This month’s topic comes right on time as we enter Q4 and brace for what is bound to be the biggest online shopping season the marketing world has ever experienced.
Now is usually the time marketers start adopting less than ideal list management practices. The consensus among all of us deliverability folks is a resounding, “Don’t Do It!” But alas, those lofty marketing goals remain, and conservative practices are the first thing to be tossed aside when push comes to shove.
Sudden changes to how you send email and manage your email lists can have a negative impact on inbox placement and you don’t want to be dealing with deliverability issues during the most important time of the year. There is too much at stake.
Follow the advice of deliverability experts from Epsilon, Word to the Wise, Netcore, TrueAccord, Pardot, ActiveCampaign, Zeta Global, Emarsys, 360 Inbox, iContact, as well as yours truly to maintain a healthy email list and stay in the good graces of Mailbox providers and your ESP. It’s the best gift you’ll receive this holiday season.
So let’s begin…
Stop Treating Your Subscribers Like Objects or Dollar Signs
The most painful mistake I see marketers make is when they start treating the recipients on their list as objects, dollar signs – even property – instead of the unique snowflakes that they are.
We all need to keep in mind that the recipients on our email lists are people. People who have feelings, different interests and motivations, as well as a limited amount of time within their day to engage with emails.
I recently came across an article talking about Net Promoter Scores (NPS). Essentially, the NPS is a simple way of gauging a customer’s loyalty to your brand by asking one question:
“How likely are you to recommend our company to a friend or colleague?”
Whether your company is using NPS or not, it can be helpful to give the NPS score a bit of thought with regards to your mailing list: How much of your email audience would fall into the following categories?
Promoters: those recipients who engage positively with your emails often: opening and clicking regularly, converting often, forwarding your emails on to friends or encouraging them to join your mailing list. Let’s also include anyone who replies telling you how much they looove your content. This is your “active” segment.
These folks are a marketer’s dream, right? Find ways to treat these recipients like the VIP’s they are by continuing to send content they love. Also explore offering things like loyalty programs, special discounts and invitations or early-access to new items. The more value you deliver, the more likely they will be to promote you!
Passives: those who signed up for your list, but rarely open or click-through (if ever). This is your “inactive” segment.
While this portion of your list might seem innocent enough, some of the top mailbox providers (such as Gmail) have started to treat a lack of engagement as a form of negative engagement.
If someone isn’t engaging positively with the content you send on a regular basis, try sending to them less often, adjusting your offer selection, including social-proofed User Generated Content (UGC), or simply cutting them from your list altogether.
Detractors: those who take negative engagement actions such as deleting without opening, unsubscribing, marking emails as spam or reporting them as abuse. These folks should be in your suppression file.
If you’ve built your list through permission, nowhere near 60% of your audience should be a Detractor. But these recipients can be very damaging to your inbox placement since negative actions are heavily weighted by MBP’s, so stick with me on this for a minute…
If you’re seeing high levels of spam complaints or unsubscribes, work to identify and improve the campaigns (and related lists or segments) that are generating the most noise immediately.
I recommend allowing recipients to reply to your emails, as well as asking for feedback at the point when people unsubscribe, because this information can guide what areas of your program need to improve first:
- “I never signed up” – points to list collection issues
- “This isn’t what I thought it would be” – improve expectation-setting during the sign-up process, and maybe consider different lead magnets
- “Too many emails” – proactively targeting actives recipients and/or allowing them to adjust their frequency or hit a snooze button could have avoided the unsubscribe/churn
- “This content is terrible” – maybe you need a new copywriter?
Viewing your email engagement data through the NPS lens can help you understand what portions of your email audience have the biggest positive and negative impacts on inbox placement, and can also serve as a reminder to approach your email audience from a more human standpoint.
On a sidenote, for those interested in collecting NPS feedback, AMP for email makes it easy to measure loyalty and satisfaction directly from inside your email using a one-click NPS survey.
Ultimately, my advice (as always) is to follow your delivery and engagement data to guide your email strategy. Because after all, recipient engagement is what drives inbox placement. The best way to foster that engagement is to remember that you’re sending to people, just like you and me.
