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Email marketing: 5 ways to achieve inbox nirvana

Contrary to popular belief, quality is more important than quantity when it comes to the subscribers on your email list. 

A large number doesn't necessarily mean a large readership, high open-rates, or abundant click-throughs. It may not even mean any readership at all. In order to deliver the right message to the right inbox, you must actively manage the deliverability of your email marketing campaign. How do you do that? Daniel Deneweth, the Director of Deliverability Strategy at Responsys, suggests five basic steps:

1. Target active subscribers

When Anne Baston was tasked with increasing inbox deliverability for Canadian bookstore Indigo, one of the first things she did was cleanse their database, paring down her list of email subscribers. This may seem counterintuitive, but Baston says the results spoke for themselves. By targeting active, engaged users and tightening its audience, Indigo saw a rise in response. 

While it differs for many companies depending on what the final goal of the campaign is, identifying inactive subscribers and removing them from the e-mail list is tantamount to deliverability success. Normally, Deneweth says, an address that has not opened or clicked in nine months should be deemed inactive. 

"Inactive email addresses are toxic to deliverability because they can cause all of your email to be blocked," Deneweth says. It sounds scary, but he's right. if one of the inactive subscribers is a spam trap, then it can cause all messages to get filtered to the spam folder. "Sending to a smaller, more engaged audience will actually yield better response," he says.

2. Automate re-engagement and win back

Once you've identified your active users, you have the opportunity to customize your emails based on customer response. By building a relationship with the customer, you can optimize your message and attain specific subscriber engagement. "One size does not fit all," Deneweth says. Some tricks to this include setting up automated triggers to customize sending frequency and keeping in touch with your less engaged audience.

"Put yourself in the customer's shoes and think about how often you'd like to be communicated with," Deneweth suggests when trying to reengage subscribers.

3. Understand your risk from spam traps

Spam traps are email addresses that exist for the sole purpose of identifying senders with poor list quality (this includes recycled email addresses). One sure-fire way to avoid the traps is to define your inactive users. Another, says Deneweth, is to limit the amount you mail to new sign-ups. Yes, new sign-ups are great, but this brings us back to the quality over quantity theory -- your new sign-ups may not be real targets, so be wary.

"Limit the amount of times you mail to a new sign-up," Deneweth says. "Don't keep mailing to them. A month from now, if they don't open or click they're either a trap or just not interested."

4. Find your sweet spot

As Indigo discovered, sometimes less is more. The company saw significant increases in open and click rates, as well as a 20-30% rise in traffic and revenue from email just by focusing on active, engaged customers, according to Baston. Mail too much and you'll alienate subscribers. A reduction in sending volume can actually garner more of a response. Of course, this sending "sweet spot" is different for email marketer and every campaign. To find yours, constant testing can help you see what works and when.

5. Establish a deliverability review process

Good inbox rates are a key component to the success of any email marketing campaign, so it's important to watch these rates constantly. Know your deliverability health, says Deneweth. Follow response metrics and reporting. Reviewing open and click rates, bounce rates, and inbox rates are important components to any deliverability review process, and integral to the success of any email marketing program.

"ISPs expect email marketers to actively manage deliverability, so this is part of your job now," says Deneweth. "Learn the rules, watch the performance data, and turn deliverability into a competitive advantage."

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