Avoiding bad decisions that hurt your deliverability
‘Spam’ is one of the least favorite words of email marketers.
When a certain percentage of your emails go to the spam folder, that usually means one thing: You lost an opportunity with your subscribers.
The opportunity to nurture, convert and build a connection.
Whether you agree or not; Your content can only yield an impact if they make it to the inbox.
So maximizing the reach to the inbox is crucial.
In my opinion, good deliverability is a result of avoiding bad decisions.
At Netcore Cloud, we consult marketers on making smart decisions without needing to get 'lucky'.
One aspect of achieving consistent high inboxing for emails that never gets talked about is avoiding bad practices.
In the early months of 2021, we came across two types of companies that faced major deliverability issues. The first type were those who had paused their program for almost a year due to the shutting down of services like entertainment places, big hotel chains, airlines.
The other type was app-based companies dipping their toes for the first time into email waters like E-commerce, retail chains, food-delivery services.
Before we consulted them and solved their inboxing problems, we observed a pattern of bad decisions that they made to get in trouble with spam filters.
Following are five bad decisions which hurt your deliverability and what to do instead:
1. Burning out subscribers with promotions
Deliverability issues often crop up when the marketer has a wrong perception of their list audience. We found that the subscribers had been served with offers and promotional content right off the bat - 3-4 times a week. This was irrespective of whether the marketer was resuming or starting a new program.
That's similar to continuing a conversation you left off with a friend a year back! You will need to supply the context and make some small talk before getting to the point.
Starting your email activity with a promotional overload leads to a strong disconnect with your audience. How do you know what they expect from you?
Not only will they find your content irrelevant but also place you on top of the complaint list. High spam complaint rates and unsubscribes are a one-way ticket to long-term deliverability issues.
Besides, a brand known just for “buy-from-me” requests is a bad image.
What to do instead
Firstly, you should check up on your customers, if they are doing okay. The world is still battling a pandemic (we are in a terrible second wave) facing heavy economic and human loss. So voice your empathy and show genuine care. Make sure you check up on them in terms of their health and if they are doing okay.
If you’re resuming your program, inform the list of what’s changed with your company and workplace since the last year. Educate your subscribers, and share with them your unique brand story. An informative series of welcome campaigns can start new conversations and first-time purchases.
Use triggered or automated email campaigns to get your customers to know more about your products and services. But adjust to a slower frequency to ease up in getting to know you. Priya Patankar, head-marketer from digital payment wallet shared on our FTLOE podcast that it was their educational campaigns that got the highest engagement and ROI than the promotional offers.
So treat your customer like a human and not just another email address and send engaging content with an introduction and context.
2. Ignoring spam complaints
Despite having email best practices, some marketers turn a blind eye towards their MSP response data like spam complaints.
That’s akin to being a store owner and ignoring repeated customer complaints.
Some companies send thousands of emails daily that they don't care for 0.1% complaint rate on Gmail postmaster. This could be risky as even a minimal recurring complaint rate leads to an eventual dip in inbox placement.
Spam complaints above 0.1% never go unpunished by MSPs like Gmail hence it is necessary to have proper cadence on your email reception.
Gmail postmaster also reflects the complaints from the active subscribers and not disengaged so, the complaints could be potentially higher.
What to do instead
Monitor your postmaster statistics regularly and be proactive in taking necessary mitigative action.
If you use an ESP then ideally the deliverability experts monitor the reputation and complaint rate regularly and share the cadence with you. If not, then you need to access the postmaster account, monitor it post-sending your campaigns.
Once you figure out the regular abusers, not happy with your emails, segment them separately. Ask them for feedback via surveys on how you can serve them better. Strategize on coming up with better content solutions for these customers.
Pause the campaigns to recurring complainers, till you come up with a better content strategy for them. You can build your sender reputation in the meantime to fix your deliverability.
3. Sacrifice list quality to increase audience numbers
A productive list is always better than a bigger list.
Some brands had paused their mailing activity for the major part of last year. On resumption, they wished to contact their old subscribers. But during the interim period, their subscribers had moved on and disconnected. Some of them had also stopped using their email addresses leading to de-activation.
Marketers failed to verify and validate their list leading to an increase in hard bounces. Some of these brands had collected email ids on kiosks and other non-website channels. The majority of the addresses provided contained invalid ids, spam traps, typos. Mailing to such lists results in a downgrade in sender reputation and possible blocklisting.
