Boost Deliverability by Listening Better

At the recent Authentication and Online Trust Association conference, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark said he chose to run the support desk rather than the entire company so he could listen to what his users were saying. Listening is the key to his success.

You as an e-mail marketer have many similar opportunities for listening to your subscribers. And they’re communicating, either by word, actions, or silence.

E-mail marketers need to be attentive, because the relationship with subscribers is a little more at a distance, yet intensely personal given the way many e-mail users feel about the privacy of their inboxes.

What’s the Cost of Not Listening?

Your subscribers get irritated and disappear, either by unsubscribing or clicking the spam button, or just by going dark on your list. Complaints and inactivity can put a major damper on your deliverability and hurt your sender reputation.

You also behave a little like a spammer. Spammers don’t listen to the people they e-mail.

Your Nine E-mail Listening Posts

Your e-mail program has many points where you can hear what people are telling you or what they’re saying to others. Sometimes, you’ll get silence where you expected to hear conversation, and that’s just as informative.

  1. The opt-in confirmation: If your rate is low — less than half of those who request to opt in actually confirm the request — that’s telling you something without requiring someone to file a formal complaint. Often the confirmation is surprising people who receive it, and they didn’t really intend to sign up. Could be your incentive is more interesting than subsequent messaging. Maybe your confirmation request goes out too long after the initial request, or they don’t see your pre-checked opt-in box. No matter, it’s telling you to review your benefits of subscription and make them clearer.

  2. Your official e-mail feedback address: You or your designee should check this daily. It’s a courtesy to subscribers who take the time to compliment, complain, ask for information, or point out a problem. If you don’t have a feedback address now, create one and add it to your template before you e-mail again.
  3. Your e-mail sending address: Avoid using a sending address that differs from your feedback address. Don’t tell people not to reply to your e-mail because no one monitors that address. People will hit the reply button, and they expect you to be there to find and reply to it.
  4. The e-mail preference page: This is where your subscribers tell you what they want to get, in which format, and how often. If you send e-mail outside of these parameters, you’re clearly not listening to them, and they will either let you know or disappear into the shadows of inactivity.
  5. Inactivity: Like confirmations that go missing in action, subscribers who go dark are telling you something without actually saying it in words. Perhaps they’ve gotten apathetic because your e-mail doesn’t match their expectations. Or maybe they’re overwhelmed by e-mail. Either you’re sending more than they expected, or they’re getting pounded from all sides by e-mail.

    Either way, they’re checking out. If you don’t pay attention by watching your open, click, and conversion rates and periodically seeking to wake up your inactives, you’re not listening to the silence.

  6. Unsubscribe: The unsubscribe is more than a technical request to be taken off a list. Your subscriber is telling you something needs to change. Failing to acknowledge the unsubscribe is the same as not listening. You miss the chance either to try to reclaim the relationship or to learn from it to improve your overall program for future subscribers.
  7. Spam complaints: Blowing off spam complaints is like ignoring someone who’s screaming in your face. Where the unsubscribe was a polite goodbye, the spam complaint says, “Get lost!” And your subscribers aren’t the only ones you need to listen to.

    This is also a direct message from the ISP that relayed it to you. When you ignore it, you are, as far as it’s concerned, behaving like a spammer. And I can guarantee ISPs will hear that message loud and clear.

  8. Interaction in the message itself: Your subscribers are talking to you every time they click on your message. Which parts of it get the most clicks, and which are virtually forgotten? Check your link-tracking to see which links are most popular.

    If your offers aren’t getting clicked on, subscribers are telling you that they aren’t interested in the offer. It could be irrelevant, untimely, or otherwise counter to their expectations. Or, they couldn’t find the link because it was located too far down in the message or invisible. These most likely are readers who view their e-mail in the preview panel, block images, or both.

    Be sure your subject line announces the offer or call to action clearly. Refer to it in a snippet at the top of the message. Then, put this key copy in text so that it shows up even when images don’t.

  9. On social networks: In blogs (your own, plus trade, vendor or other sources), in mass IM clients like Twitter and Plurk, and anywhere else digital subscribers gather to vent their opinions. Are you plugged into these online backfences to hear what people are saying about you? Google and Twitter even allow you to create search alerts for your company name and see when people are talking about you.

Remember: your subscribers are talking to you. Now it’s up to you to listen with an open mind and act wherever it’s appropriate.

Until next time, keep on deliverin!

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