End the Nightmares! 10 Email Deliverability Myths Debunked


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Many of the world’s largest brands encounter deliverability issues and roughly a quarter of all emails fail to reach consumers. Email deliverability has become increasingly complicated and intimidating for even the savviest marketers.

In this white paper, Yesmail busts various myths, including:
-Deliverability is all about subject lines and trigger words
-Bulking doesn’t matter if you keep acquiring new subscribers
-Best practices around deliverability are different for B2B email marketers

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End the Nightmares! 10 Email Deliverability Myths Debunked

  1. 1. IntroductionMost of the largest brands in the world encounter deliverability issueson a regular basis. These issues frequently lead to losses that can rangefrom $50,000 to several million dollars depending on the industryand the average revenue of the marketer’s email program. Roughly25% of all emails fail to reach the inbox1, and this is not surprisinggiven how complicated email deliverability has become in the last fewyears. Reaching a consumer’s inbox is increasingly difficult – InternetService Providers (ISPs) now have sophisticated reputation-trackingand blacklists have more power than ever before. In addition, mostusers have migrated to the 4 biggest ISPs (Gmail, Hotmail, AOL, andYahoo), which means if you have a deliverability issue at just one ofthese ISPs, you could immediately see a huge decrease in revenuefrom your campaigns.Deliverability issues are the stuff of marketing nightmares. Eventhe terminology is like something out of a horror film… (ahem...blacklisting, we’re looking at you). Like the scenes from our favoritehorror movies, it is the unknown risks and causes of deliverabilityissues that often terrify marketers. For many, bulking and inboxingissues are as frightening as that mysterious shadow on the otherside of the shower curtain. And just as some ghost stories reach epicproportions as they are passed around from campfire to campfire, themisconceptions surrounding the subject of email deliverability havebecome real whoppers.As a leading Email Service Provider with a crack team of deliverabilityexperts, we speak to tons of email marketers, and we’re sometimessurprised by the urban myths out there. Here are some of the recentdeliverability rumors we’ve heard (grouped by subject matter), whywe think they’re baloney, and why they may actually be harming youremail program. Let’s shine the light, scatter those monsters, and de-bunk some myths, shall we?1. Email Deliverability Review from the DMA’s Email Marketing CouncilDELIVERABILITY
  2. 2. An email message reaching its intended recipients’ inboxesAn email message being trapped by spam filters and thusbeing prevented from reaching the inboxAn email address used by blacklists and ISPs to identifyspammers. The two types of spam trap addresses includeInactive Recipients and Honey PotsAn email address that has not opened, clicked or purchasedin 12 months or greater. This categorization is not as seriousas Honey PotIn email marketing, a list of companies who send unwantedor SPAM email. ISPs will typically block emails coming fromcompanies who are blacklistedAn email address that has never been released to the outsideworld, nor subscribed to a marketer’s message. Blacklists usethis spamtrap to catch marketers who fabricate addressesor have bought a list from a third party that utilizes uncleandataInboxingBulkingBlacklistingSpam TrapInactive RecipientsHoney PotBefore we start, here are some terms you’re going to need to know, especially if you’re new to deliverability:End theNightmares!10 Email Deliverability Myths Debunkedpage 3Glossary
  3. 3. MYTH #1Even with best practices,it’s impossible to getgood inboxing rates on aconsistent basis.While reaching the inbox can sometimes seem more daunting than outrunning that guyfrom The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, there ARE specific steps you can take to improve yourdeliverability. If your inboxing rate is inconsistent, chances are you’re missing something –and that something is most likely mail stream separation. A lack of separation can result inmail stream contamination, which causes roughly 80% of marketers’ inboxing problems.So what is Mail Stream Contamination?Much like a car travels down a road to reach its destination, email campaigns travel on anInternet Protocol address (IP address) to reach recipients. Just as there are different types ofcars that travel on any roads, there are different types of email campaigns that travel on an IPaddress (also known as a mail stream).Running all of your email programs on one IP address can cause deliverability issues becausewhen one mail stream runs into trouble with an ISP, it prevents ALL of your email campaignsfrom reaching the inbox. A failure in one campaign can cause gridlock for the rest of yourprograms.End theNightmares!10 Email Deliverability Myths Debunkedpage 4General Myths
