Posts Tagged ‘deliverability’

Email Marketing: What are some of the biggest deliverability challenges?

June 19th, 2015

Deliverability should be a concern for any email marketer. If you can’t get into the inbox, your email send might as well not have even happened.

Deliverability can be a challenge. A bad reputation score can significantly impact your ability to reach the inbox. An ESP (email service provider) with other clients behaving poorly on a shared IP also hurts you. Getting off of a spam or junk mail blacklist can be a Kafka-esque experience of not really being sure who or what will get you off that list.

To help you with deliverability issues, I reached out to three industry experts to find out what they considered to be the biggest deliverability challenges facing marketers today.


Understand why you have a deliverability problem

Tom Sather, Senior Director of Research, Return Path, said, “The biggest challenge that marketers have today is gaining awareness and understanding why they’re having a problem. Email providers like Gmail and Yahoo!, as well as spam filters, make real-time, data-driven decisions based on their users’ behaviors and actions.”

He said understanding the data behind your email program is going to do more towards solving a deliverability issue than following any list of tips or best practices.

Tom explained, “Most email marketers lack this fundamental data that the email providers have access to and are essentially in the dark ages when it comes to finding a solution. As a result, we hear experts touting general best practices — which is more like alchemy and doesn’t provide the desired results or can make the situation worse. Marketers who have access[to]  and analyze the data will see the highest inbox placement rates and happier and more engaged subscribers as a result.”



Read more…

Email Deliverability: Only 39% of marketers maintain an opt-in only subscriber list

April 9th, 2013

Email marketing is an interesting animal. It has often been compared to direct mail. However, unlike direct mail, sending irrelevant and even annoying messages can really burn your entire email marketing program.

With direct mail, if a recipient didn’t like your message, they can drop it straight in the recycling bin.

However, with email marketing, your email recipients can affect your ability to reach other potential customers by, for example, marking your email as spam. Brutal.

So, to help you improve your company’s email deliverability, we asked marketers about this topic in the MarketingSherpa 2013 Email Marketing Benchmark Report

Q: Which of the following tactics is your organization using to improve email deliverability rates? Please select all that apply. 


As always, we asked your peers for their take on this data …


When is a subscriber an inactive subscriber?

For people who remove inactive subscribers, typically, how long should they be inactive for?

– Ariel Geifman, Director of Marketing, Mintigo

This is a great question, Ariel. It is the marketing equivalent of “What is the meaning of life?” on some levels.

Because, I’d say – to both questions – the answer varies.

For example, how long is your sales cycle? How frequently do you send email? Can you tell if these folks are engaging with your company in other ways? How segmented are your email sends? Do you send triggered emails?

Whatever the length, it is probably worthwhile to consider a re-engagement campaign before removing these inactive subscribers.

But, answering a question with more questions is a wholly unfulfilling answer, I readily admit. So, to give you some straightforward numbers to chew on, I did a quick dive into the MarketingSherpa Library to see how some companies define inactive subscriber.

Some examples:


Read more…

Email Relevance Kaizen: 4 categories of data beyond the email database

July 19th, 2011

We reported in MarketingSherpa’s 2011 Email Marketing Benchmark Report that the biggest challenge marketers’ face is targeting recipients with highly relevant content. I do not foresee this moving out of top tier of challenges due to the complexity of reaching a unique subscriber with the exact information they need to help he or she succeed

Crafting an email message that connects with the reader at the moment he or she choose to open the email is difficult. Nevertheless, the alternative of sending irrelevant emails puts a brand’s image, reputation and subscriber relationships at risk.

Relevancy is #1 Challenge

Today, some 70 million US consumers access their email inboxes through a mobile device, and subscribers’ bottomless appetites for multi-tasking, whether it be on a phone, tablet, or laptop during office meetings or in front of the television, make it impossible for companies to capture a reader’s full attention. To break through the clutter, email messages must be easy to engage with, relevant and clear.

