Maximizing Deliverability

The Key to Optimum Email Deliverability

“What’s the best way to stay on top of our reputation and delivery?” That's one of the more popular questions we get from clients, and the answer is a simple one: reporting. Solving deliverability problems can be complicated, but identifying them is just the opposite. That's why it's important to have access to detailed deliverability reporting that enables you to easily monitor all messages being sent from your brand. Having access to the right reports allows you to not only see where you may be having issues, but also identify trends over time.

If you're only actively monitoring opens and clicks, you need to expand the data you track to include bounces (hard and soft) and complaints. By monitoring these key factors, you should have a fairly good understanding of your overall reputation. This data can also give you some crucial feedback on your list acquisition and maintenance policies.

If you continue to see high complaint or hard bounce rates, then you most likely need to take a look at your list acquisition practices. You can start by asking yourself a few questions. Are you requiring recipients to confirm their email address when they sign-up to receive your mailings? Are you setting realistic expectations on when and how often your recipients will hear from you? And, are you processing the bounces and complaints as soon as you receive them?

You should also remember that opens and clicks aren't just an indicator of campaign performance – they can offer some insight into your sender reputation as well. Have you seen a recent or sudden decline in your open or click rates? If so, this could be an indication that your messages have started going to the spam/bulk folder. Using a deliverability tool with a seedlist-based inbox monitor like StrongView's StrongDelivery Tools can help to confirm your suspicions.

Poor sender reputation is one of the top reasons that ISPs will deliver your email to the bulk folder, which is proprietary blend of complaint, bounce and engagement rates. If you have low open and click rates, ISPs will factor that into your reputation, which can cause them to eventually de-prioritize the delivery of your messages. This de-prioritization can come in the form of slowing the rate at which they will accept your mail, lowering volume limits of mail that they will accept, or delivering your messages to the bulk folder.

There are many aspects to email delivery, and unfortunately, the ISPs aren’t completely transparent when it comes to their filtering and reputation systems. However, that no excuse not to do what's within your control - and that includes getting access to detailed deliverability reporting and actively monitoring it to identify issues.

Posted by: Sean Wirt at 2:28 PM
Categories: email, email deliverability,

The Deliverability Cost of Buying Email Lists

There are many components to a successful email marketing campaign, but one stands alone in its ability to make or break your results – deliverability. You can nail the offer and creative, but if your message doesn't get to the intended recipient, it's all in vain. With the critical role that deliverability plays in email marketing success, it only makes sense to think twice about doing anything to jeopardize it – which leads me to email list brokers.

One of the other components to email marketing success is the size of your list, and if your list is on the lean side, it might be tempting to boost your numbers by purchasing a list. If you've ever been to an industry trade show, you know there are tons of companies willing to sell you lists. But before you give in, you need to consider what such an act could do to your deliverability.

Email list brokers will tell you that their data is fresh and clean – full of happy consumers who have willingly signed up to get as many offers as possible from third-party companies. This sounds great, but how many people do you know who would be a part of such an implausible group? If there was any question about the often dubious origins of the data, consider the email I recently received from a data aggregation company that I'll refer to as "Info Corp."

In the pitch, InfoCorp informed me that they had created an online profile for me using an automated process to scrape information from web sources, as well as from its "InfoCorp community." The message went on to say that it would like to send me information about interesting products and services from its business partners, and that it would occasionally share my email address with them if they thought their information might be relevant to me.

You might be thinking "who would opt-in to such an arrangement?" Unfortunately, you're asking the wrong question. I doubt anyone would opt-in, which is why the email from InfoCorp was a courtesy message to allow me to opt-out. If I did nothing, they would proceed with sharing my information with a host of business partners that I had no control over. Fortunately, I managed to see the message and opt-out, but I'm guessing many others didn't due to the poor inbox delivery that goes part-and-parcel with sending unsolicited email.

With engagement being one of the key factors affecting email deliverability, marketers must be very careful with how they grow their lists. Organic growth can be slow, but it's the best way to acquire the type of engaged subscribers that will lead to a positive sending reputation with the ISPs. Instead of purchasing email lists, what about investing in engaging email programs that entice customers to interact with your brand? Or how about integrating social sharing and referral marketing programs into your campaigns to allow your subscribers to help build your lists with like-minded customers?

