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SPF: Protect your domain and improve your email deliverability

The SPF (Sender Policy Framework) is one of the most powerful strategies to protect your reputation as a sender. That’s because you can use it to keep your receivers from receiving spam, phishing and spoofing.

Considering that your email account is an essential tool to use to attract new customers and retain people who already trust your business, you have to do everything within your reach to protect its credibility.

When you employ SPF email protocols in your company’s email, you are able to prevent malevolent people or groups from sending poisonous and unauthorized messages to your subscribers through your electronic address.

Did you get interested in SPF? Do you already use it? Learn everything about it and how it can be an important ally to protect your domain, improve your email deliverability and, consequently, make you achieve a good reputation online.

  • The Sender Policy Framework: what is an SPF record?
  • How does the SPF work?
  • Why use an SPF record on my domain?
  • What the SPF doesn’t do
  • SPF and DMARC for email: enhancing your security level
  • Implementation: how does the SPF record syntax work? 

The Sender Policy Framework: what is an SPF record?

Basically, the SPF email is a TXT record that belongs to a DNS (Domain Name Service). Inside this document, there is a list with all the authorized IP addresses and hostnames that are allowed to send messages on your company’s behalf.

That’s exactly how it helps in the battle against sending spam and other types of harmful messages that can destroy your reputation.

Did you understand the email SPF record concept? If not, let’s give you a simple and easy-to-follow example. Let’s suppose you are using an email API to send transactional emails to your subscribers. 

But, at the same time, you have email software (such as MailChimp or RD Station) to send your marketing emails.

Through SPF, receiving email servers can check that both API and email software are authorized to send emails on behalf of your domain. 

When you don’t have an email SPF record, the receiving email servers might understand that the messages sent through the API and software are false, so they aren’t going to arrive at your subscribers’ mailboxes and have a high chance of being marked as spam.

Could you get it? Working with an email SPF record is very important to protect your deliverability rate, so you can make the most of your sales strategies, as well as have success on your email marketing campaigns.

How does an SPF work?

It’s not complex at all to understand how an SPF email works. In essence, we have to consider three main steps of email authentication through SPF:

  • firstly, a domain owner establishes a list of the authorized email senders (this list is called email SPF record), which means these senders can get in touch with users on behalf of the main domain;
  • the second step is related to emails’ bounce checking (Return-Path). The inbound server is going to verify the IP address of the mail server and compare it to the email SPF record, in order to check if the account is authorized or not;
  • finally, if there is a match between sending the email server and the email SPF record, the message will be delivered. If the match doesn’t happen, the message will be rejected or receive a spam flag.

Pretty simple, isn’t it? In theory, it may seem complicated, but, in reality, it is not. All you have to do is come up with your email SPF record, that is, the other email accountsallowed to send messages under your domain.

You must bear in mind that the emails you are trying to send through other accounts are real, but they might not be delivered if such addresses are not listed in your email SPF record. This explains why you should add your SPF record to your domain provider.

In addition to not having your message delivered, when your email SPF record is not updated, your credibility as a sender will be put at risk. Setting up your SPF record can be the shield you need to protect your domain against internet dangers.

Why use an SPF record on my domain?

Competent marketers have to protect their company’s reputation, and it fully includes email addresses. This affirmation is undeniable and true, and the best way to execute this task is to begin with email authentication.

When spammers keep sending false emails under your company’s electronic address, real people will receive these messages, and they will be taken as spam.

You need to prevent this scenario, because it affects your company when legitimate messages are sent and they might be flagged as spam. That’s how your reputation online suffers.

Fortunately, there are ways to keep this situation away from your company, and setting up an SPF email record is one of them.

In short, an SPF email record will allow some addresses (only the ones that have your permission) to send messages to your subscriber lists. That way, your contacts will not receive unwanted emails from you.

Having this initial consideration in mind, when you have an updated SPF email record, your company shows commitment to protecting your audience from receiving spam, phishing, spoofing and other harmful emails.

If you worry about your reputation online and the security of your own customers, using an SPF email record is the best way to demonstrate it.

It is still possible to send emails without an SPF email record, but counting on this tool can provide credibility and trust to your business, increasing the probability of your messages really hitting active mailboxes.

Besides that, the interaction and engagement with your target audience can become easier. There are many advantages of setting up an SPF email record for your domain, and they are going to show in conversion and sales rates.  

What the SPF doesn’t do

Despite being an excellent tool to authenticate email accounts, SPF email protocols have some limitations too.

For example, SPF email doesn’t check the “From” field of an email. As long as the address is real, there is no validation of who is really sending the message, which can be understood as a security breach that you must be aware of.

In the second place, if you have a message that is forwarded, the SPF email will show a malfunction and might break. The person who is forwarding the message becomes the new sender and the checking performed by SPF email protocols will most likely fail.

