A few weeks ago, I was invited to speak on a panel about email deliverability at the Campaigns and Marketing Summit. Speaking to an audience filled largely with political organizations (in Washington DC? You’re kidding!), the panel focused on how these groups can build their lists the right way, engage better and avoid the deliverability pitfalls that often create huge problems.
If you’re not the video watching type, here’s an overview of what we discussed:
Don’t Buy Lists
Good email marketing lists are filled with folks who subscribed to your mailing list. Purchased lists are often filled with bad email addresses, spam traps, honey pots, you name it.
Don’t Swap Lists
The quality of these lists *may* be better than purchased lists, but these subscribers still did NOT sign up for your list. I recommend against it.
Monitor Metrics and Look for Spikes
Most metrics suggest that on average, 30% of your email list will go bad in some way, shape, or form each year. People change jobs. People die.
Keep track of your opens and clicks. Establish benchmarks and look for downward spikes in these metrics. This could mean deliverability issues. Also keep track of your bounce rates, unsubscribed, and spam/abuse complaint rates. If you notice these numbers go up suddenly, you may have some issues with your list.
Taking this a step further, monitor these rates by domain. For example, if your list has a large percentage of, say, Gmail, you’ll want to monitor specific rates for your Gmail subscribers. Bad spikes here could hurt you at the domain level and cause damage to your overall reputation as well.
Find Ways to Re-Engage with Your Subscribers
Start small. Simply segment out your actives from your inactives. How you define actives and inactives depends on your frequency and business model. From there, send special email campaigns to inactives to generate interest.
Thanks again to Campaigns & Elections for the opportunity to speak at the conference.
You put so much work into your email marketing campaigns. Yet, it can be all for naught if it they never reach the inbox. If this sounds like you, perhaps you’ve been blacklisted.
Blacklists are comprised of IP addresses or domains that are blocked from accessing a specific network. There are numerous blacklists on the Internet. Some literally list every single email marketer alive (and possibly dead)—yet carry little to no weight at all with ISPs. Others should be avoided at all costs, including:
Domains and IP addresses with poor sender reputation are listed publicly here. Content reflecting spam and spam traps are monitored through this blacklist.
More than 200,000 companies use SORBS blacklist. Several ISPs and corporations all over the world use this blacklist as part of their filtering system for their networks. It recognizes undesirable senders through partner spam reports and spam traps.
SpamCop works as an email spam reporting service that captures senders involving in distributing unsolicited bulk or commercial email.
Actionable Tips to Avoid Blacklists
Follow email design best practices like maintaining proper text-to-image ratio and avoiding use of spam trigger words and shortened URLs in your campaigns.
Keep track of email metrics like opens, clicks, bounces, abuse/spam complaints, and spam trap hits.
Remove hard bounces and repeated soft bounces from your email list.
Assess your list frequently and monitor it through list validation service like Kickbox or Webbula.
Regularly check your feedback loops (FBLs).
Stay updated on the CAN SPAM Act guidelines and the parameters that spam filters and ISPs take into consideration while evaluating email marketing campaigns.
Need more expert insight into email deliverability and how to build and maintain your sender reputation? Download this eBook we put together with our friends at Inbox Pros.
Email marketers are constantly looking for ways to boost their email metrics—in particular, open rates and click-through rates. They do this by testing variables like subject lines, From Name, and calls to action, among others.
One test you may not have thought of is testing the effectiveness of a plain-text email vs. a normal HTML message with images. Can plain-text be more effective than images? Absolutely!
Let’s look at some reasons why:
1. Plain-text emails imply “intentionality.”
Plain-text emails can have the look of being a direct, purposeful email from an individual. This look can work well in driving engagement.
2. “Ugly sells.”
A boss of mine in a previous life used to say this to me all the time. Plain-text emails can be considered ugly, and draw the eye because it stands out from the “beautiful” emails that fill our inbox on any given day.