Making Drastic Changes in the Way You Mail in Q4 is Asking For Trouble
Your question comes at a good time: Q4 is the most popular season for data management faux-pas. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas and end of the year sales… so much revenue depends on those few weeks and brands will try to squeeze every dollar they can out of their email base.
Senders can sometimes make rash decisions holding long lasting effects on their deliverability. These are often based on top management’s last minute injunctions, such as “Let’s mail our entire database tomorrow”, “Why don’t we start increasing the sending cadence to [x] emails a day”, or the classic: “We just unearthed a database that hasn’t been mailed in some years”.
I’d say that the most common Q4 list management pitfalls are:
- Increasing daily volumes too quickly: Mailbox providers are suspicious of any sudden changes in mailing patterns. If your daily volumes soar because you are now deploying to your full base, or you started sending more emails per day, you are at risk of getting blocked (Microsoft is especially sensitive to this).
- Sending too fast: Sometimes marketers get asked to get an offer out “as fast as possible”, but some mailbox providers are very sensitive to sending speed and can block when you send too fast. This tends to be the case especially at the end of the year and at smaller regional providers, when networks struggle to cope with the vast amounts of incoming mail.
- Drop in user engagement: We often see senders opening up their targeting to less active segments towards the end of the year because they want to expand their reach. This, as well as sending more often, can result in a drop in user engagement, and even trigger a higher rate of spam complaints. It’s a common cause for persistent spam placement issues at top providers such as Gmail and Microsoft.
- Dropping data quality: The temptation of reintegrating older user lists is very strong for many senders in Q4. The risk is that some of these addresses are no longer used or worse, have been recycled into traps. Mailbox providers monitor the quality of the data attempted and can block and filter emails to spam as a result.
In Q4, mailbox providers are under huge strain with incoming mail volume and are likely to tighten their spam filtering even more than usual, so not only does it get easier to get caught up in issues, it can also be more difficult to get them resolved.
Many companies out there will be fighting an even bigger fight for revenue this year, and as a result marketers will be asked to throw some best practices out of the window.
Senior Management doesn’t usually care much for deliverability advice until emails start landing in spam at Gmail or get blocked by Hotmail and revenue gets impacted, so my advice to marketers is: plan ahead.
- What will be your maximum daily volume target, and how can you progressively ramp-up to that?
- How can you progressively up your mailing cadence? Can you ask recipients for their mailing frequency preferences?
- Can you get older / riskier lists through a data cleanse now? After that, how do you reintroduce this data very progressively within your general mail stream?
Prevention is better than cure. Don’t wait until Q4 to start asking questions and make changes, and refer to your ESP well in advance for recommendations on how to alleviate any high-risk plans!
Mailing Regularly Is the Best Data Hygiene Out There
This isn’t a very common issue, but it is the one guaranteed to make me cringe. Some companies send out their lists to one of the various data hygiene companies for cleaning on a schedule. Schedules I’ve heard of are yearly, quarterly and monthly. Companies who do this tell me they do it for deliverability reasons, that it keeps their delivery high. I’m sure their delivery is fine, but it’s not because they’re paying someone to clean their lists.
From where I sit, mailing regularly is the best data hygiene out there. Companies who send mail at least quarterly and remove addresses that no longer exist are doing data hygiene every time they mail. The data they have on their subscribers is better than any data a third party company will have.
Best case scenario, they get back the same list they handed over. Worst case, the data hygiene company pulls off active subscribers depriving them of mail they want. In the normal case it’s just all a waste of time and money and effort.
How does it impact delivery? It doesn’t, really. It doesn’t hurt the ability to reach the inbox, but neither does it help. It pains me to watch companies pay someone else to do work they’re already doing. It pains me to think they’re increasing their costs. Unfortunately, they believe that their delivery success is due to the hygiene. It is, but not because they’re paying a third party. They are doing the hygiene themselves by regularly mailing and removing addresses that bounce.
That’s not to say all data hygiene is bad. There are absolutely times when hygiene is essential, the most obvious being at data collection time. All companies should have a step in their address acquisition process that ensures they’re collecting accurate data from the customer. There are other cases where older, unused addresses may need to be mailed. Using data hygiene can improve delivery. But there is never a reason to hand over currently mailed addresses to a third party for cleaning.
