authenticity, potentially impacting the effectiveness of your B2B marketing campaigns.

What do I need to do?

The new requirements are categorised into two sets. All senders will need to follow the first set, while high-volume senders delivering more than 5,000 messages per day will need to adhere to additional rules.

Applicable to all senders:

  • Email Authentication: Implementing email authentication measures is necessary to prevent threat actors from sending emails under the pretence of being from your organisation. Domain spoofing is a common technique used in phishing attacks and email spam, and SPF (Sender Policy Framework) and DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) protocols play a vital role in combating these threats.
  • SPF: SPF is an email authentication protocol that prevents email spoofing by checking if incoming email comes from an IP address authorised by the domain’s administrator.
  • DKIM: DKIM allows an organisation to take responsibility for transmitting a message by signing it in a way that mailbox providers can verify. DKIM record verification is made possible through cryptographic authentication.
  • Low Spam Rates: To maintain a good sender reputation, it’s important to keep spam rates low. If recipients report your messages as spam at a rate that exceeds the new requirement of 0.3%, your messages could be blocked or sent directly to a spam folder.

Requirements for senders of more than 5,000 messages per day:

  • SPF, DKIM, and DMARC: Companies sending to Gmail or Yahoo must have SPF and DKIM authentication methods implemented. Additionally, they must have a DMARC policy in place. DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) is an email authentication standard that provides domain-level protection and detects email spoofing techniques used in phishing and other email-based attacks.
  • DMARC Alignment: Messages must pass DMARC alignment, which means that the sending Envelope From domain is the same as the Header From domain, or that the DKIM domain is the same as the Header From domain.
  • One-Click Unsubscribe: For subscribed messages, it is vital to include a one-click unsubscribe option. Messages must contain List-Unsubscribe message headers and a clearly visible unsubscribe link in the message body. Unsubscribe actions must be taken for a requesting user within two days.

Keep in mind: These rules and best practices don’t just apply to marketing emails but also to regular business emails sent from the same domains. This includes your internal communications and any exchanges with clients, suppliers, stakeholders – literally anyone you email – so it’s important to be mindful of the main business email setup. If you neglect DMARC and that reduces deliverability of your marketing emails then that is undesirable, but not immediately business critical. However, if you make an erroneous change to your DMARC settings and that prevents delivery of normal business emails, that might have a catastrophic impact on your operations. With this in mind, it’s important to coordinate any DMARC changes with your company’s IT team or the people who look after your business email setup.

How do I put this into practice?

Most email marketing sending platforms – including Campaign Monitor, MailChimp and HubSpot – set their own requirements that represent their views of DMARC best practice, which they will enforce to protect the deliverability of their shared email servers. As a B2B marketer you might be tempted to take the view “I don’t send to personal email addresses / many emails so who cares if Yahoo and Gmail will bounce me”, but if you’re using someone else’s server you must comply with their policies – even if you only send 1 email a year – or risk getting your email tech account suspended.

You can check the status of your email domains and verify the status of your DMARC compliance. dmarcian’s domain checker is a useful tool, and their library of DMARC resources is a great place to signpost your IT team.

Why should this be a priority?

These stricter DMARC policies aim to enhance email security and protect users from malicious attacks. As a B2B marketer, it’s necessary to ensure compliance with these policies to maintain email deliverability, build trust with your audience, and keep this element of your digital marketing mix and daily email communications in motion. Adhering to email authentication protocols, monitoring spam rates, and implementing the necessary unsubscribe options will help you navigate these changes successfully. By following these guidelines, B2B marketers can continue to leverage email marketing effectively while safeguarding their reputation and maintaining strong communications with customers.

Remember, email authentication is an ongoing process, and continued efforts to ensure the security and authenticity of your email communications will contribute to the success of your B2B email marketing campaigns.

Sign up for our B2B digital marketing insights to stay up to date with the latest email marketing best practices, and learn how to adapt your strategies to comply with these stricter DMARC policies to stay ahead of your competitors. And if you need help implementing these changes, get in touch with one of our experts.

