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Deliverability:A Challenge for 8 of 10 Marketers

  |  April 12, 2006   |  Comments

What are marketers doing about deliverability? Our recent survey reveals their concerns.

Our recent survey on marketers’ experiences with deliverability turned up a big contradiction and a surprising black hole of knowledge about what really is more likely to get email blocked or filtered.

The contradiction: Eight of 10 email marketers say getting email messages delivered is a challenge for their organizations. However, only 1 in 10 rank improving deliverability as a top priority.

The black hole: Marketers apparently don’t realize how much spam complaints can influence message blocking and filtering. Nearly 90 percent of respondents track hard bounces and unsubscribes in each delivery, but only 58 percent monitor spam complaints. Also, 53 percent say their email content and coding or permission practices have the greatest influence, but only 13 percent cited spam complaints.

Some highlights from the survey, which assessed emailers’ attitudes toward deliverability issues and their experiences:

  • Filtering by ISPs and corporations is the biggest delivery-related challenge marketers say they face. Nearly 50 percent of all respondents cited either ISP or corporate filters. Another 25 percent said they lack the expertise or resources they need to address their deliverability issues.

  • Marketers are beginning to understand deliverability means more than just getting email through a filter. The email must function properly for people to take desired actions. Respondents split evenly on how they define deliverability: 43 percent cite "delivered to recipients’ inbox," another 43 percent said "delivered to inbox correctly and rendered correctly." Just 11 percent said just getting the email into either the spam folder or inbox was enough.

  • Half of all respondents said they modified their email templates to boost delivery rates. Another 25 percent said they adopted at least one authentication method: SPF, SenderID, DomainKeys Identified Mail.

Key survey results are presented below. You can view the full results and more analysis here.

Missed Opportunities May Thwart Improvement Goals

Most marketers monitor campaign-related metrics but not those that provide more detailed delivery reports:

  • 87.1 percent monitor unsubscribes

  • 85.6 percent monitor hard bounces

  • 58.4 percent monitor spam complaints

  • 32.2 percent monitor estimated block percentage by ISP

  • 7.4 percent don’t monitor anything.

Although 82.4 percent of marketers say they monitor delivery rates, delivery-specific metrics such as bounces, unsubscribes, and spam complaints don’t measure delivery to key ISPs or corporations, or inbox placement. Knowing who’s blocking your email can help you target the problem and boost delivery. This information can turn up either in delivery reports sent during and after a campaign or from a third-party audit.

Deliverability a "Significant" Challenge for One-Third of Respondents

  • 30.5 percent say it’s a significant challenge.

  • 51.8 percent say it’s somewhat of a challenge.

  • 10.3 percent say it’s not a challenge at all.

  • 7.4 percent don’t know or aren’t sure.

When we looked deeper to see how people who reported significant deliverability challenges viewed other survey questions, we found they were more likely to define deliverability as inbox delivery with images and links enabled. They’re also the most likely to track campaign delivery metrics and ISP blocking.

Filtering the Thorniest Deliverability Issue

  • 48.3 percent filter by ISPs.

  • 45.1 percent filter by corporations.

  • 31.5 percent have too many hard bounces.

  • 25.4 percent lack expertise or resources to address deliverability.

  • 15.3 percent appear on blacklists.

  • 11.8 percent use challenge-response requests.

  • 11.8 percent have too many spam complaints.

  • 9.6 percent have no deliverability issues.

Given all the attention on working with filters, it’s no surprise to find they rank high on marketers’ radar. When we looked deeper, we found ISP filters are the top concern for marketers who utilize installed software for email delivery (55 percent), while corporate filters bedevil 44.5 percent of marketers who outsource email delivery (email service providers and agencies).

Half of Respondents Modify E-mail Templates to Address Deliverability Problems

  • 50.3 percent modified their email template.

  • 24.2 percent adopted authentication (SPF/SenderID/DomainKeys Identified Mail).

  • 21.7 percent no longer email to non-permission lists.

  • 20.4 percent utilized a delivery-monitoring solution.

  • 16.9 percent switched from shared to dedicated IP address.

  • 16.9 percent did nothing.

  • 15.6 percent formalized a whitelisting process or established key ISP relationships.

  • 10.5 percent switched email service providers (ESPs) or moved from in-house sending to an ESP.

  • 9.6 percent switched to double opt-in.

  • 5.7 percent utilized a third-party accreditation service.

Modifying an email template can remove some elements that trigger blocks at ISPs, such as bad coding, over-large images, and spam-like content. It has less impact on the marketing budget than contracting with third-party vendors, however. The fairly strong adoption of authentication technologies is encouraging, while using an accreditation service is still very early in the adoption cycle.

Though Deliverability Is a Challenge, It’s Not a Priority

  • 31.8 percent want to increase desired results.

  • 25.5 percent want to improve open and click rates.

  • 19.5 percent want to grow their list.

  • 10.4 percent want to improve deliverability.

  • 9.7 percent want to increase results from existing list.

  • 3.1 percent responded "Other."

Business goals clearly outrank deliverability, and rightly so. Yet the problem with respondents’ dichotomy is poor deliverability clearly hurts the bottom line. A better delivery rate is a rising tide that raises all boats, from list growth to open/click rates and eventually ROI (define).

Controllable Issues Have Greatest Impact on Deliverability

  • 27.4 percent said permission practices have the greatest impact.

  • 26.5 percent said email content and coding has the greatest impact.

  • 12.8 percent said spam complaint and bounce rates have the greatest impact.

  • 11.9 percent said being on ISP whitelists has the greatest impact.

  • 5.3 percent said being on or off blacklists has the greatest impact.

Once again, marketers concentrate on factors they directly control, permission and content, although spam complaints, whitelisting, and blacklisting generally have a greater effect. This attitude likely exists because marketers can’t see how those factors work at the ISP level. This question also reveals another disconnect: though 57 percent of marketers say they track spam complaint rates, far fewer relate them to email delivery failures.

If you were one of the 400-plus email professionals who filled out our survey in recent weeks, we thank you. Future ClickZ columns will address concerns the survey raised.

As always, keep on deliverin’.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kirill Popov and Loren McDonald

As director of ISP relations and delivery, Kirill Popov creates and enforces strict usage and anti-spam policies, maintains ISP and community relations, and oversees all abuse and policy investigations and inquiries for EmailLabs clients. Kirill works with clients on best practices, content, design, and list hygiene to minimize potential delivery issues. He's a registered member of the SpamCon foundation and representsEmailLabs on AIM's Council for Responsible E-Mail.

Loren McDonald is vice president of marketing at e-mail marketing automation company EmailLabs, overseeing corporate marketing activities and client consulting services. He has 20 years experience in marketing, consulting and strategic planning. Earlier, Loren was founder and president of Intevation, an e-marketing services firm specializing in e-mail and SEM. He's held executive marketing positions at companies including USWeb/CKS (marchFIRST), NetStruxr, and Arthur Andersen.

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