It’s important to ensure you’re tracking the proper deliverability metrics in order to properly identify and mitigate email deliverability issues when they arise. If you’re not familiar with how your email program is performing, it will be difficult to understand the impact those issues have on your business and email program.
We asked email deliverability experts Alyssa Dulin from ConvertKit, Chaitanya Chinta from Netcore and Raja Datta from TrueAccord what KPIs you should be tracking in order to understand the impact deliverability issues have on your email program so you are able to course-correct and properly convey those issues to stakeholders.
Here’s what they had to say…
Start With Identifying & Tracking Conversions
To best understand the true impact of a deliverability issue, I’d recommend making sure you’re measuring metrics that matter. It’s important to know what you consider a conversion to be, and to monitor the conversion rates of your emails, as this is the metric that truly tells the story of how your emails are performing.
A drop in open rates can be a signal that deliverability issues are present, but the business impact of deliverability issues goes deeper than open rates. However, opens aren’t always an accurate metric, and often don’t tell you enough about how your emails are actually leading to conversions (purchases, signups, clicks on the call to action, etc.).
For example, if you notice a drop in opens but conversion rates remain steady, it can mean that the open tracking pixel didn’t load properly, but that you experienced normal inbox placement.
To measure the true impact of deliverability issues to your program, I recommend:
- Identifying what you’d consider a successful conversion to be for each email. Some examples are: a purchase, a click on a call to action, a sign up to a program, an RSVP, etc.
- Track the conversion rate of each email you send and measure the conversion rate trend over time
If you experience any deliverability issues, you can look at your conversion rate to determine the impact on your program.
Once you’re able to illustrate the drop in conversions, you can clearly show the impact of deliverability issues to your internal stakeholders.
Having this data will help get internal buy-in to take the necessary steps to repairing your deliverability.
How do you articulate deliverability issues to internal stakeholders?
I’ve found that the most effective way to articulate deliverability issues is by clearly telling the story of what happened, the impact or potential impact of the issue, and what the best steps forward are.
It’s important to remember that the internal stakeholders don’t work on deliverability issues every day, so zooming out and providing context is key. I like having a doc or slide deck prepared with clear timelines, data, and trends.
Definitions of deliverability terminology and context for the data you reference are also extremely valuable in making your case. For example, telling an internal stakeholder that a sender had a 0.8% complaint rate without any context doesn’t do a great job of illustrating the issue. I’d remind stakeholders what a complaint is, how it impacts sender reputation, and what an acceptable complaint rate would be.
Another important step is clearly showing the kind of impact that the issue can have. Deliverability issues can have a major effect on the business, so it’s important to show exactly how this issue can cause damage, or outline the damage that’s already been done.
Lastly, having really clear action items on what should be done moving forward helps get the issue resolved quickly. I like to clearly state who is owning each action item, what the action item entails, the date it should be done, and how we can know it was successful.
The Foundation of Your Email Programs is Inbox Placement
Have you ever tried to put yourself in the shoes of a travelling salesman? There are so many clients who won’t even allow the salesman to come inside for the pitch. Hence for any travelling salesman, the first step to success is being allowed inside the house/office of his client so that he can go ahead with his product demo.
As a school kid, when I played cricket and I batted in the nets, there was one sentence that my coach would keep reiterating: “Watch the ball!”. As a batsman, the first step to success is watching the ball and connecting with the ball, then comes other factors like shot selection, finding the gaps and scoring runs.
Why am I talking about a travelling salesman and a cricket batsman when I am supposed to talk about deliverability? Well, deliverability is the science of getting the emails from your email campaign into the end user’s inbox. Like the first step to success for a travelling salesman is being allowed inside, the first step to success for a batsman is to watch the ball and connect, the first step to success for an email program is getting the emails to land in the end user’s inbox.
The other factors like enticing the users to click and transact should be focused upon once you have ensured that your overall deliverability percentage is up to industry standards.
We generally strive to achieve 90% inbox placement for any brand we are consulting.
If you have a good inbox placement percentage, then you can build on other key areas and meet the brand’s requirements: be it number of orders, number of visits or number of opens.
But the foundation of your email marketing program will be the deliverability percentage.
Impact of deliverability issues
The impact can be divided into two generic use cases:
Case 1: The amount of emails landing in spam increases, however there’s no visible downtrend in open rate.
Deliverability issues typically tend to bring your open rates down. If you don’t see a downtrend in your open rates, despite the percentage of emails landing in spam increasing, it simply means that the emails are inboxing on the email ids who are actively engaging with your email campaigns and landing in spam on the email ids who aren’t engaging.
In such cases, you must implement a sunset policy i.e. pull out inactive users from the mailing list, otherwise there will be an impact on your set-up reputation and template reputation.
