Tom Sather

Email Marketing: Your Deliverability Questions Answered

November 30th, 2010

(Editor’s Note: In a recent MarketingSherpa webinar, Top Email Tactics to Improve Relevancy & Deliverability,we received more questions from the audience than we could possibly answer in that 60-minute window. So Tom Sather, Director, Professional Services, Return Path, was kind enough to review all the unanswered questions and provide some additional information)

Q: Doesn’t the effectiveness of having a dedicated IP address depend on the amount of volume the sender is sending out? Aren’t some senders who send low volumes of e-mail actually better off on pooled IPs with a well-groomed stable of senders to help keep complaint rates down?

Alex, email marketing support specialist in Chicago

A: During the MarketingSherpa webinar, we highlighted the use of dedicated IP addresses as one of the most effective, yet least used tactics to improve deliverability.

Because your deliverability is only as strong as your weakest sender, your mailing reputation and deliverability is at the mercy of other marketers. Can you imagine handing the keys to your marketing program over to a complete stranger? Me neither! That’s why I recommend using a dedicated IP address whenever possible.

However, you make a good point. There are some instances when using a shared IP address can actually work in your favor. If your mailing volume is somewhere between one and 20,000 subscribers, and your domain distribution consists mainly of the top four B2C domains (Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail and AOL) and with a long tail of smaller domains, you may want to consider using a shared IP address. The benefits in this case are that you have a less volatile complaint rate, and ISPs and e-mail providers have an easier time assigning a reputation to higher-volume mailers.

If you do decide to go with an E-mail Service Provider (ESP) that uses shared IP addresses, here are some things to consider:

  1. Ask for the shared IP addresses and look at their sending reputation. If they have a score of 80 or above, it’s safe to move to the next check. If the IP address has a reputation between 60 and 80, there’s some risk that you may run into deliverability issues. If the Sender Scores are below 60, forget about it. You’ll probably have a difficult time reaching the inbox, and there won’t be a lot you can do to fix that.
  2. Did the ESP ask you to fill out a vetting document asking you about your sending practices? If not, then your ESP is probably letting any sender with a credit card on their network. That also means they don’t care about running a clean e-mail network.
  3. Does the ESP handle feedback loop reporting and opt-out complaints per sender on the shared IP pool? If not, don’t consider using the shared IP. This means that the ESP doesn’t have ongoing monitoring of its senders to ensure they abide by their acceptable use policy. In this case, there is a very high potential of reputation and deliverability issues, now or in the future.

Most ESPs offer dedicated IP addresses for clients, but may charge a slightly higher premium because of the initial set up that‘s required. If you’re on a shared IP address, ask your ESP about moving to a dedicated one.

Q: How can you determine whether an e-mail makes it into an inbox (as opposed to a junk mail folder)  from a technical perspective?

Denise, sole proprietor in San Francisco

Q: How do I know that e-mail got into Junk? If e-mail gets into Junk, is it considered undelivered mail?

Elmira, marketing specialist in Toronto

A: The only way to determine your inbox placement rate is through a seed list-based monitoring system. A seed list is a list of custom e-mail addresses that is representative of the domains that make up your subscriber database. They should be included with every campaign deployment or segments so you can see if your e-mails are delivered to the inbox, spam folder, or if they’re missing (which usually means your mail is being blocked).

Unfortunately, most senders rely on the assumption that their undelivered file tells them what their inbox placement rate is. This is false because messages delivered to the spam folder, which is a folder that most subscribers never check, are reported as delivered messages. For example, you could have a 98 percent delivered rate, but a 30 percent inbox placement rate. This means that 70percent of your delivered mail is probably never seen by your subscribers, which is revenue you’ll never realize.

You can use a seed list either in-house or through a third-party vendor like Return Path. Doing it in-house can be time consuming as it requires you to sign up for e-mail accounts at all the ISPs. And you would have to pay for an account with those ISPs if you’d like more than just the data from the free webmail providers. You’ll also need to manually log into each of those accounts when you send a campaign to determine where it was delivered. Sounds like a lot of work, right? Using a third-party service like Return Path requires no effort on your end, allows you access to paid e-mail accounts (like Comcast for example), and gives you a real-time reporting interface on your inbox placement rate at all ISPs in a quick glance.

Q: I have a question about removing people based on their lack of opening e-mails. What if they are reading the e-mails in a text-only format, and therefore can’t have their open rates tracked?

Karen, director of programs in Sacramento

A: If you’re sending a text-only campaign where reporting on open rates isn’t possible, you’ll have to rely on data such as  tracked links, conversions and website activity. You’ll also still be able to sign up for feedback loops from the e-mail providers, so that every time one of your subscribers marks your messages as spam, you can receive a copy of that message with the subscriber’s e-mail address.

You can use that data to help determine a good time to send a win-back and re-activation campaign to your subscribers. For example, a recent analysis I did for a major retailer showed that complaints were low until subscribers approached their one-year subscription anniversary. This indicated a perfect time for them to send a win-back campaign to their subscribers, which they did with very positive results. Even better, it’s not dependent on what format you send your e-mails in.

Related Resources

Call for Entries: MarketingSherpa’s 6th Annual Email Marketing Awards

Webinar Replay: Top Email Tactics to Improve Relevancy & Deliverability

Social Media Marketing…Or is it Email Marketing? The New Facebook Messages

Ten Numbers Every Email Marketer Should Commit to Memory

Tom Sather

About Tom Sather

Tom Sather is the Director of Professional Services for Return Path where he works with top-brand clients like eBay, MySpace, IBM and Twitter. Tom’s previous experience includes stints with email service provider Experian and work on the abuse desks for AOL, Bellsouth, AT&T, and GTE. Tom uses his knowledge of ISPs, spam filters and deliverability rules to advise marketers on how to get their email delivered to the inbox and generate the highest possible response. Tom’s clients have seen an average increase of 20% in deliverability rates.

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