  4. 4. EXAMPLE:Let’s say you are running four types of email programs over one IPaddress:1) Retention2) Marketing3) 3rd Party (Co-reg, Rental, etc.)4) Transactional (Order confirmations, etc)Your retention and transactional programs are zooming along andracing straight into the inbox without any deliverability issues.Your marketing programs, on the other hand, receive some spamcomplaints that lead to bulking issues. When you run all of yourprogram types over the same IP address, your marketing mailstream has just road-blocked all of the other programs – leading tointermittent inboxing.If you have separate IP addresses per mail stream, even when yourmarketing mail stream is paralyzed by inboxing issues, the rest of yourprograms will continue to reach the inbox.Having a single dedicated IP address for all your email programs isnot good enough anymore. To reach the inbox, you need to haveseparate IP addresses for each mail stream based on offer type andengagement. When you do this, you not only limit contaminationacross your programs, but you also make it easier to diagnose and fixany deliverability issue.The Bottom Line:Having separate IP addresses per mail stream protects you frominboxing issues, keeps inboxing consistent, and improves your abilityto find and fix problems when they do occur.RetentionThird PartyMarketingRetentionMarketingRetentionSingle Mail StreamINTERSTATEIP #1OPENINTERSTATEIP #1RetentionRetention RetentionThird PartyThird PartyMarketingMarketing MarketingMarketing MarketingMarketingINTERSTATEIP #1MarketingMultiple Mail StreamsRetentionThird PartyOPENINTERSTATEIP #2OPENINTERSTATEIP #3OPENINTERSTATEIP #4End theNightmares!10 Email Deliverability Myths Debunkedpage 5General Myths
  5. 5. MYTH #2Deliverability is all aboutsubject lines and triggerwords, right?Once upon a time, this myth might have been closer to the truth. But today, deliverability isfar more complicated, as ISPs have become increasingly sophisticated. Gone are the dayswhen you could solve all of your deliverability problems by scanning subject lines andkeywords for the word “Free”. Yes, you still need to be mindful of your content, but there arefar more stumbling blocks now than there were a few years ago. Here are just a few:Abuse Complaints(Spam)Opens Click-ThroughRate(CTR)Messages “Passed By”(If a subscriber interacts with themessages above and below yours, butdoes not engage with your message, theISPs view this as a negative metric)1. Sending Reputation ISPs measure several metrics that affect your sending reputation – which, in turn, affects your inboxing. The following metrics make-up your sending reputation:End theNightmares!10 Email Deliverability Myths Debunkedpage 6General Myths
  6. 6. 2. Problematic URLsISPs will flag certain URLs commonly found in messages that generate excessive abusecomplaints. Often when marketers run into this problem, it is not their own domain that iscausing the issue. If you partner with other companies and run cross-promotional or co-registration programs to gain opt-in subscribers, you need to be careful that your partnershave squeaky-clean reputations.Since ISPs track domain reputation, you also need to worry about every company that yourpartner is cross-promoting with. If you are all linking to the same domain, the fates of youremail programs are tied together. It is hard to know whether your partner’s partner is smartabout email deliverability, so think carefully before linking to 3rd party companies in youremail messages.End theNightmares!10 Email Deliverability Myths Debunkedpage 7General Myths
  7. 7. 3. Link ShortenersAs tempting as it may be to chop down that long link in your emailto a nice short URL, link shorteners can impact your deliverabilitybecause even some of the most popular ones, such as bit.ly, mayhave been blacklisted at one point or another.4. HTML-to-Text RatioYou need to have a good balance between images, text and links.Spammers like to use images to convey their message with a smallamount of text, since the ISPs’ systems cannot “see” the words in theimage. Too many images or too many links and too little text canlead to bulking issues.End theNightmares!10 Email Deliverability Myths Debunkedpage 8General Myths
  8. 8. 5. DKIM and SPF complianceDomain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM) - a “digitalsignature” which allows an email client to verify thatyou are who you say you are - and Sender PolicyFramework (SPF) - which allows an email client toverify that you are sending from an authorized mailserver – are methods of authentication that can helpdeliverability by verifying to ISPs that you are who youclaim to be.The Bottom Line:Deliverability has moved beyond trigger words andsubject lines. If you want to improve your results, you’llneed to modernize your deliverability practices. Thisisn’t Rocky Horror Picture Show and we aren’t doing“The Time Warp”.End theNightmares!10 Email Deliverability Myths Debunkedpage 9General Myths