Buying an email list might be cheap, but the deliverability cost of sending unwanted email to unsuspecting consumers can be very high. And based on the message I received from InfoCorp, there are a lot of unsuspecting consumers out there. In the end, your sender reputation is key to the success of your email programs, so consider carefully any activity that might affect your future ability to get to the inbox.

Posted by: Sean Wirt at 2:29 PM
Categories: email, email lists, buying email list

Is There A Best Time to Send Email?

I recently read an interesting blog article by Christian Schappel over at titled "3 Things You Need to Know Before Hitting 'Send.'" In the post, Christian discusses the results of a recent study that tries to uncover the best time to send email. Of course whether there actually is a best time of day is an ongoing topic of debate within the email marketing industry.
Experts will publish these blanket recommendations and then everyone begins sending email at that time – ultimately causing the opposite effect. So when you see a recommendation to send between 8:00 and 9:00 AM – the best time to send your email is any other time of the day!
Determining the best time to send your email is very unique and specific to your brand and your vertical. With the emergence of Flash Commerce, many brands are beginning to “own” a moment in the inbox. This moment is largely dictated by their business model and the expectations of their subscribers – consumers are creatures of habit; they get used to seeing messages they want and expect – at a specific moment.
To determine the best time for you to send your messages, you need to ask yourself a few questions:
Who is my audience?
The demographics and psychographics of your customer can help you to understand their potential email behavior. For example, are they working moms that are checking their email from work – or do they wait until they get home and the kids are all in bed?
Does my business warrant or require a specific moment?
For Flash Commerce sites – getting the email into the consumers hands first thing in the morning plays in to the urgency of these limited-time offers. Does your business require that?
Does your offer warrant a specific moment?
Maybe you don’t need to send ALL of your email at the same time of day every week – it could be that you have an offer or a singular program that is time-sensitive.
When are the majority of recipients opening your email?
If you are sending first thing in the morning and most of your opens happen late in the evening, you may want to consider sending a little later. It will keep you nearer to the top of the inbox, potentially increasing your ability to get the message opened and seen.
Ultimately, in order to discern the best time for you to send your email, you need to test it. And keep testing it. Because the reality is that it is a moving target that can be greatly impacted by the time of day decisions that other brands are making as they hit your customers’ inboxes.

Posted by: Sean Wirt at 11:13 AM
Categories: time, email, send email

The Deliverability Challenge Introduced by Email Receipts for In-Store Purchases

One of the current hot topics in the world of deliverability right now stems from email receipts that retailers are adopting for in-store purchases. If you've bought anything in a larger retail chain in the last couple of months, you likely know what I'm talking about. As you're completing your transaction at the check-out counter, the sales associate asks if you would prefer to have a printed receipt or have a digital receipt emailed to you. In a lot of ways, this makes sense.  The consumer has one less receipt to keep track of in their wallet or lost in the bottom of a shopping bag, and an email receipt makes it instantly searchable in their inbox if they need to reference it later on. This all sounds perfect. If only it were so.

Veteran email marketing journalist Ken Magill has reported that some retailers are taking an email deliverability hit because of typos that are occurring when sales associates enter a customer's email address. Here's the problem. These typos have caused Spamhaus, the well-known anti-spam crusader and blocklist provider, to begin blocking email sent from typo-affected retailers.  One prominent example is The Gap's recently inclusion on Spamhaus' blocklist, which is being attributed to these typoed email addresses.

What's happening is that Spamhaus operates a number of spamtrap or "typo-trap" domains that are variations of popular online brands. The idea is these typo-traps allow Spamhaus to identify senders with bad data collection processes.  It would be one thing if the typoed email receipt was the only message to hit the typo-trap; the trouble starts if the retailer automatically signs up that bad email address for ongoing marketing promotions. The continual mailing to these addresses can kick you onto Spamhaus' blocklist.  So what do you do?

You may not agree with Spamhaus putting legitimate brands on their blocklist for the bad email captures at point of sale (and many marketers don't), but if you want to ensure your messages get delivered there are a couple of things you can do to help – and some you should be doing anyway.

If you currently use email receipts at retail locations (or are thinking about it), you should invest in a system that can identify bad domains at the point of capture. If the sales associated is immediately warned of a bad domain when they input it into the system, they can either correct it or ask the consumer to confirm the correct address. The other option is to have the device require double entry. Not only will these tactics help keep you off blocklists, it will also ensure the consumer gets the receipt.