Digital Marketing Best Practice in the UK Built Environment – The 2024 Benchmarking Report

By Jennifer Esty  |  January 12, 2024

Our recent analysis of the Built Environment reveals that nearly all organisations could significantly improve business outcomes simply by following digital marketing best practice.

A few of our headline findings:

  • 91% of organisations are missing two or more digital marketing best practices
  • Only 28% were meeting search experience best practice
  • Only 22% were compliant with cookie legislation
  • Only 21% were using online chat
  • Only 9% met Google’s core web vitals standards
More about the Report

The overall results

9% Leaders: enjoying competitive advantage by using nearly all of the digital marketing best practices.

36% Contenders: employing some best practices, working towards digital marketing success.

37 % Laggards: following only some best practices, making them vulnerable to more ambitious competitors.

18% Spectators: using very few best practices, losing potential prospects, and leaving the door wide open to competitors.

What is a digital footprint?

It’s the imprint your business leaves on the digital world, everything from your website and social channels to what happens when someone Googles your business name. It’s important because 90% of B2B buyers turn to online channels as their primary method for identifying new suppliers.*

And if prospects can’t find you, find a competitor first, or have a poor experience, your business will miss out.

The organisations we analysed

Our sample included main contractors, specialist contractors, product manufacturers, builders’ merchants, hire companies, architects, recruitment agencies and organisations from the emerging construction technology sector.

The methodology

For each of the 100 organisations, we analysed 40 digital indicators and grouped them into 4 key areas:

  • Search Experience: a prospect’s experience when searching for your business online.
  • Content Experience: the quality and relevance of your digital content.
  • Website Experience: the experience of using your organisation’s website.
  • Marketing Technology: how your martech stack stacks up.

And we scored them on digital marketing best practice.

For the full results—and top tips on how you can improve your own B2B digital marketing, download the full report!

Download our 2024 benchmarking report

For top tips on how you can improve your own B2B digital marketing, download the full report.

    Want to find out how your digital footprint performs against our key best practices? Get in touch today for a free 30-minute consultation and find out where you’re seeing success and where there are opportunities for improvement.

    Why B2B Marketers Need More Than Just Cookie Warnings

    By John Woods  |  December 5, 2023
    Cookie regulation is on the move

    The regulatory environment for cookie consent reminds me of A23a, the world’s largest iceberg (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-67507558) – dangerous, poorly-understood and takes a while to move, but when it finally starts to change it’s important to pay attention.

    Like A23a, the regulators – at least, the UK’s Information Commissioner – have been making moves in November 2023. Major sites have been given 30 days to adjust the way they gather users’ consent for cookies – see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-67488305 for more details.

    Although to date there has been relatively little enforcement action, everyone in the digital marketing world needs to be mindful that the regulatory environment around cookies is both strict and complex. And the laws have teeth – companies can be fined up to 4% of global turnover, and we’ve seen fines of more than £100 million already imposed on large tech companies.

    So we think it’s timely to remind B2B marketers to take a look at their consent management setup.

    Last orders at the “cookie bar”

    A “cookie bar” or other drop-in user interface component is the most visible part of consent management, but on its own is just not enough to ensure compliance with the regulatory environment.

    If you want to comply with the law, and to verify that you continue to comply as things change over time, then you are going to need a proper Consent Management Platform (or CMP). This is a technology that you integrate with your website (and any other web-based digital content, like specialist landing pages) and which makes the technical aspects of compliance much easier to achieve and assure.

    What does a CMP do?

    A good CMP does 4 main things:

    1. Generates the “cookie bar” user interface component that allows a user to grant or withhold consent for cookies of different types, and records that consent – ironically, most likely in a cookie! – so that a user doesn’t have to be asked again on a return visit.
    2. Provides technical control mechanisms allowing for tracking scripts and other cookie-using components to modify their behaviour based on a user’s consent choices – for example, not firing an analytics tag if a user hasn’t consented. These control mechanisms need to be able to play nicely with the rest of your tech stack. In particular, they need to work with a tag manager if you use one.
    3. Automatically documents the cookies that your site uses, with the purposes of each, to avoid a lot of error-prone manual work in maintaining a compliant cookie policy document.
    4. Automatically audits the use of cookies on your site so that you can tell whether you are compliant, and identify any steps you need to take to remedy non-compliance.
      Here’s an example of the technical architecture of a website with a CMP in place:

     

    And here’s how that picture changes if a tag management system (like Google Tag Manager) is in use:

    There’s a LOT of complexity here! And only a tiny part of that is the visible “cookie bar”.

