Picking out a pair of shoes shouldn’t be difficult, but sometimes it is. Why? Because there are tons of options. And not every shoe works for every occasion.
Choosing a deliverability strategy can feel the same way. In most scenarios, that trusty pair of running sneaks works perfectly, but sometimes you need a good pair of hiking boots to climb out of the trenches. And sometimes, the type of shoe you would never think to wear to a formal event actually works quite well and even causes some positive chatter (maybe that’s where high-heel sneakers came from, although I still don’t get them).
Addressing deliverability issues isn’t always straightforward. Often it requires a bit of flexibility and the ability to adapt your program to get to your solution.
In this month’s roundup, email experts from Netcore, SocketLabs, ActiveCampaign, and myself—your adaptable Kickbox deliverability geek—share deliverability recommendations we’ve flexed to accommodate multiple fits and the rigid advice we’ll dig our heels in over.
And off we go!
Sometimes You Have to Color Outside the Lines to Find What Works
Watching my kids color is fascinating. One, because they have no creative boundaries. Even if they draw mommy grumpy and color her with scribbles, they still say she’s beautiful (sobbing in the corner over the sweetness of it all). And two, I get to see things through a new lens based on what is going on inside them that day. They color how they feel.
As my experience has grown, I’ve come to find that as you start to go beyond the ideal sender configuration or how you’re supposed to color, you begin to see the need for more imperfectly perfect deliverability strategies. Creatively coloring deliverability.
In addition, there is often a feel for what is right for a particular situation that you can’t quite pin down to a best practice, but you just know it’s the right move, coloring how you feel.
For example, I’ve heard a number of questions lately about sending volumes. What is the minimum threshold to hold reputation, and what should the cadence be? Is daily the only way to retain a reputation? I have seen, and I have heard enough stories from others that what was once “send multiple times a week every week” isn’t the only successful approach out there.
I used to work with one brand that had HUGE name recognition and had consistent smaller volume sends (10s of thousands) throughout the month, but could not send a large volume campaign (millions) without causing issues.
Many factors were weighing in (list composition, messaging, spikes in engagement during non-send periods, etc.), but it wasn’t until they started to spread out their large volume sends they found success.
On the other hand, I knew a sender who would push out low volume (thousands) daily throughout the year and spike volume (hundreds of thousands) once a year without issue and very little adjustments to how they sent.
Why such a stark difference? Because the second sender developed a communication model and cadence that worked for the relationship and the CUSTOMER. The first customer was sending based on their needs and not necessarily how their business aligned with their customers’ needs.
Warming is another one that I have found can have a lot of flexibility. All should start slow, but depending on the company, brand, and customer interactions, I have seen some companies fly through warming at an unprecedented pace and others at a horrifically slow pace. This is probably why there are a plethora of unique warming strategies out there. None of which are wrong.
Another example is around targeting. Generally speaking, targeting beyond a year becomes risky and it’s not a best practice. Still, some senders can be wildly successful because the communication around the lifecycle with the service or product is such that annual and beyond works.
There are guidelines, recommendations, best practices, and so on that are proven to work time and time again, but they don’t always fit and being able to flex in the right way is the key to making the program work successfully and responsibly.
Ultimately, finding the flexibility comes from really knowing your program, your customers, and what works for the two of you. Your customers are what will drive your success. If you listen, respond, and craft a relationship with communications that are wanted, relevant, and looked for, you will succeed.
It takes a little testing and a lot of patience, but you’ll find the sweet spot, even if it’s outside the lines a bit. Oh, and stay away from purchased lists and GET CONSENT.
With the Right Combination & Situation, There’s a Lot of Flexibility in Email
Email deliverability consultants are notorious for saying “It depends” when it comes to troubleshooting or helping to correct a delivery issue. It depends on your data collection. It depends on your email practices. It depends on your creative. It depends on your subscribers. That is why we love to test things.
This actually shows that there are a lot of things that are flexible when it comes to email practices. Back in February, we discussed “different opt-in methods” used by marketers. We covered several different options, from a single opt-in, notified opt-in, and even a confirmed opt-in. You’ll note opt-in being the key word here.
So the way that you collect subscriber information is both flexible and rigid at the same time. Different situations may call for different levels of data collection, but the data must achieve the level of being consent-based and valuable to the consumer.
Flexibility – Situational data collection practices based on risk acceptance
Rigid – All data is consent-based
As for other practices that could be considered flexible, include data hygiene, which has some flexibility related to the processes you follow.
For a brand that is experiencing delivery challenges and bulk folder placement, a more aggressive sunsetting policy would be highly recommended – for example, 30 days without any positive activities from the recipient (i.e., clicks, purchases).
A brand that is not experiencing any type of delivery concern could look at a significantly longer term. Even up to 12 to 24 months of inactivity for their subscribers.
Flexibility – Timeline on sunsetting
Rigid – Implement sunsetting at some time for all unengaged consumers
A final example of both a flexible and rigid configuration for email deals with email authentication. Implementing DKIM is a minimum requirement for email authentication, and it should be supported by every email service provider (ESP) with domain alignment.
Meaning the d=sender.domain.com should be part of the same organization as the Mail.From email@example.com. In a similar manner, the SPF alignment is highly recommended but not supported by all ESPs where the Sender.
From may be a domain controlled by the ESP (@bounce.esp.com). You’ll still be able to implement DMARC with a DKIM aligned domain in a meaningful way, but with only SPF alignment, you may be walking into a lot of hurt if you implement DMARC at enforcement.
