If you can’t reach your buyers, your email marketing program has little chance of success. Reaching the inbox, however, has become more difficult as the barriers to deliverability have become more formidable. To succeed, email marketers must adopt more sophisticated techniques.
As Yesmail reports, “Email deliverability has become increasingly complicated and intimidating for even the savviest marketers.” The Relevancy Group agrees, informing us that, “Today we are faced with changes to the rules of inbox placement.” These changes, the study says, “increase the need for rigorous deliverability measures and new approaches to analysis.”
Likewise, Return Path asserts that “the deliverability challenge has gone through a remarkable transition.” To keep pace with the changes, says Return Path, “Email marketers need to be aware that there are important new indicators for them to monitor in order to maintain a healthy set of deliverability metrics.”
As Yesmail explains, deliverability has moved beyond simply having to avoid certain trigger words and subject lines. The hazards email marketers face today include inactive recipients, bounces, spam traps, honey pots, blacklisting, URL blockers, bulking and inspection of email elements such as HTML-to-text ratios.
Marketers who send to corporate servers must run a gauntlet of additional filters, interceptors and spam-flag protections. Many corporate email servers use anti-spam software that employs the same tactics used by ISPs (blacklists, sender reputation, html/text ratio, image analysis, URL block lists, etc.).
“Mailstream contamination” is another hazard. As Yesmail explains, running all of your email programs (transactional, marketing, etc.) on one IP address can cause deliverability issues because when one mail stream runs into trouble with an ISP, it prevents all of your email campaigns from reaching the inbox.
Bulking is another hazard, which occurs when an ISP sends the vast majority of your email to the bulk folder because you’ve crossed some threshold of complaints or un-engagement. “Bulking is more subtle, but no less impactful on the effectiveness of your email marketing,” says Jay Miller of ExactTarget.
Another potential problem, Miller points out, is getting blocked at the domain level, which will cause your emails to bounce. This, he says, is a serious problem that is usually due to major reputation issues. A block is pretty easy to spot, says Miller, because your bounce rate will spike from 1 percent to 20 percent overnight!
For these reasons and more, deliverability issues have become the stuff of marketing nightmares, says Yesmail, pointing out that many of the world’s largest brands encounter deliverability issues, with roughly 25 percent of emails failing to reach their intended consumer targets.
Experts agree that maintaining a high sender reputation is critical. As Return Path observes, “Sender reputation remains the cornerstone of email deliverability.”
ISPs measure reputation based on complaints, opens, click-throughs and messages passed by (messages opened on top of and below yours). Other things that can damage your reputation are problematic URLs linked to co-marketing partners and url shorteners that have been flagged.
The primary factors that influence reputation metrics, says Return Path, are infrastructure, data quality, and complaints, and these “represent the core factors that email marketers need to be monitoring.”
However, as Return Path and others relate, subscriber behaviors like opens and click-throughs are playing a rising role in determining which emails make it to recipients’ inboxes.
New Skills Needed
The necessity for marketers to improve their optimization practices, said The Relevancy Group, led the firm to explore the state of email marketing measurement, analysis and its role and impact on marketing performance.
What the study found, said Relevancy Group’s David Daniels, was that “Marketers lack understanding about the importance of the inbox delivery metric and the overall positive program impact of even a slight improvement on this measure.”
The study found that a large percentage of marketers were not measuring and analyzing important aspects of their email campaigns, leaving them at a disadvantage for reaching inboxes and optimizing deliverability. For example, less than one-half of marketers have dashboard access to critical metrics that are necessary to drive program optimization, The Relevancy Group found.
The Relevancy Group and other experts agree that email marketers in general must raise their game to overcome the more stringent barriers to deliverability in play today. In the next article, we’ll provide expert tips for fighting and winning the deliverability war.
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photo credit: Rajiv Ashrafi