    With all this complexity, there is a lot that can go wrong. Even the best CMP does not guarantee compliance. So it is crucial to use the auditing features of your CMP to check for compliance. And even once you have a compliant site, you should still plan to repeat this audit process regularly – it’s easy for non-compliant technologies to creep in via apparently harmless site updates.

    I’ve gone into a bit more detail about the architecture of a CMP and how it fits with your website in this video.

    [insert video]

    Choosing a CMP

    If you don’t have a CMP in place yet, it’s really time to choose one and get it in place. The regulatory iceberg is on the move and the level of legal jeopardy associated with non-compliance is rising.

    There are many good CMPs on the market. At Sharp Ahead we have good experiences with Cookiebot, which is a strong entry-level CMP that covers the basics well for relatively simple organisations. If you’re a more complex business (for instance with multiple business units) you may need to instead look for a system with more enterprise-level features. You’ll also want to look at compatibility with your current and future tech stack, in particular for support for any CMS and tag management platforms that you use.

    If you’d like help choosing, implementing or updating your CMP setup, please get in touch with us!

    Meta Announces New Lead Generation Features

    By Jennifer Esty  |  November 17, 2023

    Meta has announced several new lead generation features which are potentially useful for B2B campaigns.

    These new features aim to drive more leads through ad products that facilitate form submissions, initiate chats, and enable calls from businesses.

    Click to WhatsApp:

    Expanding on an existing feature in Messenger and Instagram Direct, Meta is allowing Facebook and Instagram ads that click to start a WhatsApp chat. This should help marketers nurture more quality leads with instant messaging.

    Instant Form Ad Format:

    This feature lets users explore and connect with multiple businesses at once. It’s highly customisable and can provide additional company and product information for potential leads. It also enables advertisers to add a lot of business information to the form.

    Calling Leads on Facebook:

    Meta is also currently testing this new feature that enables businesses to call people through Facebook. This new feature will enable businesses to display their business information including logo and name.

    Advantage+ for Lead Gen:

    Additionally, the tech firm is experimenting with campaign automation for lead generation within Meta Advantage, which is the company’s suite of ad products focused on AI. Advertisers will gain the ability to apply AI across various campaign elements, encompassing targeting, placements, creative aspects, and budgeting simultaneously.

    Hubspot:

    To simplify lead capture and follow-up workflow, Meta has introduced HubSpot as a new CRM integration partner. The partnership will offer advertisers a straightforward click-through setup.

    It’s interesting and encouraging to see that Meta is investing in lead generation. Sharp Ahead finds mixed success with Meta as an advertising platform for B2B lead generation: some industries can get great results while others struggle. It can’t do any harm to have more options when it comes to planning optimising Meta campaigns and we’ll be experimenting with these new features for appropriate client projects. We’ll report back on our successes and learning.

    For more details on the new Meta lead gen features, Search Engine Land has a good write-up.

    Why Microsoft Clarity belongs in your B2B digital marketing tech stack

    By John Woods  | 
    The power of session recording for optimising B2B campaigns

    We love Microsoft Clarity. Chances are, it belongs in your B2B digital marketing tech stack.

    It delivers useful insights that can drive meaningful performance improvements. And it’s free to use, and easy to set up. So it’s a quick win for B2B digital marketing teams.

    Microsoft what-ity?

    Not heard of Microsoft Clarity before? It’s a web analytics tool that uses session recording techniques. That is, it records the details of what actually happens within the user’s browser – scrolling, typing, clicks and so on. And then reports those back in aggregate form so that one can understand how a web page is being used by your actual web visitors.

