How to Prepare for Your First Email Send — Thread the Needle with Braze

Properly configuring your email functionality in Braze is key to the long-term success of your email marketing campaigns. A thorough setup ensures your emails land in your audience’s inboxes rather than getting flagged as spam, boosts deliverability, builds a strong sender reputation, and most importantly: sets you up for success to drive higher open and engagement rates. 

Skipping these crucial steps can lead to big problems down the line, hurting your brand’s credibility and the effectiveness of your email outreach. 

In this episode of Thread the Needle, Isabel Miller, Business Strategist at Stitch, walks through the critical steps before launching your first campaign, including 

  • Building out your email preferences
  • DNS records + SSL setup
  • IP Warming best practices
  • Transactional vs Marketing email setup


Hi, my name is Isabel Miller, and I am a Business Strategist at Stitch, I'm excited to share with you this topic of Thread the Needle. 

Today we'll be talking through best practices for email preferences, DNS records, and SSL, as well as IP warming for both your marketing and transactional campaigns and monitoring results. So to start off with email preferences best practices, here you can see a screenshot of email preferences in Braze settings.

This is where you can edit your reply to address, email, and subscribe header, and display name and friendly from. So, let's start with talking about your reply to address. It is best practice to use an inbox that is eligible to receive mail, and if no one is monitoring the inbox, to just make sure there is an auto-reply that directs the user to a place that they can get help.

It is also a best practice to avoid using do not reply in the reply to address name. However, if you do, again, just making sure that there is an auto-reply if that mailbox is not being monitored versus them receiving something along the lines of like, this inbox doesn't exist or something like, you can go here to get help, would be a better practice for the email that they would receive back. And then talking about the email unsubscribe header.

In Braze, you can find the email unsubscribe header in email preferences and settings. Google and Yahoo do now require the use of a one-click unsubscribe for all their outgoing commercial promotional messages, and this is as of June 1st. So coming up shortly, this is going to be a requirement, and you'll just want to make sure that you do turn this on in Braze under email and subscribe header.

And then lastly, we have display name and friendly from. You can also edit your display name and friendly from in the email settings of Braze. You can add the names and email addresses that can be used when Braze sends emails to your users. so you may have one for transactional and one for marketing.

Or, you know, you may also have separate display names depending on brand or something like that. So this is a place where you can edit those and how you want those to display when your emails are getting delivered to your customers.

Now to talk about DNS records and SSL set of best practices. So when thinking about setting up your IP addresses, subdomains, and DNS records. There are some best practices here. For your IP addresses, it is important to use a dedicated IP address for both your transactional and marketing campaigns.

And this is important for a transactional message's reputation to be separate from your marketing reputation. So if there is separate IPs for both marketing and transactional, any deliverability issues that affect marketing will not affect your transactional message delivery, which is really important.

And then we also have subdomains here. So you will want to have an IP address for marketing and transactional, and you'll also want to have subdomains for both. So you may have more than two IP addresses, and if so, you can choose a subdomain for each IP address. Maybe you are separating these by brand, and you can use the brand in the subdomain name.

But, either way, you'll want to have a subdomain for each of your IP addresses. And you really don't want to use a subdomain been used in the past. This will cause issues when you try to implement your DNS records and you ultimately don't wanna carry over your reputation. You do wanna start fresh.

So just making sure that when you are choosing your subdomains, those have not been used in the past and are not being used currently. DNS records, so email authentication is a collection of techniques that equip your emails with verifiable information about its origin. So we have DKAM, SPF, and DMRC, which are all methods of authentication and they are all required when setting up your DNS records with Braze.

Proper authentication is really crucial for internet service providers to recognize you as a sender of desirable emails and make sure your emails are getting delivered immediately. So really, without authentication, your outreach could be presumed as fraudulent and your emails may not get delivered. So it's important to make sure that all three of these are getting set up when you're implementing your records.

It's also important to keep in mind that you will most likely need to engage your web or networking team or whoever owns these DNS records to get them set up. It's typically something that can't be done by your marketing team. So when your Web or networking team is getting these set up. It is important that they do set up all the records provided and make sure that everything matches between the records that are provided and what they implement.