A company that sends timely email messages with pinpoint accuracy will not only stand out from the competition, but may be the only brand to make it to their subscribers’ inboxes.

Webmail clients Hotmail and Gmail are using engagement metrics (open, delete, reply, etc.) to determine when and where email is delivered. B2B marketers also need to keep these trends in mind when planning their email campaigns. HubSpot found that 88 percent of email users do not have a separate work and home address. Many employees like to use webmail addressesto have the ability to share larger files over corporate email.

To meet customers’ rising demands for relevant and engaging communications, marketers can focus on three key elements:

  • Content
  • Segmentation
  • Time

All three are essential. If one element is missing, the email can become irrelevant to the reader. Let me show you a recent first-rate email series that fell just short of the goal for my family.

Moving beyond a single data point for determining relevancy

A year ago, my wife joined the Chuck E. Cheese’s email club to receive coupons and free tokens for our kids. In exchange for her email address and dates of our children’s birthdays, we receive emails twice a month promoting their latest coupons or specials. The emails nicely tie into holidays, school calendars, or kid activities, like receiving a bonus of tokens for cleaning their rooms.

As you might expect, with the information of my children’s birthdays, Chuck E. Cheese’s sends a few emails leading up to the big day. About thirty days before my son’s birthday we received this email with the personalized subject line “[Parent’s name], Get 100 Bonus Birthday Tokens for [Child’s name].” I did not speak with Chuck E. Cheese’s, but from the numerous party invitations my kids have received from their classmates starting in preschool, these emails are very successful at enticing parents to book birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese’s locations.

The week of my son’s birthday, my wife received an email with the subject line “Happy Birthday to [Child’s name] from Chuck E. Cheese’s..” The principle message was to wish my son a happy birthday and encourage us to stop in and play some games with complimentary tokens.

Close behind and at the top of the email was the copy “Haven’t planned a party yet for [Child’s name]? No worries, it’s never too late to reserve a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s. Last minute walk-in parties are always welcome, so come on in and celebrate!”

As you might agree, these are excellent emails containing personalized and relevant information, and are delivered at appropriate times leading up to a child’s birthday.

So why did they fall short of relevancy for my family? Well, I guess you would classify us as outliers; we planned our son’s birthday 90 days out at an indoor gymnasium. (Full disclosure: Chuck E. Cheese’s does send half-birthday email cards, but we are not that organized, and yes, in the copy, Chuck E. Cheese’s promotes walk-in half-birthday celebrations).

I am confident Chuck E. Cheese’s identified two groups of parents/guardians with their internal sales data: a profile of party purchasers that plan within 30 days and another that plans the week leading up to the event. Combined with the child’s birthdates collected during email registration, Chuck E. Cheese’s sends highly relevant and targeted communications with these two types of buyers.

Moving forward, Chuck E. Cheese’s may choose to expand their email program to cater to “overly-organized” parents. An email message sent 90 days prior to the celebration, with more highlights on specific cake, food, and party favor options may appeal to this customer profile who enjoy delving into the details of the planning process.

Mining for data

For marketers, the quest for relevancy and engagement is not complete until a one-to-one relationship is established. Due to budget and resource constraints, this is an unrealistic goal for most companies. That should not discourage marketers from moving towards one-to-fewer, even if their budget doesn’t allow for a true one-to-one relationship to develop. Remember, with each successful email campaign targeted to a select customer profile, brands can expand their reach and look at new segments of their customer base to exploit, such as outliers like my family.

To do that, organizations need to go beyond traditional demographics like birthdates to understand their customer’s motivations. I do not think you would ever want to have an email preference center with a checkbox to identify your customers as an early bird, prompt, or fashionably late party planner. But that doesn’t mean such valuable information is out of your reach.

In addition to your email database, mining all of the in-house data found inside CRM, sCRM, web analytics or financial software systems may be beneficial. When you begin, search four categories of data; endemic, transactional, behavioral and computed.

