Don’t burst your Deliverability balloon & keep emails from being junked

It’s obvious; a building block to effective email marketing is excellent inbox placement. If you don’t make it to the inbox your chances of a response drop dramatically. The numbers speak for themselves. Here are some tips to join the top privileged group of senders with high inbox placement.

It’s obvious; a building block to effective email marketing is excellent inbox placement. If you don’t make it to the inbox your chances of a response drop dramatically. The numbers speak for themselves. ReturnPath reports that there are senders who receive 98%+ inbox placement. These senders get just 0.03% of their emails classified as spam by their customers.

On the other hand, senders who have skipped a class or two on Email Marketing have complaints rates ten times higher (0.33%) and resulting in 20% of their email failing to get to the inbox, according to ReturnPath.

If you look and act like spam, you’ll be treated like spam. The link between complaints and inbox placement is undeniable.
So you can join the top privileged group of senders, here are some tips.

Make emails look, read and feel better than spam

The first thing to fix is not to give your consumers a reason to complain about the emails coming from you in the first place. Besides not recognising the sender and not remembering ever signing up for this content, the other top two reasons for complaints are “too many emails” and “content/brand no longer relevant”.

This chart from the DMA consumer survey tells us why people complain.

Make sure you use the same name which the subscriber saw when signing up. The same goes for branding and design of your email. The subscriber should recognise relevant emails almost instantly; this is a challenge if using 3rd party data. When was the last time you wasted your time figuring out something that didn’t seem like worth spending time on? Not many subscribers have that luxury.

In a myriad of emails we receive daily, there are emails that are welcome and receiving them frequently is not an issue at all. In short the email we want, such as daily deal emails you signed up for.

Volume, value and frequency

But when does ‘many’ become ‘far too many’? That’s easy; when volume exceeds the value it delivers. You don’t have to worry about pestering your consumers with emails if you’re confident they bring them desired value.

Once you get a subscriber sign up, make sure your name doesn’t get forgotten. Send an immediate welcome email which strongly connects your name and branding to your website branding and the branding of emails that follow on after welcome.

Another thing to keep in mind is to not to leave big gaps between emails. You cannot expect people to remember something they read a couple of months ago. Do you remember what you ate last Wednesday or what you read in the newspaper ten days ago? No? Then why should your consumers remember everything you had to offer a while back? Instead, try to figure out an acceptable frequency.

To make you stand out among other emails your consumers receive, it’s best to improve the relevance of your content. But for when the customer has moved on from your brand, accept the fact and try to get the subscriber unsubscribe rather than hit junk.

That means make the unsubscribe link easily visible and accessible. You can even put it at the top of your email aside from the usual position at the bottom which will save the unengaged subscriber time and you from ending up in junk.

The Deliverability balloon – make sure you don’t burst

Image by Bob Prosser (cc)

High complaint rates are the biggest single cause of decreased inbox delivery, but they are not the only one, and this is where we get to the proverbial balloon. Too much air in the balloon and it bursts, leaving you in junk.

Clients often ask me for a full-proof recipe for creating a junk-resistant email pattern. They are under the impression that using DKIM or ensuring plenty of text as well as images will save them from the spam folder.

The truth is many individual issues contribute a puff of air into the deliverability balloon. Here no single puff will be the last straw and burst the balloon, but it’s the sum of the puffs put together.

Let’s focus for a moment on a list of things that cause another blow of air into the balloon.

  1. Data source and collection practice
  2. Poor bounce management
  3. Poor complaint feedback loop management
  4. Content issues
  5. Poor data management
  6. Infrequent emailing
  7. Lack of authentication (SPF, DKIM)

The number one point is data source and collection practice. Depending on how the recipient sees you and their state of relationship with you your email will be read or go to spam.
Be careful about being clear on what a customer gets by providing their email address; is it only for a quote or something more? Perhaps some marketing, too? Should you fail to clarify that right at the beginning, you’re risking spam complaints, even more so with purchased data.
The first place to look when delivery is a challenge is your data, not your content or sending infrastructure. Here are some data questions to be considered:

  • Where did your data come from? From organic sign ups, competitions, purchases?
  • How was expectation set in terms of how the address would be used and what would be sent?
  • Has any old data been reintroduced?
  • Has data always been well managed?
  • Has unsubscribed data been accidentally re-introduced?
  • Has the unsubscribe process stopped working?
  • Has purchased data been used at any point?
  • Are hard and soft bounces being removed?

If you have squeaky clean data and emails are expected by recipients, then your balloon should not burst. The other factors such as content play a part, but typically only in combination with poor data hygiene.

Editors note: Tim has a great newsletter with strategy advice, tactics and real case studies. Highly recommended. You can sign up to it here.

Tim Watson

Tim Watson is an independent email marketing consultant at Zettasphere providing strategic guidance, to deliver improved campaign results. A member of the DMA Email Council and chair of the DMA Email Best Practice hub. He actively promotes email and frequently speaks on the subject and how to improve use of the channel.