Putting together the deliverability picture: Inbox placement

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  • Updated 3 years ago
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Inbox placement is tough to measure. ISPs -- or any other external domain, for that matter -- are not likely to tell you what percentage of your email makes it to an inbox. There are seed lists, but with new information about how ISPs are using insights from individual user interactions with messages, seed list addresses might be an unreliable marker. They don’t actually mimic the way a real user interacts with your messages, so they're not telling the whole inbox placement story. So, how can we make solid assumptions about inbox placement for your contacts, both on a per-mailing and long-term basis?

In the response data for every mailing you send, you’ll see percentages for messages delivered, bounced, opened, and links clicked.

We graph opens and clicks for you, so let's take a look at the opens line. This graph can tell you a lot about inbox placement, so it's where we'll start. We'll use 20% as our baseline "good" open rate. There are a few common story lines for this graph, and we'll look at each one, offering simple tips and ways that Emma can help you improve or maintain your results.

The graph is going up:

If the line starts below 20% and it's on the way up, congratulations! You’re doing something right. Maybe it's all that segmenting you pulled off like a pro or the subject line split testing that did it. If the line was already above 20% and it’s still going up, you get a golf clap. I respect your good work, but don't go getting an ego; there's still work to be done. In either case, maintaining this upward trend is about creating an increasingly engaging and relevant email marketing program. It's pretty unlikely that you have any issue with inbox placement.

The graph is going down:

This is where you really need to start digging into the data you've been collecting. When did things start trending down? Did you make changes to the format or substance of your content? Did you change the from name or email address you're sending from? Did you change how you're collecting email addresses? If you’re seeing a decline in open rate, it's very likely that inbox placement is falling as well.

It's more of a wavy ... thing:

There are quite a few explanations for this. You may be a retailer, seeing spikes for mailings with coupons or sale details. You might be sending a few different kind of messages, and one type does better with your audience than others. The fluctuation might also come down to timeliness. Whatever the case may be, you'll want to look at the good mailings for things they all have in common and work to integrate those successful tactics into the mailings that were less successful. You may not have an issue with inbox placement, but adding consistency to your overall email marketing efforts, with a good dose of best practices, will surely improve your results, overall.

It's a flat line ... and less than 10% open rates pretty consistently:

With a good degree of certainty, you could assume that your messages are rarely (if ever) getting to an inbox. That low engagement over time shows a lack of interest on the part of your contacts and, as mentioned before, this lack of interest informs inbox placement decision made by many ISPs. Results like these usually require a comprehensive overhaul of your email marketing efforts, starting with how you're collecting email addresses.

What's next?

Now that you’ve identified, generally, your deliverability success, you'll want to look at improving those results or staying on the right track. Many of us who focus on deliverability and best practices might start to feel like broken records at this point, but the same things that were true in the past are true now. Engaging contacts in a way that's relevant to them, timely and a clear extension of the conversation they started with you by signing up, purchasing or otherwise involving themselves in your business pays off BIG. Sure, we have new tactics to support this underlying theme, but this is the core of successful email marketing programs. Here's what you need to do, regardless of what your graph looks like:

  1. Start on the right foot: When you ask people to provide their email address, add context and expectations about how that email address will be used. Make it clear that they'll receive emails from you -- how often, from what address they'll arrive, for what purpose (sales, new products, events) -- and make it clear that they may choose to opt out. Some of this can be done at the time of signup, particularly if you're collecting email addresses at the point of sale. Even if your signup form is a dedicated newsletter form, adding this information in a welcome email goes a long way to setting the right expectations and creating trust between you and your contacts.
  2. Segment your audience: Your mailing response data is simply a generalization of your audience as a whole. You have a spectrum of engagement levels, product interests, message timing and frequency preferences that you can use to send the most relevant information to each contact. You can also use this information to find less engaged contacts and take action. What action, you say? Moving right along to #3.
  3. Re-engage your non-openers: Contacts who haven’t opened in more than a year are dragging down your open rate and could be negatively affecting inbox placement by making your emails seem less relevant. These contacts should be re-engaged with an opt-in confirmation email asking them to take action to continue receiving, or do nothing so that they can be removed from your list. You get a few bonuses out of this. First, you get a list of people who took definitive action to remain on your list; they must really like you. Second, you get an immediate boost to engagement metrics, which will pay off in the form of a better reputation with ISPs. Third, you’re probably going to save some money. Yes, you'll be doing it by dropping the number of contacts you have, but don’t get too choked up: Having a large list of uninterested contacts will never be equal in value to having a slightly smaller group of contacts who interact with your emails.
  4. Make great emails happen: There are a lot of components here. Write great subject lines ... and test them. Don't forget the preheader text. Along with a clear from name and email address, this will help contacts identify you, the trusted sender. Make your emails visually appealing with images, relevant by forging connections, and use a checklist to make sure you don’t forget the small details. Use split testing. Speaking of testing: Always test your content before you send to your contacts.
For help taking a more comprehensive look at your audience and coming up with a game plan, check out our service offerings. We have a team of dedicated experts ready to help you win your email marketing challenges.

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Art Quanstrom, Deliverability and Compliance Lead

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