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Email deliverability: Secrets to new subscriber engagement

Want to engage with email subscribers? Make sure to lead with customer data. Marketers who orchestrate their efforts based on customer data, such as channel preferences and purchase history, are more likely to drive high engagement with their email subscribers. This matters even more when it comes to email deliverability. Major ISPs monitor user-level engagement in order to determine whether an email marketer is spam or not.

In our new eBook, The New School Marketer’s Guide to Email Deliverability, Responsys experts reveal how marketers looking to avoid the junk folder can put the customer experience first and foremost to avoid putting their email reputation at risk:

ISP-friendly email engagement

So how do you define engagement? Often marketers have their own definition of “active customers” and “inactive customers" based on website visits, purchase history, customer or account status.  While these definitions make perfect sense from a business standpoint, from a deliverability standpoint they have little bearing. ISPs need to see engagement with email specifically.

ISPs track user activity using two categories: positive subscriber engagement and negative subscriber engagement. A few examples include:

Positive engagement:

  • Clicking through links
  • Adding an address to their contacts or address book
  • Enabling images
  • Opening the message
  • Scrolling through the message
  • Starring the message
  • Moving the message over from the junk folder to the inbox.
  • Moving a message from the promotions tab for example in Gmail to the primary tab

Negative engagement:

  • Reporting as spam
  • Deleting the message
  • Moving the message to trash
  • Marking messages as read
  • Ignoring messages
  • Not engaging with multiple messages over long periods of time

From a deliverability perspective, click-through rate is the number one engagement measurement that ISPs rely on because it shows a definitive action taken by the email subscriber. The open-rate comes second as a helpful engagement metric, although there are potential inaccuracies with opens because of preview pane usage and image caching and suppression.

How to approach inactivity

The potential downside to these metrics comes in the form of inactivity. How can marketers collect customer data if over half of their distribution list hasn’t clicked or opened a single email in one year? This could have major ramifications for email marketers as ISPs target high-volume senders (in excess of one million) and will junk-folder emails sent from brands with low engagement rates.

ISPs and marketers each have their own policies about duration of inactivity, but in general any activity inside of 1.5 to 2 years is acceptable. Of course, this recommendation should be tempered by the percentage of the marketer’s list that’s inactive in addition to their sender reputation and seasonality of their business. If a large percentage of a list is inactive, the acceptable duration of inactivity decreases.

Decreasing the frequency at which inactive subscribers are emailed is a defensive tactic used to boost the level of engagement seen by ISPs, while continuing to give these subscribers opportunities to engage. Once a definition of inactivity is in place, the next step is to make changes in the messaging or frequency as part of a reengagement strategy.

Create a plan for re-engagement

The success of a re-engagement program is characterized by opens and clicks. If inactive subscribers don’t respond to re-engagement efforts, eventually they should be removed from mailing lists because of the deliverability dangers.

As a last-ditch attempt to avoid removing inactives, some marketers may find nominal success by taking the intermediate step of sending a re-permission campaign. These emails ask a subscriber to confirm their continued interest in receiving emails by a certain date or else be removed from future mailings.

It’s important to create a re-engagement strategy that uses changes in email frequency and content to keep subscribers from becoming inactive. And finally, establish rules for removing inactives from mailing lists and consider creating a triggered re-permission campaign to give wayward subscribers one last chance to stay opted-in.

So ask yourself, are your recipients engaged or enraged? Here’s a place to start:

  • Do some digging to identify the various engagement segments
  • Determine what the most appropriate time frame or inactive definition is for your particular business and email program
  • Create a plan to adjust frequency for the less engaged and specific creative to re-engage those recipients that have checked out

We look forward to hearing how it goes and wish you success. Onwards and upwards.

For more tips on successful email deliverability, download the eBook, The New School Marketer's Guide to Email Deliverability.

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