  9. 9. MYTH #3Deliverability best practices are different forB2B email marketing, as we send to differentemail clients.Sorry, B2B marketers, you are not off the hook. Just because youremails are hitting an Outlook email box instead of Gmail, that doesn’tmean you can throw deliverability common sense out the window.Outlook is powered by backend email servers. Blacklist providers areused on many of these backend email servers and corporate emailsystems, so if you are blacklisted, your marketing messages will notcome through. In addition, you still need to worry about corporateSPAM traps and Outlook’s bulk folder. And many corporate emailservers use anti-spam software, like Barracuda Networks, which usesome of the same tactics as ISPs (sender reputation, html/text ratio,image analysis, URL block lists, etc.) to protect companies from spam.The Bottom Line:The same deliverability best practices apply to B2B email marketing,so you need to keep your data clean, run permission-based programs,and continue to test and monitor campaign performance just like yourB2C brethren.End theNightmares!10 Email Deliverability Myths Debunkedpage 10General Myths
  10. 10. Not so fast there, buddy. Yesmail’s initial testing on Outlook.comindicates that Outlook.com, Hotmail and MSN.com all utilize the samebackend mailing infrastructure. This means that the same SPAM filtersand scoring methodologies in place for Hotmail also apply to Outlook.com. So if you are inboxing at Hotmail, a good assumption (under thecurrent infrastructure) is that you would also inbox at Outlook.com.The Bottom Line:While Outlook.com is very new and Microsoft could certainly changethings, for the time being, you can think of Outlook as a new skin ofthe Hotmail interface. Outlook.com may have gained 60 million usersin record time (six months), but Hotmail.com still has hundreds ofmillions of users… so, YES, you still need to worry about Hotmail.com.MYTH #4Now that Microsoft is promoting Outlook.comas their main email service, we don’t needto worry about Hotmail.com.End theNightmares!10 Email Deliverability Myths Debunkedpage 11Email Client Myths
  11. 11. Inboxing at Gmail is heavily based on user engagement, and it is one of the hardest ISPs towork with from a deliverability perspective. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible tohit the inbox, it just means you need to do some extra work to get there. Bummer, we know.A key strategy to fix bulking issues at Gmail is to bite the bullet and only mail the mostengaged subscribers in your core program. When we say most engaged, we mean only thosewho have interacted with your mail programs in the past 90 to 180 days. Using this tactic, itwill usually take about three to five mailings to see inbox placement for your core program.Once you start inboxing successfully, you’ll see inboxing rates go from 100% bulking to 10-15% inboxing. It’s important to ride out the same targeting strategy for another two to fourcampaigns until you see your inboxing go to 100% and stabilize.Now, before you freak out, and start doing your best impression of Drew Barrymore inScream, this doesn’t mean that you have to stop mailing anyone who hasn’t engagedrecently, it just means that you need to separate these subscribers to another IP address. Asyou receive opens and clicks on this lower engagement IP, you can move these subscribersover to your engaged IP address, which will further improve engagement on your coreprogram.The Bottom Line:It’s not impossible to hit the Gmail inbox, but because Gmail isso heavily weighted by user engagement, you need to focus your core program on engagedusers to avoid bulking issues.MYTH #5There’s no way to get goodinboxing at Gmail.We tested our message, which workedfine, but then we got bulked at Gmailon our very first send.End theNightmares!10 Email Deliverability Myths Debunkedpage 12Email Client Myths
  12. 12. MYTH #6Bulking can be easily solved by following bestpractices for a couple of sends. Then I can goback to my usual sending pattern.Bulking issues can gnaw away at your bottom line faster than a 28Days Later zombie can outrun a Night of the Living Dead zombie.And bulking issues take time to correct – in our experience it can takeanywhere from 48 hours to 14 days to fix a bulking issue depending onthe ISP, so not only are you losing revenue from your email campaignsduring the time you are bulking, but also while you are fixing theproblem.Here is a real world example to demonstrate how quickly a bulkingissue at ONE ISP can add up.A Fortune 50 marketer typically sends 4 campaigns per week. However,this marketer has been blocked at Gmail for all of its campaigns sentwithin the past week.Average weekly revenue – 4 campaigns x $250,000 = $1,000,000Revenue Loss due to a Bulking Issue at Gmail - $1,000,000 x 20%(GMAIL Audience) = $200,000This Fortune 50 marketer lost $200,000 in revenue in only oneweek as a result of a single Gmail bulking issue. It is easy to see howdeliverability issues can quickly translate into revenue losses.The Bottom Line:Can you really afford to knowingly go back to the pattern that causedyour bulking issues? We’re guessing not, unless you enjoy havinguncomfortable conversations with your CEO.End theNightmares!10 Email Deliverability Myths Debunkedpage 13Blacklisting Myths
