When opens hurt reputation

Podia has scraped the Word to the Wise blog and I’m currently receiving an ongoing drip campaign from them absolutely begging me to mention them in my blog post on cold emails.

From: Alan@podiahq.com  I really believe it can add value to marketers and entrepreneurs who are interested to get the most out of their business emails :)  Would you ever consider mentioning it in your piece on cold emails?  Let me know what you think anyway. Thanks in advance!

I get maybe a dozen of this style of email a week. It’s pretty annoying but whatever. I delete them, blog about them or, very occasionally, share them with some folks who might have a big bigger of a stick to wave at them.

I have to admit, this time I spent about 30 seconds considering adding a note onto that article. A brilliant example of cold email that should go to the spam folder is from PodiaHQ, aka podia.com. My only hesitation is that gives them what they want, and antisocial behaviour should never be encouraged. Plus, then I’d have to actually think about something else to blog about today and it’s 4:30 already. Then I realised this is exactly the thing to illustrate how opens can hurt your delivery.

Wait. What? Opens don’t hurt delivery! An open is a positive signal, isn’t it? The user opened and read the mail this is good. Except…. when a user opens an email, gets half way through it and then immediately marks it as spam.

Using opens as a metric for who to continue mailing without also having FBLs to identify which of those opens resulted in a this is spam hit, leads to an increase in mail to folks who don’t want it and/or are receiving the message in their spamfolder because they marked the sender as spam. Longer term it can lead to reputation problems.

In the consumer context opens are a way for us to tell who is reading our mail. FBL messages are a way for us to remove anyone who doesn’t like that mail. By processing FBL complaints, folks who open the mail and then complain about it are removed from future mailings. We don’t end up with a build up of ‘engaged’ users who are not engaged at all.

The obvious exception to this is being Gmail as they don’t have an ARF style FBL. But even then, if you have a decent enough reputation Gmail will show the user a “do you want to unsubscribe, too” message. We can sorta wiggle around the lack of FBL data by treating unsubscribes through the List-Unsubscribe header as spam complaints.

That’s not how it works for B2B. There are no FBLs for business mail. Many business users do have a this-is-spam button, though. That this-is-spam button ties directly into their filtering system. What you end up with is an audience that opens a message and reports it as spam. That open is now a negative signal, not a positive one.

I think our spammer friends at Podia haven’t made the connection that their advice causes delivery problems. Or, maybe they have which is why they’re using podiahq.com in their emails instead of podia.com. Ironically, they’re not putting much effort into the subject line here. A few months ago I was toying with the idea of sharing all of the stupid B2B spam I get. I collected over 2 dozen cold outreach emails just by searching for the subject line ‘Quick Question’.

The broader picture here is that we can’t just look at metrics in isolation, particularly when we’re troubleshooting delivery. Only mailing engaged users, when you’re not also getting back complaint data, means some of the folks you’re mailing aren’t users who want your mail. At best they’re getting the mail in the spam folder due to ISP metrics. At worst the spam foldering isn’t working and they end up repeatedly reporting your mail as spam.

We make assumptions about what signals to measure and what they mean. In order to correctly model what’s happening with delivery we need to question those assumptions regularly.

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