Data Stewardship Has Become the Next Frontier of Marketing
If I were to pick just one item as it relates to email list mistakes, it would always be “data management”. Delivery of an email starts with how an organization builds their list of subscribers and how the relationship between brand and subscriber are managed over time.
Mailing to your most engaged and active users is no longer just a talking point, it’s reality. Gone are the days where:
- chasing the largest email list was a way to measure your success;
- batching and blasting to a full email list and hoping that enough people are interested in your offer; or
- sending to recipients that engaged with your brand one time 6 years ago and never looked back.
Sending relevant and timely offers to subscribers may sound like a cliche but with the evolution of dynamic content, send time optimization (STO), journey campaigns and AI personalization, there are more tools than ever before to help with delivering the right message.
Cleaning those users that have emotionally unsubscribed from your list regularly is now something that marketing teams need to plan for. Mailbox providers are already making active filtering decisions based on the number of inactive or disengaged users being sent to regularly.
Data stewardship has become the next frontier in marketing. Just look to laws like GDPR, CCPA and PIPEDA and the requirements to be transparent with collection, use and destruction of personal data.
In conclusion, almost all long term delivery issues can be traced back to data management, data hygiene, or various types of poorly targeted data.
When It Comes to List Management: Always Quality Over Quantity
One of the most important pieces of email deliverability is having proper list management. You can do everything else right, but if your list of subscribers is not ideal for any reason, then the whole email program is in disarray.
It takes a very long time to build a healthy list, so let’s discuss some of the biggest pain points and how they affect deliverability.
Too many times, I have come into a company and asked where they received their list from and the one thing that makes me cringe is “it was purchased”. At the time, I want to give my notice there, but instead, I explain the repercussions of a purchased list and start working on a solution.
Purchased lists are full of email addresses that are unknown, abandoned, invalid, and lastly poor email addresses. Let us also not forget these email addresses are highly likely to be spam traps and honey pots designed to expose non-permission based lists.
A team should never be desperate to do this and I always request to truncate these types of email addresses out of a marketing team’s database and never send again.
In terms of deliverability, ISPs will push the domain and IP addresses used to send to these email addresses to spam as they will definitely see a pattern of non-engagement, spam traps and will in turn blocklist all emails coming from this mails stream.
ESPs will waste no time suspending the account as they will realize their customer is sending to non-opt-in email addresses.
Always avoid this practice, build a list correctly. There are no shortcuts in email if you want to be successful. Usually, the shortcuts push you further down a rabbit hole and hurt your goals.
Single Opt-In vs Double
I’m often asked “Why do I need a double opt-in if they signed up?” Marketers tend to think a single opt-in is sufficient and sometimes it might be.
I always say if someone really wants to be on your list and invest their time to read your emails, then get a second confirmation by enabling a double opt-in process. This gives them an opportunity to think about it one last time.
I understand that getting people on a list and starting to send to them is many marketer’s high-level goal. What it really should be is making sure to have the highest quality, interested subscribers so from the START the list data is at the best level.
People signing up does not mean they will engage, the purpose of sending subscribers emails is to have them be engaged and in turn, commit to your product offerings or service.
The most important reason you should consider a double opt-in over single opt-in is that it gives subscribers an opportunity to confirm they actually want to hear from you. This strategy will make sure your emails have the best deliverability as you know you are sending to subscribers that WANT your emails.
List cleanliness and truncate the old
Having a clean list means these things done below:
- Getting rid of inactive subscribers
- Never adding invalid addresses to your list
Cleaning up inactive subscribers can help overall deliverability and skew out the subscribers that are no longer interested. ISPs like Gmail, Yahoo and Microsoft look for these things, they see if your subscribers are engaged and if not, then most likely it is unwanted mail and the algorithms will update for those user’s inboxes with that in mind. You do not want to start being pushed to the Spam folder.
To avoid ever being construed as a sender who has no list management, clean up stale addresses. It is simple by only selecting addresses that have engaged recently. This can be the last 30 days or 60 days or 90 days.
