How do email marketers minimize emails going to spam folders?
Some studies show that up to 20% of all emails end up in spam folders or simply get dropped, undelivered or blocked. In the past, the major factor for low deliverability was your content. If your emails weren’t getting delivered, it was probably because of the content of your emails. Nowadays however only 23% of deliverability issues are because of the content. The other 77% are due to the email reputation of the sender.
When I say email reputation of the sender I mean you the mailer/email marketer and not necessarily the ESP (email service provider or platform). Your inbox delivery is comprised of these parts;Domain reputation + content +(Engagement & User Feedback) + IP reputation = Email ReputationClick To Tweet
All of these factor into your overall reputation as an email marketer.
What do I mean about domain reputation exactly? Well many years ago the ISP’s and free mailbox providers, like yahoo, gmail, hotmail, aol, used to measure reputation based on the IP address of the sender and content. As many mailers found this out they would look for ESPs that had the “golden ips”. The search went on to find these IPs in order to get good inboxing and avoiding the spam folder. This caused many mailers to move from ESP to ESP without ever actually fixing any root cause issues. As time progressed the ISP’s and free mailbox providers got smarter. They realized they could not soley determine inboxing on just the IP of the sender. They had to make the ownership on the mailer.
Domain reputation came into play. Why not monitor the domain of which the mail comes from and therefor not penalize the mailers on the same ips. The introduction of DKIM allowed for monitoring not only that mail was legit and not forged but also gave insight as to how to guage the quality of traffic. This meant that a mailer who was mailing responsibly and with good engagement would not be largely affected by a mailer who was mailing with low engagement.
Now don’t get me wrong, depending on how the ESP is setup you could still be affected by domain reputation if you are on a shared domain within the ESP vs sending from your own domain. But Ill save that for another post.
So how do you build good domain reputation in order to stay out of the spam box and get to the inbox? Lets talk about Engagement.
There are many parts to engagement that an ISP/mailbox provider look at to determine if your email message should go to the subscribers inbox or not. Just a reminder, the ISP/Mailbox Provider’s responsibility is not you, the marketer, but to the subscriber. That is their main responsibility. They want to deliver mail that the subscriber wants and they want to place emails in that are NOT relevant into the spam folder. This keeps their customer happy and continuing to use their service. If they offer a poor product then the customer leaves to another mailbox provider. Now with that in mind the way to guage this is through an algorithm they have created to measure subscriber engagement. Im sure we can agree that each subscriber/recipient of email is different. We all have different habits so everyones inboxing will be different. With that in mind let me get into the nitty gritty here.
Engagement is measured in postive and negative.
Here are some positive engagement metrics that are looked at.
- Opens (did the subscriber or does a % of your subscribers receving your email, open your emails)
- Clicks ( if you have urls in your email, does the subscriber or audience of subscribers click through)
- Reply (this is one that is missed by most markerters. The reply feature is a solid indication if the subscriber actually wants your email and engaged. Think of a single email you send to a friend or colleague. You normally get a reply back, right? Thats great engagement so when I see marketers use the firstname.lastname@example.org i cringe a little.
- Read rate (now this is how long the subscriber spends in your email message once it is opened, so the goal is to get them to open and then get them reading. )
- Save into folders (this shows the ISP that your email is important enough that you are saving it vs deleting it)
- Forward (forwarding an email to a friend is almost like a reply as it shows you are sending that content to someone else similar to a reply. There is a sending action tied to it)
- Mark as Important (this is the star feature you see in your email boxes on the free mailbox providers)
- Add to addreess book (this means you are important and they would like to mail to you in the future and scores very positive)
- Mark as NOT SPAM (this one is my favorite and I will explain why later, however this is a good indication that the mailbox provider made a mistake and will mark your behavior and then mark the sender and valuable)
Here are some negative engagements
- Did not Open
- Hard bounce (sending to emails that no longer exist or never existed. This causes a hard bounce that the ISP records. Hard bounces mean poor list hygiene)
- Did not click
- Did not reply
- Deleted without opening
- Marked as SPAM/Junk which is considered a complaint.
- Left in Spam (Now this is a touch one because you may think no one checks the spam folder but we all do it. We may not do it daily but we do check it and that is when you mark things as not spam, so if you go into your spam folder and you dont mark it as safe or not spam, that is negative as well.
