Successful email programs properly set expectations and offer a reason for recipients to pay attention. In this regard, content is key for political campaigns.
Segmenting your list and testing to find the best subject line or body text will lead to higher engagement and get you to your stated goal. But good content is so much more than changing an “ask amount” or having a candidate’s first name in the salutation.
Content is about delivering information that gets the reader excited and interested down to the individual. While we look at the big picture we overlook how we can deliver messaging that caters to each person’s interests and tastes based on data we’ve collected or their past behavior.
If you want evidence that “content” is broken in political and campaign email look no further than the end of month or quarter as we’re subjected to a deluge of fundraising asks each with a more dire subject line than the next. I myself never give to campaigns yet I am constantly bombarded by fundraising asks as if this will be the one that magically does it.
Each of these asks is a missed opportunity to ask me to do something I might actually do that will get your campaign closer to its goal. Not to mention most of those fundraising asks go to my spam box at this point.
This is one of the two new key metrics that major email providers use to determine what to do with the bulk email you send. Do individuals take positive actions like opening it, replying, or forwarding? Do they take negative actions like deleting it or clicking the dreadful spam button? All of these actions teach email providers what to do with this particular message and messages sent in the future.
The more negative actions, the less likely anyone will see your emails. You want people to open, read your messages and reply. Yes, replying is a good thing so make sure you use a real address and check your inbox regularly.
Email providers are at a point where they can determine what to do with a message to the individual (which is why I say it’s impossible to know your exact deliverability). What goes to spam for me might not go to spam for the next person as they have shown behavior and actions that show they want to receive it.
If engagement is negative or lacking it can impact even those who do want your email. How I handle email impacts future emails I receive, but how you handle the same email also has the potential to impact future emails I receive. And that’s partially why list management is so important. By adding individuals who will mark your messages as spam, delete them, or just do nothing at all, you make it more difficult to reach those who actually want your email. By continually sending to those who are disengaged you’re doing a disservice to your program and eventually will take it off a cliff as the negative metrics add up to a point that only drastic measures will save it.
This is one of the newest metrics out there. With changes to the underlying infrastructure of email, we need new measurements in order to determine whether an email is actually wanted. In this particular case the domain I’m referring to is the “From” of the email (though the domains found within the email itself, such as links, can have an impact).
Think of domain reputation like credit. You need to build up good credit to be trusted. If you have bad habits your reputation can tank and it can take a while to recover. At first a new domain can look suspicious so it’s important to “warm” it up so it is shown it can be trusted. There are proper ways to go about that, and I’m not going to go into that here, but sending the right volume to engaged individuals is key. It’s a long process, so just switching domains isn’t a solution nor is it advisable to quickly whip one up for a new ask.
Understand that domain reputation goes with you. “Quitting” your bulk email provider isn’t a solution if this is your issue. No matter where you go, the negative perception will follow.
This is an issue I’m seeing more and more of, and it’s one of the most difficult to resolve. By following basic best practice you can avoid it all together.
Understand the Law
Too many times I’ve heard a campaign or nonprofit hide behind CAN-SPAM and claim they can do whatever they want when it comes to email. While this might be technically true, it’s also devoid of reality. There is no law that says email providers have to accept your email and the systems that make those determinations are often automated.
But while campaigns and nonprofits may be focused on the U.S. CAN-SPAM law, they ignore laws in other countries that are more restrictive and better defined as to what can and can’t be done. Canada’s CASL for instance does not have protection for U.S. political campaigns, just Canadian. The law differs in that it allows for individuals to file private or class action lawsuits, which makes those non-opted in Canadian email addresses ticking time bombs. Throw in much more restrictive European laws and it becomes even more problematic. So it’s best to simply be a good netizen, and not have to worry about any of it.
The world of email deliverability is absolutely complicated and constantly shifting, but that doesn’t excuse ignoring it. As Brad Hamilton in Fast Times at Ridgemont High says “Learn it. Know it. Live it.”
Brett Schenker is an industry expert on email deliverability and a deliverability specialist at NGP VAN.
This is the second of a two-part series on managing your email program. Read part one, Deliverability and the Health of Your List, here.