We'll see in a bit an example of DNS records and you'll see that there is a long list of values so it can be really easy to just make a simple mistake, so it's just important to go back and make sure that everything matches up and then having Braze verify.

So now to talk about SSL best practices. So when we're thinking about SSL, we can think about the flow of clicks when email gets sent. So once a user receives an email, they click on the link, which will be overwritten to go via email service providers to track the clicks, before getting redirected towards the user's end destination.

So their browser then checks for an SSL certificate via a CDN, as a CDN, host the SSL certificate, and then users redirected via SparkPost or SendGrid, and then the clicks are reported back to Braze. So, the user won't have seen any of these redirections before reaching their end destination. But ultimately, SSL is making that data connection more secure.

It is important to note that SSL allows you to collect click tracking analytics in Braze. So, you do need to have this complete before you start IP warming, so that you do have that secure connection and you are getting your click tracking reporting. So when you're thinking about when to set up SSL, you will need to wait until after your DNS records have not only been implemented, but verified by Braze.

So Braze will give you the confirmation that your DNS records have been verified, and then you can go ahead and move on to setting up SSL.

It is also best practice to choose a Braze-recommended CDN provider. because there is a lot of documentation on these for SendGrid and SparkPost. And so it'll really just make your setup process smoother, and you can see here the options, or recommendations from Braze for SendGrid, DNS providers, and SparkPost.

And then to talk about SSL certificates. So you will need to gain a certificate hosted through the CDN providers. You do need to get a CDN certificate for each tracking domain generated by Braze. So you may request that Braze provides a different click tracking domain for each of your subdomains. Or you may just have one click tracking subdomain.

That's really up to you in your reporting needs, but either way, whichever route you go, you do need to get a certificate for each tracking domain that is set up.

So here is the DNS records example. You can see we have a txt, CNME, and A records. These do include the IP address for both transactional and marketing subdomains. In this example, we just have a transactional and marketing subdomain, but you may have more depending on your email volume. You may have some more records here for extra marketing or transactional subdomains and IP addresses that you have.

You can also see at the bottom here the values that will change to the CDN value after implementing SSL. So these highlighted values in yellow are what will be changing to the CDN value after you have gained your SSL certificates.

And then thinking about IP warming best practices. So first we're going to talk about IP warming best practices for marketing. During IP warming it is really important that you go slow and make sure that you are following the IP warming schedule that you can see on this screen. If you try to go quicker than the IP Warming schedule, you can extend your schedule by up to two to three times, having to go back and redo hitting some of these volumes, or having to start over.

So it is important to follow the schedule and really just take your time and go slow. And throughout IP warming, you should be trying to increase your volume according to the plan every day. It is okay to skip a couple of days, but you definitely want to make sure that you are keeping your volume consistent and increasing that, at least most of the days throughout IP warming.

And you may just like skip weekends, but you'll definitely want to keep your volume consistent throughout the days that you are completing IP warming, and making sure that you are sending out emails on a pretty regular basis.

So you will also want to try to send at the same time of day on the same days of the week. Inbox service providers do really well with predictable cadence, so it is important to try to send at the same times of the day on the same days of the week during IP warming, and that works really well post-IP warming too.

And then, you'll also only want to warm to your average sending. So, the goal is not to warm to your highest spikes during certain points of the year, it's really to warm to what your average sending volume is on a regular basis. It is okay if you do have spikes during the year where your volume may double or triple.

That's just when you want to talk about ways to split that audience into either a couple of days, the volume into a couple of days, or maybe in the days leading up to that spike you warm up to that volume. So it is important to do that. Especially because when you are thinking about campaigns for post-IP warming, you'll only be warmed up to the volume that you warm up to in IP warming.

So you may not have campaigns post-IP warming to reach those peaks then, especially if those are only during certain times of the year. And then eventually you would just have to re-warm to that anyway, so better to just warm to your average volume, and then when the time comes, warm up to those higher volumes as needed.

