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By: Ben Bauks
Your SPF (Sender Policy Framework) record is a public DNS (Domain Name System) record that specifies the server(s) that you trust to send email messages on your behalf, such as those belonging to your web host or any number of third-party email service providers (ESPs), including Act! emarketing. A non-existent or incorrectly configured SPF record will negatively affect the deliverability of your emails. Messages may show up in the recipients' junk/spam folders or, in the case of Gmail, the "Promotions" tab. In addition, failing to publish an SPF record allows spammers to send emails to thousands, even millions, of people while making it appear as though the messages were sent by your company. Needless to say, this will lead to a barrage of complaints and a damaged reputation. Having an SPF record will help to maximize your inbox placement, avoid embarrassing situations, and reduce your risk of being blacklisted as a spammer by Spamhaus and the like.
SPF records are designed to combat spam. As you know, whenever you send an email, there's a "To" address and a "From" address. The problem is that the sender can put any email address in the "From" field. Spammers typically use from-address forgery to cover their tracks, and if they choose to forge an email address containing your company's domain, then you're the one who will get blamed for sending spam, and you're going to have a difficult time rectifying the situation and restoring your sender reputation. (Ask anyone who's been through it.)
An SPF record's purpose is to prevent unauthorized people from using your email address as the sender. When you send an email, the server that handles mail for the recipient will usually check to see if you have an SPF record, and then it will make sure that the message originated from your authorized server. If not, then the message will be rejected (i.e., it will be labeled as "spam"). Some servers don't do an SPF check, so in that case, your message would get through, but in our current world of aggressive anti-spam initiatives, it would be rare for a mail server to ignore SPF records.
Not having an SPF record is a common mistake made among email marketing beginners, but when they've learned enough to be dangerous, they tend to make another common mistake, which is having multiple SPF records. While it's okay to use more than one ESP if necessary or desired, you're not supposed to have more than one SPF record. When using multiple services, you should append the appropriate information to your existing SPF record, as opposed to creating a new one for each service.
Your SPF record is a text record that you add to your collection of DNS records. It contains a list of IP addresses and hosts that are permitted to send email on behalf of your domain. An SPF record can be written in different ways depending on what you'd like to achieve, but it should always begin with "v=spf1" to indicate the version of SPF being used. (There's only one version available at this time.) In most cases, you needn't be bothered with the details of SPF record syntax, as your ESP will tell you exactly what you need to add to your DNS records, and all you have to do is copy and paste.
To edit your DNS records, you'll need to log in to your account with your domain registrar (Namecheap, GoDaddy, etc.) or your DNS hosting service (CloudFlare, Google DNS, etc.) and find the page where you can add records. The type of record that you should add is called "TXT." Then simply copy and paste the SPF information given to you by your ESP. If you decide to use more ESPs in the future, you can just add their information to the record that you already have.
It's important to be aware that SPF is normally used in conjunction with another email-related DNS record called DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) to improve deliverability rates and sender trustworthiness. As with SPF, your ESP should also provide you with the necessary information for your DKIM record, along with instructions on how to set it up (it's similar to how you set up the SPF record).