Endemic data is data unique to a particular record. Examples are contact and demographic information commonly collected during registration or  in a brands preference center.

Transactional data consists of data captured during any transaction a customer has with an organization. Financial software is the most common source of transactional data, but transactional data can also encompass a subscriber’s IP address.

Behavioral data is perhaps the most actionable of all database information and can come from a wide variety of both online and offline sources. Website clicks, email opens, calls to customer service, and redemption of coupons at store locations are all examples of behavioral data.

Computed data is the outcome when one or more variables are used to create a third variable.

For example, the variable of “number of miles from a retail store” is computed data, and is the difference of the distance between the customer and store’s address.

Mining these four types of data will uncover insights into your customers and understand the steps they take to make a purchase. At MarketingSherpa, we recently launched our annual Email Marketing Benchmark Survey to identify the barriers that exist in preventing subscriber engagement and the best practices to increase the velocity and accuracy of email communications. I encourage you to participate to help us learn more from marketers like you who are in the trenches, battling for relevancy every day. In exchange for your valuable time, we will provide you a complimentary copy of our Special Report: CMO Perspectives on Email Deliverability.

Related sources

Email Deliverability: How a marketing vendor with 99 percent delivery rates treats single opt-in lists vs. double opt-in lists

Email List Growth: Finding low-cost and no-cost ways to grow your database

Email Marketing: Three lessons learned at the MarketingSherpa Email Marketing LEAPS Advanced Practices Workshop

New Chart: Most effective email list growth tactics

Email Marketing: Three lessons learned at the MarketingSherpa Email Marketing LEAPS Advanced Practices Workshop

June 16th, 2011

I recently attended the MarketingSherpa Email Marketing LEAPS Advanced Practices Workshop in Boston (my supervisors let me out for fresh air once per season), and though these events are always good for new tips, tactics and ideas, I never expected to experience one emotion:


But, after sharing an enjoyable lunch with a handful of attendees, I felt just that. We were in downtown Boston, just a few miles from the regular site of Sherpa’s annual B2B Summits, where the world’s most tactical marketers come to polish their skills, network with similarly experienced professionals and share their stories of success. To boot, we were at an advanced practices workshop – a title that implied this was no introductory, 101-level path into the “deep end” of email marketing.

But, one bowl of chowder later, I learned that a good percentage of the day’s attendees were either new to email marketing, or – in one case – new to marketing altogether. At first, I was taken aback by the fact that these relative newbies were putting themselves in a position to be overwhelmed. And, while the table waited for me to stop making that confused puppy look, they explained how not only was the workshop giving them actionable items to bring back to the office, they were also gaining a stronger understanding of email marketing in general.

Then I went through the event presentations again, and soon realized they had a point. In email marketing (actually, all marketing), no matter how advanced a tactic or idea may seem, it always comes back to the basics. And I don’t just mean marketing basics, but rather the very cornerstones of communication and interaction.

Here are just a few of the things I learned in the LEAPS workshop that support this point:

1. Relevance is paramount

Chart: Most significant challenges to email marketing effectiveness,
by primary channel

According to the MarketingSherpa 2011 Email Marketing Benchmark Report, providing relevant content remains both a top priority and the most significant challenge facing email marketers today. No matter how much time or resources you invest in your email campaigns, it’s all for naught if these messages don’t find their way into a recipient’s inbox.

Relevancy can be defined as sending the right message to the right person at the right time. In order to improve deliverability, you must engage your audience with relevant content. If I sign up for email alerts after shopping for cycling gear, please don’t bombard me with emails about all-natural fruit juice. Maybe I’ll care, maybe I won’t, but this isn’t why I came to you in the first place. Email content needs to be targeted and appropriate, justifying a user’s opt-in and continued opens and clicks.

Remember – it’s good to eat a little humble pie before creating an email program. As marketers, sometimes our egos lead us to become out of touch with the reality of a situation. We start thinking we know what the customer “really” wants before they tell us their needs. There isn’t anything more important than keeping the promise to deliver exactly what the subscriber requested and nothing more.