3. Plain-text emails are readable by all your subscribers.
Plain-text emails look the same for all subscribers. Therefore, you don’t generally have to stress over the formatting issues based on device.
4. Plain-text emails generally have better deliverability rates.
HTML, image-heavy emails require more bandwidth to load. Less load means fewer places that can raise red flags for spam filters.
NOTE: Well-coded HTML emails that abide by CAN-SPAM guidelines generally do not hamper your deliverability rate.
5. User preferences vary.
While some users would love the visual appeal created by HTML-based image emails, some subscribers strongly favor text emails. Studies how that plain-text emails are just as effective as HTML emails. This can be particularly true for onboarding or welcome emails that are sent to new subscribers who have just signed up.
6. Wearables are getting more popular.
Nowadays, more and more people are using wearables such as Apple watches. Plain-text emails work better than HTML emails on these devices, largely due to the limitations that wearables present in terms of rendering.
Before you jump into turning all of your emails into plain text (something I do NOT recommend), here are some best practices for your plain-text email marketing test campaigns.
Plain-Text and Text Version are NOT synonymous.
Just because you’re going with a plain-text look doesn’t mean you skip formatting altogether. You can still incorporate simple HTML elements into your campaign. Use bold, underline, italics and other simple formatting options to make certain portions of your message pop off the screen—most notably your main call to action. (As an alternative, square brackets or double angle brackets can also serve this function.)
Use clear headings for every section.
Break up different sections of content by using clear headings. Asterisks and dashed line can also separate each email section for easy readability.
Embed links or use shorter links. Also, don’t stack links together.
Consider embedding your links much like you would in-line text links in a normal HTML message. Otherwise, if you want your links to look like a text version of a message, make sure your links are shorter.
Make sure your links are not placed together (either next to or stacked on each other). Otherwise, you run the risk of encountering “Fat Thumb Syndrome” or having your links run together as one. These issues can ultimately damage the customer experience.
Space your email content evenly.
Every section of your email needs to be easily defined. Scannability and readability are key to success for plain-text emails.
Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Test simple, plain-text emails and see for yourself if you drive more opens, clicks, and conversions.
Here’s a cold reality about email marketing: Subscribers are going to lose interest in your messages (and maybe even your brand). This loss of interest is not a phenomenon to ignore either. So, how you get these folks to re-engage with you?
Here are some surefire tips on how to create a winning re-engagement email campaign to win back your inactive subscribers or customers.
Identify Your Inactive Subscribers
Start by identifying those subscribers who have been a part of your list for at least 6-12 months and have never engaged with your emails. Put them to one side in a separate segment or group. Decide whether to delete them altogether or throw them in with the next group we’ll talk about.
Then, identify subscribers who haven’t engaged with you in a set period of time. How you determine these factors comes down to:
Type of Behavior: Review the email, onsite and purchase behaviors of your subscribers, and base your identification methodology on the results. Note the number of opens or clicks as well as the number of purchases over a fixed period of time. Frequency: Base the timeframe on your email sending frequency. If you send monthly, you may decide a year or 6 months of inactivity is a proper timeframe. If you mail daily, your inactive group may start at 30 days of inactivity. If you’re somewhere in between, a good starting number may be 90 days of inactivity.
Once you determine what constitutes an “inactive” subscriber, you can move on to segmentation.
Segment Your Inactive Subscribers
Once you have identified your inactive subscribers, segment them out of your normal list. For this segment, create relevant content to run innovative and exclusive re-engagement campaigns.
You can further segment your inactive subscribers based on the following criteria:
Social Profile Activity
Their Last Interaction with You
Do Something Different
Re-engagement campaigns need to be radically different. If your “special” emails look and feel too much like your regular campaigns, they are just as likely to be ignored.
