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.


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