Five top tips for successful email marketing in tough climate

By Chris Lee

For the first time in three years, the email marketing industry saw a major decline in deliverability of emails to target audiences during the second half of 2011. According to the Global Email Deliverability Benchmark report Return Path, more stringent filtering by internet service providers (ISPs), increased volumes of email and a decline in trust towards brands who send emails are finding it harder for email marketers around the world to get into target audiences’ inboxes.

Inbox placement rates – emails that reached target inboxes – hit a record low of 76.5 per cent globally, according to Return Path. The UK performed slightly better with 83 per cent delivery, while seven per cent were delivered to the spam folder, and missing and blocked emails accounted for the remainder. Gmail accounts in particular were found particularly difficult to target.

In the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region, the online gaming sector suffered from the lowest deliverability with only 73 per cent of email arriving in the inbox, dipping to 71 per cent in the UK.

Wide of the mark

So what are the reasons for the decline in email delivery and how can email marketing become more targeted?

“The findings from our benchmark report show the effects of a perfect storm,” according to Matt Blumberg, CEO of Return Path. “Clients are having difficulty in getting their emails delivered, ISPs are tightening requirements on reputation metrics and the number of companies using email to market continues to increase – we see both higher overall email volume and an influx of relatively unsophisticated senders – resulting in decreased inbox placement rates.”

Return Path’s top five tips for email marketing success include:

1. Get the data you need

Know where your email goes and why. Don’t believe the bounce myth – that whatever gets sent and doesn’t bounce must be reaching the inbox. Gaining access to relevant deliverability data is crucial for marketers to be able to make accurate decisions about their programme’s effectiveness. This report is based on the Return Path Mailbox Monitor system which seeds the databases of our clients with known good email addresses. We then monitor whether or not email sent to those addresses is delivered. These reports often show a wide disparity between the delivered metric shown on the client’s standard response report and the inbox placement rate (IPR) which is the actual number of messages that arrive in the inbox.

2. Take deliverability failures seriously

Deliverability failures cost businesses a lot of money. There is significant lost revenue from email that does not get delivered to the inbox. Consumer research consistently shows that people do not check their spam or junk folders for marketing messages. And even if they do, most of the non-delivered mail isn’t there – it’s completely missing. Email that consumers don’t have access to will not generate a response.

3. Don’t use revenue or response as a proxy for deliverability.

Assuming a program that generates revenue or gets good response must be delivered to all the inboxes that matter is a mistake. Think about how much money you may be leaving on the table if a significant chunk of your list isn’t seeing the messages you send.

4. Don’t accept deliverability failures as inevitable or unfixable

Return Path says it has clients who are able to maintain consistently high deliverability rates across all ISPs. 80 per cent delivery is the average. So while that means there are companies at 60 per cent it also means that there are companies at 100 per cent.

5. Take responsibility for where your email lands

While your IT team or email service provider can be important partners, you are responsible for the deliverability of your email. Most of the major drivers of poor inbox placement rates are the direct result of marketing practices, not technical ones. These include complaints, which spike when email is unexpected or undervalued by the recipient and spam traps, which are most often found on lists that are old or have been built with poorly sourced data.

“When marketers focus on improving their program’s deliverability, they do. 100 per cent deliverability is attainable,” Blumberg concluded. “Opportunity is there for all smart marketers to beat their competitors by monitoring their reputation, understanding deliverability data and staying ahead of the deliverability curve.”

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