At the core of relevant communications is value exchange. The majority of email messages should contain valuable information in the form of reports, entertaining videos and insightful stories — not endless self-promotion.

2. Respect your audience

I had no idea that my mother and Aretha Franklin were email marketers, but just as they instilled all those years ago, respect is paramount in this discipline.

I like choices. We all do. When attempting to retain subscribers, it’s imperative to give customers a chance to “opt down” rather than opt-out. Options for this include reducing frequency, changing offer types as well as subject matter topics. Also, it’s good to include links to “follow” and “like” options, as your customers may prefer communicating on social media sites. The goal is to let the user control the conversation, not vice versa.

And for the love of everything we hold dear, let people decide when they receive from you. For the last 40 years, the US Postal Service has allowed people to stop mail delivery for a set period of time, so overflowing mailboxes don’t invite the local burglars over for a buffet of your finer things. Yet, this option is rarely mentioned for email.

Remember – while it might seem enticing to send every possible offer and announcement to all of your subscribes, if you over-send to an unresponsive subscriber, you may harm your deliverability reputation and success metrics.

In short, if someone on your list leaves, let them go. If they don’t come back, they were never yours to begin with.

(Speaking of which…)

3. Email marketing is based on relationships

In email marketing, a relationship begins the moment the user opts-in. Once this happens, you are responsible for ensuring that your recipients feel welcome, informed and satiated with relevant content. This all starts with the welcome message.

The importance of the welcome email message cannot be understated. For some consumers, this will be the first conversation they have with the brand. Hopefully, it will be the first step toward that person becoming a regular customer, if not an out-and-out brand evangelist. Remember to give them more than they may expect, in hopes that they will be looking forward to your next send.

You want your email to set the tone for the ongoing relationship, which is why it’s always good to start with a sincere “thank you.” Yes, just like your mother told you – manners are important. The words selected must support your brand’s voice, and successive messages must meet subscriber expectations.

Remember – like  high school romance, not all relationships last forever. Try not to take it personally when you realize how many subscribers go inactive. Subscribers don’t always give an official good-bye. Sometimes their interests change, they prefer a different communication channel, or simply change jobs.

Stay positive and believe they have just been too busy to interact with your brand. You can send a simple “we missed you” note to reengage the subscriber, but keep in mind that the special offer should not be over the top so as to sound needy or even desperate.

No 75%, “buy-one-get-five” discounts, folks.

To draw a parallel, if my wife and I have an argument, I may apologize (yes, let’s work under the assumption that I’m wrong in this scenario) by offering a gift as a show of remorse. If I come presenting extravagant diamonds, she may accept my apology, but the extreme, over the top gift may indicate that the argument was more serious than it was, not to mention entirely my fault.

Approaching a re-engagement email this way might just chase them away permanently, even if there’s a significant offer on the table. An over-the-top offer might even make users question your product’s overall value.

However if I give my wife a small bouquet of flowers to apologize I will show sincerity for possibly hurting her feelings, but the focus will remain on the apology and not the gift. This also applies to an email relationship; you do not want an idle subscriber to reengage solely for the prize, otherwise you will be in the same situation again, and will have started (or continued) a bad communication cycle.

Looking back at that lunch conversation, I shouldn’t have been so surprised that beginners were taking so much from an advanced practices workshop. Because, as we see in the LEAPS methodology, email marketing only serves to reinforce basic, evergreen marketing tactics.

If only I knew this stuff during my first heart-wrenching break-up.

[Be sure to catch Jeff Rice and Adam Sutton on the next leg of the Email Marketing LEAPS Advanced Practices Workshop, coming soon to Seattle, WA and Washington, DC.]

