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How My Bad Email Advice Almost Ruined a Friendship

A friend of mine called to pick my brain on email marketing. His company has about 70,000 subscribers and their open rates were getting WORSE with each new campaign.

In his testing, he saw that a lot of their emails were getting delivered to the spam folder. He was looking for changes they could make to improve their deliverability.

I explained that consistently getting into the inbox was based on their email reputation. Their email reputation is based on their subscriber engagement. In a nutshell, when a company sends out an email, the email providers (Yahoo, Gmail, etc.) consider the following behaviors, which negatively affect your reputation:

  • High bounces due to bad email addresses
  • High unsubscribe rates
  • Subscribers deleting your email without reading
  • Subscribers marking your email as spam (Your goal should be not more than 1 spam complaint per 1000)
  • Sending to spam traps

The email providers also look at following behaviors, which positively affect your reputation:

  • Subscribers opening your email
  • Subscribers clicking on your email
  • Moving your email from the junk folder and marking it as not spam
  • Adding your email address to the safe sender’s list
  • Replying to your email

My advice was for the next month or so, reduce his list to those people who had a history of active engagement, send them content that they were interested in receiving with a strong call to action, and spend some time rebuilding their reputation.
[Tweet “Here are 5 Inbox behaviors that have a positive affect on your email reputation & deliverability “]

Three weeks pass. My friend calls me back and is ready to kill me for taking my advice. I’m thinking, how the heck can suggestions for improving your sender reputation be bad?

Here’s how… he said since email providers are measuring active engagement, he delivered just that.

He hired a company out of India to set up 500 US email accounts for each of the main email providers: Yahoo, Gmail, and Hotmail. He then sent an email to those 1500 accounts, many of which were delivered to the spam folder. Next, he had the company log into each email account, mark those in the junk folder as “this is not spam,” open it from the inbox, and click through on one of the links.

Then he did another email blast. The results were even worse than before.

I had to break the bad news that his “genius move” had probably dug a deeper hole for himself.

The reality is that Gmail is better than Santa Claus at REALLY knowing if you’ve been good or bad. You can’t fake it with the email providers.

Here’s why… while he thought he was getting gold stars for marking the email as not junk, opening and clicking – and normally he would – in this scenario, he didn’t. That’s because the email providers look at the big picture and saw the following:

  • A brand new email that was probably created from some anonymous IP addresses to mask the foreign location (assuming the company didn’t just buy bulk email addresses created with a bot or script).
  • An email account that only had one incoming email. No other history of incoming or outgoing messages.
  • A series of logins from a single IP address to check all of the emails.
  • An extremely high rate of TINS rate. (TINS = This Is Not Spam. A ReturnPath analysis showed that for every 1,000 messages routed to the spam folder, on average there are less than two TINS reports made. Clearly the percentage rate of TINS for my friend were not average.)

Now, compare that scenario with Suzy Jones who uses her Gmail account daily to send and receive emails. Several times a day, Suzy is actively clicking through emails and moving them to folders. And then one day Suzy sees an email in her spam folder and moves it to the inbox. Somewhere in cyberspace, Gmail makes a note that Suzy likes the sender and that content. The sender just got a well-deserved brownie point.

As I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, engagement matters. You want to send emails to customers with content that customers actually want. How they engage with your email (for better or worse) can affect your inbox deliverability, and unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of shortcuts on the path to the inbox.

What type of content are you including in your email marketing that you find receives the most engagement?

If you don’t have an email marketing strategy, that’s okay – but I’m curious to what keeps you from doing so?

Comment here, over in the forums.