5 Ways to Kill Your Email Deliverability
About The Author:
Chip House is the VP of Industry & Relationship Marketing at ExactTarget. Chip has been doing email marketing since well before it was cool. Having held leadership marketing positions at eCommerce provider Digital River and 7 years with ExactTarget, Chip speaks regularly on the topics of email deliverability, email relevance and optimization and has helped dozens of companies optimize their email campaigns and deliverability.
Joseph Jaffe, author of "Join the Conversation" and the award-winning blog jaffejuice.com, has often quoted Einstein, who said "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." The same goes with email marketing - doing it the same ol' way just won't cut it anymore. In fact, companies engaging in the batch-and-blast tactics once common may drive their email channel to extinction. D.O.A. Kaput.
When it comes to optimizing deliverability, many marketers just throw their hands up, hoping for a blueprint they can look at to help them through the maze of rules, regulations and monkey business. If there was such a blueprint it would include a dizzying array of information about ISP filtering & throttling methods, email authentication technologies, CAN-SPAM laws, complaint thresholds, blacklisting methodologies, spamtrap sources, bounce codes, and more. Clearly the world of email deliverability is much more complex than it would appear on the surface. The good news, however, is that you will never have to deal with
Misstep #1: Cheating on Permission
No one likes spam. The most accurate definition of spam that I have seen is "email I don't want." The temptation for many marketers is to cheat and to assume their product is different. Executives I've talked to with this attitude believe that their email isn't spam and say it is because "we're giving them such a good deal," or, "people need my product so they'll thank me later." Don't kid yourself. Sending email that people don't want will drive your subscribers to ignore you (at best) or report your email as spam to their ISP. Big deal, you say? Wrong. Nearly every ISP, as well as collaborative filtering services like Cloudmark, utilizes user reporting as one
Misstep #2: Opt-out Email Appending
The database companies of the world who make money by buying and selling your information will tell you that email appending is a good idea and that "everybody does it." My advice to you is: don't do it. If you are not familiar with the term, email appending is where a database company appends an email address by making a match on the postal address. Since most companies have a legacy file of customer postal addresses that is much larger than their email file (often 10 - 100x larger) this allows these companies to have a quick fix to grow their list of email addresses. As you know, if it seems too good to be true it probably is.
The catch is two-fold. First, the database providers are typically only able to append about 10-15% of your file, so if you are planning on getting 1MM new addresses from your million postal addresses, it will likely be more like 100,000. Second, the standard methodology for email appends is to send a single "opt-out" message to customers. If this is blocked or isn't seen by the customer, the database company still sends it to you as a "valid address." This is where the problem comes in. Sending to this address is now sending unsolicited email. See misstep #1 above for why that is bad. Also, since the anti-spam community and blacklist operators really hate email appends, they find ways to get their addresses on to these files as "spamtraps." Sending to a spamtrap is bad...very bad. It basically says to them that you send spam and aren't afraid to buy addresses to do so. This can get your email blacklisted at many ISPs and kill your deliverability and profits overnight.
Grow your list the right way. Get permission, one subscriber at a time. Do an opt-in email append. Most providers won’t tell you they can do this, but you can ask them to send an opt-in rather than and opt-out message once they’ve matched email addresses to your postal file.
Misstep #3: Buying a List
This is so bad, so insidious, and so detrimental to your deliverability that I don’t know where to start. Where appended lists might have a few spamtraps per million addresses, a purchased list will have hundreds. Nothing will raise your complaint rates more or drive blacklisting more than sending to a purchased list. This will kill your deliverability and your reputation and it will take a long time for you to climb out of the hole.
Misstep #4: Assuming More is Better
In the world of direct mail and catalog marketing most marketers are very careful about whom they send their catalogs to since each catalog sent costs 50 cents or more. So, when these marketers approach email, which can cost a penny per email or much less, they figure more is better. Again, nothing could be further from the truth.
Email is a quality game, not a quantity game. Even if your subscribers opted into your monthly newsletter, doesn’t mean they also want a promotional email each week. When asked, many consumers say that spam is “email that I opted in to, but comes too often.” By sending too much email, you are essentially destroying the opt-in, customer relationships you’ve worked so hard to build. Over time, this will shrink your file and lead to lower engagement of your subscribers (as open and click rates decline).
We’ve helped a number of clients re-engage their list of subscribers by asking them to reopt-in. In doing so, some clients have lost 80% or more of their email addresses…but surprisingly, their raw number of clicks doesn’t drop, and ROI improves. Focusing on quality works.
Misstep #5: Abusing a Subscriber’s Trust
Many marketers hope to make a few bucks by selling their list to 3rd parties, or just spamming their list with offers from other advertisers. Subscribers can see through this, and will reward you with complaints or just unsubscribe. Also, these days, they might write a damaging blog or twitter about your dishonest business practices.
When a consumer chooses to opt-in for your list they are expecting to receive either information, bargains, or something else. It is an exchange of value. You, in fact, are responsible for setting their expectations at the time your garner their trust and permission. My recommendation is to be as explicit and granular in doing this as possible, and then honor those expectations.
Provide a preferences page where a subscriber can select not only what they want to receive (newsletter, promotion, 3rd party offers) but also how often and via what medium (phone, email, SMS). When this isn’t possible, at the very least don’t abuse their trust by sending your subscribers things not because you know they want them, but rather in hopes to make a quick buck or to meet the needs of your “supporting partner” or advertisers.
Let your subscribers rule by honoring their unique preferences for communication, content, frequency and channel and they will reward you back by giving you continued access to their inbox. Abuse their trust and your email will become quickly directed to the trash can.