From mobile and social media marketing to virtual and augmented reality, marketers today have a wide array of choices to reach target audiences. But ask any marketer to forego email marketing and they are sure to be displeased. By allowing marketers to send highly-targeted messages to large audiences with minimum manual effort and cost, email marketing still remains a top choice, as the channel is so effective. Marketers are likely to get nightmares with news such as Verizon’s recent decision to exit the email business from March 2017 and migrate 4.5 million of its customer email accounts over to AOL or other providers. Why? Because of the massive challenge it will pose from an email deliverability standpoint.
Email marketing, just like any other customer-facing technology, requires marketers to navigate complex, behind-the-scenes challenges to effectively reach the customer. A shift in any major email provider can have a strong impact on their customer contact list and effective delivery. Different email providers often also have varying backend architectures, and marketers must be cognizant of this to avoid email campaigns that end up in a customer’s spam folder. It is crucial for marketers to have in depth insight of the nuts and bolts of email delivery to truly understand how it could affect the success of their campaign strategy and execution.
A History Lesson on Spam
Over the years, the definition of deliverability has evolved in marketers’ vocabularies, from simply reaching the customer’s coveted inbox or dealing with an Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) technical hurdles during the early days, to a more complex subject today that enables marketers to create effective, replicable campaigns. Previously, when there were no laws or regulations to deal with marketing emails or spam, marketers implemented a ‘wild west’ approach, pushing unsolicited mail to primitive mail-server technologies that struggled to manage a huge email inflow.
Initial efforts from ISPs to tackle this challenge included filters to counteract spam and blacklists on keywords. However, spammers still managed to find loopholes that allowed them entry to an unsuspecting recipient’s inbox, leading to an increase in ‘false positives.’ To counter this, ISPs started interacting with Email Service Providers (ESP) to exempt reputed senders from getting falsely recognized as spammers. With email’s rapid growth from the mid-to-late 2000s, ISPs increasingly relied on automated technologies to navigate the increase in traffic, making the problem of spam increasingly worse.
The Arrival of Big Data and Sender Reputation
Eventually, responsibility for deliverability shifted from the ISP to the sender, leading to the evolution of authentication technologies, such as Sender Scores, DMARC (Domain-Based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance), Sender Domains, and DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail). Senders had to comply with all these mechanisms to gain entry to the inbox. However, the rise of these deliverability technologies crossed paths with the emergence of a phenomena that was here to stay - big data.
ISPs leverage big data to strengthen their deliverability filters by capturing and analyzing the inbox metrics and activity of their contacts. To determine whether a recipient desires the marketer’s content, engagement metrics are employed to gauge the content’s outcome after landing in the inbox. These metrics include the number of emails from a sender that are moved to trash, the level of interaction from a recipient with the email (using clicks, replies or forwards), and if a sender has been added to the address book – validating the sender and future email content.
Return Path’s 2016 Deliverability Benchmark Report highlighted that one in five email messages fail to reach an inbox, indicating deliverability is still a problem for marketers, even as modern technologies continue to improve identification of desirable email content from spam.
Sender reputation is a massive deliverability consideration. Reports suggest that 83 percent of the time emails are not delivered to an inbox it’s targeting because of poor sender reputation. ISPs use sender reputation to rate brands and determine how well they are following the rules of the email game. Sender reputation includes many elements, such as mechanisms that meet technical requirements (DKIM), maintaining content-level compliance by balancing HTML and image use, gaining strong engagement rates, and the alacrity with which complaints and unsubscribe requests are handled. While marketers can track campaign engagement rates to address sender reputations, this can be a reactive and risky approach as any activities that warrant poor reputation could get a brand blacklisted, and the time and money involved to repair such damage can be significant.
Deliverability: A Part of your Core Strategy
By being proactive and making email deliverability a critical part of their overall campaign approach, marketers can tackle the daunting task of navigating various technologies and requirements to master email marketing. This can be achieved by correctly setting up the sending infrastructure, and implementing various authentication mechanisms to avoid email content from getting marked by spam tags. Templates should be made deliverability-proof by including footers with relevant privacy information, opt-out support and links that allow adding to the address book. Highly effective deliverability methodologies can also be applied to web resources by making the data-handling information transparent and simplifying a one-click unsubscribe functionality.
Marketers can also avoid high bounce or low engagement rates by setting up a database maintenance schedule that updates old or ill-maintained email lists. This can be achieved by relying on deliverability and engagement metrics that indicate which addresses reject email and need to be removed from the database. Marketers should maintain email quality by consistently using relevant subject lines, avoiding too much formatting, design and attachments, and using an email content checker that tracks at-risk content – allowing them to preempt deliverability issues.
Grabbing a rival’s market share is easy if marketers stay on top of the latest trends in email marketing, including advances in marketing automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence. These next-generation technologies provide marketers with the potential to create highly-personalized campaigns that are personalized for audiences at an individual level, with a potential to further categorize by location, demographics, transactional history and more. This level of customer information can help to create more effective strategic email marketing campaigns that are able to move beyond many of today’s existing challenges, including deliverability, and allow marketers to attain high reach and customer engagement.
Marketers today have to navigate a highly competitive and stressful marketplace that is abound with aggressive rivals, new technologies, multiple devices and screens, as well as demanding customers who desire the right message on a channel and at a time of their choosing. Email marketing offers very high ROI with its low labor and cost model and the potential to deliver advanced, personalized and replicable results. With solid preparation and a proactive approach to tackling deliverability issues, marketers can rely on email marketing to increase sales, and improve customer satisfaction and overall business success.