If you want to be able to add the email address you collected for future email promotions, you can consider using a confirmed opt-in (COI) process where the customer has to respond to a confirmation email before they begin receiving email communications. This also puts the consumer in control of whether they want to receive email communications from you after an in-store sale, which can reduce complaints from customers who weren't properly informed that they would be receiving marketing messages as a result of the email receipt.

You can also choose to only use the email address once to send the receipt and not save it to your database. You lose out on this information, but you also don't risk continuing to email to a bad address.

Consumers seem to be embracing the email receipt for in-store purchases, so marketers need to be strategic about the best way to implement it that won't affect their overall marketing efforts – either by turning off customers or getting put on a blocklist that could potentially affect email marketing promotions across their entire customer base.

Posted by: Sean Wirt at 11:47 AM
Categories: email receipts, deliverability, deliverability challenge

Email Append, A Cautionary Tale

For the record, I am not a fan of email appending programs. If you are not familiar with the term, MAAWG defines appending as "taking known demographic information and using various methods to determine an email address for the purpose of adding people to a list or otherwise sending them email messages." So, for example, you may have an account with a department store, but the store does not have your e-mail address. The store may hire a third-party company to try and find email addresses for those clients whose email addresses are not in their database. Last fall, MAAWG published its "Position on Email Appending," in which they describe it as an "abusive practice."

Recently, I started receiving member email from a credit union in Indiana. The problem is that I don't live in Indiana, nor am I a member of this particular institution. A quick search showed me that there is a Sean Wirt who lives in the area served by this credit union; however, he is not me. The most likely scenario is that this credit union engaged in an appending program that went awry.

The problem with the verification method they chose is that they clearly appended data using name only. The same web search showed that there are at least three Sean Wirt's in the U.S. – 1 in Florida, 1 in Indiana and 1 in North Carolina (me). I am unaware of any data related to me that would suggest that I would be a member of a credit union in Indiana. Once they decided that my email address was the correct one, they did not even attempt to confirm with me that their information was correct – they simply started sending me their newsletters. Even better, the newsletter was not CAN-SPAM compliant, as it had no unsubscribe link!

So, what's the moral? Don’t append!  If you ignore this advice and do it anyway, at least give the recipients a chance to tell you that they aren’t who you think they are and/or give them the opportunity to opt-out immediately. If all else fails, make sure your emails are CAN-SPAM compliant!

Posted by: Sean Wirt at 9:36 AM
Categories: deliverability, email append

A Creative Approach to Solving Gmail Deliverability Issues

I've been a BIG fan of Shari's Berries and ProFlowers for years! Whenever my family is in a pinch to send last-minute gifts, we almost always send berries. As a fan, I subscribed to their mailing list years ago so that I could take advantage of their great deals. Occasionally, I noticed that some of their messages were going to my spam folder in Gmail. Knowing the effect this had on my receiving their messages in my inbox, I naturally clicked the "Not Spam" button in Gmail. (Of course, many "average Joes" don't realize the impact that has, but I won't go off on that tangent!)

Anyhow, a few months back, I started noticing that the subject lines of some of my messages From Shari's Berries and ProFlowers were targeted at Gmail users. There were subjects such as "Gmail Users Weekend Sales Event: 59% off a Gift Mom will Remember Forever" and "Our Easter Flash Sale for Gmail Users is Now! 63% off Delicious Easter Strawberries." I remember being at a MAAWG event when I received the first one and pointed out to colleagues what a great idea it was. They even went so far as to send out a message with this subject: "Gmail Notice: Please check your settings today." I distinctly remember forwarding that one out to our deliverability team saying something like "Wow! Check this out!"

The email included step-by-step instructions on how to report the message as "Not Spam" and also how to add the "From" address to their address book. Not only did they tell you how to do it, they gave you a visual depiction of the process – love it!


All of this background leads to my point. Industry columnist Ken Magill posted a Magill Report article last week talking specifically about ProFlowers' campaigns (ProFlowers and Shari's Berries are both parts of the Provide Commerce family of brands) and the effect they had on delivery. Ken writes: "But during the week of March 19th, ProFlowers' Gmail inbox placement rate jumped from 35.9 percent to 71.8 percent, according to eDataSource. Two weeks later, the rate surpassed 85 percent, according to eDataSource. The following week—and every week thereafter—the rate has been above 95 percent, according to eDataSource. ProFlowers started using subject lines targeted to Gmail users at the end of February and stopped in April, according to eDataSource. The results speak for themselves."