The observed pattern was of marketers choosing to increase their list numbers over the quality. Such issues take time to correct and restore credibility with MSPs.
What to do instead
Running your email program without verifying email addresses is like playing darts in the dark.
The solution is list verification and regular scrubbing activity.
Whether you have a historical list or a new list of customers, verify and validate the email addresses. If your list contains thousands of ids, you can use a verification service to get a clean list of valid ids.
Scrubbing your list regularly will remove the typo ids, spam traps, and invalid addresses. This activity could take time but will be worth it in the end minimizing your bounces. How frequently to scrub your list will depend on your email activity but we would recommend a six-monthly scrub will be essential.
Re-engage with your old subscribers to check if they’re active on those email ids. We have observed that people often change their email addresses and keep a primary one where they answer all their emails. Checking with your old customers if they still respond is a good way to maintain an engaged mailing list.
For the silent subscribers, lower the frequency to once a month and send special deals to see if they re-engage.
The upsides of these list hygiene activities are fewer emails flagged as spam, stable sender score, and your IPs not getting blocked.
4. Improper messaging for offline contacts
During the last year, many offline retailers became online businesses. They were starting email as a channel for the first time with a swanky new website and a signup process. But what about those email addresses they had accumulated over the last few years?
Marketers often forget that their offline collected contacts are still new to the email channel. Often, they start mailing a new batch of contacts with their promotional offers and discounts but forget to introduce their brand.
That's like a salesperson coming to your place and pitching you with a brand new product without introducing his company.
The reaction could be a sense of distrust with your brand. They might report your emails as spam not knowing why they are receiving emails from you. Startups and Unicorns often come to us with their promotional program saying they have got a negative response from their customers. They often blame the legacy provider for the same, but the fault often lies with them.
Offline collected email contacts are people after all and need to be treated differently.
What to do instead?
We recommend that you start with sending triggered communication to these subscribers which have been acquired offline. They would need a proper welcome series or some introductory emails to get used to receiving emails from your company. Make it clear how you received their email ids, and the permission to mail them.
The next few emails should be on educating them on what your brand does and how it will help them. Convey your unique selling points which strengthen your branding. Set your frequency and content expectations with them right away. Have a warm, empathetic, and friendly tone with your emails.
If they don't wish to engage then bailout from the communication. Either way, it helps you to improve your list quality and make it productive. A productive list results in increased subscriber engagement which improves your deliverability.
So ease up on approaching the old contacts and provide them a brand experience first rather than your promotional material.
5. Using shared IPs for sending high volumes
We observed a lot of high-volume senders like E-commerce brands deliver their emails with a shared IP infrastructure. This could be quite risky as several domains send emails from the same set of IPs. You are essentially dependant on the other domains to maintain good deliverability which could often not be the case.
It could look like a blessing for some marketers who can send millions of emails based on a shared IP set that is already warmed up. But in such cases, if there is an issue, it is a time-consuming process for the deliverability experts to figure out which domains are the culprits.
If your email deliverability is squeaky clean but some domains on the IP set start oscillating on their inbox placement then it takes a toll on the IP reputation. When your IP reputation dips then so do your deliverability.
High volume senders on shared IPs need to be wary of their IP reputation as a lot depends on it for your inbox placement. We often see marketers taking the risk of sending their emails from shared infrastructure and eventually the IP gets a low reputation and their inboxing starts oscillating.
Taking unnecessary risks with your IP reputation will kill your deliverability.
What to do instead?
We recommend using a dedicated set of IPs or ask your ESP for the same. Monitor your IP and sender domain reputations on postmaster regularly to ensure that you are aware of what IPs are delivering your emails and their hygiene.
Warming up a dedicated set of IPs and scaling up your volumes on it sends positive signals to the MSPs of legitimacy and trust. It shows that you are not riding on other domains to get similar results.
Always check the IPs from where you receive your test emails and keep monitoring the health of your IPs or ask the ESP experts to do the same. You need to be informed if anything goes wrong with your domain or IP health.
Monitoring response data is extremely important to keeping a track of your deliverability.
Mailbox providers are getting smarter with AI-powered spam filtering patterns and prompt action on receiver feedback. Starting a new program or resuming an old one, you will have to be extra cautious on how you approach your customers and achieve perfect inboxing.
You don't need to be lucky to achieve good deliverability. Avoiding bad decisions plays an important part in your decision-making process. Knowing the warning signals and following the above guidelines will help you to limit the amount of luck you need to get good inboxing outcomes.
Make your own luck! :)