Deliverability, the percentage of email that gets through ISP filters, is an important metric commonly used by email marketers and service providers to measure success of campaigns. But it is just the tip of the iceberg for knowing what's really happening to email when it gets into your subscribers' mailboxes.
The inbox placement metric takes deliverability one step further by looking at actual inbox activity. Did your message go into the spam or junk folder? Was it delivered in a timely manner? This information is crucial for many brands, particularly those that send limited-time offers and need to get their mail delivered on time or risk losing a sale.
Deliverability is affected by bounces and anti-spam measures, and rates are based on the activity of your list. Inbox placement rates represent the percentage of emails that actually arrive at their destination, and should be used as a key metric instead of determining deliverability based only on bounce rates. After all, if you're not in the inbox during crucial selling points like the holidays your email isn't going to be seen and you're wasting your efforts.
What Goes Around, Comes Around
While the two metrics differ, each has its merit. Low deliverability can indicate poor history with an ISP, poor list hygiene, or consumer fatigue with your emails, which triggers excessive spam complaints, soft and hard bounces, and/or IP blocks. These issues present a real challenge, particularly in the fourth-quarter of the year, when ISPs are known to be more aggressive because of the increased amount of mail they have to process. So if you have a poor deliverability rate, you can probably guess you are mailing to inactive recipients, spam traps or sending irrelevant mail.
On the other hand, inbox placement rates correlate directly with email activity such as opens and clicks and your history of sending relevant messages that people don't mark as spam. When consumers want to receive your mail, you build your reputation as a sender. And when your IP reputation is good, ISPs are more inclined to let your future mail through to the inbox and you increase your chances to make a sale.
IP reputation is fragile, as we can see from what happened in the gifts/remembrances market sector around Valentine ’s Day. This sector's sending volumes tend to spike during certain holidays, and the days leading up to February 14 are among the highest spikes in the year. But many marketers in this sector who broadcast emails to the majority of their subscribers
Take the example of Red Envelope which was among those companies frequently broadcasting emails to the majority of their subscribers hoping to maximize revenue during this important season. Inbox placement by ISP for messages from "e.redenvelopegifts.com" considerably for Google for the week of Feb. 7-13. However successful they were, they definitely left money on the table because inbox placement sharply dropped at the most crucial time and in fact, it took weeks to recover.
Boosting Open Rates
There are a variety of ways to improve your deliverability and inbox placement metrics, with list hygiene, cadence control and segmentation being fundamental. You need to understand the historic behavior of your subscribers to keep your list up-to-date and willing to receive your messages. If you keep mailing to non-responders or complainers as part of your standard promotional stream—or worse, just add them back to your list this holiday season—you will hurt your IP reputation and in turn, decrease the amount of revenue you could generate from email.
Segmentation, which enables relevant messaging and timing, is essential to having good inbox placement. We compared the mailing activity of three online-only retailers—Buy.com, NewEgg, and Amazon—and determined that inbox placement and open rates correspond directly with how advanced their segmentation strategies are. Amazon uses highly evolved segmentation, sending very specific offers on very specific product categories based on the subscriber's most recent interaction, while Buy.com blasts most offers to their full list with high frequency. Not surprisingly, Buy.com experiences the most throttling, resulting in inbox-overlap, and has the lowest average inbox placement rates and the lowest average open rate of about 11%. Newegg's and Amazon's open rates are significantly higher, at 16.59% and 16.88% respectively.
Another sure-fire way to improve inbox placement is to send triggered or transactional messaging from the same domain IP as your regular promotional emails. These messages are sent based on a specific action (like a purchase) or event (e.g., when it's time to renew a subscription), so the emails are highly anticipated by the consumer. Since they are often opened, this will increase your overall reputation as a sender. Walmart does this effectively, sending abandoned cart reminders, order confirmations and other automatically triggered messages from the same sending domain as their general deployments.
Lastly, spend time on your subject lines. Using the recipient's first name is well worth a test, and including an urgent call-to-action with a short time limit will create immediate engagement. Remember, it's not about sending as many emails as possible, it's about increasing revenue by getting your emails in front of prospective buyers. So, to guarantee those that are really interested in receiving your messages get your email this holiday, don't waste your efforts.
G.B. Heidarsson is senior vice president of strategic initiatives at eDataSource.