I usually cut off at 60 if I want the best subscribers who I KNOW are interested in the email my marketers are sending. I recommend truncating old addresses every 6 months out of your mailing lists.
Valid Emails Only:
A major task that can help to avoid bad deliverability is having email validation also known as email verification.
What does it mean to have email validation? It is a process to verify whether or not an email address is deliverable and valid. The biggest hurdle for your marketing team is sending to email addresses that have a risk to bounce.
The primary reason why you should validate your email list is that the hard bounce rate directly affects your sender reputation and deliverability.
Mailbox providers use a number of things to measure sender reputation. One of those things is the hard bounce rate. If an email sender is continuously sending to a lot of invalid users, mailbox providers consider it as poor list management and the sender as a potential spammer.
Your task is to prove that you are a legitimate sender so your Marketing team has the opportunity to be successful. Good list hygiene will get you there.
Subscribers knowing what to expect:
A pitfall I have seen with a few companies I have worked with, is they have a sign-up form/page, but the reader truly has no idea what they are really signing up for.
I believe that the best way to add subscribers to your list is to make sure they know the type of email they will receive and have a transparent relationship with them. Even letting them choose their frequency, explaining the value of the subscription to the emails they will receive will go a long way to the relationship. It will really help with growing your list and in turn, your business will thrive because you have email addresses that want to know about your business and brand.
There can be many mistakes avoided when it comes to List Management and some are very simple and can be started tomorrow. Deliverability depends on having a healthy list, why waste all the hard work of creating emails if they end up in SPAM because of bad list hygiene.
Spark Joy: The Art of List Management & Decluttering Your Database
How old is that list?
Signed up in 2006.
Not enough facepalm.
I manage two abuse desks for two ESPs, and it’s been particularly interesting to see how the pandemic has changed sender behavior.
Pre-pandemic, I’d have told you purchased lists were Enemy Number 1, and the reasons would have been obvious, but now I’ve seen companies scaling back on list purchasing and instead choosing to dig way, way, way too deep into their databases to try and win back customers.
It’s an idea, but it’s not a good idea.
QUICK! In your sophomore year math class, who sat two seats back and three seats over from you?
Unless it was your crush or someone you’re still in touch with, you’re likely not going to be able to answer that question. You knew them then when you were seeing each other every day, but you almost definitely do not know them now.
The same logic applies with people who signed up for your email. They may have remembered you when they signed up way back when, because they were directly transacting with you.
Now that it’s been a while, they don’t remember who you are or how you’d gotten their information. If I don’t know how you got my info, I’m going to assume what you are sending me is spam and I’m going to act accordingly.
That becomes a significant trigger for spam complaints, both in terms of feedback loop complaints (clicking “this is spam” in your email client) and direct complaints to the ESP’s abuse desk (emailing the abuse@ address), which will have negative effects on your sender reputation and can hurt future chances to get into the inbox.
Not only are you putting yourself at risk for higher spam complaint rates and potential investigations from your ESP, you’re also at significant risk for high bounce rates.
Lists decay at an average of 22% annually, so mailing a list that’s over even a year old is a risk you just don’t need to be taking with your reputation.
A list cleaner can certainly help with that, but even if you took care of the bounce rate issue, there’s still risk in those super old addresses that isn’t worth taking on.
Reputation services and receivers don’t love seeing super high bounce rates, as that is often indicative of spammer behavior, which will also cause issues with future inboxing.
The best way to make sure you don’t run into either of those issues is to not let your data get old, follow best practice with data collection, and regularly declutter your database.
It’s tough out there right now, but don’t make inboxing harder on yourself by reaching too far back into your existing data.
I love to spring clean!
Spark joy with your database
Don’t Rush the Acquisition Process
As an email compliance analyst, the most common and painful mistakes I see senders make with their email lists involve problematic acquisition methods.
These blunders tend to be the result of trying to rush success and/or simply not knowing the risk these practices pose to their campaigns.
There are two main acquisition methods that are considered high risk for poor deliverability:
- Purchased and Harvested Data
- Social Media Contacts
The most common mistake I see is the purchasing of email addresses from a third party or harvesting email addresses from public resources (e.g. websites, public records).
