In the first of our three-part series on email deliverability, Gene Gusman, Director, SRE, Deliverability Ops, discusses factors affecting email deliverability including data quality, relevance, reputation, and engagement.
Deliverability is about more than just delivering email. It is the ability to deliver messages to the inbox of your subscribers. It is simple to describe and yet sometimes challenging to accomplish. Since email was first used for messaging, the factors determining whether an email will be accepted and where it will be placed have continued to change.
We have come a long way from the days where content filters were relied upon heavily to identify email as spam. Deliverability continues to evolve, and the stakes are high. Almost three-quarters of U.S. consumers have purchased a product directly as a result of an email they received. Poor deliverability can decrease revenue and hinder your ability to communicate important information to your customers.
Validity, accuracy, and permission
It all starts with the quality of the data you collect and maintain. Bad data leads to bad outcomes. Sending to an address where the user is unknown or is not the one who signed up could negatively impact the way you are perceived by receivers and by consequence, the deliverability of your campaigns. Sending to users who have not granted permission is not permitted in many countries and in any case, could lead to complaints which damage reputation and degrade deliverability.
Make sure you set expectations, obtain permission directly from the subscriber, know where the address originated, confirm it is a working address, and then make sure it is the correct address before bringing it into your main email program. Maintain good database health by recording and analyzing the activity level of your subscribers across the life cycle. Change your message for those who are losing interest and clean your list of subscribers who are no longer engaged. Sending to too many unengaged subscribers can harm your reputation. Also, remove addresses that have not been mailed for a long time as these could have become deactivated or spam traps.
Analyze, understand, and engage
Look at the data from your email program and learn from it to understand what your subscribers want. Then engage them with relevant content at the right time with the right frequency to encourage opens and click-throughs which help with inbox placement. Subscribers will ignore your messages, unsubscribe, or complain if they receive mail that is not what they asked for or no longer of interest to them. Unfortunately, users sometimes hit the spam button as a way to unsubscribe and complaints are a strong negative signal for the receivers.
Transparency, understanding, and trust
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) make inbox placement decisions in part based on the reputation they attribute to the sender and the trust they place in them. This in turn depends on a variety of factors such as complaint rates, unknown user rates, spam trap hits, and email authentication.
Having the infrastructure to properly authenticate your mail is just the starting point to build trust, but after that, minimizing complaints, spam traps, and unknown users are required for receivers to take a positive view of your mailing stream. Understanding how reputation works and following best practices is imperative. Reputation is what helps ISPs protect their customers and it is what can enable successful placement or prevent a sender from reaching the inbox.
Engagement is key. The major internet service providers look at a lot of different metrics now but if your subscribers are not opening, clicking, responding, or otherwise engaging with your emails, then although you may be doing everything else right, deliverability could suffer. Even for the receivers that place less emphasis on engagement, it still informs your list management and content so you can speak differently to those who are losing interest and stop speaking to those who no longer want to listen. You may also be sending to addresses that have been abandoned or have turned into spam traps, so it is important to look at the data as it relates to your particular messaging program.
That is why it is essential to set expectations, understand your audience, provide value, start a dialogue, and continue the conversation at their preferred time and their preferred frequency.
Next up: Email deliverability during the first part of the customer lifecycle
Understanding the key factors that impact whether your messages reach the inbox of your subscribers is critical to establishing and maintaining a healthy and successful email program. In the next part in the series, I will discuss some best practices for deliverability during the first part of the customer lifecycle.
Gene Gusman is Director of Deliverability Operations, North America at Cheetah Digital. He is a technologist with over twenty years of experience in marketing and publishing technology. He leads the optimization efforts of the messaging infrastructure for deliverability while helping clients to get their messages to the inboxes of their customers.