Top 10 tips for driving email deliverability
Marketers spend a lot of time and energy planning email marketing campaigns that might never get received. Guy Hanson shares his top 10 tips for deliverability, so marketers can optimise processes and increase open rates.
Marketers spend hours upon hours planning and carefully executing every little detail of an email marketing campaign, but often those efforts are in vain. Enter deliverability. An often misunderstood and seemingly complex element of email marketing, however, the foundation on which success is built – simply put, it doesn’t matter how slick your marketing email is if no one ever receives it.
Despite what many people think, the internet’s capacity is not infinite. As the pandemic rages on in varying degrees around the world, greater global internet volumes are making it tougher for traffic to get from point A to point B because service and mailbox providers are tightening their criteria to cope. Therefore, businesses need to hold their email practices to even higher standards than usual to ensure deliverability is maintained.
There are a few key factors that influence email deliverability: email service providers or platforms (ESPs), format, engagement and sender reputation (based on your audience’s engagement with your emails) are some of the main ones.
Fortunately, best practices for achieving strong deliverability will outlast the pandemic. To ensure you’re achieving your best possible deliverability, here are my top ten tips for ensuring your emails reach your subscribers every time.
Optimise your sign-up process
Good deliverability starts with your sign-up process. First and foremost, ask new subscribers to confirm their opt-in to avoid complaints down the track. Moving forward, think specifically about how you optimise this process by using email address verification, clearly setting expectations around how personal data will be used and providing genuine choice around email content and frequency. This will reduce spam complaints, which leads to poor sender reputation and therefore deliverability.
Authentication is just as important as reputation when it comes to determining whether your emails reach subscribers. Authentication allows the recipient and the mailbox provider to confirm the identity of the sender and all of the major mailbox providers now expect email programs to operate authentication tools (such as SPF, DKIM and DMARC). If your emails aren’t authenticated, you risk them being blocked or sent to the recipient’s junk folder.
For a high-volume email marketing campaign, you might go from sending emails to 5,000 subscribers a week to sending emails to 100,000 subscribers each day. A sudden dramatic increase in outbound emails will alert mailbox providers, and if they think your IP address has been compromised, they could block or delay delivery of your emails until they can validate your sender reputation. To avoid this disruption, gradually increase the volume and frequency of outgoing emails in the lead-up to your campaign.
Maintain a healthy list
While it may feel counterproductive, removing people from your subscriber list to boost deliverability is often a worthwhile move. It’s important to purge invalid or inactive email addresses on a regular basis as a large number of inactive subscribers can dramatically impact your deliverability because they offset your engagement metrics – mailbox providers view low levels of engagement as a strong indicator of a lower quality sender. Consider removing or suppressing inactive customers after a set time or automating a re-confirmation campaign.
When it comes to deciding what to send and how often, you need to think of your customers as your first priority. What are their concerns and needs right now? What are they interested in? How can you provide them with what they’re looking for? A few targeted and relevant communications will be more impactful than a lot of unnecessary, irrelevant ones. Less (done well) can often be more, however, sometimes your customer will want more, so it’s important to know what’s best for your audience rather than just assuming.
One big upside from the pandemic has been the shift from purely sales-driven messaging to interest-based content. Brands have been presented with a great opportunity to better engage with their customers by demonstrating transparency and showing empathy. Generating positive engagement is a key part of successful deliverability, and brands are benefitting from stronger relationships because of this.
Spend more time testing
Inbox providers use different spam filters to prevent unwanted emails from reaching recipients’ inboxes. Therefore, it’s important to test your email before send it to subscribers to see if it’s likely to get caught in a spam filter and if so, to adjust it accordingly – by resizing the images, for example, shortening the text, or changing the subject line. If you send an email to your subscribers without first testing it, you risk hitting a spam trap and damaging your sender’s reputation. Running your emails through a spam checking tool like Spam Assassin before you send them can help to identify and correct any content that may be picked up as spam by mail providers.
Think about timing
Being thoughtful about the send times of your emails can improve your deliverability. With most senders’ schedule email broadcasts on a round number, for example 10:00am, 12:00pm, and so on, you can avoid email traffic jams simply by choosing less competitive times to send, for example 10:15am, 12:30pm, etc. Also, think about when in the day is the best time to send an email – and this also talks to testing – a sender might only ever send between 6.00am and 12.00pm, and use their data to identify that 9.00am generates the best responses. However, what if their customers might actually be a load more responsive to 6.00pm sends – this also pertains to testing, test your audience!
Make unsubscribing easy
It’s absolutely critical that you have a simple, working ‘unsubscribe’ function. Not only is it the law, but it’s also best-practice. A lot of people think that if unsubscribing is easier to do, more subscribers will do it. And while this may be correct in some cases, if a customer has already made up their mind to leave your program, then it’s in your best interests to let them. An unsubscribe has no impact on your sender reputation, whereas a complaint does carry a negative impact, therefore it’s preferable for a disengaged customer to unsubscribe before they reach boiling point.
Certification provides a measurable lift when it comes to inbox placement rates, meaning more opportunities for your subscribers to see your email. A case study by Validity and Emarsys found that there is an average click-through increase of 35 percent for accredited email programs – giving marketers the edge they need to stand out in a crowded inbox.
Above all, if your recipients enjoy and derive value from your emails, they will interact with your messages – improving reputation and deliverability in the future. In saying that, getting the best return on investment from your email program begins with taking steps to ensure it actually lands in their inbox and this doesn’t need to be difficult if you’re implementing best-practice processes.
Guy Hanson is an email marketing expert and the VP of customer engagement at Validity Inc.