Related resources

Risky Email Marketing Paid Off

Email Marketing: LEAPS methodology for improving performance

MarketingSherpa 2011 Email Marketing Benchmark Report

Members Library — Marketing Research  Chart: Top tactics organizations use to improve email relevancy

Email List Hygiene: Remove four kinds of bad addresses to improve deliverability

April 15th, 2011

Your email database is the foundation of your email marketing. Haphazardly adding names can invite irrelevant subscribers and invalid email addresses — which weaken your foundation.

Inspired by our upcoming Optimization Summit, I went back to my notes from our recent Email Summit to reinforce what I learned about email deliverability. I found some great information on bad email addresses and list hygiene from an expert panel.

Soap and towelJack Hogan, CTO and Co-Founder, Lifescript, a women’s health website, presented his team’s work with FreshAddress, an email list hygiene provider. Austin Bliss, President, FreshAddress, was also on hand and noted:

“People make typos all the time… You want to keep that address out of your list because it’s not going to help you. And no amount of deliverability tweaking later is going to help you if the initial email address is bad.”

Hogan and Bliss highlighted four types of bad email addresses removed from Lifescript’s database. Take a look to see if your list has any of these:

Role Accounts

These email addresses are maintained by a website or company for specific purpose. Examples include:


These addresses are often maintained by a group, not an individual. So if you send an email to one of these addresses, it will not likely be relevant to all the owners and can make your message susceptible to being deleted or marked as spam.

Furthermore, these addresses are often publicly available on websites, which means they’re easily picked up by spammers. Email services are aware of this trend and monitor emails sent to role accounts. Emailing a high number of role accounts in your campaigns will likely harm your reputation among email services.

Syntax Errors and Typos

These invalid addresses are genuine mistakes. People frequently mistype their email address. Even if they are asked to write the address twice, it is very easy for someone to type it incorrectly the first time and copy-and-paste the mistake into the second form field.

How bad could this problem be?

“I saw 500 different ways was entered into our address book,” Hogan says.

The problem with these addresses is that they are often from people who are legitimately trying to subscribe to your newsletter — and they never receive it. This can create a bad impression with your brand. Furthermore, email services do not like receiving a high-volume of emails sent to invalid accounts and can mark-down your reputation in response.

Fake Addresses

These addresses are entered by people who do not want to give a valid email address. For whatever reason, they wanted to complete the signup process without providing a personal email. Instead, they made something up, such as:


One reason you might receive a high number of fake addresses is by requiring people to provide an address to complete an unrelated task, such as to enter a contest. The person is not interested in a newsletter or promotions — they just want to enter the contest, so they invent a fake address.

Lifescript mainly collects email addresses from people subscribing to its newsletters — but it still saw these bogus addresses in its database. Even though this does not make sense, it happens.spam trap

As mentioned above, sending emails to a high number of invalid addresses can tarnish your reputation.

Spam Traps

Email services and other companies create these addresses and publish them online as bait for spammers. Then they wait for someone to find the addresses and start sending unsolicited emails. This helps the companies identify spam.

Emailing one or more spam traps can hurt your reputation. The trouble, though, is these emails can find their way into legitimate company’s lists via:

  • Poor sources — such as a purchased lists from a disreputable company
  • Poisoning — a malicious competitor or an upset customer can identify a spam trap and sign it up for your emails.

Some spam traps are obvious, such as, but most are kept secret. Otherwise, they would not be effective. This can make them difficult to identify. However, they’re not likely to be active, responsive subscribers, so you should be targeting them for removal based on inactivity anyway.

You can find out more about email deliverability at our upcoming webinar:
Improve Email Deliverability: Tactics for Handling Complaints and Boosting Reputation
(Thursday, April 21, 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. EDT)

Related resources

MarketingSherpa Optimization Summit 2011

Email Deliverability: Always test emails that link to third-party sites

Email Deliverability: Getting into Gmail’s ‘Priority Inbox’

Email Marketing: Improve deliverability by deleting subscribers?