Create emails that jolt your inactive subscribers out of their slumber. Use a different tone which grips them and makes them read. Include never-before-seen offers that catch their eye and arouse in them a sense of excitement. Here are some things you can change or add in your re-engagement emails:
Tone and style of the email content as well as that of the subject line
Personalized messages and salutations
The term “We Miss You” (or some derivative of it)
Different offers, discounts, & incentives
Videos and cheat sheets
Links and prominent CTAs buttons
Give Them A Way Out
Simply put: An unsubscribe is better than a spam complaint. They essentially mean the same thing, but complaints hurt you much more in the long run.
In your re-engagement campaigns, provide your recipients with easy, obvious ways to unsubscribe. Include a big, bold and prominent unsubscribe button in all your re-engagement emails if you want.
There is no point in holding back someone who doesn’t want to be part of your business.
Re-engagement emails can help to convince your inactive subscribers about your brand value and the benefits they stand to gain by coming back to your “family”.
Want expert help in setting up your re-engagement campaigns? Contact InboxArmy now for a free consultation.
What happens if your emails don’t make it to the inbox?
No matter how innovative your design, content, and testing strategies are, they don’t matter if your emails don’t get delivered. So, how can you ensure your emails get delivered? By building and maintaining a solid, positive sender reputation.
Your sender reputation determines whether the email you send is delivered to subscribers’ inboxes, spam folders, or, frankly, at all. Sender reputation essentially refers to how trustworthy your domain(s) and IP addresses (the infrastructure behind your email marketing program) are to spam filters and Internet Service Providers (ISPs). This reputation is determined by a number of factors, including:
Sending domain authentication (is your SPF/DKIM/CNAME set up correctly?)
The volume of emails being sent from your domain/IP address
Positive engagement with your emails (opens, clicks, etc.)
Negative engagement with your emails (spam filtering, deletes without opens, complaints)
Remember this: Every email you send can affect your overall reputation in a positive or negative way.
Sender reputation is crucial for delivery—and delivery is essential for a successful email marketing program. So, let’s take a look at what you can do to develop and maintain a positive reputation and best avoid potential email deliverability issues.
Learn what you’re starting with now
If you’re coming to this article truly in the dark about how your domain or IP addresses are performing, start here: Go to Senderscore.org and type in your domain or IP. If your score is high, great! If your score is low, you’ve got work to do.
Build and Manage Your Email List the Right Way
First thing’s first: Build your email list organically. Don’t buy lists.
Now that we have that out of the way, here are some other ways you can maintain your list:
Remove bad email addresses: If you need to, employ double opt-in procedures and bring in list verification/validation services (from Webbula, BriteVerify, Kickbox, or FreshAddress, to name a few)
Monitor and manage spam complaints: Treat these like unsubscribes. Continually mailing to folks who’ve marked you as spam will only make them continue to mark you as spam. And more spam complaints can spell doom to reputation.
Separate “Active” subscribers from “Inactive” subscribers: Treat these subscribers differently. Mail your actives more. Mail your inactives less. If necessary, remove inactives from your list altogether.
Clean your list periodically: If your list is reasonably new, you don’t have to worry as much. But if you have subscribers on your list from 5 years ago, it’s time to make sure those email addresses are still valid. The same folks I mentioned in the bullet above offer list hygiene services.
Send Great Content
Make sure your email content is relevant, mobile-friendly, and code-perfect. If your reputation is borderline, you may want to avoid spammy words and phrases like “guarantee,” “free,” and others. Test frequently and find what works best for your subscribers. There is no “silver bullet” and no “best time to send.”
If you got subscribers to sign up by offering weekly emails, send weekly. If you said you were going to send daily, send daily. Whatever you do, make sure your email send frequency matches the expectations you set at the beginning. A big uptick in frequency (beyond the occasional holiday sale or the like) can spell long-term trouble for programs seeking short-term gain.
Ideally, a solid reputation means you should see this in your metrics:
Very low bounce rates
Very low complaint and unsubscribe rates
Solid open and click-through rates
Happy subscribers and great conversion rates for you!