Email best practice

Deliver the goods with good delivery

Maintaining a decent delivery rate can be hard enough at the best of times in email marketing, but it becomes increasingly difficult when you factor in busy sales periods like Black Friday or the festive period. Black Friday used to be just the one day, then Cyber Monday and you couldn’t do a whole lot of damage to your reputation across two days. But now companies have found to compete in the crowded retail market their campaign needs to span weeks, if not the whole month! That is a lot of emails for one person to get from a company and imagine how many they will get from all the marketing they are signed up to!

Deliverability tips

In a normal state of play, the best way to keep your email hygiene as tip top as possible may include the following:

  • Ensure you have correctly configured SPF, DKIM and DMARC records set up for your domain otherwise your emails may get quarantined or outright rejected and your delivery rate will plummet.
  • Ensure permanent bounces and all unsubscribers are removed.
  • Be willing to remove persistent soft bounces – they will never engage and only do harm to your send reputation.
  • You can sign up to receive the complaints back from such ISPs as Hotmail and Yahoo e.g. people hitting the “This is Spam” button and remove those.
  • Be willing to remove people that haven’t engaged with you for a particular period, e.g. 1 year, as again these emails will only harm your sender reputation and aren’t interacting with your emails. You can always attempt to re-engage them with reactivation campaigns.
  • Ensure you have a regular, steady flow of emails going out for ISPs to recognise the pattern from you which keeps them happy. Sudden changes, like massive volume spikes, may make them suspicious and less inclined to deliver your emails.
  • Targeting your users with personalised content is better than the “spray and pray” method to everyone. The engagement rates will be much higher and keep your sender reputation in good health. AI and data analysis can help you divine much about your users and only send them campaigns about things they actually like.

The above are a must for good delivery rates and list hygiene. But you may need to go a little further to survive busy sales periods unscathed.

A delivery tightrope walk

To ensure you get the best out of your sales campaigns whilst maintaining the health of your mailing list is no doubt a perilous balancing act. The temptation could be to send to as many people as many times as possible through fear of missing someone, but this method could have a disastrous effect on your sender reputation if complaints and unsubscribes come in their droves.

If you stop delivering to everyone, you are going to start missing out.

So what can be done?

Step 1: Warm up your IPs

The best thing you can do in the lead up to big sales events and an anticipated rise in email volume is to gradually increase your normal volumes and/or frequencies so there are no big spikes when the big push comes. If you want to know more about how this works, see our Black Friday-specific tips.

Step 2: Get your user preferences

Ask your users what they want! You will save a percentage of the data you would otherwise have lost if you provide a preference centre (even a temporary one) so your users can say how often they want to hear from you and on what topics (or even if they want to at all during the sales frenzy that is Black Friday). You may end up sending to fewer recipients as a result, but you should be sending them stuff they want which should increase engagement, reduce opt-outs and give your sender reputation a boost to keep your delivery rates ticking over.

Step 3: Stand out from the crowd

If people are receiving email after email that’s just piling up in their inbox, you need to stand out and be relevant to them. Getting people to engage with your emails is one of the best ways of maintaining a solid sender reputation and increase the chances of getting your email into the inbox, and not sidelined to a secondary tab, or worse, the dreaded spam folder. This will involve well crafted subject lines and as many tricks as you can rustle up, for example, why not check out Gmail’s promotion tools?

Step 4: Resend to non-engagers

With the aforementioned ever-growing pile of emails in people’s inboxes, even if you’ve done your best to get your customer’s attention you still may get missed. There is no harm in a second bite of the cherry by way of a resend to non-engagers, perhaps with a shiny new subject line, but this may well be a juggling act once again. You will inevitably pick up more unsubscribers for every send you make, which is an unavoidable hard truth in the art of email marketing, so you need to weigh up acceptable losses versus potential gains to work out the best strategy for you.

Forewarned is forearmed – you know how customers will feel throughout intense sales periods so make sure you do everything you can to keep them happy and nurture your relationship with them. Even if it feels like your strategies lead you to sending less than the maximum number of emails, the quality will be better and should produce better results whislt maintaining your list hygiene and see you through unscathed.

Email deliverability

Soft-bounced Emails Explained

There are two broad categories that are used to classify the many causes of email bounces. These are hard-bounced emails for unrecoverable failures and soft-bounced emails for sporadic, transient, or reputational problems.