Now all of this is done in realtime and scored. Now I want to touch on the “Mark as SPAM or Mark as Safe/Not SPAM as this contributes to USER Behavior which is part of the equation I posted above. When the user, which is the subscriber and recipient of the email, marks an email as spam or not spam, this will trump all those other engagements. Why is this important. Well as I mentioned not everyones behavior is the same and if an email is marked as spam this will always be spam. (if mailed from the same domain) When you mark something as not spam this also trumps any negative engagement that may be associated with that domain. So as you can see user behavior is very important and this is why on a form that is filled out, after the submission, you should always tell the subscriber to check the spam folder in case it was delivered there and to mark it as not spam. I cringe when I dont see that message as well.
Now you may be asking well how to I control all that? Well here are my tips on that:
- Send wanted emails. What does that mean exactly? If you are sending unsolicited emails then more than likely you will go to spam.
- Get permission to send email to the subscriber and make sure you are clear about the expectations. You can list this in your welcome email and on the subscription page. An example would be. Thanks for signing up, I will be sending weekly tips on Email Marketing. (this tells the subscriber how many emails they will be getting and what the topic will be. If you are going to send other types of emails you may want to add form boxes for each type of selection.
- Send value driven emails. What does this mean? Dont sell all the time. No one wants to be sold all the time. Build a relationship. Send articles on how they can improve themselves or their business.
- Segment your data. What does this mean? We have a rule of thumb at Emercury. If a subscriber hasnt opened my email in 90 days, they more than likely are not going to open my emails. We actually segment them out after 30 days but that can be modified. Dont get too attached to the subscribers who just are not engaging. Move them into another list of non engagers and create a campaign to try and get them back engaged but at a less frequent pace from your regular emails. By segmenting out your non engagers you now have a list of just engagers which then shows the ISPs your email messages are relavant and this moves emails to the inbox and prioritizes delivery to get to the inbox even faster.
- Don’t buy lists or send to purchased lists. Ughh… I cant stress this enough. Purchased lists are full of spam traps. Mailing to a spam trap is a very fast way to get back into the spam folder. Not only that but your ESP will kick you off their system.
- Proper list hygiene. What does this mean? Dont send to hard bounces, dont send to subscribers that asked to be unsubscribed, dont send to subscribers that marked you as spam. (This normally happens when you export your data form one ESP and move to another) When moving from ESP to ESP make sure you move all the settings assigned to the subscriber. If they marked you as spam, if it was a hard bounce, if they unsubscribed. If you havent mailed your list in a while you may want to look into a list hygiene service.
- Invite your subscribers to REPLY back to you with questions.
- Send a welcome email immediately after they signup to your list using an Autoresponder and within the email make sure you thank them, and put a link in there to start the engagement. Maybe its a coupon they need to click on, maybe its a video of you telling them about the product, maybe its a link to an article or help article on onboarding. Whatever it is, get them engaged. I cringe again when I see this opportunity missed.
Last thing I am going to talk about here is Content. As you have heard before, Knowlege is King. If knowledge is king then Content, which drives knowledge, is Queen.
The content of your email message is going to be factored into how to get into that inbox. Content is not just the body of the message but also the subject. Here are the parts to content.
- From Name
From name is going to identify you. If you are not a brand name then you really need to make sure you identify yourself well in the subscription process and stay true to that name in the welcome email and future emails.
Subject is a very important piece of the puzzle here. The subject is what entices the reader to open your email. You could have the best content in the body of your email but if they dont open your email then its all a waste. Test your subjects. Use AB split testing offered by your ESP. Test your subject lines to see which have better engagements. Here is a tip, Questions get more opens then statements.
Headline is the first thing the reader sees when they open your email. Congrats they opened your email but it is not enough. Now you need to keep them reading. You have 10 seconds to keep this reader. Make every second count. Headline should draw the reader to keep reading. Make it captivating but also relevant. I cant stress this enough. Dont try to trick the reader. That is a fast way to lose TRUST. which I have not touched on in this post. I can speak about trust in another post. Headline keeps them reading and if you remember one of my positive engagements the ISPs look at is READING time.
Subheadline gets them past the first headline and more into your email. Here is a tip, make it a pain point. Or make it a question that relates to them and get them to say YES to that question.
Body is the main meat and potatoes of your message. Now the goal here is not to post all the information from your webpage and sell them right away in your email. the goal of the email is to drive them back to your landing page. So make this short and to the point. Continue with questions to get them to say yes. Get right to the point and offer a call to action. The call to action is the CLICK I talked about earlier. If you have a blog and you are sending out daily or weekly tips, dont give out the whole cow in the email. Give them a snippet and offer a read more. This will do 2 things.
1. drive engagement in your email
2. drive traffic to your site.
Now I hope I did’t ramble too much but I think I covered it all. This is how you get into the inbox, stay in the inbox and keep a good email reputation with the ISPs.
“Domain reputation + content +(Engagement & User Feedback) + IP reputation = Email Reputation”
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