Every email marketeer's biggest challenge is to get email into their targets’ inboxes. The biggest factors that influence email delivery are email content, list database quality and the reputation of infrastructure used to send emails which includes IP, domain and mail server. This article talks about these factors and recommends best practices that increases the probability of your email reaching its target.
There are various use cases where a marketeer send email including enhancing an existing customer relationship, marketing new products and offers, educating a group of people sharing a common interest, or notifying customers of an event. Some common examples are:
- Registration Details
- Transaction Receipts
- Travel Itineraries
- Account Notifications
- Legal notices
There are 4 possible outcomes whenever an email is sent out. First it might get into the inbox of the user, second it gets into the junk folder or spam folder, third it bounces back and fourth which is less likely is it gets lost without any reason. Almost all ISPs try to predict the quality of an email using a variety of metrics. The foremost metric is based on anti-spam technology and recipient response to your email. Put yourself in user's place and then think what type of email would you want to see in your inbox? You need to build trust with the receiver by sending high quality emails over time which in turn will build your reputation. Higher reputation means higher chances of getting an email into inbox.
There are many steps involved behind the scenes whenever you send an email. There is no point discussing the technology as this is beyond the scope of this article. The final delivery of the email is controlled by the receiving email server which can be an ISP (Internet Service Provider), a corporate system managed by companies or homegrown systems. A large number of emails that you send would be handled by ISPs like gmail, yahoo, AOL, hotmail, comcast, etc. Thus it becomes all the more important to pay attention to the feedback that you receive back from these systems to maintain a healthy reputation.
Metrics that impact email delivery
Here we have tried to create a list of metrics and best practices which should be followed to get better deliverability but not a guarantee. Always keep in mind your users' interests because ultimately its them who would build your reputation.
Bounce Rate: Whenever an email delivery fails, a bounce message status is reported back to you. It can be a hard bounce or a soft bounce. Hard bounce is a permanent delivery failure like "mailbox does not exist", "invalid email address" whereas a soft bounce is temporary failure like "mailbox full". A soft bounce can also occur due to low reputation like "message temporarily deferred due to spam listing". A high rate of bounces is a strong indication that the email list in use is very poor. Therefore this metric has a high negative impact on your deliverability.
Complaint Rate: Almost all ISPs give option to users enabling them to mark a particular email as spam or abuse. This action by users is recorded as complaint by the ISPs. If too many messages, typically less then 1%, are marked as spam triggers specific spam filters where the ISPs will temporarily block emails from your servers triggering soft bounces and if the condition doesn't improve then serious chances of your IP and domain getting listed in spam databases. A high complaint rate means you are sending unsolicited emails to your users which they don't want.
Email Content: The technology for email content filtering has evolved manifold and the ISPs can now detect malicious communication such as phishing, malware and virus distribution, or scams. These content filters automatically reviews each and every email that you send and constantly look for unwanted email. If the content filters determines that an email has spam-like characteristics, then it will get diverted to spam where getting the user attention is least likely. Therefore pay a lot of attention to the quality of email content.
Here are some of the recommended best practices which when followed gives you the maximum chances of getting user attention as your email will get delivered in their inbox.
Sender Address: This is the first thing which a receiver sees when they get your email. Make sure it is properly formed. ISPs build reputation based on your sender IP and domain over a period of time. Never spoof this information or use some automated emails like email@example.com. Always try and use something more meaningful like firstname.lastname@example.org.
Subject: Always use a meaningful subject line that reflects the content. A user would shy away if he sees something fishy as the subject creates the first impression.
Authenticate Yourself: Make sure your domain is properly authenticated using SPF (Sender Policy Framework) and SenderID. This adds credibility to your domain and the ISPs know that the email originated from genuine source. Also use DomainKeys or DKIM to digitally sign the email which adds extra layer of security.
Email List: Your process to collect email addresses have major impact on your overall health of email program. It is highly recommended to use double opt-in method where you send an email to user having a link to verify email address. Never harvest or purchase email lists. Also users have a tendency to provide bogus emails during online registration form fill-ups. If you see high bounce rates then you need to change your process of collecting emails. You may also make use of some 3rd party email verification services although they are not 100% accurate.
Email Content: Spam filters have evolved immensely overtime and they can now characterize your email as spam or not spam quite efficiently. You can use Spam Assasin or any 3rd party service to quickly identify content issues. Avoid use of spammy words like offer, free, etc. If your email has outside links then make sure to check them against blacklists and do not use URL shortening services. Also avoid broken links within your email.
Unsubscribe Link: Always provide an easy unsubscribe link in your mail body to enable users to opt-out of your mailing lists and respect their decision by not sending them marketing emails.
Feedback Loops: You may register with ISPs feedback loop processes as most of them now provide you with realtime information about users who are marking your emails as spam or abuse.
Always try and provide value to your users. Remember that trust and reputation is build over a period of time. Hope this article gives you insights on better email marketing. Do write to us using contact us section or use the comments section below. We can help you setup an email marketing server with all checks and balances in place and also help you run an effective email campaign.