When it comes to email marketing, the only thing that counts is getting your email delivered to an inbox! When you send email for a living, like we do, you eat and sleep this type of thinking 24/7.
If our email doesn’t get delivered, we don’t pay the bills, so you can see our incentive for getting it right.
Trust me when I tell you, you can labour on email subject lines for hours , change your images a zillion times and profile your data to death, but it counts for absolutely nothing if your communication doesn’t ultimately hit the intended target – the recipients email inbox.
You must get your mail delivered to have any chance of an outcome, let alone a successful outcome.
So what counts the most when it comes to email delivery?
There are several contributing factors, and in this blog post we are going to cover the one that probably counts the most – Email Source.
Think of your IP address as your computer’s DNA (your unique identifier). Every computer, connected to the world wide web, has an IP address and when mailbox providers start filtering email (and it’s important to note that all email gets filtered), they absolutely check the reputation of IP addresses to decide which emails get placed in inboxes and which email gets flagged and binned.
Mailbox providers use sophisticated algorithms and their roll is to weed out the good mail from the bad mail and not allow the unscrupulous email through the front door. One of the things high on the mailbox provider checklist is the reputation of the IP address – the source and reputation of the email.
In essence, the question all mailbox providers and spam filters are asking is: Where does this email come from and what do we know about it?
IP reputation can and should be tracked using a sender score, which is determined by tracking, over time, the email sender’s performance, using a host of different metrics. If you have a high sender score, you’re doing a good job of playing by the rules. If your sender score is low, your email is going to struggle to pass the eagle-eyed gatekeepers, protecting inboxes around the world.
So what types of metrics influence your sender score? There are more factors at play, but these are the major ones:
- Email volume
- Spam traps
- Message composition
- Dirty data
You don’t even need to be in email marketing to guess what a blacklist is! It’s the naughty list every email marketer doesn’t want to land up on. A report I recently read indicates that there might be as many as 300 publicly available blacklists (from the well-known to independent). Spammers get reported and added to these blacklists and mailbox providers and filtering companies use a number of them to cross-ref against. If you land up on something like The Spamhaus Block List (SBL) your email delivery is going to be severely impacted. It’s not so easy to get off a blacklist – you’ve got to motivate the reasons for being removed and then put forward remedies for future mailing. Truth is, if you SPAM for a living, you are going to inevitably end up on a blacklist. Even if you manage to get off, your practices will ensure it’s only a matter of time before you land up on one again.
People who receive email they don’t want (or can’t unsubscribe from) complain. It’s not rocket science! Too many complaints means the email sender gets penalized and fewer emails get delivered into inboxes. Trying to implement a zero complaints policy is almost impossible nowadays. People sign up to stuff, then forget they signed up, then complain about receiving the electronic communication they signed up for in the first place (it’s weird but it’s true). But any email marketer worth his salt knows you need to handle complaints quickly and, more importantly, identify whether the complaint points towards something in your over-arching emailing strategy.
The reason you need to act quickly is because mailbox providers have one task in mind – Make sure the user is protected from bad email. So, it’s fair to say they take complaints pretty seriously. If you get too many complaints then you are sending emails to people who clearly don’t want the stuff you are sending. It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that.
Oh, one last thing – make sure you have an ‘unsubscribe’ link in every single one of your email communications. People understandably get upset when they receive email they don’t have an option of unsubscribing from.
3. Email volume
Big spikes in email volume suggests to mailbox providers that you might be spamming. Consistent email volumes suggest good email marketing practices. Mailbox providers keep an eye on volume and senders looking to “moer it” don’t fair well, because it might well be another one of those ugly Viagra mailers looking to push past the inbox gatekeepers. I send email for a living so I can tell you that I’ve seen IP reputation tank quickly, when volumes spike. In actual fact, big send volumes, coupled with dirty data (we’ll get to that a little later) are in my mind the biggest contributors to terrible reputation scores.
Slow and steady email sends win the race in the long term.
4. Spam traps
As the name suggests, spam traps are traps that are laid for spammers, and when spammers get caught, they get penalized heavily. It’s pretty sneaky, but spam traps are email addresses that don’t belong to active users and are used as bait to identify spammers and senders with dodgy marketing lists. Mailbox providers, filtering companies and blacklist administrators create and manage spam trap networks and if you hit a spam trap, it’s difficult to explain how you managed to get the email address of someone who doesn’t actually exist or isn’t active (how did he sign up?). So, if you’ve been buying a dodgy email list and looking to start an email marketing empire, be warned that spam traps are designed to catch the types of dudes involved in crappy mailing practices.
5. Message composition
This is actually a blog post on its own, and I will cover it down the line in future articles, but your email message composition has a lot to do with your overall sender score. Everything from the words you decide to use in your email subject line, down to your copy-to-image ratio has some impact on your email getting delivered. Using words like ‘FREE’ in your subject line isn’t going to do you any favours, and using too many graphics in your mailer slows down the server’s ability to process mail and as a result it gets flagged.
6. Dirty data
When too many of your emails bounce (either a hard or a soft bounce), and in layman’s terms that is a simple “return to sender, address unknown” message from one server to the next, it points directly to poor list management. If you have a legitimate opt-in email list of people who have willingly signed up to receive your email communication, your bounce rate will be low and you are in the clear.
Here is an example to better illustrate my point:
John has a successful IT blog and has 20 000 people subscribed via email. John sends out a weekly newsletter and his email bounce rate is 1% (that means 99% of John’s email gets delivered). This is an excellent result and contributes massively to the sender score and overall IP reputation.
Jack wants to make a quick buck sending email. He has bought an email list from a mate of his and he is busy sending SPAM. Jack has 100 000 people on this list and what he doesn’t know is that only 10% of the emails are being delivered (therefore he has a 90% bounce rate). The data is dodgy and the extraordinarily high bounce rates indicates that this cannot be someone looking to send above board mail, because they don’t even know they are sending to email addresses that don’t exist.
List hygiene is critical to maintain good server reputation. Hard bounces should be removed and bounce rates should be no more than a couple of %.
Feel free to leave a comment or drop us a line if you need any assistance with your email marketing strategy & delivery.
Until next time.