Email’s New Reality

Originally posted by NGP VAN

As the New Year starts, many campaigns are slowly coming out of their slumber, dusting off old email lists and getting ready for the 2014 elections. Reality is the email landscape isn’t the same as it was in 2012 or before. In the last year, there have been changes in how deliverability works and the way email is received.

And that’s where I come in. I’m the new Email Deliverability Specialist at NGP VAN.  My role is more than just doing what I can to make sure the email you send gets to its destination. I’m also here to educate you – the political community – about the new realities of email.

Over the past year, email providers have changed how people read email (for example Gmail Tabs) but also how email service providers determine what’s spam and what’s not. In the past content was king. What words you use, what phrases you write, the image size, the font, all weighed together along with various measurements about the infrastructure that was sending the email. Use the wrong words and phrases, or the infrastructure wasn’t set up right and your email went right to spam or was rejected. While those things are still important, the list itself and how much it engages with your emails is now more of a major determining factor to determine whether or not your email is spam. If you have too many inactive folks on your list, there’s a higher chance of your email going to spam. If too many people are complaining about your email as spam, the providers will listen. Send to too many Spam Traps, you risk your entire email program being shut down. (Note: We’ll talk more about Spam Traps more in a future post.)

Here’s what affects your deliverability in no particular order:

Infrastructure – We here at NGP VAN have that covered and monitor it constantly. On your end, you can set up a SPF record (we’ll have a post about that soon).

Content –  While content used to be about the words or phrases you chose, today the focus should mostly be on whether it gets people to open, click and interact… just be careful of the words you use to do that.

Volume/Cadence – Sending consistent blasts on a schedule helps, suddenly increasing the number of email blasts or how many folks you’re sending to raises suspicions.

The Traffic at the Time – Your email doesn’t live in a vacuum. You’re competing with all of those other blasts out there, and they can affect you. Delivery can be slowed down, or rejected, due to other’s habits. Also, if your content is close to someone else’s and folks have shown they don’t like the other blast, yours might have more issues.

Complaints – In general you should keep your complaints less than 0.1%. That’s 1 complaint for every 1,000 emails sent. Go over that threshold at any point, and you’ll likely see issues.

Bounces – Addresses go bad all the time and email providers provide all sorts of information back to manage them. That’s really our job and our bounce system processes these messages regularly, keeping your list clean from issues. After a while, email providers will stop bouncing bad addresses, and turn them into Spam Traps. Their logic is that legitimate senders and services will have removed these addresses.  Since they’re bad there’s no reason they should organically be added to a list, making them perfect addresses to be used as what’s known as recycled Spam Traps

User Unknowns – These are the worst of the worst of hard bounces. These addresses never existed to begin with. This should be less than 1% of your blasts.

Interaction – Do people open your email? Click it? Delete it without opening? Forward it to friends? How many unsubscribe? All of these things are measured and weighted to figure out how to handle your email.

Your Email List – This has been a major change within the past year or so. The more people you have on your list that haven’t opened or clicked, the more issues you’re likely to have. Email service providers notice if you suddenly arrive in someone’s inbox and they don’t interact; to them that’s fishy. If you’ve been having issues with Gmail or Hotmail, there’s a good chance this is most likely the reason. After 9 months of inactivity, a subscriber should be sent a final email to tell them they’re being removed for inactivity, giving them one last chance to stay on, then for those that don’t, unsubscribe them. I have seen first-hand that this not only increases the percentage of opens and clicks, but it actually will cause the raw number of opens and clicks to be higher. In fact, in every instance I’ve seen this, the raw open and click count have been higher after cutting the list than before. Send less emails and you can get better results.

Deliverability is as important as the message itself. The worse your deliverability is, the less of a chance that list you worked so hard to build will actually see your message. That’s less money being donated. That’s fewer volunteers. That means fewer folks helping you meet your goal. And it also increases the cost and effort to make your email program effective. It’s always cheaper to keep a customer than gain a new one.

There are many things that can impact your email program, and deliverability and list management are two of the most overlooked but vital. Coming up: I’ll dive into both of the aforementioned topics and show you that when it comes to email, “less is more.”

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