Purchased and harvested data carry a high risk of invalid recipient bounces, spam complaints, filtering to the spam folder, and are even known to result in blocklist events as a result of hitting spam traps. These metrics negatively impact domain reputation.
A diminished domain reputation may cause future sends to suffer – even when sending to active and engaged contacts with express consent.
I’ve worked with many senders who spent a lot of time and money acquiring ‘reputable’ data only to find their campaign strategy come to a screeching halt while we work to understand the damage caused by the lack of consent.
Another common acquisition mistake is exporting social connections and using those as a marketing list.
Here’s the thing… LinkedIn, for instance, is a professional networking website. That does not mean that every connection made is asking to receive marketing emails. This method comes with high spam complaints, low opens, filtering to spam, and yes, even comes with a risk of major blocklist events.
That’s right… blocklist spam traps are alive and well on LinkedIn doing their best to identify the sending of unsolicited mail.
Depending on the severity of the damage, unsolicited campaigns could even force an Email Service Provider (ESP) to end the relationship which leaves the sender scrambling to find a new provider.
While that’s a step no ESP wants to take, sometimes it has to be done to protect the platform for the good of their other customers.
I usually see an influx in these practices around the holidays as everyone is making their final end of the year push. However, with COVID-19, social distancing, and lockdowns around the globe, folks in compliance are reporting an increase in senders defaulting to these practices.
Senders tend to use these methods during their biggest times of need. Unfortunately, they don’t always have the foresight to understand how these methods are more likely to hurt their campaigns and prevent the success they were striving for.
This is the advice I would provide to any sender tempted by the appeal of instantly having large marketing lists by using these methods: Consider the end goal of getting mail delivered to the inbox, opened, and enjoyed.
When rushing the acquisition process by using purchased, harvested, or social media lists to send unsolicited mail the IP/domain reputation gets trashed and all the money used on that project tends to be wasted.
Conversely, using acquisition methods focused around consent all but guarantees engagement since you’re sending to contacts who asked for your content.
One of the best things a sender can do to avoid these mistakes is to have education measures in place for team members on organic acquisition methods, developing an acquisition plan, and consulting the Email Service Provider (ESP) for further guidance on successful acquisition methods.
Issues With Your List Are Not Always Obvious
List management is one of the biggest influencers of deliverability performance, both positively and negatively. I’ve seen a number of mishaps and misguided changes that have led to temporary performance drops as well as lasting ones that took months to correct.
In some cases, lists are expanded with the knowledge it could lead to some issues, but there is a business need behind the decision. However, I often notice that the issues I deal with are more often than not the result of a mistake or misunderstanding.
Two recent issues come to mind, one in which a suppression file was accidentally removed and one where targeting was mailing more than what was thought.
For the suppression file example, we started to first see a change in open rates, pronounced most heavily at Gmail, followed by inboxing dips and reputation. At the time, the user didn’t even realize that a change was made. However, after additional evidence was provided showing a decline, increase in traps, etc. it was found the suppression file was the culprit.
Unfortunately, this can easily happen when there are too many hands in the pot or there is a gap in communications between the teams impacting a send or even when a new tool is used to pull the data.
Even if you aren’t fully aware of the resulting impact, my suggestion would be to have detailed and transparent discussions with all users that touch your list so that there is a full understanding of what is changing and what must not change and then review the changes when they are done. Then if there is an issue, it is much easier to identify and adjust strategy.
For the second example, the user was mailing engaged customers through suppression. However, the logic used did not catch the full swath of unengaged users.
This one was a bad itch you couldn’t scratch. We knew something was off, but couldn’t figure out why, especially knowing that engaged users were being mailed, or so we thought. It wasn’t until we reviewed the targeting in the application being used and asked a few questions from support that we realized the suppression wasn’t suppressing all of the unengaged users.
This resulted in absolutely horrific performance (less than 1% open rate at Gmail) and reputation. Once we identified the issue, we were able to recoup reputation and performance, but it took over 2 months to do so.
The lesson to learn here is to make sure there is a strong understanding about how the application works and lean on those that do to confirm. That way you can ensure the end result is being met by what is input into the application. If you can, test the targeting is correct by running counts on a file where you know what the end result should be.
