The biggest obstacle for most email marketers is generally message delivery. Messages that are either blocked or sent to a ‘junk’ folder by the ISPs (internet service providers - who manage incoming mail for their account holders) is a major waste of marketing resources and directly affects an organization’s bottom line. To fully maximize email delivery, it is important to understand why delivery can be a problem and what impacts delivery.
The following guide is designed for marketers who want to better understand the challenges of email marketing, and want to benefit from using the ‘best practices’ outlined by the email industry.
Why delivery can be a problem
Today, legitimate email makes up a very small fraction of the total email volume received by ISPs. One of the main priorities of ISPs is to protect their account holders from unwanted email. The ISPs are spending a lot of time and resources to ensure unwanted messages do not get delivered, and from the following statistics you can see why:
In 2002, 25% of the total mail volume received by the ISPs was considered spam
In 2009, 95% of total mail volume received by the ISPs was considered spam
Since the ISPs are often times implementing new technology, legitimate email marketers can unfortunately find that their messages have been flagged as spam, and are not being delivered to list members. The good news is that ISPs acknowledge the difference between legitimate and non-legitimate email marketers, and they are almost always willing to work with legitimate marketers on improving deliverability.
What impacts delivery
There are primarily four variables that impact email delivery:
1) The quality of the marketer’s list of email addresses is extremely important! The ideal situation is to send emails only to a clean list: A list with minimal invalid addresses; every address on the list has requested (opted-in) the sender’s message; and the list has been mailed to regularly.
Make sure the following has been done – especially when switching to a new email marketing solution:
All addresses that have previously bounced as invalid or nonexistent are not mailed to again.
All unsubscribe requests are honored and not mailed to in the future.
Role account email addresses are not mailed to. Role account addresses are email addresses that normally do not (or rarely) subscribe to mailing lists. Examples include abuse@, admin@, billing@, info@, jobs@, news@, postmaster@, sales@, support@, and webmaster@. These types of addresses are usually harvested directly from websites.
Always know the direct source of any email addresses added to your mailing list. Many poorly maintained lists contain spam trap addresses. A spam trap is an email address that exists solely for the purpose of luring in spam. The trap is to have addresses that are not used for communication (so they would never opt-in to a mailing list) readily available to marketers who purchase email lists or harvest email addresses from the web. Once the spam trap is sent to, the ISP or reputation monitoring service presumes the marketer is not using legitimate list building practices. The presence of even one spam trap can cause major delivery problems. The only way to prevent the presence of a spam trap address is to only mail to addresses that have directly opted-in to the actual list that is doing the mailing.
There is no list of known spam trap addresses. They are always kept secret, so removing them can be difficult. The removal process consists of building a new list with addresses that have either opened a previous message or clicked on any link within a message (spam trap addresses will never open a message or click on a link within a message), and then re-opting-in every remaining member of the list.
Sending to a purchased or rented list will almost always result in poor delivery. List vendors sell or rent the same lists to numerous people, so complaints will be high and open rates low.
2) Email content and design also play an important role in message delivery. Message design should have a professional look with the sender’s brand clearly and quickly identifiable. The content has to be relevant to the person receiving the message, and the message should be presented in an organized manner. Make sure the subject line matches the content and its purpose. And lastly, the ‘from address’ needs to be recognizable by the recipient.
3) Spam complaints are the next important factor in email delivery. ISPs monitor complaints very carefully, making this the number one reason why emails will not get through to major ISPs.
What is a complaint?
A complaint is generated when someone who has received an email reports it as unwanted, unrequested, or for whatever reason considers it as spam. Many ISPs such as AOL, Yahoo, and Hotmail make it very easy for their account holders to report a complaint with just the click of a button.
Major ISPs now have a reporting mechanism called a Feedback loop. The member, who doesn’t know you as a sender or does not want your message, simply clicks on the Spam or Junk button, and then the ISP communicates this back to the Email Service Provider (ESP).
An email marketer’s complaint rate needs to remain below 0.1% - that is only 1 complaint per 1,000 messages sent to any single domain. Higher complaints can result in delivery problems.
Reasons for complaints are fairly straightforward:
Message was not requested - Only send to people who have directly requested your mailings
Poor subject line or unfamiliar FROM name - Don’t try to trick someone into reading your email
Irrelevant Content - The user is not interested in what you are sending
Long lag in communication - You haven't emailed your list in a long time
High email frequency - Sending too many emails in too short a period
4) Your sender reputation as an email marketer has now become a key factor for successful deliverability.
Email filtering is designed to stop the bad emails and let the good ones through. So if you have a reputation for sending legitimate emails, then your emails will get through to the inbox. Reputation is based on two areas: your company and the domains associated with your company, and the IP addresses used to send your emails. Building a good sending reputation takes time, and the only way to build it is by sending only legitimate emails and following these best practices: Send legitimate emails to clean lists and don’t get complaints.
Recipient engagement has a big impact on a sender’s reputation. Engagement is measured by certain actions a message recipient takes that show the ISP whether the message was wanted or not.
Recipients are marking the message as ‘not spam’ if it goes to the spam folder
Recipients are opening messages. The ISPs know if any message has been opened.
Recipients are clicking on the links in the message.
Recipients are adding the sender’s ‘from address’ to their contact list.
A high percentage of recipients are hitting the spam button to register a complaint.
A high percentage of messages are being deleted without being opened.
A low open rate
Following these tips will give your message a better chance of not only being delivered to the intended audience, but also absorbed by the people with whom you want to connect!