E-commerce Link: Don’t Tarnish Your Reputation!
Email deliverability is still a major challenge for marketers. If emails are diverted to a junk folder or just go missing, a marketer loses the opportunity to engage the recipient or generate transactions. In the old days (maybe a year ago), the emphasis was on content filters and we vetted subject lines along with our creative to make sure emails would make it into the inbox.
We were careful about our bounce processing, because we knew that ISPs evaluated list hygiene and might either block emails that had high bounce rates or deliver them to a bulk folder. We sent emails from a dedicated IP address so we had better control of our deployments. In addition, we applied for feedback loops so we would be notified of spam complaints and remove them from our lists.
Most marketers also used one or more methods of authentication to create a valid identity that would be recognized by ISPs and large corporate mail handlers. While SPF (Sender Policy Framework) and Sender ID were the easiest to implement, many of the email service providers made it relatively easy to deploy DomainKeys and DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail).
We thought all of these initiatives were complex. They took time and effort to implement. Now, the rules of the road are changing.
The New Email
The newest wrinkle is that user behavior can affect deliverability—particularly for consumer mailers.
Many ISPs now calculate a mailer's reputation based on how many email messages are opened and/or clicked. If too many recipients do not open or click, your email may be routed to a bulk folder even if you are white-listed. Conversely, even if you've had higher spam complaints, your email may be delivered to the primary inbox if your opens or clicks are strong.
Here are some examples, although ISPs are constantly changing algorithms and these may already have changed:
- AOL looks at when the customer last opened an email from sender.
- Yahoo! uses opens and clicks as the primary criteria. If opens are less than 8 percent, a mailer is likely to be blocked.
- Hotmail and Windows Live Mail use opens, time spent on the email and whether the message was deleted without being read.
This means that marketers must strive for relevancy. If recipients ignore emails, this can affect your effectiveness, your reputation and your inbox placement.
What Marketers Can Do to Improve Deliverability Rates
First, marketers should examine their email metrics by ISP. Most email service providers make it easy to look at this data. You may find that results are good for most ISPs, but there may be one or two ISPs where you see underperformance. This is a starting point. If there is an isolated problem, you can come up with a strategy to address the issue.
Second, and most importantly, you will want to examine your inactives. Those who have not opened or clicked on emails in a four-month or longer timeframe could penalize you, particularly if you have a high percentage of inactives. You may have a big problem if more than 40 percent of your recipients are inactive.
It is important to implement a reactivation strategy. There are many ways to develop a win-back plan and increase your potential for trouble-free delivery. Here are some ideas:
• Provide the ability to reduce frequency in your preference center. It is better to preserve the right to communicate once a month than to lose individuals or have them dormant.
• Ask readers to update their preferences. If you send different types of emails or have topic-specific emails, let them tell you what is of most interest to them.
• Offer a welcome back incentive that is directed only to inactives.
• Decide to communicate less often with this segment.
• Analyze demographics, firmographics and the acquisition source. Can you discern any patterns? For example, if a good amount of your list came from contests, perhaps they are not interested in your emails.
• Mail a postcard, because a different marketing channel might strengthen your connection.
• Send on different days of the week when they might be more receptive.
• Try different styles in your email's subject line.
• Test different formats. It's possible that recipients are reading your emails on a mobile device and they don't display well in this environment.
And, when all else fails, send consumers an email telling them they will be removed from your list unless they indicate they would like to remain. After all, although the cost of sending email is low, you are still paying to be in touch with everyone on your list. Let's say that you have 100,000 inactives on your list and you pay $0.005 to send emails and you send 10 emails per month, which results in a cost of $5,000 a month or $60,000 a year to send to inactives. They are dead weight and do nothing to drive traffic or sales. Moreover, your metrics will improve as will your deliverability.
Email reputation is a complex topic and I've only touched on some of the high points. But, for some additional help, check out the free online tool offered by Return Path's SenderScore.org. It requires registration and will give you a quick report card of your SenderScore reputation.