Don’t Be “That Person” in a Group of Friends
When we start talking about list management, I usually tend to view it in stages:
- Stage 1: List collection and segmentation;
- Stage 2: List growth and segmentation;
- Stage 3: Maintaining list hygiene and segmenting your lists;
You may notice that I have listed segmentation in all 3 stages and that is not an accident. I believe that segmentation should be done no matter which stage of list management you are in.
However, in order to segment your audiences when managing your lists you need the data, right? That is why my answer is about how to approach data gathering in order to allow you to segment your audiences better and manage your lists. The trick is to look for what philosophers referred to as Golden Mean (neither too much nor too little).
“Don’t be that person”
I like to use the analogy of real person-to-person communication when talking about email marketing, so here is one:
When you say “Hi!” to a person for the first time, you are usually not so keen to share a lot of private information with them. Neither are they. However, as things progress and the more you talk with said person, the more open you feel. At this point sharing more personal information leads to a wider range of topics for conversations you can have, thus deepening your relationship.
The same goes for email marketing. Do not ask for too much information, but ask just enough to start a meaningful conversation and as you get to know your client better and they are getting to know your brand better, you can become more open and they will reward you with the same.
For example, on your subscription form you need an email address (obviously), you should also ask for a name (because addressing someone by a name deepens friendships) and it would be best if you could ask for one more additional piece of information. I would suggest looking into exactly which information about your client is most useful for your business.
a) If you are a retailer in the US, you could ask for State – that way you could adapt your campaigns to some state-specific events. Please keep in mind that your goal here is to help the client, not to “make use of a situation of distress” – the latter leaves a rather poor impression.
b) If you are an e-commerce clothing shop, you can ask the subscribing person which gender they associate with (just keep in mind to ask it in an empathetic way, your goal here is to make friends, not be judgy) – that way you could segment special offers based on preferences.
After already getting acquainted with the person behind the email address, you can start asking them to update some of the information you may need further.
You can ask to fill in their preferences of how often they would like to hear from you, for example. At this point what you can ask is only limited to the data you see useful. However, please be mindful to only gather the data you need and that you will use, don’t get too greedy. And be polite. Your clients are people – they will notice the approach your company has, consciously or not.
A nosy person is usually not that welcome in social circles when compared to a person who is asking less but, is genuinely interested. So be careful not to get shunned away by your clients due to being inadequate with your approach for friendship – don’t be that person.
In the end, the deliverability of your email depends simply on how much your clients want to receive your emails. Careful, polite, empathetic and accurate approach to the data your clients share with you can lead to building strong bonds between your client and your brand.
Compliant List Collection Process & High Quality Data FTW
A successful email marketing program depends on a healthy email list. Positive email deliverability also depends on a healthy email list. So what makes a healthy email list?
First, we should understand that an email list is the data-component that feeds the customer lifecycle, which means it must start with compliant list collection processes and high quality data.
Focus on the quality of your list, not the size. Email scraping and list-acquisition are unfortunately still common ‘growth hacking’ practices, especially with small organizations, an unsolicited outreach usually follows.
Not only are they not GDPR compliant practices, they may have legal implications, and can severely affect your deliverability.
Email verification at the point of capture is a great way to confirm the validity of an email; however, it doesn’t mean there are no challenges with the data. Go one step further and adopt a double-opt-in process to confirm the address actually belongs to the intended recipient.
A major concern that continues (even in GDPR markets) is confusing Registration with Subscription Opt-in. When senders complain about their list engagement, it’s often because of poor expectation management – a gap between the user’s expectations and reality.
If users are not expecting to receive your communications, the relationship starts off on the wrong foot. This can lead to poor-engagement, churn, spam-complaints, or unsubscribes. Senders should not force email subscriptions through sneaky registration processes.
Clear opt-in language, consent agreement (default unchecked), and double-opt-in confirmations can help set expectations.
Be cautious of social-login single-sign-on (SSO). Login registration through Facebook is often problematic for email subscription.
Facebook users are notorious for using legacy email addresses to create their account, which leads to poor engagement and high bounce rates. SSO forms must include a ‘consent to receive email communications’ option -and you should not bury this ‘consent or intention’ in the Policy link.