Finally, SPF email doesn’t have reports, which makes your performance as a sender difficult to interpret and analyze, and you need an analysis tool that you can trust

Without reports, you might feel in the dark. Are my emails being delivered? Are they bouncing? Are people opening my messages? These are questions that you must have the answer to as a competent marketer.

The SPF email does an excellent job, in terms of making it harder for poisonous players impersonating your domain to send unwanted emails to your contacts. But you should know it can’t do everything. 

That proves the necessity of having other manners to improve your deliverability rates, such as an email verifier and many other tools to help you in your marketing campaigns

SPF and DMARC for email: enhancing your security level

Previously, we were talking about how important it is to have reports to help you analyze your marketing campaigns. Unfortunately, the SPF email lacks when the subject is the necessity of reading your performance.

To illustrate this idea, if a sender fails the SPF email test, it is unclear what should be done with the email address.

The good news is that you can use another tool to analyze your results, and it is called DMARC, which stands for (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance).

DMARC can be defined as another authentication protocol. Just as SPF email, this tool is used to protect valid email accounts against sending unauthorized messages under their domains.

The difference is that the DMARC allows domain owners to specify how unauthorized messages should be classified according to a three-option policy:

  • none: the first classification must be understood as the message was properly delivered;
  • quarantine: the second option is about placing the message in the junk or spam folder;
  • reject: the last option is for the messages that weren’t delivered and bounced.

Thanks to these reports, the domain owner is able to see how their messages were sent and if they made it to their final destination. That way, it is easier and faster to identify possible virtual attacks and other vulnerabilities.

Such data is relevant to analyze how your subscribers are receiving your messages, showing exactly where your strengths and weaknesses are.

The SPF and DMARC are powerful ways to help prevent spoofing and spam. It’s important to do your part to make the internet a safer place.  

Implementation: how does the SPF record syntax work?

An email SPF record is a line of only text. It has a list of tags and values. The tags are also known as mechanisms. On the other hand, the values are mainly IP addresses and domain names.

You can add your SPF email record to your domain provider. All you have to do is present it in the form of a DNS TXT record and learn how to do it

Another thing that you must know about SPF email records is that you have a limit of 255 characters on them. Finally, the TXT record file size can’t be larger than 512 bytes.

Now, let’s understand how the SPF email record syntax works. Understand that you have two parts on it, the prefix and the mechanisms.

For instance, in the entry “v=spf1 a mx include: spf.yourcompany.net include:_spf.yourcompanytwo.com ~all”:

  • the prefix is “v=spf1”, and it shows the SPF email record that should be used in the authentication process since the same domain can have many email SPF records;
  • the last part, “a mx include:spf.yourcompany.net include:_spf.yourcompanytwo.com ~all”, represents how the SPF email must be analyzed.

But, how should you proceed with analyzing this amount of letters and symbols? It may seem complex, but it is not rocket science. 

All you have to do is understand the meaning of the record qualifiers and mechanisms. Let’s break them down, shall we?

The SPF record qualifiers

The mechanisms have a prefix that determines what strategy is fit when a sending IP and the email SPF record are a match. The default symbol is “+”, which means that the IP will pass the SPF email check.

Moreover, there are other symbols you should know:

  • “+”: we already know it means “Pass”, and it happens when there is a match between the SPF record and the sending IP;
  • “-”: the minus-symbol should be taken as “Fail”, and it occurs when an IP fails the SPF email tests;
  • “~”: this symbol shows that the host should accept the message, but it will fail the SPF email tests and the sending IP will understand it as a suspicious message;
  • “?”: the last symbol shows that an IP will neither fail, nor pass the SPF email tests.

Now that you know what action you should take according to the symbols, it becomes an easy talk authenticating email addresses.

The SPF record mechanisms

Do you remember our previous example of an email SPF record syntax, “a mx include: spf.yourcompany.net include:_spf.yourcompanytwo.com ~all”? 

Let’s give it a second look and analyze its parts. Firstly, you see the mechanism “a”, which represents the authorization of email servers to use a certain domain name. 

What about the other parts? What do they represent? Let’s cover them now:

  • mx”: you use these letters to authorize one or more mail servers by domain MX record;
  • include”: it is employed to authorize a third-party email sender to use your domain;
  • all”: it means that all of the incoming emails matches, and always will be the last mechanism in an email SPF record. If you put any other mechanism after “all”, it will be ignored. It is highly recommended to use this symbol in your SPF records.   

SPF email record qualifiers and mechanisms is an excellent tool that you can use if you learn all about it. Setting up your email SPF record is a step closer to authenticating email accounts, which is necessary to improve your deliverability and protect your domain.

Delivering interesting emails only to your target audience will make you apply your time and money where you can get the expected return, which has a positive impact on your ROI. 

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Why is it important to implement an email verification service in your strategy?

When you build an email database, you surely want to have real people connected in your lists.

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