Email marketing is one of the strongest weapons small businesses employ to enhance their user base, build brand visibility, and improve ROI. But, how is your business’s reputation holding up? If it’s taking a beating, your mails may be sent to SPAM folders or blocked by ISPs.
In this article, we’ll be decoding the success formula for email deliverability. But, make no mistake, there is no mystical potion or code that will deliver your emails to glory. What matters most is your reputation – be it brand reputation or email sender reputation.
Email deliverability is an obstacle that every business, big or small, stumbles on sometime or other. Even though every business considers email to be the basis of their digital marketing program, research indicates that just 79% of commercial emails worldwide land in an inbox. This means that one of every five emails fails to reach the intended recipient.
Worldwide, year-over-year email deliverability rates depreciated by 4% last year, from 83% in 2014 to 79% in 2015. These statistics call for marketers to harness the power of deliverability metrics such as bounce rates, spam complaints, spam trap hits, etc., along with traditional metrics such as open rates and click-through rates, which contribute significantly to sender reputation and engagement.
Key Email Deliverability Issues You Cannot Afford to Overlook
Email deliverability is one of the most significant, yet one of the most overlooked and misconstrued, aspects of email marketing. Most often, it is used as an umbrella term by email service providers (ESPs) to measure the success or chances of an email being delivered. And, when it comes to small businesses and startups working to make a mark in their industries and improve their user bases, getting messages to inboxes is critical to the overall success of their businesses.
Ensuring that emails get to recipients’ inboxes is integral to a small business’s email deliverability management strategy. In the event emails are blocked by internet service providers (ISPs) or spam filters, not only does the company face the threat of losing conversions, but also its reputation can be damaged. So, you’ll want to create a full-proof strategy to ensure that you avoid phishing phrases that will trigger spam filters.
Designing a webpage and designing an email are completely different ballgames. For email marketing success, it is important not to go overboard with images, but plain text might look just too dull. With image rendering turned off for security many times, ALT tags come in handy. These allow your subscribers to get the message you want them to get, even if they can’t see the images. Another alternative is to use inline CSS and HTML tables while coding an HTML email in order to ensure that your template is rendered correctly across different email clients.
Email deliverability statistics have been indicating specific trends along geographical boundaries. The U.S. recorded the sharpest decline in email deliverability rates in 2015 with an 11% decrease, while Spain was stable, and Italy showed just a slight increase.
The effect of “subject lines” on email deliverability has changed in the last couple of years. While spammy or over-the-top content that aimed to grab a customer’s attention was the biggest threat a couple of years ago, these days the significance of subject lines on deliverability depends a lot on your sender reputation. Therefore, using the word FREE will not necessarily land your email in spam if your sender score is high. However, if your sender score is low, your emails will surely hit the spam folder.
Maintaining high sender reputation or domain reputation is critical for successful email marketing, especially when it comes to brand building for small businesses. Generated by ISPs like Comcast, Cox, and Roadrunner and mailbox providers like Gmail, Yahoo!, and Outlook, email sender reputation scores determine how trustworthy your business is.
One of the authenticated ways to know your sender reputation is to look up your Sender Score. This is an analysis of a number of factors related to your email behavior such as:
- The number of emails you send
- Your complaint rates
- Your bounce rates
- How many times your emails landed in a spam folder
- How many times your emails were deleted
- How many times your emails were added to a safe sender’s list
Parameters for judging if your email deliverability should make you Smile, Think, or Worry
High domain reputation improves your sender reputation, which means your brand actually takes precedence when it comes to ISP filtering decisions. So, if you are a good sender, high deliverability is ensured. On the other hand, if you wish to take the short cut to success, you might have your brand reputation delivered in the spam folder. So, make your choice!
Why Sender Reputation Matters for Your Business
Sender reputation is essential to ensure deliverability success because, if not maintained properly, chances are your legitimate, non-spam emails will never reach recipient’s inboxes. After all, at the end of the day, what matters most for all businesses, small or large, is reputation. And, when it comes to small businesses, positive sender reputation can have a huge impact on building up customer relationships.
Here are a few killer ideas for enhancing your sender reputation:
- Use DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) authentication to help ensure your emails continue to get delivered to your subscribers’ inboxes.
- Use email validation systems like SPF (Sender Policy Framework) that are designed to ensure the host domains are authorized and thus help you build trust among receiving email exchangers.
- Services like MSN and Hotmail give prominence to SenderID authentication as it is believed to help address the problems of email “spoofing” and phishing and leads to a decline in the percentage of legitimate emails erroneously labeled as spam.
Proven Tips to Secure your Trust Metrics and Sender Reputation
Brendan Dubbels, email deliverability expert in a recent trend report on email marketing deliverability best practices, tips, and strategies stated that:
“The easiest way to combat poor deliverability is to remove people from your list if they haven’t been opening, reading, or clicking.”
The problem is that most small businesses are in a hurry to make it BIG, and they make mistakes that are avoidable. Remember, the age-old adage “slow and steady wins the race” applies in email marketing, too, and use these suggestions:
Ask Permission – It Doesn’t Cost Anything!
Users consider an email inbox to be a very private space (I’m sure you think the same). So, when you are thinking about sending unsolicited emails via your email list, it’s more than the CAN-SPAM laws that you need to take into account. Beyond the legal prohibition set up by law that deters sending emails to just anyone, it is important for businesses to consider the perspective of customer relationship.