So now to talk about setting up your campaigns for IP Warming. The best practice in setting up your campaigns for IP Warming is to set up daily campaigns for each day of IP Warming, so you'll have a Day 1 campaign, Day 2 campaign, Day 3 campaign, etc. And this really makes it easier to set these campaigns up and it also makes reporting a lot easier to see the click rates, delivery rates, etc.

All that for each campaign that is sent. Before you start IP warming, you will want to identify your engaged audience to send to the most engaged during IP warming. So you can identify an engaged audience by the opens and clicks in the last couple of weeks. So you can send to users that are highly engaged first, which would be opened or clicked within the last maybe 1 to 15 days, and then engage maybe 15 to 30 days, and then the less engaged maybe 30 to 50 days as far as clicking and opening an email until you have then reached your average volume. So setting to your most engaged first and then starting to decline engagement as the IP warming process goes on.

So you also don't want to send the same campaign content to the same recipient or user profile during IP warming. If you can identify two to three versions of creative to use over the period of time that you are doing IP warming, then you can have a user receive one message from each of the three creatives throughout that process or however many you need to reach that volume without people receiving the same campaign over and over again.

So I'm going to open up Braze now and just show you what it will look like when you're in here starting to set up some of your IP warming campaigns and how to manage some of these things. So thinking about if you're setting up your Day One campaign, Day Two campaign, Day Three campaign, we're looking at our Day One campaign.

A great feature that you can use in Braze is tags. So you can name your campaign and then you can have a tag something like IP warming campaign one and then you'll schedule your delivery. You will add your target audiences for your first campaign. You'll probably have this go out to about 50 users.

And then for your IP warming Day 2 campaign, you'll be making sure that you are still labeling these with your tag, but when you're setting up your target audience, you'll want to make sure that you're setting these up to users that have not received any campaigns from IP warming Campaign 1. So you're basically saying, My IP warming Day two campaign is going to include users that have not received this IP warming Day one campaign and that will make sure that people aren't receiving the same campaigns over and over.

And then another feature that you'll want to pay attention to when you're setting up your campaigns for IP warming is continuing to limit the number of users that are receiving it. And then you'll also want to limit the rate at which this campaign will send. Probably not when you're only sending to 50 or 100 users, but once you've hit one thousand, two thousand, three thousand, five hundred thousand, is when you start to think, okay, I might want to limit so these aren't all going at once.

And then they're less likely to have deliverability problems with your inbox providers. If they're not all trying to get into the inboxes at the same time, maybe you spread it out over the course of one to two to three hours.

So, now to continue to talk about some best practices when you are warming up your marketing campaigns. So, considering the Braze dos and don'ts of IP warming, you definitely don't want to cheat. I know we briefly talked about this, but making sure that you are going slow and following the schedule and not trying to ramp up too quickly.

Also, making sure that you are not ignoring warning signs, so paying attention to analytics throughout the IP warming process and that all of your delivery rates and everything look good, and that if they don't, you're taking a pause and realizing what needs to be changed, and also monitoring for bounce rates there when you're paying attention to those.

You do want to send to your most engaged users, send your most engaging content, and of course send to valid email addresses. So it might be a great time to do some list cleanup to make sure that the lists that you are sending to, during IP warming and going forward are valid email addresses.

And then thinking about IP warming for transactional messages, some things that are important to consider when you're doing IP Warming for transactional is making sure that you do understand the difference between what counts as a transactional message versus what is actually a marketing message. So when it comes to transactional, there must be a one-to-one exchange between the customer and the email being delivered.

So, for example, a password reset. If you are including a link to a promotion that feels like marketing, then the message should really not be sent across your transactional and it should be sent as marketing, even if it counts as like a triggered message, it still has marketing content.

And then when thinking about turning on your transactional emails, you want to make sure that you are turning on your lowest volumes first and then working your way up to higher volumes. So you can complete transactional IP warming much faster than marketing by turning on your lowest volumes first.

and unlike a lot of marketing emails, transactional messages are triggered and typically across most if not all hours of the day, which can help spread out new traffic for inbox providers during warming. You can also try and send each email on the day of the week at the lowest daily average volume.