Creating and maintaining your sender reputation won’t happen overnight, just as it won’t happen when you expand your list. The effectiveness of your email marketing efforts also heavily depends on how you handle bounced emails.

Read on to find out more about soft bounced emails, how they might affect your email marketing campaigns, and what you can do to protect your reputation as a sender.

What are soft-bounced emails?

A soft bounce occurs when an email delivery attempt is made to a mail server, but the email is not immediately accepted and is instead rejected. This can happen due to various reasons, such as a full inbox, a server outage, or a message that is too large to be delivered.

Depending on the soft bounce type, the email may remain in the mail queue and be automatically retried at a later time, perhaps leading to successful delivery to the inbox.

Similar to hard-bounced emails, soft-bounced emails can occur for a variety of reasons, such as the following:

  • The email box is entirely filled.
  • Technical problems exist with the mail server.
  • There are limitations on the sender’s rate.
  • The email message is very long.
  • Too many people have marked your emails as spam.

Sometimes mailbox providers set sender rate limits; they use this to limit how quickly you may send emails to them, and it has to do with sender reputation. Generally speaking, the faster you can send emails, the better your sender reputation is.

Rate-limiting isn’t necessarily a terrible thing, and with time, it will get faster for you to send emails to Outlook, for example. When you’re a new sender, utilising a new sending domain, or transmitting from new IP addresses, rate-limiting is commonly found.

Hard or soft, which is worse?

The majority of ESPs will automatically suppress hard-bounced email addresses for you, which helps to keep your lists clean even if hard-bounced emails are more damaging to your sender reputation than soft-bounced emails ever would be.

The fact that emails are being refused because your domain and/or transmitting IP addresses are banned or the content you’re sending seems to be spam doesn’t mean that bounced emails are never a problem.

Making a judgement call about which is “worse” is not the best course of action, and as long as you pay attention to the reasons why emails are being rejected and then take the appropriate action to address the issue (e.g., suppression, blacklist delisting, etc.), your sender reputation will continue to improve as you send more email campaigns.

How can you prevent it?

Due to the nature of email, there are a lot of factors that senders have little control over that contribute to soft bounces, but there are steps you can take to get your campaigns off to a good start and keep them there.

Use double opt-in.

It’s tempting to add users to your database as soon as they subscribe since you want to reach as many people as you can. If you do this, though, you can encounter the issue of invalid or improperly written email addresses.

Double opt-in is a suitable choice in this situation. It acts as a safety net, avoiding the occurrence of this issue. Prior to being added to your list, a double opt-in will ensure that the right email address has been entered and validated.

Obtain agreement

According to the GDPR, you need a legal justification to send someone an email; an illustration of this is when a person subscribes to your monthly newsletter and grants their consent.

Without a valid reason, you run the danger of not only damaging your company’s reputation but also coming under investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Ensure appropriate list maintenance.

People who aren’t interested in getting emails from you should be frequently removed from your email list. You are far more likely to get spam complaints if your email list is made up of uninterested parties.

It’s possible for dormant email addresses to turn into recycled spam traps, which may be extremely detrimental to your operations, especially if one of the major mailbox providers blocks you.

Don’t use spam triggers.

Mail filters don’t care that you’re not intentionally attempting to produce content that seems spammy. They give the content a good whiff, and if it smells like spam, they handle it accordingly.

It’s a good idea to test your content with Mail Tester, which performs several health checks on it and provides input on how you might be able to enhance it.

Here is a quick summary of some additional issues to consider while creating the content for your emails:

  • Add exclamation points and question marks carefully rather than “shouting.”
  • Verify for accuracy.
  • Spam has a spam-like odour.
  • Avoid using phoney topic line prefixes like “RE:” or “FW:.”
  • Personalisation might help you concentrate your messages.
  • Avoid using general phrasing like “Dear Member” or “Dear Friend.”
  • Avoid ordering people to “act now” or using any such coercive language.

Avoid attempting to obfuscate language or using spaces to bury sentences.

Put the knowledge you’ve gained to use.

Although no sender wants an email to bounce, when it does, consider it a chance to utilise the information to make things right. This might entail purging your list, deleting IP addresses and domains, or reviewing the content of your emails to make sure they don’t contain any “spam” language.

Oh, and keep in mind that not all emails that are “delivered” remain “delivered,” so make sure you also look at those asynchronous bounces.