Delivery Best Practices to Start the New Year Right
For every crafted email, there’s always uncertainty around its intended destination—the right inbox. You’d think that after crafting the right words, getting them approved, reworking, dropping the messaging into your branded template, and testing, the email would get to the right place. But we all know this just isn’t always the case. So how do we ensure that the effort we’re putting into our emails isn’t getting lost?
In short, email delivery ultimately comes down to two things— clean data and consistent engagement.
Sending to clean data and engaged audiences preserves the integrity of your domain reputation. Since your domain reputation can permanently impact your brand and follow you wherever you go—even if you change servers or switch email service providers—it's important that you keep a clean house. With this in mind, let’s review delivery best practices and dig into the meanings of good and bad data.
Delivery Best Practices: Clean Data
Email degrades at an estimated rate of around 22% per year as people switch jobs, change addresses or otherwise disappear from the digital space. It is important to conduct a regular data cleaning routine where you can weed out any problematic addresses and prevent unnecessary damage to your reputation.
- By regularly removing hard bounces from your sending lists, you will avoid sending to audiences that are no longer there and indicate to email providers that you are a good sender. This will get your emails in the primary folder in the inbox. The process might include updating contact information that is no longer current at a regular cadence. Removing bad information or updating contact information from your lists is one of the most important things you can do to achieve good deliverability.
- Other best practices include checking your email lists for role-based addresses. These are emails that begin with info@ or customerservice@. You do not want to send to mailboxes such as this because they’re generally not checked as frequently as personal inboxes.
- You also want to be aware of spam traps. They are a spam prevention method that internet service providers (ISPs) use to lure in spammers so they can block them. Spam traps do not belong to an individual and have no value in outbound communication. You can avoid spam traps by engaging your customers regularly and segmenting out the unresponsive addresses, by running any purchased lists through an email validation service, and by periodically validating your lists.
- Adhere to automatic suppression lists that have your sending reputation in mind. When an email provider has a system in place to flag bad emails and submit them to a suppression list automatically on your behalf, it is a good idea to adhere to that suppression list. In many cases, even if emails are found to be good email addresses on those lists, they still may have issues where they will bounce again, so taking them off the suppression list is always risky.
A note about those contacts who are unsubscribing. Schwedelson from Worlddata said in 2019, that 92% of people who unsubscribe from email lists have not opened or clicked in over 12 months. Meaning that, who cares about those who are unsubscribing at that point. Finally, the average unsubscribe rate across all verticals is 0.15%, so 150 out of 100,000 people; a very small pool of already unengaged people.
Delivery Best Practices: Engagement
It’s important to send to audiences who are engaging with your content. Filter out contacts who have not opened an email from your organization in over a year―or six months―for even more meaningful metrics. Pooling your most engaged audience will boost your email reputation so that your communications make it to the right inbox. Here are some important data points to consider according to Jay Schwedelson from Worldata:
- As long as you are engaging with an active audience, sending too much is less of a problem., 33% of email marketers send 4x a month and the majority send at least 6x per month. And despite what most think, open rates rise by 21% when marketers send at least 5x per month. Marketers are starting to realize that if they’re sending content that's engaging and personalized, the frequency of sends is less relevant.
- Offers with expirations and time caps receive 55% higher response rates than those emails without a sense of urgency. Now, words that were once labeled as spam-riddled such as free, limited, exclusive, tomorrow, today, last chance, expires, days left, don’t miss, hurry, aren’t as untouchable when used in the right way.
- Including title casing in the subject line has proven to improve open rates by 14% versus standard capitalization. Additionally, brackets or parentheses in the subject line are reported to improve open rates by 31%.
- Another newly tested best practice is to include subject lines that start with numbers. Another best practice is to measure engagement by testing sending times at odd hours and analyzing the open rate in the first 30 minutes of each send.
- Subject lines are important for getting recipients to open, but preheader text is just as critical and many marketers are still not getting their preheaders right. An average 37% of marketers are sending with accidental html code in the preheader, 22% are showing the safe sender link, and 21% have no pre header text at all. Emails that use the preheader for offer related information generate 24% more opens. Consider using subjectline.com for free testing of your subject line before sending to your audience.
Understand the Definitions of a Bounce:
Each system, whether email marketing, email automation, or marketing automation, defines the constraints for a bounced email slightly differently. In Adestra MessageFocus, for example, an address is categorized as a bounce when three or more hard bounces occur over 16 consecutive days, with no soft bounces or successful deliveries in between. Should a contact bounce three times over 16 days with no successful deliveries, Adestra will add them to an automatic suppression list. Email systems have these algorithms in place with varying degrees of number of emails over a number of days to help maintain a good reputation both at the email software level and at your individual sending reputation level. Having these bounced emails suppressed from your sends automatically is a good thing for your sending reputation. If there were no mechanism in place to identify bad emails and then to automatically suppress them, you could be sending to bad emails and this is where your email sending reputation could take a major hit.
A hard bounce is an email message that has been ‘returned to sender’ because of invalidity. There are four types of hard bounces:
- Invalid Domain: domain sent to is invalid (e.g. hotmial.com)
- Invalid User: local part of address doesn’t exist
- Other Bounce: undetermined bounce (can be SPAM related)
- Over Quota: mailbox is full
A soft bounce is a direct response to your campaign, which could be automated. There are six categories for a soft bounce:
- Inbox: a response directly to the email
- Flame: a response which contains profanity
- Blocked: receiving mail server flagged the email as spam
- Out of Office: automatic Out of Office reply
- Address Change: response notifying of address change
- Temporary Notice: general temporary notice reply
What Happens if You Continue to Send to Bouncing Addresses?
Now that we have talked about best practices in terms of engagement and clean data, let’s talk about what can happen by following bad practices. If you continue to send to bouncing emails, you could experience decreased email deliverability. As your deliverability rate lowers, so does your reputation with internet service providers (ISPs). A poor reputation will lower your deliverability even further. It quickly becomes a downward spiral.
Another bad practice is sending emails that are going to get caught in the junk folder. If your company becomes known for sending to unresponsive, closed or inactive email accounts then there’s a higher chance that your emails will get flagged and redirected to the junk folder. You can also hurt your reputation when you don’t practice ongoing data cleaning habits. Lastly, not cleaning your data and sending to bad emails means increased costs because you are sending to contacts who have switched jobs or changed addresses. You’ll be paying to send to accounts that are no longer active.
By regularly cleaning up your data, removing bad emails all together, and sending to engaged audiences, you are set up for a high sender score. Think of your sender score as your credit score. The higher it is, the more mailbox providers are going to trust you. And the more mailbox providers are going to trust you, the better position you will be to engage even more with your audience.
About Emily Nash
With a unique background in start-ups-to-studios, and consulting-to-corporate settings, Emily specializes in solving for unknowns, pioneering new services, and collaborating with marketers and strategists. In her community, she served on the board of American Institute for Graphic Arts as their Communications Director to help promote networking and mentorship opportunities for area designers and creatives. She’s also a co-producer for Rethink Association, a podcast for associations.