Email deliverability has made news on the campaign trail this cycle and campaigns better start paying attention. While we won’t focus on a specific candidate’s email performance for the purposes of this piece, anyone working with email would be well advised to take note of the issues the GOP nominee’s campaign has encountered.
Examining one program in particular isn’t enough to get your own email program on the right track, but it’s well worth discussing email deliverability as a whole.
Campaigns are familiar with the basic metrics: opens, clicks, list size, and fundraising totals. These metrics are easily found in most bulk email providers. However, metrics like bounces, delivery rate, and deliverability are often overlooked. These are the stats few want to talk about, but they can be some of the most important as they can indicate the actual health of an email program and skew all of the goals we cling to.
Delivery vs Deliverability
This might seem like semantics, but delivery and deliverability are two words often interchanged even though than can mean completely different things. Though not quite well defined, delivery is how much email is sent versus how much is accepted by the email provider you’re sending to. Basically, it’s volume minus bounces. Deliverability is how much email makes it to the inbox versus the spam box or quarantine.
If 100 emails were sent and eight of them bounced, the delivery rate is 92 percent. But of that 92 percent, how many actually landed in the inbox? Your delivery can be great, but deliverability on your email effort may still be poor. Without knowing the actual delivery and deliverability rates it’s also hard as a manager of a program to truly determine that program’s success. Did things fail because the body text or the issue focus of the email failed to connect? Or was it because the email just went straight to the spam folder?
Deliverability is much more difficult to assess as tools to do such can be costly and don’t measure things in a 1:1 fashion. They often use seed accounts to measure a sample of the population, or those you send to don’t provide that feedback at all. To find out exactly where every email winds up is an impossible task, but that doesn’t mean one still shouldn’t understand what’s generally going on.
Most importantly for this discussion, email deliverability is nonpartisan and apolitical. It doesn’t matter whether the sender is a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, issue campaign or nonprofit. Email deliverability is often governed by programmed rules and systems that learn what is and what isn’t wanted based on user behavior. And with about 2.5 million emails sent every second it needs to be automated.
If your email winds up in spam you’ve run afoul of the users of a particular email system, some rules, or matched a pattern. There’s no grand conspiracy, you simply “broke the rules.” Understanding those rules and what goes into sending successfully is too often overlooked.
These rules are constantly shifting, but there are some truths we as senders should hold dear and follow like they’re the law. Email deliverability should be as much part of your overall email strategy as any other aspect and maybe even more so as it can greatly impact numerous aspects of email.
There’s a lot that can go into email deliverability, including the infrastructure for the email provider you use to send your bulk messages, the general “traffic” (what has been previously sent by others), authentication, or rules themselves which can vary between every anti-spam system. Step one is solid list management.
This is the first and most important aspect of email deliverability, and it’s generally the most important aspect of your email program. This is much more than segmenting or making sure people can unsubscribe, it’s about how people get on your list and the journey they go through from beginning to end.
New addresses should be organic and confirmed. It’s not uncommon for people to mistype their email addresses so you should be taking steps to ensure collected emails are correct, and that they’re emails you really want to be on your list.
Too many in our industry feel it’s still acceptable to buy, swap, and trade lists, as if with a quick gain there’s no impact. That’s the furthest thing from the truth. Time and time again I see these types of activities negatively impacting programs by sending more overall email to spam or, in the extreme, causing programs to be shut down.
At the same time, we as senders should welcome individuals to unsubscribe by making that process as easy and painless as possible. Holding people hostage on your list by refusing to cease sending to them not only angers people, but it doesn’t benefit you or your email program in the long run. If people don’t want to hear from you, let them go.
Sending email to an individual is a two-way relationship (so actually look at your reply inbox), and if you begin that relationship the wrong way it’s likely to be over before it begins.
Brett Schenker is an industry expert on email deliverability and a deliverability specialist at NGP VAN.
This is the first of a two-part series on managing your email program. Read part two, Engaging Your Email List: From Content to Sender Reputation, here.