    There are many similar tools in the market: Hotjar, Inspectlet and Crazy Egg are some of the better-known ones. Those are all good tools and are worth considering if you have advanced requirements. But Clarity is a great entry-level session recording tool for these reasons:

    • It’s free forever, so there’s no subscription cost to worry about;
    • It is built and supported by Microsoft, which provides comfort around the compliance and privacy aspects;
    • It is very easy to set up and use, so you can get value very quickly without a huge amount of technical knowledge.
    Why we love Clarity and session recording

    “Conventional” web analytics tools like Google Analytics can tell you things like the “engagement rate” and “average time on page” for a web page. But those measures don’t really tell you whether the page is doing its job or WHY a badly-performing page might be failing. And they don’t tell you how to improve the page. (I went into some detail about the limitations of Google Analytics for niche B2B campaigns in my recent GA4ward webinar .)

    Session recording gives a much more direct, actionable view of page performance and can point you towards specific improvements.

    Here’s an example of a Clarity report for the mobile version of one of our own landing pages:

    The colours and numbers on this “scroll heat map” show the percentage of visitors reaching each vertical position on the page. So for example only 25% of our visitors scrolled down far enough to see the “Marketing Automation” heading.

    Take a moment to look at the image. Can you see any issues?

    For me, this Clarity report has highlighted a design problem with this page. Only 41% of mobile visitors are seeing the text (in the yellow/green area of the colour coding) which says “We’re a full service digital marketing agency…”. That’s important text! Without it, the offer of a free B2B digital marketing consultation makes a lot less sense. A person might view the page without scrolling and decide not to bother taking any action, whereas if they’d seen that extra copy, they might have been persuaded to go ahead and book a consultation.

    Frustratingly this import text is only JUST below the fold. You can see from the heatmap that if it were only a line or two higher up, 75% of visitors would see it – almost twice as many!

    This Clarity report not only diagnoses the problem, but it allows us to come up with some potential solutions. In this case, we’re going to trim down the opening section so that it uses a bit less vertical space, allowing the “We’re a full service…” text to show above the fold for all users. That’s an easy change that will only take us a few minutes to implement. We’ll test that change and expect to see an improvement in conversion rates as a result.

    Imagine instead all I’d told you was that this page had a high bounce rate or a low engagement rate. You would know there was an issue, but you’d have no idea what aspect of the page’s design was to blame, and so nowhere to start for choosing potential solutions. Most likely, the page would have stayed unchanged.

    Not just scroll heat maps

    We find these scroll heat maps incredibly useful for B2B landing pages, where the user journey is often just a single page and where we have difficult tradeoffs to consider in information architecture – which content to prioritize above the fold, in particular.

    There are many other useful features in Clarity, including:

    • Recording and replay of a whole user session (across multiple pages) to look at navigation issues
    • Reports on where clicks and taps occur on the page
    • Automatic detection of “rage clicks” that suggest when a person has become frustrated with a page
    • Filters to segment traffic to look at specific pages and visits from specific campaigns

    These features are all enabled as standard, so you access to them all as soon as you have put the basic Clarity setup in place – there are no complicated setup decisions to make.

    Getting started with Clarity

    If I’ve convinced you that Clarity has a place in your tech stack, please give it a go! The setup could hardly be easier:

    1. Sign up for a free account at https://clarity.microsoft.com/
    2. Step through a tiny number of simple set-up questions
    3. Install a single JavaScript tag on your site, ideally via Google Tag Manager
    4. Wait a while for some useful data to turn up – this might need a few days or even weeks if you are running niche, low volume campaigns
    5. Check out the heatmaps and session recordings in the Clarity interface and start looking for insights!

    Microsoft have given careful thought to the GDPR / privacy / compliance aspects of the system, so while you shouldn’t take these for granted, the use of Clarity shouldn’t cause too many concerns for your company lawyers. And the technology has negligible impact on page speed for the end user. So it’s hard to think of any material downside to the use of Clarity. And the upsides can be huge – if you discover and fix a page design issue that improves conversion rates by even a few percent, that’s extra ROI on every digital campaign.

    We’ll return to some other ways to use Clarity for B2B campaign optimisation in the future. For now, if you’d like any help with Clarity or any other aspect of B2B marketing, we’d love to hear from you! 

    Download our 2024 benchmarking report

    For top tips on how you can improve your own B2B digital marketing, download the full report.

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