If you do a quick Google search for “email deliverability,” you’ll see a lot of articles about what you should and shouldn’t say or do if you don’t want your marketing emails to be marked as spam.
You might even have seen “thought leaders” from email service providers (ESPs) post lists of words on LinkedIn that you should never use. Don’t ever say “free,” and make sure you don’t use too many images!
But the truth is, many of those “rules” are pretty outdated. So where did they come from? Are any of them still relevant? And what should you really be doing now to optimize your email deliverability? I’m so glad you asked!
Last month, I had the pleasure of attending (virtually, of course) a Litmus Live session by Chad S. White, head of research for Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting and author of Email Marketing Rules. Chad spoke to a rapt audience about where we came from in the world of email deliverability, where we are now and where we should focus our attention in the near (and uncertain) future.
This is your ESP and its reputation.
How much email you were sending daily, weekly, etc. Basically, sending more email got you looked at more carefully by internet service providers (ISPs).
Here’s where old-school advice like word choices and punctuation came in.
These include hard bounces (user not found), soft bounces (a temporary inbox issue) and spam traps (email addresses designed or repurposed to trap marketers who are either buying lists or not keeping their databases clean).
This used to be the hub of deliverability issues—people hitting the “report spam” button.
Purchasing lists is still the easiest way to tank your email deliverability. The recipients on those lists don’t know you and don’t want to hear from you. Moreover, they might actually be spam traps!
That’s a lot, right? But that was the state of email deliverability 15 years ago. Today, some of those factors have become less important (like those “forbidden” words), some have become standard practice (like having alt text behind your images and maintaining a good image-to-text ratio) and some are more important than ever (like your acquisition sources).
Here’s a quick engagement health check:
- Are you meeting your subscribers where they already are and providing value in what you send them?
- Are you getting their explicit opt in that they want to hear from you?
- Are you using personalization and tailoring your content to your subscribers?
- Are your subscribers showing you that they’re interested in what you’re sending by replying (yes, it’s a factor, so rethink that “no-reply” address), forwarding, starring or foldering your emails? How will you know that? Well, most of that data is something you don’t have visibility into, but you can see your clicks, which act as a proxy for that engagement.
(Side note: Be wary of giving too much weight to email opens, since many inboxes will count an open based on tracking pixels firing when the email hits the inbox.)
- Are you paying attention to legislation like CASL and GDPR and thinking of how US laws might soon change to catch up?
- Are you segmenting out your inactive subscribers and actively trying to re-engage them?
- And if you run into trouble with issues like spam traps, are you putting in the work to rehabilitate instead of thinking you can just run away from a bad sender reputation by switching IPs or ESPs? (Spoiler alert: That no longer works.)
So how did you do? Most brands need to work on at least a few of those points.
It’s changed a lot in the past 15 years and will continue to change.
And because of this, it deserves more attention.
They must engage subscribers.
The only recourse is to mitigate the damage and change sending behavior.
It’s now less about ticking boxes and more about getting to know your subscribers and what they want.
Laws like CCPA are bringing the public’s attention to their data rights. A US law akin to GDPR will likely not be far behind, so start paying attention to how you’re acquiring and using subscriber data.
[You may also like: DS talks CCPA—What you need to know about the California Consumer Privacy Act]
You might be saying, “That’s great, Emily, but what do I need to know for the next six months?!”
There are a lot of new people getting active online and they will behave differently.
List growth is less important than the health of your reputation. Become more customer-centric in how you appeal to prospects.
That happened a lot in March and April, and ISPs aren’t going to put up with more of that behavior! Use transactional platforms to send to recipients you don’t have permission to send to on your promotional platform.
Stay safe and healthy, and keep those email practices healthy, too!
As Dixon Schwabl’s email marketing strategist, Emily strives to make every email communication compliant, personalized, relevant, compelling and actionable. No sweat, right? She recently was among the first 120 recipients of Litmus certification in email marketing.