Humans make mistakes. To avoid targeting errors that result in deliverability hell, maintain a global suppression list to prevent unwanted users from being mailed-to, and reconcile this list with your ‘active’ lists. Also, check with your ESP to employ a “one-and-done” hard-bounce rule -because re-sending to hard-bounce users will quickly damage IP reputation.
If your list churns faster than your list growth, declining engagement could be inevitable. Learn from the churn and understand why users become disengaged. Too many senders focus on reducing list churn too late in the customer lifecycle.
Instead, focus on ways to maintain engagement early in the customer lifecycle (proactive vs. reactive). Since ISPs monitor early-stage interactions to predict future mailbox placement, it’s the most important time to ‘get it right.’
Segmenting your lists according to engagement-level will help you to control the cadence and frequency users should receive. Finding the ‘sweet spot’ between reach and deliverability will help to prolong the life and quality of your lists.
Let subscribers choose ‘what’ and ‘how often’ they receive communications with subscription management controls.
There’s no better way to exhaust your email lists than to excessively mail-to non-engaged recipients -this dilutes engagement reputation, and could risk all sends to the spam-folder. Re-engagement is one thing, but if an old subscriber has never engaged with your channel, it may be time to say goodbye.
One Size Does Not Fit All
The most common and painful mistake I tend to see people make is using the “one size fits all” list management strategy. Many marketers draft and send the same message to their entire list of contacts at the same time, regardless of lead source, e-commerce/purchase history, location, engagement, or any of the other myriad data points that can be used to send targeted and relevant email.
Are there certain times when this strategy still makes sense? Absolutely. But for many brands the traditional email blast over and over now leads to declining results over time and, when left unchecked, ends up becoming a larger overall issue with delivery due to a largely stagnant list.
Failing to stand out when you are already fighting for space in an increasingly crowded inbox means your messaging may get lost in the shuffle with the rest of the daily and weekly specials. It’s human nature to get bored with routine, and once that happens with a contact your messaging is no longer relevant to them. All lists will experience some kind of fatigue like this, but a marketer’s goal should be to keep those numbers as low as possible.
Why? The major providers that dominate the free mailbox space are looking at how an individual user interacts with your messaging while also rolling that data up as an aggregate to determine what sort of global rules to apply to you as a sender.
Continuing to send to those that are no longer showing interest (by not opening/reading/clicking) tells the provider your messaging may not be wanted or belong in the inbox after all. This can multiply so even new opt-ins get your first message delivered to the spam folder instead of the inbox/promotions tab – how many of us actually look in there to fish out wanted messages?
So what sort of things can be done? Take advantage of the data you have to create more targeted messaging relevant to specific audiences!
Start with your content. Does it change message to message or is it getting a bit stale? Free shipping or a 10% off coupon can be great deals, but if they’re offered in every email, there is no incentive to engage until someone is ready to make a purchase.
I’d suggest highlighting a new product or use a message to nurture the relationship with something informational instead of always sell, sell, sell.
Are specific lead sources not converting into more engaged contacts or sales? Send less to those contacts and remove the dead weight, then re-apply lead spend to areas that convert to more engaged subscribers.
Do you have visibility into your subscribers’ location or at what time they typically open? An email sent at 9 am Eastern to all contacts may get buried in the pile of other overnight emails for contacts that are on the West Coast. If you have the ability to disseminate what time of day your messages most frequently get opened – send close to that time.
Can you identify contacts that only occasionally engage with you? Timing or motivation could be key. A more aggressive CTA could work here, or less frequent messaging.
Are there very engaged contacts that open and click regularly but have never converted or rarely convert? To me, that signals that they’re fine with your message cadence, but what could you do with your content to target these people and turn them from engaged contacts into brand evangelists? Maybe a BOGO coupon or a free gift with their first purchase can take them to that next level.
The list strategies that can be employed to help marketers improve will vary depending on what level of data they can access and what fits best with their own marketing strategies, but even with minimal engagement data it’s possible to make substantial changes to list management that will improve the overall effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns, which improves the all important bottom line.
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