I love when marketers get creative in their efforts to improve delivery (especially when it works)! The lesson here is that when you think outside the box can you can be rewarded with GREAT results. If you find you're getting caught in the spam folder at one of your key ISPs and any overtures to their postmaster team hasn't produced any results, then don't be afraid to create a campaign to correct the problem.

Posted by: Sean Wirt at 10:51 AM
Categories: deliverability, gmail, email

3 Steps to Launching a Successful Winback Program

Now that the holiday season is over and we are all getting back into the normal swing of things, a lot of digital marketing folks are beginning to look at their email marketing lists and trying to figure out how to winback some customers who haven’t engaged with them a while. This is a common challenge across the industry, and I have heard many different recommendations from a number of experts in the field.

There are a number of steps you can take to prep for these types of programs and help ensure a successful campaign to win back your customers. While the creative and actual messaging is essential for a successful program, it's important to remember that all your efforts in those areas won’t matter one bit if you don’t put in the effort on the front end.

These three steps will help you prepare for this year’s big win-back campaign.

1. Determine What an Inactive Customer Means to You
If you're advising a client on a winback program, don't make the common mistake of making suggestions before you completely understanding their business model. It is extremely important to carefully examine their customer lifecycle and go backwards.

I will often hear experts say that if someone hasn’t opened or clicked on a message in 3 to 6 months (or some other arbitrary date range), you should simply remove them from your list. While this might be a decent starting point for the masses, I believe you could be missing out on some valuable customers. Let’s say for example that you send a monthly newsletter.  Are you only going to give the person three opportunities to engage with you before you start asking them to come back? In their minds, maybe they never left and were just busy working on some high-level projects that prevented them from focusing on the information you have sent them.

2. Examine the Content You Are Sending Them
If there's one term that has been repeatedly drilled into my head more than any other in the many years I've been in this industry, it's "relevancy."  If you are not sending your customers relevant offers and information, how can you expect them to be engaged with your brand and marketing campaigns? Take a look back at the last 6-12 months and see if your campaigns are still offering your customers something that they can’t get somewhere else. Is the information that you are sharing with them meaningful and important to them, or are you simply sending everyone the same offers with no regard for past engagement?

3. Don’t Send Win-Back Emails from the Same System as Your “Master” List
One of the most important things to think about and prepare for when creating a re-engagement campaign is to make sure you have a separate IP for sending these messages. Because of the nature of the campaign, you are likely to see a higher than usual unknown user and complaint rate. By creating a separate sub-domain and sending off of a separate IP, you are less likely to negatively affect the rest of your email marketing messages.

After you've taken the three steps above, it is time to focus on the messaging, creative and potential special offers you are going to employ to get your customers engaged with your brand again. Remember, doing the work on the frontend will save you time and agony on the backend.

One final note: when creating a re-engagement program, make sure to not overwhelm your customers with too many messages. If they have already become inactive for whatever reason, continuing to send them more and more mail is not going to get them to come back. In fact it will likely cause them to mark all of your messages as spam, which would be worse than simply losing them as a customer.

A well-planned and executed winback campaign is certainly worth the effort, and these three steps will help get you started.

Good Luck and Good Sending.

Posted by: Spencer Kollas at 2:32 PM
Categories: email marketing, win-back

7 Tips for Cleaning Up Your Email Lists for 2012

As we head into 2012, you should take a close look at your email marketing and list hygiene practices to make sure that you are maintaining a good sender reputation and maximizing deliverability. Good list hygiene combined engaging emails and sender authentication will help you build a solid email reputation with your top ISPs.  

List hygiene may not be the most exciting aspect of email marketing, but it is essential for good deliverability. Simply follow the seven tips below to get your lists in order for the New Year.

1. Scrub Your Lists Regularly. Keep your email lists clean by regularly running them against a register of known bad domains and removing duplicate addresses and role accounts. You can automate the latter by adding “info@*,” “sales@*,” and other common addresses to your suppression list. Your email system may also enable you to automatically suppress bad domains and role-based distribution lists.

2. Remove Bad Domains. Bad domains should be removed immediately. Closely review your failure reports, identify bad addresses and evaluate whether they are the result of a data capture problem or a non-existent domain.

