How Nongeeks Can Increase E-Mail Delivery

E-mail marketing success includes ensuring your email messages are delivered and have a shot at being opened. This requires competencies in marketing strategy, creative, technology, and more. This column looks at delivery improvement tactics easily implemented by marketers and other right-brain personalities.

Delivery issues include messages the recipient confuses with spam, simply misses, or doesn’t recognize, along with filtering, blocking, and bulk-folder challenges.

Here are 13 tactics and approaches that increase the likelihood your recipients will get, and consider opening, your email messages:

  • Double opt-in subscription process. Many marketers are leery of moving to a double (confirmed) opt-in process for fear of losing a large number of new subscribers. But a well-executed double opt-in approach will likely capture 80 percent or more of the subscribers and provide additional benefits. These include a cleaner list with fewer bounced addresses from input errors; an audit trail in case of subscriber spam complaints; and a higher quality list due to recipients confirming their interest in your messages.

  • No prechecked boxes. Prechecked “subscribe” boxes may lead to a higher number of initial subscribers, but a lack of affirmative consent leads to lower-value subscribers/customers, reduces customer trust, lowers response rates, and potentially hurts the brand. Most important, recipients may not recall subscribing and don’t expect that initial email, resulting in a spam complaint, an unsubscribe, or simply being ignored. The CAN-SPAM Act requires messages without affirmative consent include a notification in the message that the email is an advertisement or promotion. Go for quality over quantity.
  • Visible “update email address or preferences” link. It’s estimated roughly one-third of the average email list churns each year due to address changes. Make sure your messages include a very visible “email address change,” “update preferences,” or similar link to an update page on your Web site.
  • A recognized, expected, consistent sender name. When scanning overloaded inboxes, recipients may look at the sender line, subject line, or both. Use, and stick with, a sender name that’s simple, easily recognized, trusted, and expected by subscribers. When possible, use a sender email address that’s recognizable and in plain English, such as newsletter@companyx.com. This is particularly important for email clients such as AOL that display only the sender address, not the name.
  • “Branded” subject lines. Subscribers may receive a few hundred email messages a day, much of it spam. As recipients scan their inboxes, they’re probably looking for messages that are either clearly spam or opt-in email they trust and want. You want your message to be easily, immediately categorized as “recognized and wanted.” It helps to brand your subject and reinforce it in the sender name.

    For example, if your email is sent by “Global Inc. Newsletter,” the subject might include “Global News Update” at the beginning of the subject line. Though this approach uses up valuable subject line real estate, it makes your message stand out and reduces the chances of being missed, ignored, filtered, and unopened. Consider conducting a few A/B split tests to determine what works best with your subscribers.

  • Subject line content. In addition to the above approach, ensure copy is creative and compelling but doesn’t trigger spam filters or get deleted by users who confuse your message with spam.
  • A message content checker. Many email marketing software/ASP (define) solutions have built-in content checkers to rate the likelihood messages will be filtered and to check content or code that may trigger a filter. Use them. Although far from perfect, these checkers are a decent indicator of potential problems that may have gone unrecognized by the marketing team.
  • Content filtering. Basics ignorance is no excuse for messages not being delivered. Though no one can be expected to keep up with the nuances of common content filtering, understand the different kinds of filters and content that are high risk. Read bounce messages, track which messages have high bounce rates and low open rates, and see if you can reverse-engineer offending content.
  • Message proofing and pretesting. Always send proofs of your message to yourself, coworkers, and, if possible, a larger seed list. Proofs help uncover typos, missed changes, bad links, incorrect image paths, and potential blocking or filter problems. If you send very large volumes, you may want to send test messages to a small percentage of your overall list, testing variables and potential delivery problems. You may also want to subscribe to an inbox seed monitoring service.
  • Personalization and segmentation. The more relevant and personalized a message, the better the chance it will be recognized by a subscriber, not missed or deleted. Start small and simple. Use click-through activity, for example, to segment subscribers based on links they clicked in the past. Then send those people messages with subject lines targeted to each interest segment.
  • Images instead of text. Some industries are very offer- and discount-driven, such as travel and hospitality. These have continuous problems with content filtering because they repeatedly use certain terms. We’re seeing a number of companies facing this challenge move to an image-based content format. Certain content is contained in images rather than as text. The approach has potential downsides, including image blocking, increased file size, slower loading, and potentially more work for the design/production team.
  • Managed user expectations. On sign up, clearly convey to subscribers the frequency, email type, content/purpose, and value proposition. Ensure recipients aren’t surprised when they receive your messages.
  • Send time. As most spam is sent in the middle of the night, avoid sending messages then, if possible. Your message is much more likely to be missed as recipients comb through inboxes and bulk folders in the morning.

Next, we’ll look at how to help delivery from a more technical perspective.

Till then, 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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