Case 2: The amount of emails landing in spam increases and there’s a visible downtrend in open rates.
In other cases, wherein the emails start landing in spam or get blocked due to your domain getting blacklisted or the content getting cached as malicious content, there will be a direct impact on the open rates.
In such a case, you must identify the root cause of the content/domain getting blacklisted: is it an increase in spam complaints, is it an organic degrowth in open rates which has caused the IPR to come down, is it your sender IP being shared by other domains which are spamming etc.
After you fix the root cause, eliminate it and reinitiate your email program.
Important Metrics for Deliverability
To monitor the impact of deliverability issues, you must monitor the following metrics proactively-
a) Open Rate = (no of opens/no of emails delivered)*100
Most of the spam filters today are built on machine learning algorithms.Hence the spam filters learn and evolve. If you are inboxing, however the end users aren’t responding to your emails,spam filters like Gmail spam filters will start filtering your emails.Hence this is one of the most crucial metrics.Your open rates should be usually 10% plus on a send-out of 100K plus, however this number will vary according to the industry and geolocation.
b) Bounce Percent = (no of bounces/no of emails sent)*100
The number of bounces you hit should be minimal.When you hit a lot of hard bounces,there chances you may hit spam traps and bot ids which would pull down your domain reputation extensively.
c) Click Rate = (no of clicks/no of emails delivered)*100
This is a metric which gives you an insight on the type of content you are sending. If the end users are opening the mails but not clicking that indicates that the content doesn’t have the relevant offers/information. Less number of clicks will cause a gradual decline in open rates which will eventually affect your open rates.
d) Spam Rate = (no of users who reported to spam/no of emails delivered)*100
This is a metric which directly measures the relevance of your content. If users are opening and reporting to spam, it simply means that you have gone wrong with your segmentation or there’s something wrong with your sign-up flow, causing the users to think they are being targeted without consent.
Gmail postmaster lets you measure the percentage of users who are reporting to spam. If you continue receiving spam complaints consistently, your reputation would be compromised despite the open rates being on the higher side.
e) Feedback Look (FBL) = no of users reporting to spam from ISPs where FBLs are configured. eg. Yahoo
This is the same metric as spam rate.
f) Unsubscribes = No of users clicking on unsubscribe. They should be blacklisted.
If your unsubscribers are more than the clickers, there’s a high possibility you are getting spam complaints. Spam complaints will in turn affect your reputation.
When I am monitoring the deliverability, I generally look at the metrics in the following chronological order of priority:
- Open rates
- Spam complaints
- Bounce percent
- Click Rates
- No of Unsubscribers
The percentage of emails landing in inbox can be evaluated using seed based monitoring tools.The idea is to configure a fixed pool of seed ids at your delivery server, ensuring all the seeds are hit randomly and the number of seeds hit are directly proportional to the send-out count.The number of seeds for which the emails have landed in inbox are then extrapolated to arrive at the inboxing percentage.
Hence before you design your email marketing program, it’s essential that you first ensure that all the emails are reaching the end user’s inbox.
Monitor the reputation of your sender IPs w.r.t. the ISPs in your mailing list and ensure that your content has a neutral/good reputation i.e. no history of your emails landing in spam with the same content.
Good deliverability is the first step to a successful email program.
Be as vigilant as the Night’s watch in Game of Thrones and make sure that you take the right action promptly whenever there’s any alert even slightly indicating low deliverability.
All the spam issues must be nipped in the bud before they become a prominent enough problem and disrupt your entire email program.
Understanding key indicators and the impacts on Deliverability
Our business depends on good deliverability, so when issues arise, I have to determine how major or minor the issue is.
There can be a variety of issues that may occur, an example of major concern is if the domain or IP reputation goes down for Gmail. I would need to understand the cause, what needs to be done to resolve it and lastly how long will this impact my program.
Since Gmail is 65% of my business’ audience base, this is a critical issue and will greatly affect my company’s email program. We will have to stop experiments, keep the volume down during mitigation, and our product performance will majorly be affected until it is resolved.
Whereas another issue that could have a lower and temporary impact on the program is seeing high soft bounces due to ISP throttling. This would cause emails not to be delivered into our customer’s inbox. In this case, it is simply taking the time to slow down the hourly email sends to the ISP that is throttling the emails and possibly update the overall email sending strategy moving forward.
Then there are problems that could be resolved simply with some proper experimenting. An example of this is when users are simply not opening emails and causing ISPs to think that it could be spam due to a lack of interest. In this case, proper content and subject line testing could resolve the issue.
It is imperative that I gauge key indicators to measure issues when they arise so they can be properly resolved in a timely manner with the least negative impact on the business.
Keep your list healthy and boost campaign performance by regularly cleaning your email list. We’ll let you know which email addresses are good, bad and risky, before you hit send.
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