When you discover that your email messages are going to your subscribers’ spam folders, you’re probably going to blame the ISPs first. After all, you never sign up subscribers without their permission. If you’re already using opt-in, why are you having deliverability issues?
The answer is that deliverability is a complex network of factors in which senders, ISPs and subscribers play roles and is rooted in buyer trust.
Buyer trust begins with permission and getting to the inbox. Then, it broadens into the relationships you build with your subscribers.
This is a tall order – it’s not something you can fix with an algorithm tweak here and there. And you must be able to collect and use your customer and subscriber data at a much higher level than just inserting a first name in the subject line.
But the reward is just as big: conversions and long-term engagement. After all, isn’t that why you invest in email marketing?
You should be able to answer three key questions as you work on the steps that lead to improved deliverability:
- How much of your “opt in” database is truly opted in?
- Do you know who your customers and subscribers are, what they want and what they expect of you?
- Are you meeting your customers and subscribers where they need your help?
I’ll address each question in each section below.
Deliverability begins at acquisition
Deliverability is a symptom of acquisition. Using a confirmed opt-in process is the first step to good deliverability.
As soon as you begin sending emails to your new subscriber, you set off a flurry of signals. Your email to a subscriber is the first signal. What the ISP does with it – sending it to the inbox, routing them to the spam folder or blocking it – is another signal.
A negative signal, like spam-filtering or blocking, is the ISP way of telling you it has a problem with your sending practices. But that’s not your only problem.
The ISP is signaling your subscriber at the same time based on where it sends your email.
If it goes to the spam folder, it says, ‘We don’t think this sender has your permission to contact you” or “We don’t think you’re interested in this email even though it got sent to your email address.”
Subscribers send signals to the ISP, too, as well as to you. You can see email activity like opens, clicks, unsubscribes and spam reports. What you don’t see is how the ISP uses these signals to correct its own predictions about your sending practices.
Subscribers who click the spam button on your email or, conversely, move your email from the spam folder to the inbox are telling the ISP it goofed. This data, along with everything else the ISP tracks, goes into the machine learning it uses to manage your email. That’s why acquisition is just the start of the deliverability process.
Build trust with first-party data
Beyond good acquisition practices, deliverability moves into subscriber expectations. Do they expect email from you based on your content, cadence and frequency?
Setting subscriber expectations and meeting – or better yet, exceeding them – is the basis for building customer and subscriber relationships that lead to positive email activity, conversions and long-term engagement.
Note: Don’t exceed subscriber expectations on frequency and volume. You don’t want to clutter your customer’s inbox with extra emails. When in doubt, err toward matching your customer’s expectations as accurately as possible and let them tell you if they want more.
Good customer data will help you create and send email messages that foster those relationships. It includes the subscriber data you can get from your ESP. But it also incorporates data often found in other systems like your CRM system, ecommerce platform or web analytics:
- Web visits
- Email activity and preferences
- Intent signals from email and web activity
- Sales and other conversions
- Customer-service contacts
- Mobile app downloads, activations and use
- Demographics (or Firmographics)
- Product subscriptions and usage
All of this data can come together to give you a 360-degree view of each customer based on first-party data, which you can use to understand your customers – who they are, what they want, what they expect of you and how you deliver on that.
Act on the data to validate buyer trust
To get this 360-degree view, you have to be able to consolidate your data in a single location, such as a customer data platform (CDP) or data warehouse, and organize it so you can use it intelligently across all kinds of conversations across all channels.
This tells your customers you know who they are as individuals, and the content you show them in emails, web and app displays, even customer-service contacts and bot conversations, reflects that knowledge. Without it, you’re messaging into the void. That can lead to subscriber rebellion or apathy – which can lead back to deliverability problems
At the same time, you don’t want to look creepy or intrusive when using data to personalize messages on a mass scale. People are turned off when you use data obtained from third-party sources that they don’t expect you to have, such as information from transactions that happen away from your website.
You have legal and ethical obligations to use only the minimum amount of personal data you need to deliver messages to your customers and to keep that data secure. We recommend populating your CDP only with first-party data as a way to build buyer trust.
A final word on buyer trust and deliverability
Many marketers look at deliverability from a campaign level. But you can’t fix the problem by tweaking words in the message. Even changing your acquisition process and sources and maintaining rigorous list hygiene can move the needle only so far.
Buyer trust is all too often the missing link in optimizing deliverability – in getting your messages to the inbox where your subscribers and customers will see them.
No silver bullet can fix deliverability overnight. But identifying the areas where you can improve, from acquisition to data and messaging, is the right place to start. A deliverability audit and messaging strategy can help you pinpoint and correct the problems.
Want to know how to get started? Our deliverability team can look at all of the factors that reduce your email program’s effectiveness. Just drop us a line – we’d be glad to help.