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Email delivery is a highly important consideration; after all, nobody can click on a link in an email they never see. Unfortunately though, there are a number of obstacles each email must overcome before reaching its intended destination, ideally avoiding the spam folder of course.
According to Return Path‘s Global Email Deliverability Benchmark Report for 2011, only 81% of global email reaches the inbox. Email deliverability in the Unites States is the highest with about 86% of emails making it to the intended recipient, but marketers can still move the needle a lot higher by understanding the process and by taking responsibility for where emails land.
Just because a subscriber has opted in to a newsletter, it still doesn’t mean the mailer will arrive in their Inbox. Increasingly rigid anti-Spam filters and the users’ ability to mark certain incoming mail as “more important” over others makes getting messages through to them exceedingly difficult. So one of the biggest concerns facing businesses that use email marketing in their communication mix is how to get legitimate emails to their intended readers.
Shaun Swanepoel, Systems Administrator of a major international email service provider, says: “It has become more of a challenge to send emails. ISPs are taking serious actions to catch spammers and legitimate mailers have to take action to make sure that they’re not caught in the same net. It is a consistent and ever-changing business challenge to keep abreast of changing ISP policies, rules and filtering methods. This can become a laborious and constant effort, but users can help themselves by cleaning up their mailing lists periodically and adhering to the rules that most spam filters operate by.”
Just as the New Year is an excellent time to clean house and embark on new endeavors, it’s also an ideal time to clean out your email list. Every list, no matter how good the process behind building it has been, will need a scrubbing every once in a while to keep deliverability high and reduce spam complaints. The better your sign-up processes, the less cleanup you’ll need. However, you will always still need to repeat the operation now and then.
It might seem like a big undertaking to scrub a list, but it doesn’t have to be and the benefits make it worthwhile. Ensuring your list is clean and up to date means your subscribers stay interested in your emails; and you’ll have a better sender reputation, leading to increased email deliverability, higher opens, higher click-through rates, enhanced customer loyalty and increased sales.
Delivery vs. Deliverability
People often mistake the terms email deliverability and email delivery, using them interchangeably, when in fact they are two different things. This tends to cause some confusion when people analyze emailing reports, which means some users may not even be figuring their success rates correctly at all.
Email Deliverability refers to the ability of any given email to be delivered properly. It’s about ensuring email messages are delivered to the inbox and aren’t blocked or rerouted by spam filters. Neglecting email deliverability is a surefire way to worsen the any campaign issues you might already be having, because these messages could equally end up in the inbox, in someone’s junk folder, or be blocked by spam filters.
Email Delivery, on the other hand, is calculated by taking the total number of emails that you’ve sent and then subtracting the ones that bounced or were rejected. In other words, this is the number of emails that actually appeared in your subscribers’ inboxes compared to the number that you’ve sent.
Your mailing list is a valuable asset and keeping it up to date means that your information is actually reaching your customers and prospects. What better way to get back in the swing of things than with a good old-fashioned scrubbing of your subscriber database? To do this well you’ll need to spend some time cleaning it up by following these steps:
1. Sweep your mailing list
The main work is in pruning your list regularly to remove known bad email addresses, or addresses that are bouncing. If someone unsubscribes, make sure they’re removed immediately. Asking people to add your email address to their contact lists can help their servers recognize your email as legitimate, making it far more likely that it will be allowed through.
Eliminate duplicate email addresses. If your email marketing service provider (ESP) does not do this automatically, do it yourself manually. Remove fake accounts, or addresses that were entered as a prank or are plain nonsense. Look for addresses like abcd@, qwerty@, test@, and any other common bogus user names. These are all entries that you absolutely want to get rid of as they are wasting your time/ money and dragging down your sender reputation.
Frequently monitor your list for “no opens” and “no clicks’ to determine who is no longer engaged and remove them from your primary mailing list. If you are reluctant to let go of these contacts, consider moving them to a separate list for re-engagement campaigns.
2. Cut out bad entries
The next thing you can do is to search for and correct simple data entry mistakes like misspelled domains (geemail.com, hotmole.com, etc.) for example.
Having a few of these is quite normal, but if you are finding many bad domains then you may want to try and determine how those addresses got onto your list.
Do you have data capture issues? What can you do to eliminate the possibility of bad domains making it on to your database? Perhaps include reminder text on your signup form for subscribers to double check their entries, or add another email address field that gets recorded on a separate list, to cross-compare the entries when you are doing list hygiene checks.
The presence of a large number of dead domains shows that you haven’t been performing consistent list cleanups. Remove these and commit to regular address book reviews in the future.
3. Keep emailing
Consistent and regular attempts to contact subscribers is in and of itself a delivery solution.
To keep your list current, make sure you send messages to your subscribers at least once every 90 days. If you wait too long, your list will have many bounces due to people changing addresses or forgetting who you are and assuming your emails are spam.
Stay in front of your audience and retain their interest by giving them valuable content. Don’t keep trying to sell them something every time your send out an email. If you do, you’ll become an annoyance and people will no longer want to receive your messages.
Business owners also need to make sure that the list they use is a real reflection of their target audience. Don’t transfer addresses between various unrelated lists or simply copy addresses off business cards, brochures and other media.
This is bad behavior and will harm your deliverability in the long run; unless you get permission from every person that gives you their address before you place it on your database and make sure that every bulk email you send contains an unsubscribe link.
4. Plan for future hygiene
Once you’ve given your email list a good scrubbing, immediately schedule the next house cleaning (before you forget or become too busy). How far out the next list scrubbing should be depends on the efficacy your opt-in processes, however your list will need less frequent and less intense attention if you adhere to best practices in email newsletter subscriptions.