While we, as marketers, constantly talk about factors that affect email deliverability and ways to improve it, little has been said about what constitutes an effective marketing strategy and why deliverability is crucial to this plan.
Often what we see is that marketers who think they know the benefits of improved deliverability but never act on it don’t truly understand it. As an analyst, my job is not only to teach email best practices but also to back up those claims with data and so my clients will take action and drop the shotgun approach.
“We can’t stop sending to our unengaged contacts.” … “That’s not how our business works.” … “How do you know they won’t come back and re-engage at some point?” … I hear variations on these comments and questions all the time. I never dismiss these statements lightly, because they’re all valid concerns. However, between your business model and email marketing strategy is where we need to draw the line.
What seems to work in your marketing strategy doesn’t always translate well into the email marketing world. When I presented the following metrics to my clients, they were surprised by how much of an impact deliverability could have on their email marketing effectiveness.
Before we let the numbers speak, I think it’s worth stressing the most basic and important deliverability concept: Engagement is the number one factor used by ISPs to determine if your email should be placed in the inbox or the spam folder. In other words, the more engaged or higher quality your list is, the better treatment you’ll get from those ISPs.
In this first example below, the sender increased their volume from 18,000+ messages in February to 41,000+ in March in the hope they would be able to re-engage some of their inactive prospects. Unfortunately, adding those unengaged recipients ― a.k.a. complaint generators ― tanked their reputation at several ISPs, resulting in poor reputation and a lower open rate. Did they get 400+ more opens? Yes. But was it worth it? No. The next example explains why.
In this next case, we can see a significant decrease in volume from 16 million+ messages sent in April to 6 million+ sent in May. The sender followed my recommendation and cut out their unengaged recipients in an attempt to restore their reputation at Gmail. They increased their open rate by sending exclusively to those who had engaged in the last 60 days.
Despite nearly 10 million contacts being removed from the campaign, their open rate almost quadrupled, allowing them to actually receive more unique opens than in the previous month. The results were too significant for any rational marketers to ever want to go back to the old batch-and-blast approach. The goal is, ultimately, to get people to engage with your content and become new leads.
Therein lies the rub: How do you get new leads if you can’t even send to these prospects who haven’t engaged with you before?
Ideally, you don’t want to send to any unengaged recipients. But realistically, you can. The key is to maintain a high ratio of engaged to unengaged prospects so ISPs will not pick you up as a sender who sends mostly to people who don’t want your email.
As far as the recommended ratio is concerned, obviously the higher the ratio of engaged to unengaged, the better. As a general rule of thumb, I’ve been recommending a minimum ratio of 70 to 30, meaning out of 100 contacts you mail to, at least 70 should be recently engaged.
As with everything else we call best practices, it’s all about driving engagement for better deliverability … and ultimately more effective email marketing.