Monday Mornings with Madison

Effective Email Marketing in 2014 – Part 1

Factors That Impact Email Deliverability

Many marketers feel that email marketing has a better return on investment than pay-per-click advertising, content marketing, social media, offline direct marketing, affiliate marketing, online display advertising, and even mobile marketing.  Perhaps that’s because 91% of consumers check their email at least once a day.  It would explain why about two-thirds of in-house corporate marketers rate emails as having “excellent” or “good” ROI..  In fact, it is estimated that email marketing has an ROI of 4,300%.  Even if that percentage is grossly exaggerated, it is hard to deny that emails are an invaluable and cost-effective marketing vehicle for most businesses.

However, recent research also shows that average inbox placement rates stand at about 76.5% globally.  On average, one out of every four emails does not get delivered to its inbox. That applies just to emails where the email address used by the sender is complete, current and correct, and does not even factor in email addresses that aren’t delivered because the email address used by the sender is incorrect, outdated or incomplete. That is because there are approximately 1.5 trillion spam email messages being broadcast every day. The challenge for ISPs has been and continues to be how to identify (and eliminate) that volume without preventing ‘permissioned’ email activity.  Therefore, most major Internet Service Providers are using new strategies and metrics to guide email deliverability. The focus on email deliverability is no longer just about punishing ‘bad’ emails and unprincipled email senders (a/k/a Spammers).  ISPs are now considering also how to reward ‘good’ emails and compliant email senders.  Given the potential value of email marketing and the problems with email deliverability, it is important for every business and manager to be aware of the major factors impacting email deliverability today and understand legitimate, proven ways to improve that deliverability.

Key Factors Impacting Email Deliverability Today

The email deliverability challenge has gone through big changes. There are four important indicators for businesses implementing email campaigns to monitor in order to maintain a healthy level of deliverability.

1.  Reputation.  Reputation.  Reputation.

The sender’s reputation (reputation as an email sender) has become the cornerstone impacting email deliverability.  The primary factors that influence sender reputation metrics — infrastructure, data quality, and complaints — represent the core factors that email senders should monitor.

2.  Subscriber Engagement:  The Smart Inbox.

Subscriber (email recipient) behaviors are playing a rising role in determining the visibility / deliverability of a sender’s emails.  ISPs are looking at engagement data to understand whether subscribers are interacting positively or negatively with their emails.

For example, Gmail’s Priority Inbox measures how users interact with emails from different senders, and decides if those emails should be considered priority.  Emails from friends and colleagues are flagged as priority emails, and appear at the top of the inbox.

Other ISPs such as Hotmail, Yahoo! and AOL have all followed suit.

So what defines engagement?  Here is what the smart inbox is considering.  Did the subscriber open the email from that sender?  Did the subscriber forward the email?  Did the subscriber reply to the email?  Did the subscriber click on a link in the email?  Did the subscriber request more information from the sender?  Etc.  This data is playing an increasingly important role in determining the placement and positioning of emails.  If a subscriber never opens, replies, forwards, or engages with the sender, eventually those emails will end up either bouncing or in the SPAM folder.

Categorizing email by ISPs is becoming increasingly sophisticated.  For example, there is now a category of email that is somewhere between permitted and SPAM.  This is known as Graymail. Graymail is typically email such as newsletters, blog posts and offers which were originally wanted, and perhaps are still wanted, but not necessarily right now. It is estimated that graymail represent 50% of all inbox traffic today, and is the source of 75% of all SPAM complaints.  ISPs are combating Graymail through a combination of techniques, including:

• A special category for the automatic placement of “newsletters” or “blogs”, etc.

• One-click unsubscribe facility

• Scheduled cleanups

• Flagging system for important emails

• User-created custom categories

3.   Email Filters

Email filtering processes emails in order to organize it according to specified criteria. Filtering software automatic processes incoming messages.  The filter might pass the message through unchanged for delivery to the subscriber’s mailbox.  It might redirect the message for delivery elsewhere.  Or, it might even trash the message. Some mail filters are even able to edit messages during processing.  Email filters keep out of a lot of email, and if the sender is not pre-approved, email marketing to subscribers with filters is a waste of time and money.

4.  Dreaded Blacklists

Blacklists contain records of email marketing activity that has been identified as spam-like in nature. ISPs, spam filter vendors, and domain administrators use this information as a guideline to determine whether they will process or reject incoming emails. Many spam filter vendors also operate their own individual blacklists.

There are several different ways in which an email sender can become blacklisted.

• RbL (Real-time blacklist)

• DNSbL (Domain Name Server blacklist)

• SURbL (Spam URL Real-time blacklist)

The bad news is that an email sender can be reported directly to a blacklist operator, even if the sender is truly trying to do permission-based emails. Some blacklists are also managed independently of consumer feedback, with the lists being populated on the basis of the blacklist operator’s own observations and expertise.

The good news is that there are a number of web-based tools that an email sender can use to identify whether its email campaigns have been blacklisted.  If blacklisting is identified, there are ways to get the listing removed from the blacklist.  Of course, it is important to ensure that best practices are applied to the way that email addresses are sourced so that the sender is not blacklisted again.

That brings us to how to avoid blacklists and spam filters and achieve a good reputation and maximize engagement.  Stay tuned next week for best practices for email campaigns and legitimate, proven ways to improve deliverability.

Quote of the Week

“Build digital relationships and reputation before closing a sale.” Chris Brogan

© 2014, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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