3. Review Data Capture Processes– List hygiene starts with collecting good data. Make sure your sign-up forms prompt users to fix incorrect email address or syntax errors before they are submitted.

4. Actively Manage Hard and Soft Bounces – In addition to having established policies for automatically removing hard-bounced addresses due to bad addresses and unknown users, you should have similar policies for removing soft bounces after a pre-determined number of consecutive failures.

5. Promptly Remove Unsubscribes – Don’t wait the 10 days allowed by CAN-SPAM to process unsubscribes. Remove unsubscribed addresses immediately to avoid users hitting the “this is spam” button and damaging your sender reputation.

6. Mark Inactive Addresses for Reengagement – Transfer inactive addresses to another list that is designed to reengage them.  A good rule of thumb for identifying inactives is no more than 12 months – but 6 months can be preferable depending on factors related to the seasonality of your business.

7. Sign Up for Feedback Loops and Whitelists – Sign up for available feedback loops at your top ISPs to monitor the number of spam complaints generated from your mailings. Similarly, maximize your inbox delivery by signing up for whitelists offered by ISPs and other providers.

Consider these tips when looking to improving your email marketing and overall list hygiene to streamline practices going into the future.

Learn about other email deliverability solutions we provide at StrongView.

Posted by: Spencer Kollas at 2:55 PM
Categories: email marketing, email, tips, list hygiene, sender reputation

Email Marketing Gurus! The EEC Needs You

As a member of the EEC, I am an active member in a number of their groups, including the Speaker Bureau and the Deliverability Roundtable. Both of these email marketing groups have some fantastic people involved in them, but we can always use more. So take the time, become a member, and enjoy getting to know your fellow email experts and help drive the industry in the direction of the future.

For more information, please go to the Speaker Bureau and Deliverability pages. Make sure to check out any others you might be interested in as well.

Learn about other email deliverability solutions we provide at StrongView.

Posted by: Spencer Kollas at 12:28 PM
Categories: email marketing, industry groups, , deliverabilty

Email Deliverability News: Hotmail Addresses 'Graymail,' Flags and One-Click Unsubs

Email marketing success is dependent on many things, not the least of which is addressing the latest innovations and changes to major email services…and Hotmail certainly qualifies as a major email service.

Just recently Microsoft announced some major changes to what their webmail services like Hotmail will look like and how users will interact with their email moving forward. One of the biggest reasons Microsoft made these changes was because they realized that getting rid of true spam was not enough. They understand that many people report legitimate emails, such as newsletters, offer campaigns and even notifications. Users might do this for a number of possible reasons

  1. They no longer want to receive the email and do not trust the unsubscribe links
  2. They feel it is easier to check a large number of emails at once and mark them as spam rather than going into each email and unsubscribing.

Microsoft calls this type of mail graymail, and they have created new ways to help users organize their inbox and remove the clutter. Previously Microsoft had implemented the “Sweep” feature which allowed customers to automatically move specific emails to different folders. They have now taken that technology a step further by creating a specific "Newsletter" folder where they will automatically put newsletters it delivered to users.

Another item that will potentially change the graymail issue is the implementation of the one-click unsubscribe. By utilizing this process, Microsoft will ask you if you want to unsubscribe from the mailing. Microsoft will then respond to the marketer notifying them to remove the user from future mailings. For any mailings received from the marketer after this process was put in place, the mailings will be automatically sent to the Junk folder as a way to address this complication with email deliverability.

Finally, another change that Microsoft has implemented is the ability to flag emails. Much like Gmail’s labels, or Outlook's flags, this functionality allows users to no longer have to mark messages at unread in order to go back and follow up on items but create flags in order to help them better organize their messages in their inbox.

As a marketer, these changes should not change your approach to your email marketing campaigns. As we have always said at StrongView, it is all about relevancy. If your campaigns are not relevant to your users, you will not see the returns you are looking for. But if your customers find your campaigns relevant they will look for those emails no matter where they land within their mailboxes.

In addition to email deliverability news found here, you can also stay connected to the Email Marketing Insights Blog for more of the latest news in email marketing.

Learn about other email deliverability solutions we provide at StrongView.

Posted by: Spencer Kollas at 5:19 PM
Categories: email marketing, deliverability, hotmail, graymail