Try out the GradeMyEmail email tester tools to understand your email configuration and review where you could possibly make improvements.
Flexibility – SPF configuration for email
Rigid – DKIM configuration for email
In summary, there are lots of flexible rules for email around, but finding the right combination and understanding the risks of implementing or not implementing these for your brand will be worth the conversation with your favorite deliverability consultant. Be sure to follow #emailgeeks on twitter, and check out the EmailGeeks Slack.
Permission is a Must, But There’s Flexibility in the Ways You Can Collect It
Email success requires you to stack a lot of foundational email blocks together, including authentication, sender reputation, list quality, engaging content, and more.
But permission must be viewed as the keystone of any email house that aspires to live on Inbox Lane, because there is no quicker way to damage your deliverability than to send emails to people who aren’t expecting to hear from you. Hello, spam complaints! Wish I could say I’m surprised to see you…
The beauty of permission-based email is that there is a lot of flexibility in the ways you can collect an opt-in from potential subscribers. You decide what information they need to share, what mailing list(s) they’ll be added to, how often they’ll hear from you, what content they’ll receive, and whether they need to confirm their subscription before kicking things off. You can even offer a preference center, giving them greater control over aspects such as frequency and type(s) of content.
I’ve already dug pretty deeply into permission for the Kickbox blog with my email pal Skyler Holobach, so if you’re not bought into the importance of permission within email marketing yet, you should stop what you’re doing and go check it out.
For now, let’s move on to the main forms of opt-in you’ll be choosing between:
- Single Opt-in (SOI) – If you’re looking for the lowest permission-based barrier to entry for new subscribers, then this is the method for you. Your list will grow as quickly as is safely possible, however, note that you might not be collecting an opt-in from who you think you are: SOI processes can be rife with mistyped email addresses, bot sign-ups, and distractible subscribers who may not realize that they’ve actually just agreed to an email relationship with your brand.
- Confirmed Opt-in (COI) – If your business relies on repeat purchases, or if your company’s sales cycle is long, your primary goal may be to keep subscribers in your inner circle so you can impress them with your fantastic content and keep your brand at the top of their mind when it comes time to buy. While requiring people to click on a confirmation link that is sent to them via email before adding them to a mailing list may feel like a lot of red tape upfront, this extra step can give marketers greater confidence in the quality of their database and the long-term interest of recipients.
Two other recommendations with regards to the opt-in process:
- Protect all sign-up forms with a CAPTCHA. There are multiple options to choose from, including hCAPTCHA and Google’s invisible reCAPTCHA. Just make sure you’re using one of these options to prevent bot sign-ups and other abusive activities from affecting your sign-up forms and future deliverability.
- Stop requiring sign-ups from work addresses. While this one might seem counter-intuitive for B2B, consider that US companies had an average turnover rate of 22% in 2018. And the median tenure for workers ages 25 to 34 is just 2.8 years. Case in point, I’ve personally changed jobs 3x in less than as many years. If you’re looking to keep your email relationship going with subscribers, even when they switch jobs or are temporarily out of work — enabling you to prospect to them across multiple different roles and companies — consider allowing them to give their personal address.
Ultimately, the type of opt-in process you decide to implement will vary depending on your goals with email and the kinds of content you’ll send after someone signs up. Just be sure you’re collecting an opt-in from every single subscriber before hitting ‘Send’!
Why Are You So Obsessed With Me?
I’m dating myself by referencing one of my favorite movies, Mean Girls, but it’s exactly what I think about when I work with customers experiencing issues with spam placement that are, for lack of a better word, “obsessed” with all the wrong things.
While I certainly am not saying that content analysis tools are outdated, it’s the one deliverability practice that I feel needs to be adapted to be much less of a priority when it comes to resolving deliverability issues.
Too often, I’ll be asked to review content and placement reports (for example, GlockApps reports) and how to resolve each of the 20+ glaring red errors ranging in point values. But when I take a look at their sending history, I see the following:
- No email authentication set up for their sending domain(s)
- Little to no segmentation or engagement strategies
- Little to no list cleaning or opt-in strategies
Yet the customer is having a semi meltdown over their shared IP being listed on some weird obscure Swedish blocklist that I’ve never heard of that impacts one email address on their email list. If anyone here can raise their hand and say, “this is me,” I’m here to give you permission to de-prioritize:
- Obscure blocklists
- Spam content warnings for phrases/words that are being used in the correct context (I’m looking at you, SpamAssassin)
- Text to image ratio or link total recommendations aimed at ‘cheating’ the placement system (No, you will not get out of the Promotions tab this way).
As for one deliverability practice that I will advocate for until my last breath, that is certainly creating an engagement strategy that includes BOTH a sunset policy and a manage preferences policy. Not only is this critical in helping to boost your domain reputation, but it’s also smart email marketing.
As a recipient of many marketing emails myself, I would much rather you give me choices on email delivery frequency and/or which email streams I’d like to subscribe to versus sending me literally every email you’ve ever created or plan to create. There are very few brands I need to hear from every day or 3 times a day, for that matter.
When it comes to a sunset policy, there isn’t a blanket recommendation I can give other than the following: Do not set this and forget it. You should always evaluate if the time frame(s) you’ve chosen are appropriate for your business and email list(s). I actually expect this to change regularly because as you build a solid domain reputation, you can probably increase the time frames in which you are waiting to remove contacts from regular communication. But please don’t forget a re-engagement email or two. This is an opportunity to recover anywhere from 1-10% of that list you were going to unsubscribe.