Email Marketing: Your deliverability questions answered

Members Library — Webinar Replay: Top Tactics to Improve Relevancy and Deliverability

Members Library — Third-Party Links and Email Deliverability: 4 Tips to protect your reputation

Soap Photo by: Horia Varlan on Flickr

Email Deliverability: Always test emails that link to third-party sites

April 8th, 2011

Email deliverability is best managed proactively. You cannot respond to bounces and spam complaints if you’re not aware of them. Performance should be monitored. Problems should be fixed.

Deliverability is a primary concern for a company like Zozi. The deals website offers discounts on local activities such as kayaking and wine tasting. Well over half of its transactions are generated through email, says Ryan Morris, Director of Content, Zozi.

Last year, before Zozi sent emails focusing only on deals, it had a newsletter that offered travel information and updates with a funny tone. Zozi’s marketers learned more about deliverability through this newsletter with tests like the one described below.

Monitor deliverability with a seed list

Morris maintained a list of email accounts to which he’d send draft versions of the newsletter (also called a seed list). He had several accounts at the email services (such as Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail) that represented the bulk of Zozi’s email database.Seeds

Morris could login to each account and see if the newsletter arrived, rendered well and landed in the inbox or junk box. His diligence helped Zozi uncover deliverability problems before campaigns launched (Zozi has since started using Mail Monitor to test and monitor email delivery).

– Third-party photo trouble

Last year, one test email did not arrive in the inbox for about 50% to 60% of Zozi’s test list. Morris researched possible problems with the email and asked Zozi’s engineers for ideas.

“We learned that in our email for that particular day, we linked to a photo. We ended up hosting that photo at an image hosting website because, at the time, we did not have abilities on our own site to host images and create unique URLs,” he says.

“It was the first time we had done that, and it absolutely reined terror on deliverability… We ended up removing that portion of the content and sending another test… After that, we hit 100% deliverability.”

Two key deliverability takeaways

Zozi’s experience highlights two key points in email deliverability:

  1. Test deliverability before an email is sent to subscribers. There are many factors that determine whether your email arrives in the inbox. You are likely to miss one at some point and should err on the side of caution. Your team can build a test list such as the one described above in a matter of hours, which is a good start.
  2. Deliverability depends on more than reputation. Email services look at the reputation of every website to which you link. Furthermore, if you send emails from a shared IP address, then you also share your reputation with every sender on that IP.George Washington

In the (slightly edited) words of the great George Washington: “Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own [email] reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.”

You can find out more about email deliverability at our upcoming webinar:
Improve Email Deliverability: Tactics for Handling Complaints and Boosting Reputation
(Thursday, April  21, 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. EDT)

Related resources:

Email Deliverability: Getting into Gmail’s ‘Priority Inbox’

Email Marketing: Improve deliverability by deleting subscribers?

Email Marketing: Your deliverability questions answered

Members Library — Webinar Replay: Top Tactics to Improve Relevancy and Deliverability

Members Library — Email Marketing: FedEx increases deliverability and clickthrough rate with preference centers

Members Library — Third-Party Links and Email Deliverability: 4 Tips to protect your reputation

Seeds photo by: flickrich

Washington photo by: Joye~

Email Deliverability: Getting into Gmail’s ‘Priority Inbox’

January 11th, 2011

Google recently published some detailed research on Gmail’s Priority Inbox feature. The four-page PDF includes some key features and specific calculations that power the email-filtering function.

I am honestly shocked at the level of detail provided. Readers with a math background might be able to further deconstruct the supplied equations, but the explanatory information alone provides a wealth of information.

Here’s what jumped out at me from the “Learning Behind Gmail Priority Inbox” PDF:

‘Many Hundreds’ of Data Points

Priority Inbox ranks mail by the probability that the user will perform an action on that mail. The calculation is made on a per-user basis and is based on hundreds of data points.

There are several categories of data points, or “features,” used to determine whether a message is marked as “unread” or “everything else.”