Always seek permission to send emails to your recipients. Permission is typically garnered through sign-up forms on your website. But, remember that subscribers, while sharing their personal information, expect to receive value from the exchange.
Set the Right Expectations – Avert Heartbreaks!
Another epic blunder small businesses make in their infancy is setting the wrong expectations about subscribed emails, from clarifying the frequency of emails (weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly) to explaining what will be sent. Beware of including subscribers for your whitepapers or industry reports on your email list. You can streamline this by placing a checkbox on your forms, confirming they understand what they will receive from you.
Email Authentication – Prevention Is Better than Cure!
Prevention is better than cure when it comes to averting unnecessary hassles arising out of unconfirmed email addresses that can be mistyped, fake email addresses, and malicious bots. Small businesses should opt for email confirmation once they seek permission in order to verify the identity of an email recipient, thus maintaining decent sender reputation.
Deception is Unforgiveable – Beat Your Unholy Instincts!
One of the basic rules for ensuring email deliverability success is to stay away from deceptive or tricky email practices. Many small businesses make the mistake of trying unethical practices such as using misleading subject lines that do not correspond to the content of the email, hiding the unsubscribe link, and hashbusting (where spammy words are camouflaged to bypass content filters).
This may give you short term success initially, but it will hit your sender reputation hard, labeling your business as a spam. In the process, it will diminish your trustworthiness among your customer base.
Segmentation is the Key – Monitor and Optimize Campaigns
One of the first questions you need to ask yourself before pressing the send button is, “Is my email reaching the right audience?” Shooting irrelevant, non-targeted content often results in poor open rates, un-subscriptions, and spam reports, hitting your sender reputation.
Therefore, the best practice is to use proper customer segmentation and make an email list based on that. This can be seamlessly done by analyzing metrics like who opened your email, who clicked-through, the platform (device) it was accessed from, and the time. Monitor the pattern and optimize your campaigns accordingly. After all, your recipients love to receive personalized and contextually relevant emails that bring value to them.
Safe Sender’s List – Make Your Way before It’s Too Late!
Most of you are aware of (and apprehensive of) the pitfalls of blacklisting, but are you aware of “whitelisting”? One of the most overlooked practices, whitelisting helps ensure your emails go straight to the recipient’s inbox. All you need to do is include a link in your email template requesting your subscribers to add your company’s “from” address to their safe sender’s list or address book.
In the event an email server permanently rejects your email (which can be either because the domain is not found or the user is unknown), stop emailing these addresses immediately before your email reputation goes for a toss and your business is penalized.
Unsubscribe – Let’s Part Ways!
“Let go. If it’s yours, it will come back to you. If it doesn’t, it was never yours.” ~ You must have heard this advice regarding human relationships. The email marketer-subscriber relationship should be handled similarly. Small businesses can showcase their professionalism by adding an “unsubscribe” link to their emails that allows uninterested subscribers to opt-out, rather than hurt their sender reputation when subscribers hit “delete” or “report spam.”
Deliverability Best Practices: Every Small Business Should Imbibe
The advent and proliferation of mobile devices and subscriber engagement-based filtering have influenced the way email deliverability functions these days. Considering that a positive sender reputation is the foundation for optimal email deliverability, it is even more essential for businesses to adapt to the changing dynamics of the industry.
While it is important to embrace a definitive approach to deliverability that helps boost the ability to reach audiences and generate revenue from your marketing campaigns, sender reputation should remain the prime focus.
- Focus on audience engagement, as this is one of the primary measures used by ISPs to determine sender authenticity.
- Personalize your emails, as that helps build a stronger sender reputation for your brand and increases open rates and responses.
- Harness the power of web and behavioral analytics and reach out to subscribers with an email list that is properly segmented for relevancy and personalized with messaging that boosts engagement.
- Stay away from the temptation to repeat email campaigns just because they worked well, because too much of anything (even good) can quickly lead to list fatigue.
- Adhere to applicable laws – CAN-SPAM (US) and CASL (Canada) – that describe proper unsubscribe processes and provide guidelines for email content and sending behaviors.
- Empower your recipients with preference centers, a sensible way to know your audiences’ interests and help you send targeted email campaigns, thus improving open rate chances.
- Considering the maximum chance of emails being opened only once, first impressions always matter and can be decisive as well. And, considering an increasingly huge proportion of emails are being opened on mobile devices, one of the first rules is to create responsive emails; i.e., optimize email for mobile so that your emails can be viewed perfectly across devices.
Maintaining high sender reputation is critical, as well as directly proportional to ROI, for small businesses. This calls for effective email deliverability management, which includes implementing the best practices that will not only give you the results and benefits of improved deliverability, but also will hone reputation, engagement, and ultimately return on investment. Be sure to implement all these practices:
- Create a send checklist
- Track response rates frequently
- Avoid the spam trap
- Maintain a clean IP and high Sender Score
- Strategize the perfect list re-engagement campaign
- Resolve legal issues regarding email deliverability
So, why wait, just get started!
About the Author: Jaymin is the Director of Email Monks & Webby Monks. He loves to contribute on topics like email marketing, internet marketing & web development. Monks team under his leadership thrives to provide superior customer experience to many Fortune 100 companies across the globe. He also loves to connect with like-minded individuals from the fast growing digital world. Follow the Monks on: LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.