Email marketing's effectiveness and ROI have been proven time and time again, but concerns about spam have left many marketers and business owners wary. Will my email messages get through to the inbox? How do I avoid being lumped in with spammers?
Email service providers (ESPs) have done much to allay these concerns by automating many CAN-SPAM and deliverability requirements and building strong relationships with internet service providers (ISPs) to support better email marketing deliverability and take care of the nitty-gritty technical details that marketers shouldn´t have to worry about.
But some ESPs have gone too far, asserting that they can provide email deliverability rates as high at 99.99 percent. This is misleading and frankly not possible. You´ll want to choose an ESP that offers a number of important email deliverability features and services -- something we´ll get into briefly later in this article -- but much of email marketing deliverability is in the hands of marketers themselves, and it all starts with following email marketing best practices.
Before we get into the practical aspects and tips for implementing best practices to improve email deliverability, let´s first take a look at some important research findings from Aberdeen Group that provide a roadmap for better deliverability.
The attributes of best-in-class marketers
Aberdeen Group conducted a study earlier this year called "Demystifying Email Deliverability," which surveyed 517 companies using email marketing and identified the top performing organizations (called "best-in-class"), as well the factors that affect email marketing deliverability.
Several findings do indeed point to the importance of ESPs. More than three-quarters (76 percent) of the best-in-class marketers said they rely on ESPs for services that affect deliverability such as email certification and deliverability monitoring. More than 70 percent of the businesses surveyed said that one of the main reasons they use ESPs is to ensure deliverability.
But the study doesn´t stop there. Aberdeen also identified the specific practices and attributes that help best-in-class marketers achieve some of the highest deliverability rates in the industry. Best-in-class email marketers who take their cues from customer behavior by segmenting email messages achieve an average email deliverability rate of 90.2 percent.
These email marketing leaders, who represent the top 20 percent of businesses using email to market goods and services, have seen a 9 percent year-over-year improvement in deliverability, compared to average industry performers, who saw no growth in deliverability scores.
Among the success metrics identified are segmentation, personalization, list hygiene, and opt-in strategies, all best-in-class practices businesses must master to meet marketing goals.
How you can become a "best-in-class" email marketer
Thanks to the Aberdeen study, businesses of all sizes can follow the example of best-in-class marketers and aim for deliverability in the 90 percent range. The key is to take a close look at your current email marketing campaigns and begin following some of the best practices outlined in the report. The following tips provide practical steps marketers can implement over time to boost their deliverability rates.
Make sure you have permission. Many consumers today are fed up with receiving spam or unwanted email. The following guidelines will protect you from gaining the stigma of a spammer and help your emails get delivered to your recipients:
· Be sure to ask permission to send mail, and then confirm email addresses during this process. Asking for permission is a great time to set expectations, ensuring your customers know how often, and under what conditions, they will receive email communications from you.
· Make it easy to opt out by implementing requests to unsubscribe from your list within 10 days. You can leverage technology to include a preference center driven unsubscribe link.
· Don´t change your mailing frequency unexpectedly; you could alienate your customers. If you wish to make a change, simply let the customer know why. Transparency is always the best policy.
· Monitor hard bounces and ensure you obtain complaint feedback from your ISP.
· Make sure you understand CAN-SPAM regulations and follow its guidelines. Check the FCC´s website if you´re unsure of the fine points.
Make sure your content doesn´t trigger deliverability red flags. Emails that have a poor text-to-graphics ratio or use a "from" name that isn´t recognized are less likely to be delivered. To ensure deliverability, follow these guidelines:
· Use an email provider that has tested templates that support a good balance of text boxes and graphics.
· Make sure your messages contain less than 60 percent HTML or graphics.
· Test your emails before issuing an entire campaign to ensure your graphics/text balance won´t create deliverability problems.
· Use a recognizable and consistent email address and "from" name for all of your emails. Encourage your recipients to white-list this address. This will usually trump all other anti-spam checks in delivering mail to large ISPs.
· Know your audience. For instance, in B2B, it is important to include keywords in your content and test these keywords periodically to ensure they remain relevant. Your audience will judge your mail based on the content. It plays the biggest role in influencing whether someone will click or complain.
Know your stats. Leverage as much data as possible in order to figure out your version of "normal" performance. Knowing where you stand makes it much easier to avoid serious issues, as you can react to potential problems quickly. It also makes it easier to pat yourself on the back when you improve your results. Having an intimate knowledge of your stats is critical in helping you differentiate between suspected delivery issues and poor client response.
Guard your reputation as a good email marketer. With email marketing, reputation is everything, and it´s key to keeping your deliverability rates high. To a large degree your reputation will be affected by how many spam reports are filed against you. To avoid spam notices:
· Send relevant emails. The more relevant the mail, the more likely it is to be delivered and opened. Leverage the use of technologies such as dynamic content, email automation ("workflows"), and segmentation, in order to provide the most timely and relevant content to the recipient.
· Make sure your emails are easy to recognize. Use subject lines that carry a consistent theme that recipients will associate with your brand.
· Ensure content is clean and professional.
· Treat each email deployment as a million-dollar commercial. Use a mission control style checklist process to minimize deployment mistakes.
· Monitor your open rates, click rates, and other key indicators. If they´re declining, revisit the relevancy of your campaigns and tweak content and subject lines to be more appealing.
Know your customers´ interests. No matter how good your message is, if it´s not relevant to the interests of your customers, it´s a failed campaign. Knowing your audience is the best way to ensure your email campaigns connect with your customers. Base your campaigns on what they want and like, aligning their interests with what you have to offer. Here are few tips that will help you get to know your customer better:
· In exchange for contact information, offer your customers something of value: a newsletter, a free seminar, or more information about your products and services.
· When gathering contact information, gather only the demographic information you really need. Asking for unnecessary information annoys people and may discourage them from signing up.
· Manage your contact lists so you can respond quickly and efficiently to requests for more information or requests to unsubscribe.
· Since email addresses can change frequently, maintain the integrity of your email list by carefully tracking the number of bounce-backs or undeliverable emails after every campaign. Monitoring lack of response to your campaigns is an important aspect of knowing your audience.
Use transactional emails to your advantage. Transactional emails are highly relevant and personalized communications and therefore are more likely to be opened than regular email campaigns. Transactional emails can be as simple as:
· "Welcome" and "Thank you" notices
· Password reminders
· Shipping notifications
Since the customer is expecting these emails, you´ve already reached a level of personalization that opens the door for you to learn even more about them. Include additional promotions based on their preferences while also asking for feedback or suggestions. The more information you gather, the more personalized you can make your email communications.
What to look for when choosing an ESP
You should consider an ESP that goes above and beyond basic compliance management.
The ESP should have:
· Dedicated deliverability staff whose sole responsibility is to constantly improve technology and services to help ensure that your emails get to the inbox.
· Strong familiarity with the top-tier internet service providers and third-party spam scoring services.
· Demonstrated industry leadership, through participation in the shaping and promotion of email marketing best practices with industry organizations such as the Email Sender and Provider Coalition and the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group.
Whether you´re a big box retailer or small business owner, much of your email marketing campaign success and deliverability performance is under your control. Find the right ESP that is a fit for your business, follow email marketing best practices, and enjoy the rewards and ROI of one of most effective tools for marketing your business online.