Here are the categories:

o Social Features – based on the degree of interaction between the sender and the recipient, such as the percentage of a sender’s mail that’s read by the recipient. “Opening a mail is a strong signal of importance.”

o Content features – headers and terms in a message that are highly correlated with the recipient acting (or not acting) with a message.

o Thread features – the users’ interaction with the thread so far, such as if the user began the thread or has replied.

o Label features – the labels that the user applies to messages using filters.

Time is of the Essence

A stated goal is “to predict the probability that the user will interact with the mail” within a set time frame, giving the mail’s rank.

I am not a math wizard — but it appears that your messages will have a higher likelihood of being prioritized in the inboxes of users who typically open and/or act on them quicker than other messages they receive.

More “False Negatives” than “Positives”

If Priority Inbox makes a mistake, it is more likely to let an unimportant message into the inbox than it is to boot an important message into “everything else.”

“The false negative rate is 3- to 4-times the false positive rate,” according to the document. When tested on a control group, the system’s accuracy was about 80%, plus or minus 5%.

Changing Behavior

Google analyzed the amount of time some employees spent on email with and without Priority Inbox. Priority Inbox users spent 6% less time reading email, and 13% less time reading unimportant email. They were also more confident to delete email.

If this trend holds true across all Gmail users, companies sending irrelevant emails will notice even lower response rates from Gmail users over time.

Bottom Line: Keep on rocking

There is nothing in this document that should concern email marketers with effective programs. Gmail’s Priority Inbox will measure the high interaction rates your team achieves and categorize your messages accordingly.

For marketers whose email programs lack relevancy and value, this document should be one of many wake-up calls you’ve received to overhaul your program. Our Email Summit is less than two weeks away and you can learn a lot from the hundreds of marketers in attendance.

Related resources

The Learning Behind Gmail Priority Inbox PDF

MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2011 in Las Vegas

Email Marketing: Improve deliverability by deleting subscribers?

Email Marketing: Why should I help you?

Email Marketing: Improve deliverability by deleting subscribers?

December 14th, 2010

One of the key takeaways from last year’s MarketingSherpa Email Summit was that improving engagement with email subscribers could improve deliverability. Email service providers now consider all the positive and negative interactions with your messages when deciding whether to mark your messages as spam.

This means subscribers who rarely open or click email messages can drag down your emails’ reputation. What can be done about this?

Remove unresponsive names

First of all, as noted in the MarketingSherpa 2011 Email Marketing Benchmark Report, the effectiveness of tactics used to improve deliverability varies significantly. However, one marketer told our researchers:

“Removal of non-participating subscribers has had the most influence on improving deliverability and email performance rates in all aspects of email marketing. In other words, get rid of the deadbeat email addresses and everything improves, and the spam companies leave our email alone.”

Deleting unresponsive subscribers might seem extreme. A typical rationale is that they have not unsubscribed and they might convert some day. Since email costs nearly nothing to send, why not hold on to the names?

My assumption, based on years of interviewing all types of marketers,  is that regularly emailing subscribers who’ve not acted in six months or longer is more likely to hurt your email program than it is to help it. The good news is that you do not have to delete them outright — at least not right away.

Win them back or kick them out

You can try to reactivate unresponsive subscribers with a win-back or re-engagement campaign. This way you can hopefully salvage some good names from the trash heap.

A more radical tactic is to ask all subscribers to re-opt-in. This was done in one instance by an email marketer at the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra who had a mostly unresponsive database. Although he eventually cut about 95% of his subscribers, it gave his team a solid foundation from which to build an effective program and helped double online sales.

The hardest part about these strategies is the last step: deleting the subscribers who do not respond. You might be persuaded to think that these names cannot be worthless, that they must have some value. And they do have value: negative value. Continuing to email them is only going to hurt, so let them go.

Related resources

MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2011

MarketingSherpa 2011 Email Marketing Benchmark Report

Email Marketing: Why should I help you?