How do you get your messages into the inbox — and not the spam folder? Chief Marketer talked with several industry pros to get their thoughts on email deliverability trends and best practices.
KNOW WHAT YOUR AUDIENCE EXPECTS FROM YOU — AND THEN GIVE IT TO THEM.
“Your email list isn't just a mailing list, it is your clientele, and you can't just act like you're trying to attract people standing on a street corner,” says Robert Consoli, director of deliverability and provisioning services, SilverPop. “You need to understand what recipients want or you won't get those messages through.”
Don't vary from your written policies, Consoli notes. “If you say you're going to send emails once a month, don't start sending three times a week.”
Chip House, senior director of relationship marketing, ExactTarget, shares a finding from recent research his company did with 1,500 consumers about why they “break up” with a brand's email communications. The reason, House says, is usually because of the marketer's behavior. They start sending emails too often, or send content that doesn't meet the consumer's expectations.
“Email is an ongoing exchange, and if you're not living up to [expectations], you're going to have issues,” says House. “That's the basic thing that most marketers do wrong that gets them into problems with deliverability.
“Marketers need to honor subscribers' wants and needs for channel, content and frequency,” he says. “Email is no longer a static thing you just send and hope people open.”
KEEP YOUR READERS ENGAGED.
While consumer patience with messages they don't open or like hasn't gotten any worse, the mechanisms are there for them to automatically route your messages to a bulk or spam folder, and that is the kiss of death for an email marketing relationship.
And as engagement becomes more of a consideration factor for ISPs, it might not even be the consumer who starts rerouting those messages. If a consumer hasn't opened your emails for several months, those emails may start being sent automatically to a bulk folder — even though the recipient never actually opted-out or marked your email as spam, Consoli notes.
The industry trend is obviously toward consumers having more control in what email they see in their inboxes, House notes. With features such as Gmail's priority inbox, consumers can give the senders whose messages they value the most preferential treatment.
Thus, it is more essential than ever to get people to open and click through to your messages. In light of this, if an unengaged consumer unsubscribes, that can be a good thing, because unsubscribing is a form of engagement. “This helps you remove the bad portions of your list that could be dragging you down,” notes House.
KEEP YOUR REPUTATION CLEAN.
Having a good reputation, of course, means following industry best practices. Make sure you have consent before you start mailing someone, and have a clear opt-out option should they no longer want to hear from you, notes Consoli. Make sure the domain you are sending from is authenticated, and don't attempt to mask the domain from the recipient.
One of the main things that impacts reputation is complaints from consumers, says Tonya Mitchell, a consultant in the professional services team at Return Path. “If you're messages aren't relevant, recipients will start hitting the spam button and that will make your reputation suffer.”
The receivers — the ISPs (Internet service providers) and mailbox providers, as well the mailbox owners themselves — use a variety of reputation-based criteria, according to Tom Sather, director of professional services at Return Path. In the cases of the ISPs and mailbox providers, these can include whether an IP address is known for sending messages to deactivated email addresses, or addresses that have been set up specifically as spam traps. Messages sent to these “unknown user” addresses can raise the likelihood of being labeled spam, increasing the chance they'll be diverted before reaching an e-mailbox.
Deliverability varies based on a mailer's sender reputation score. Those with top scores — between 91 and 100 — can expect about 88% of their messages to reach inboxes. But those with sender scores in the range of 61 to 70 may have up to a quarter of their messages blocked, according to Return Path's recent analysis of ISP deliverability data.