So, for example, if password reset traffic is typically lower on Mondays and Tuesdays and higher on Friday, Saturday, Sundays, then you could turn it on on a Monday and then let it kind of warm itself up as we reach the Friday, Saturday, Sunday days. And then it is important to note that even though you can warm transactional emails a bit quicker because it has the possibility to organically warm, it is important to not be doubling a previous day's send because this can still be a red flag for a lot of inbox providers.

So you do want to keep track of these volumes on a daily basis and ultimately have a plan. And then when thinking about planning ahead, these emails can take longer to set up, as there may be more back-end technical work required, so it is important to think about this, kind of right off the bat and not putting transactional emails on the back end because, you know, maybe they're, they're a little bit quicker to warm is still important to keep in consideration your plan for them,

and make sure that you do have a plan, so that way, when it comes time to start launching these, you don't feel the need to just launch them all at once, and you have time, and you can organically kind of turn them on and let them warm up.

And then, thinking about monitoring results, and best practices. And it is important to note that as we're looking at these targets here for the danger zone and winner's circle, these are steady-state targets. So not just for IP warming, these are targets that we want to keep in mind, consistently as we're paying attention to analytics as emails are getting sent out.

But if you do have hard bounces early in IP warming, this probably does mean that the list of engaged users needs to be evaluated, so maybe they're not as engaged as we were hoping, so maybe we need to re-evaluate what the consideration is making them engaged and where we're pulling that list.

We also want to keep in mind spam reports unique open rates and delivery rates. If your delivery rate is under 99%, it's definitely important to go into analytics and figure out why. If your delivery rate is below 90%, definitely would be concerning and you would definitely want to make sure that you understand what's going on and why your emails aren't getting delivered.

But 99% is really a great target during IP warming and just making sure that you're not having inbox providers blocking your emails. And if it is lower, just a reason to go in and check why. And then another thing to keep in mind is your open rate. So, this might not be super comparable to your legacy system because of machine opens, so you really just want to aim for these recommendations, and not get too worried about making them exactly like they look in your legacy system just because of what their open rate is displaying may not be from unique opens, it may also include machine opens, so just a reason to keep in mind, and be paying attention to, these kind of winner circles and danger zones, recommended by Braze.

And then thinking about monitoring results best practices, you definitely want to check IP warming results daily. So before launching the next IP warming campaign, definitely want to go in and check results from the previous day so you can determine if you're good to send that day or if you need to take a pause and consider what might be causing some deliverability issues.

You also definitely want to wait and wait to check results until all messages are sent out. This can definitely cause some panic if you go in and you look at your delivery rate specifically and it says 50 percent but it's actually just because you have a throttle on your messages and only half of your messages have actually been sent,

so definitely let your campaigns completely get sent out before going and looking at your results. And if delivery is below 99%, this is a great opportunity to use Braze Analytics, and possibly queries as well, just to investigate why your delivery is looking low. So you can go into Analytics in Braze and go to Query Builder.

You can go to create SQL query and you can do a SQL editor and write a SQL code or already use a query template that already exists in Braze to check out some of the results on your campaigns in more detail. So, for example, you may want to run a query on bounce rates by inbox provider because you have a lower delivery rate than expected and you're worried that a specific inbox provider is blocking your email.

So, great way to go and see what inbox provider you might be having trouble with.

And then some key takeaways. So definitely important to use a dedicated IP address and subdomains for your marketing and transactional emails. Definitely want to develop a predictable cadence during and post IP warming and only warm to your average sending volume. And understanding the difference between what qualifies as a transactional and marketing email will be a great start when thinking about what emails you're sending on each IP address and subdomain, and then monitoring results each day of IP warming, and making sure that you're not ignoring any warning signs.

So thank you all so much for listening to this Thread the Needle session. I hope you all enjoyed tuning in and learned something new. 

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