Thursday, March 8, 2012

How to Solve Most Email Deliverability Issues

Email marketing can be best related to a complex game of Chess. Well, it’s not that hard to win, but it is a real challenge for marketers as they balance the needs of their audience, keep up with best practices and still deliver results for the bottom line.
What prompted this blog entry was a comment from an Infusionsoft user onour Facebook Page who is concerned for his email deliverability and wants to improve it. I’ll answer his question here on the blog with tips and advice on how to move forward.
He commented:
I’m beginning to question the deliverability of InfusionSoft. We have ‘test’ emails in our databases on different mail servers that are not getting our newsletters that we send out. Infusion’s tech support states we need to white list Infusion and they have email logs that state they have been delivered; what our mail server does with it is beyond Infusion’s Control, which is understandable… But…
First, we are not going to say white list us because leads and prospects will not do it. I will not white list someone when I just want a few pieces of information sent to me. We pay Infusion money to get the mail servers to accept them. If they don’t like the credibility of Infusion then we will need to move on to someone who does.
Second, we are getting Russian emails, Rx emails, and REAL spam okay in our INBOXES, not to mention also our SPAM boxes. But, not the Infusion Broadcasts.
On a side-note, we’re fine with constructive criticism and people asking for help. This question is best addressed on the blog because it’s a great conversation to have and it allows us to provide context into the solutions. If you have comments, kudos or suggestions, head to our Facebook Page and let us know!
The answer to this question touches on a few aspects of email marketing: whitelisting, expectations and email reputation. I’ll explain below.

Whitelisting: Ask Recipients to Add Your Email Address to their Address Book

Whitelisting is a responsibility on the shoulders of email recipients. For instance, email recipients may choose to whitelist emails from their bank, their friends and trusted email senders. The act of whitelisting (adding them to their address book) tells the email server that the sender is trusted and can potentially lift the inbox placement of other recipients on the same email domain. (An example of this was noted by AppSumo when they asked users to whitelist them on Gmail, as noted by email delivery expert Laura Atkins.)
It’s easy to ask recipients – we recommend reminding them to add your email address to their safelist in the pre-header text area.
Now, whitelisting at the ISP level is already done by ESPs like Infusionsoft. We work closely with ISPs to register our email servers with them so we can address complaints and become a trusted sender. More on that later.

Email Service Providers Deliver Email, But Senders Can Lose That Privilege

Most deliverability issues can usually be diagnosed as email age/attrition or irrelevant content. Email service providers (like Infusionsoft, AWeber, Constant Contact or iContact) get the email delivered. They all have powerful email infrastructure that is specifically designed for delivering emails professionally, reliably and consistently. However, behind the email service provider, is the sender who must maintain expectations with their email recipients.
Expectations vary among email senders and recipients. For instance, we have users who set the expectation of a daily email – and they have thousands of eager recipients – and there are no issues. However, we also have people who set the expectation of a “monthly newsletter,” and find themselves getting into hot water because they send more frequently than monthly.
It’s assumed that ESPs are paid to deliver emails; however, it’s sometimes forgotten that there’s a person on the other end. If recipients don’t want your email, they will delete, unsubscribe or report the message as spam to their ISP. If this pattern keeps up, ISPs learns and will not deliver your messages to their users’ inboxes. ISPs are smart and will “fingerprint” the email and do their best to prevent unwanted messages from appearing in the inbox regardless of the email service provider.

Spam is a Real Problem. Detection isn’t Perfect, Either.

In the chart below, from Symantec, they report the average inbox experiences about 68% of its messages identified as spam. It might be on a decline, but it’s certainly a problem. According to ReturnPath, it’s estimated that 19% of email messages could be improperly identified as spam and the recipient would never know. It’s the nature of the email marketing game. It’s why email best practices are important and every email should be something that a recipient truly expects.
Spam Stats from Symantec (February 2012)
Spam Stats from Symantec (February 2012)

What can Marketers Do to Improve their Email Deliverability?

Let’s get down to brass-tacks to improve your email deliverability:
  • Always segment your email list to a relevant, engaged audience. (Why?)
  • Encourage recipients to “show images” and add your email address to their address book.
  • Try adjusting your delivery dates and times. While it’s stated that “Tuesdays might be better,” it will always vary based on the needs of your audience.
  • Keep your emails succinct. People respond favorably when you respect their time.
  • Make sure your “from” domain has SPF configured for your email service provider.
  • Consider asking recipients to confirm their interest nine months from initially signing up to your list. Not only will this remove the deadweight in your list, it earns trust in you as an email sender.
  • Avoid doing anything shady with your content. That means, no “f.r.e.e.” or “m4k3 mon3y n0w” tricks. Here is a bigger list of words to avoid in your email.
Finally, while our email deliverability may have had a few blemishes in its past, the story isn’t over. We care about our users’ success and have invested a lot of resources to take our email deliverability from “okay” to “excellent.” We deliver over 60 million email messages weekly with over 99.7% deliverability. If you encounter an email problem, let us know. Our technical support team would love to see some live examples that you have so we can take a deeper look into what’s going on.
Always remember that sending email messages to people’s inboxes is a privilege – not necessarily from the ESP – but from the recipients. Focus on keeping your prospects satisfied and you can take your relationship to the next level with sales and referrals.

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