In light of the upcoming Email Evolution Conference 2016 in New Orleans at the end of March/early April, I thought I would share some of the lessons we learned from last year’s EEC.
4 Largest ISPs Speak as One
Represented by Paul Rock, Matthew Molesky, Sri Somanchi and John Scarrow (AOL, Comcast, Gmail and Outlook, respectively) the major ISPs gave us invaluable insight into what they consider important when it comes to engagement, reputation and individual preferences, and here are some of our favorite insights they shared:
• Authentication Is King: Security, legitimacy and authenticity should be taken for granted. If the sender’s security policies aren’t up-to-scratch (ie. having SPF, DKIM and DMARC records in place) their emails will not reach the inbox.
• Deliverability Is Personal: Forget the "one-size-fits-all" rationale. The overall message of last year’s conference was that deliverability takes into account personal preference and actions. In other words, individual behavior. Though we have sender reputation and inboxing as two separate concepts — combined, they comprise deliverability as a whole.
Whereas you have an outstanding reputation as a sender, specific messages may still land in a spam/junk/clutter folder for some recipients, because somehow the receiver’s behavior has indicated that to them individually this message isn’t important. Engagement doesn’t affect reputation, but it does affect individual inboxing.
• Clicks? What Clicks? All four ISPs admitted to not tracking clicks, and that clicks have no impact on engagement. The reason behind them not doing so is that they consider tracking clicks as a violation of the privacy of users.
This is an interesting point because to marketers, clicks are still considered one of the strongest measures of engagement, and we think they shouldn’t be excluded from reports so swiftly. However, the big four have some other interesting, very sensible ways of measuring engagement.
• So What’s Engagement Based On, Then? They all agreed on seven signals of engagement that play a vital part in telling whether an email is relevant or is spam:
- Bad Signals, delete without opening, move to junk. Both actions signal a lack of interest from the receiver in the email; thus, they’re considered strong negative signals. With AOL in particular, two "move to junk" actions are enough to send future emails from a particular sender straight to the spam folder for that sender.
- Good Signals. Add to address book, reply, open, mark as "Not Spam" or move it to a folder. Replying to an email is one of the strongest possible signals of engagement, alongside adding the sender to the address book and moving the message from spam to the inbox, or from the inbox to a custom folder. It means there’s a lot of interest in the emails in question; therefore, sending positive signals to the ISPs about the sender.
Outlook revealed that among these seven signals, only flagging the message as spam hinders the overall reputation of the sender. The rest will have an impact on inbox personalization for each single individual. For the other ISPs, all signals have an impact on inbox personalization and reputation.
• Inactives? Let It Be: The only way inactive users can directly affect a sender’s reputation is when they mark messages as spam. As mentioned previously, even a good reputation isn’t a guarantee of messages landing in the inbox. Without engagement, messages may not inbox.
• Ramp-up With Gmail: Gmail stated that to it, IP warm-up follows a simple stage: send ones, then tens, then hundreds, thousands and so on. Their system will soon "get to know" the sender, and it is happy days from then on. When warming up with AOL, we noticed a similar behavior from the ISP. It’d initially bounce anything over a few hundred emails, no questions asked. Once lowering the number to a few tens, emails would start reaching their intended destinations.
With all of this in mind, we can expect more brilliant insights from ISPs in this year’s conference. We’ll be commenting on and scrutinizing everything they say, so watch this space.
Related story: Born-Again Subject Lines