Deliverability: The Scariest Thing about Your Email Program

Here are some scary stats about email:

  • 30% of practicing marketers don't take the time to figure out their actual rate of delivery. - MarketingSherpa "Email Marketing Benchmark Guide 2008" (2008)

  • Only 75% of permission based emails reach the inbox - Lyris, Q2 Email Advisory Report Card (2007)

  • Average delivery rate to the top 10 ISPs is only 83.8% - Lyris Technologies EmailAdvisor ISP Delivery Report Card Q1 2007 (2007)

  • Only 40% of marketers have delivery rates over 90% - Internet Retailer Survey Report on Email Marketing (2007)

  • IPs that were listed on just one of the top 12 blacklists saw their delivery rates plunge to an average of 35%. - Return Path (2008)

  • 30% of practicing marketers don't take the time to figure out their actual rate of delivery. - MarketingSherpa "Email Marketing Benchmark Guide 2008" (2008)

So, let me sum all of that up in this simple statement: if you haven’t stopped to consider the deliverability of your emails, then chances are your emails are not reaching their final destination.

Poor deliverability can completely skew your perspective of your entire email program. For instance, if only about 40% of your emails are reaching your recipients—and if you have no way of knowing that—then your open rates are going to be completely off. Also the total response rate will likely be very low. You may think that it is because your appeal was a failure, but in actuality it is because you’re only reaching about half of your total donor file.

So the first key is to work with your email program administrator to determine what your actual deliverability rates are for your emails. Many enterprise-level Email Management Systems will provide this information. If you are using a homegrown or more basic level system, you may want to consider moving to a more robust application. After all, you may be missing out on capturing revenue!

You will also want to implement some email best practices. These will help to ensure that your emails have the best opportunity to be delivered to their final destination in your donors inbox.

  • Authenticate Your Emails. Authentication allows the Internet Service Provider (ISP) and the receiver of an email message to confirm the identity of the sender. Unfortunately, this process has not been standardized across all ISPs, so some will use SPF (Sender Policy Framework) records, some will use Sender ID, and some will use Domain Keys. In order to ensure that you are covered, you really need to do all three.

  • Make Sure You Ask…and Then Ask Again. A surefire way to ensure that you have permission to send email messages to recipients is by using a double opt-in process. In a single opt-in process, the user fills out a form on your web site and checks a box that states “I would like to receive email updates from this organization.” The double opt-in method takes it a step further. When the user submits the form, an email is sent to the address specified with a link that the user must click to “confirm their desire to receive emails from this organization.” Double opt-in lists are pretty much ironclad when it comes to permission.

  • Turn Down the Volume. If you send high volumes of emails, then you run the risk of tripping a spammer flag somewhere. Try to identify ways to segment your sends into smaller distribution groups, or consider throttling your sends over a longer period of time.

  • Stop All the Complaining. Spam complaints (when a recipient clicks “This is Spam”) can be an email deliverability death sentence. Most ISPs have very low thresholds for the number of complaints an email can receive without being defined as spam. Make sure you are providing adequate devices within your email so that recipients that desire to opt-out can. Get on the ISP feedback loops—if a recipient complains, remove them immediately. The key is to be proactive.

  • Give Your List a Good Scrub. Many older email lists will have outdated email addresses that can wreak havoc on your email deliverability. For instance if you have a high “hard bounce” rate, or if you happen to have a spam trap address on your list, then you can pretty much kiss your recipients inbox goodbye. Talk to your email provider to see if they offer an email list scrubbing service. This will help you cleanse your list from bad email addresses, improperly formatted email addresses, and spam traps.


Do I Need to be Concerned About Meta Tags?

I received an email from a client today about web site Meta Tags that I thought I would share on this blog. Hopefully this sheds some light on one of the most common misconceptions about Search Engine Optimization:

Hi Tim,

I have a quick question that is one of those Web 101 things....Can you explain to me if the term "meta tag" is relevant today? I know meta tags used to be embedded in HTML coding, but is this the equivalent of our keywords [our] site?

Good question. The simple answer is that in terms of getting your site to the top of Google (or any modern search engine for that matter), Meta Tags are completely useless. There are of course best practices that should be followed:

  1. The "TITLE" tag should be optimized - Although this is technically not a Meta Tag, using accurate keywords that can be found in the content of the page is a best practice technique. If you look at the blue (or gray) bar at the very top of your browser, you will see the Title tag. The Title Tag is also the anchor text (or link) that is displayed in the search results.

  2. "Description" Meta Tags Can Leveraged - The "Description" meta tag can be used in the search engine results snippet (i.e. the brief description text that is displayed below the link in the search results. If you do not specify a Description tag, then the search engine will dynamically create a snippet and bold the keywords that are found on that page in context. I tend to think that this is a better method because it will embolden the keywords making them pop more, and it will help prove to the user that the page is relevant to what they are looking for.