  13. 13. MYTH #7So I’m bulking, but thatdoesn’t matter if I justacquire new subscribers.You know when you are watching a horror movie and the heroine runs up the stairs insteadof out the front door? Yeah... this myth is kind of like that. Bulking does matter and acquiringnew subscribers is not going to help you much. The fact that you are bulking means that,from a program perspective, you are doing something wrong. Adding new subscribers is liketrying to fix a clogged drain by stuffing more debris in the pipe. If your emails have alreadystarted to bulk, then sending to an ever-increasing number of subscribers is only going tomake matters worse as more of your emails are treated as spam, until 100% are blocked.When you are bulking, you need to take a step back and diagnose the issue. Look at yoursubscriber data to gauge engagement, look at your content to identify poor deliverabilitypractices and look for problematic URLs that contribute to major issues.The Bottom Line:A big push for acquiring new subscribers is not going to fixyour bulking issues - focus on it after you’ve fixed your deliverability problems.End theNightmares!10 Email Deliverability Myths Debunkedpage 14Blacklisting Myths
  14. 14. MYTH #8If we get blacklisted, we can just changeour domain name or move IPs, right?Oh geez, no! This is the King Kong of dangerous, damagingmyths for multiple reasons. Blacklists monitor both IPs anddomain names, so moving IPs is not going to solve yourproblem. Even if it did provide a temporary fix, it is still abad idea as you haven’t fixed the underlying problem. Forexample, if the reason for your blacklisting was emailingspam-traps, you would soon end up right back on theblacklist after you moved your IPs or changed your domainname – a lot of work and time wasted for nothing. Inaddition, you would lose any sender reputation that you hadbuilt up on your old domain and IP address, as well as anybrand trust you had with your active email subscribers.When you find yourself on a blacklist, the proper responseis to spend time understanding and fixing the root cause ofthe problem before you even talk to a blacklist about beingremoved from its database. Based on our experience, itusually takes between 24 hours to three or four business daysto remove a blacklisting depending on the list and the issue.The Bottom Line:Changing your domain name or moving IPs will onlycompound your deliverability problems, not solve them.End theNightmares!10 Email Deliverability Myths Debunkedpage 15Blacklisting Myths
  15. 15. MYTH #9Companies with small distribution listshave a lesser chance of reaching emailinboxes.In this case, the old adage “Size Matters” doesn’t apply. Whenit comes to inboxing, ISPs see no difference between sending100,000 emails or 1,000,000 emails. ISPs will not penalize a smallcompany based on the size of its distribution list .There are a few instances when companies with smalldistribution lists need to be careful. List size can become aproblem when you send so much email that recipients ignoreyour message or mark it as SPAM. Or, on the flip side, if yousend so few emails that you cannot develop a sender reputationor subscribers forget about you.The Bottom Line:Inboxing is a ratio-based game.End theNightmares!10 Email Deliverability Myths Debunkedpage 16List Management Myths
  16. 16. MYTH #10Data hygiene doesn’t work. I use data hygieneand still got blacklisted.Data hygiene is an extremely important step that you MUST taketo avoid ending up on a blacklist, but it is not the ONLY step. Datahygiene will get rid of misspelled addresses, honey pots, and inactiveaddresses, but it, alone, will not reduce the risk of a blacklisting by100%. To protect yourself, you need to think about other deliverabilityfactors like email design, engagement, content and permission basedpractices.Need another reason to keep your data shiny and clean? Data hygienecan also improve your inboxing. Keeping your data clean is vitalto sender reputation. When you email a large number of inactivesubscribers, the ISPs see that your ratio of volume to engagement islow and may decide to send you to the dreaded spam folder. Not onlythat, but by removing inactive subscribers, you also save some moneyby sending fewer emails. Every year, over 30% of people change theiremail address or become inactive.2So removing inactive emails canhave a great effect on your deliverability and ROI.The Bottom Line:Data hygiene alone will not guarantee that you will avoid blacklisting,but it does significantly reduce the risk and is a process that should notbe skipped.2. DMNews, The list churn epidemic: how to diagnose, treat and immunize your database, Sept 2010.End theNightmares!10 Email Deliverability Myths Debunkedpage 17List Management Myths
  17. 17. SummaryWhile email deliverability can seem like a hairynightmare, you CAN contain the beast by followingsome simple best practices. Deliverability can becomplex and it is certainly important, but it shouldn’t beconfusing or induce screaming.Here are some action items to keep your programs ontrack: 1. Ensure your IP addresses are being scanned at Spamhaus EVERY 24 HOURS (at least). 2. Generate inbox placement reports at ISPs BEFORE every campaign (at least 72 hours prior). 3. Ensure your mail streams are separated out onto DEDICATED IP ADDRESSES. 4. Perform hygiene on your data at least once EVERY 6-12 MONTHS. 5. Have a proactive contingency plan in place. Know your next steps if a blacklisting or bulking issue occurs.It’s human nature to be afraid of the mysterious, butnow that we’ve cleared some things up for you andgiven some clear action items we hope you won’t feel solost in the dark.End theNightmares!10 Email Deliverability Myths Debunkedpage 18Summary