  3. "Keywords" Tags are Completely Ignored - Way back in the day, when Webcrawler was the browser of choice and everyone was connected with thier 14.4 Dialup modem on their 486 DX-66, if you could write a good Keyword Meta Tag, you would be at the top of the list...but that is like so, 1994. Ha!

If you would like to transform into a complete search engine nerd like me, you can check out the official Google Webmaster blog: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2007/12/answering-more-popular-picks-meta-tags.html There you will find a more in-depth explanation of the summary points above...of course you may need a geek translator to get past the second sentence. Ha!


Keeping Up With the Jones'

I don’t know about you, but with all of new online marketing tactics, it can sometimes get confusing. I mean, just because one organization was able to leverage Twitter to raise $250,000 does that mean that tactic will work for everyone? Not hardly. Here are some tips to help you think strategically about your online marketing efforts:

  • Start with the end goal in mind. I know it sounds very obvious, but sometimes in the haste of trying to jump on the latest technique for leveraging your Facebook page, we lose site of our end target. For NPOs it is usually always one of three things:

    More Names
    More Donors
    More Dollars

    Start with these high-level goals and the form more specific objectives and targets. This will help you stay focused on the prize as you dive into the minutia of tactical execution.

  • Select your tactic based on who you are trying to reach. I worked with an organization that wanted desperately to tap Facebook, but when we stopped to consider their intended audience it became very clear that this was not the right approach. In the end we developed a plan to leverage E-Cards which ended up producing amazing results. I suppose the maxim here is, fish where the fish are…and use the right bait!

    BTW, if you don’t know who exactly is your intended audience, try using Quantcast to get an idea of the types of visitors that frequent your web site.

  • Test your way into it. One of the greatest features of online marketing tactics is that you can usually start small and roll out based on results. If you are launching an SEM campaign, start with a small sample budget and test different landing page options. If you are sending out an email, carve out a sample group and test different subject lines, designs, layouts, and copy. The point here is to start small so that if/when you roll out on a larger scale you can maximize the results.

  • Track EVERYTHING! When it comes to online marketing, there are really no good excuses for not tracking everything. At a bare minimum, use Google Analytics—it is free and powerful when wielded correctly. For instance, you can integrate it with your ecommerce system to track revenue for different referral sources, and you can use the URL Creator to create custom clickthrough links that gives you detailed reporting for landing pages, banners, and email campaigns.

  • Try not to get sucked into the hype. Often, the new kid on the block gets all of the attention when it comes to marketing tactics. However, it is the old reliable tactics that continue to do the heavy lifting brining in the lion’s share of revenue. When it comes to online fundraising, email is still king. Before you develop a new Facebook strategy, take a good hard look at your email program. How is your deliverability? What do your open and clickthrough rates look like compared to industry averages? Is your email file growing? Are you integrating your channels effectively?

Keeping these points in mind will help you to think on a strategic level when it comes to adopting new ways to get more names, more donors, and more dollars so your organization can have more impact.


Laugh Your Way Into the Next Big Idea

I don’t know about you, but I hate serious meetings. On second thought, make that loathe completely. In fact, I do everything I can to lighten the mood. I can recall being in executive staff meetings, with suits, ties, and bad coffee—the youngest person in the room by at least a decade—and busting out my very best Swedish Chef impression. Or another time when I demonstrated how to deactivate the new door security keypads without having to remove the keycard from your pocket by getting close and friendly with the wall.

The cool thing about humor is that it helps you exercise the same mental muscles that you use when applying creative thinking strategies. Humor begs us to look at things from a different angle, or with a different set of assumptions. It helps us to apply optimism to a problem to find something good out of what might be really bad. And it gives us a little bit more room to think in terms of a hypothetical which may lead us to an entirely new revelation.

So next time you are faced with a very difficult problem, remember the lyrical words of Monty Python:

If life seems jolly rotten
There's something you've forgotten
And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing.
When you're feeling in the dumps
Don't be silly chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle - that's
the thing.
And...always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the light side of life...


Increasing Open Rates with Donor Generated Content

When it comes to inspiration, the artist Pablo Picasso is attributed with saying, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” I’ll have to let you decide where this “new idea” falls. To give credit to where credit is due, I have to thank my friends at MediaPost for coming up with a killer new ad campaign that incorporates real testimonials from their subscribers.

Their concept is simple: provide potential advertisers with a window into the quality of subscribers that read their emails as an effort to promote email sponsorship opportunities. The execution of this strategy however, was nothing short of genius.

Step 1: Collect Testimonials, Pics and Permission
A couple of months ago I received an email from someone on the marketing team at MediaPost requesting an endorsement for one of their email publications. I was requested to submit a picture of myself, my job title and company name, and a short testimonial about my favorite MediaPost Newsletter. The email stated that my picture and testimonial may be used in one of their ads. Fine with me.

Step 2: Launch Ads, Watch Open Rates Soar
Okay, so who doesn’t like getting a little free face time in people’s inboxes? When the campaign first launched, I received emails from some colleagues and friends that saw the ads. And so now you can bet that I’m opening ever MediaPost email to see if my ad shows up. Brilliant.

What Would Picasso Do?
So, what can we “borrow” and “steal” from this campaign that can be applied to a fundraising scenario.

Well, let’s break it down:

  • Donor Generated Content Rules! When donors tell others what your organization means to them in their own words it often resonates better than any slick marketing line could ever do. The reality is that many people will find it easier to relate to the guy sitting next to them than the guy that’s standing in front of everyone. Use that to your advantage.

  • Donors Like Being Appreciated. A good way to measure someone’s heart is by looking at their checkbook. When people give, they are making a statement that they believe in this cause or organization enough to make an investment knowing that they may not receive anything in return. However, the one thing we can offer them is our gratitude. By highlighting your donors can build deeper relationships that last.

  • People Like Seeing Their Picture. I’m sure some folks are shy and would like to remain more anonymous, but most of us like getting a little attention every now and then. If you can get your donors to share their picture and agree to appear in a publication you may be surprised by the results. Using this approach in email is even more effective because it creates a viral effect—when donors see their picture and their story in an email from your organization, you don’t have to ask them to “Send-to-a-Friend”—they will!


Four Percent For Freedom

Take a minute and sign this petition to President Obama. We are asking him to spend a minimum of four percent of GDP on defense.

Four Percent For Freedom


Barack Obama - He will save the day!

Probably one of their very finest videos!

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!


The Media Revolution!

I just read this article on CNN.com about Rupert Murdoch saying that,

"We have been at the forefront of that debate and you can confidently presume that we are leading the way in finding a model that maximizes revenues in return for our shareholders... The current days of the Internet will soon be over."

- Rupert Murdoch

Murdoch's frustration is that this silly Internet fad doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon, and the online monetization models aren't feeding him the mega profits that TV and newspapers once did.

That's because instead of the media elite holding all of the strings and controlling all of the content and distribution of that content, the Internet has given the power to the people to more efficiently and effectively spread content to reach a global audience. So what we have are more options when it comes to getting our news. A friend of mine has best described this phenomenon as the "Democratization of Media."

Murdoch has it backwards: it is not the current Internet models that are going to go away, it is the bloated, sluggish, models associated with traditional broadcast media. After all, do people still go to movie theaters to watch the news?

Viva the Media Revolution!


If At First You Don’t Succeed…

From the time I first jumped into the web site making business, there has been a common question that is usually asked by my clients right before we launch a site: “So, am I going to be able to know who is looking at my site?”

The answer has always been, ‘Well, not exactly.’ But now there is a new technology out there that is taking us one step closer. DemandBase offers a slick, realtime “ticker” that displays the name of the company that is viewing your web site along with keywords that were used to find your site in a search engine. Although this application does not display the actual identity of the person who was browsing your site, the app taps into the LexisNexis database where you can download contact information for key personnel.

What this means for Internet marketers is that we now have a way to convert our unconverted web traffic.

Allow me to explain. Let’s say that your potential prospects are like trapeze artists. They start their voyage on one side of the tent and your goal is to meet them in the middle to grab them and swing them over to the other side. But even with a good system in place to convert those prospects (i.e. a killer landing page complete with compelling offer, call-to-action, and easy response device), you are not going to be able to reach everyone and some are going to inevitably plummet to the ground. Splat!

Now imagine that there was a net installed beneath the trapeze apparatus so that when your grip slips on some of those prospects they are saved by the net, giving you another opportunity to reach them. That net is DemandBase.

A Search Engine Marketers Dream Come True
The DemandBase software is HUGE for search engine marketers. For instance, let’s say that you launched a targeted SEM campaign for lead generation. If you are doing everything right, you should be sending only good pre-qualified traffic to your site. But for a variety of reasons, you are not going to get everyone to bite on your offer. With DemandBase, you can now build a prospect file from the unconverted visitors. The great thing about this prospect list is that the contacts are usually warmer leads because their organizations have implicitly expressed a need for products, services, or information relevant to what your organization provides. This can translate to higher response rates while mailing fewer quantities saving you thousands of dollars.

Be Careful What You Wish For
Okay, so I’ve discovered that there is a downside to knowing exactly who’s on your web site and what they are looking for. I demoed the DemandBase Stream software a few weeks ago for my agency. As I sat there gleefully watching the little ticker streaming at the bottom of my screen with lead after lead, I was suddenly paralyzed as I read one particular entry:

Organization Name: US Courts
Search Term: Tim Kachuriak

I guess they’ve finally found me!