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You Probably Make These E-mail Deliverability Mistakes
Jul 8, 2009 1:18 PM, By George Bilbrey

We work with thousands of clients across many different industries. Each client presents a unique set of challenges when it comes to analyzing and solving deliverability challenges. But there are a few common mistakes that we see pop up over and over.

1. Thinking that deliverability failures don’t happen to them. In the U.S. most e-mail marketers are aware that some legitimate e-mail gets blocked from inboxes. They just generally think it’s the e-mail of other companies – certainly not theirs. When we dive into the data across our client base we find about 20% of e-mail isn’t delivered. And we work with top-tier, brand-name marketers.

It’s naïve for any marketer to think that deliverability failures couldn’t happen to them. Moreover, just because your mail is getting delivered today, doesn’t mean that you won’t run into a problem tomorrow. Mailers and ISPs both change behaviors on a regular basis.

2. Not understanding how the “delivered” metric on their reports is calculated. A big reason why many marketers think deliverability failures don’t happen to them is because their metrics report confirms that 98% of their e-mail is “delivered.” But this number is calculated by most systems as the number of e-mails sent, minus the number that bounce.

In fact, ISPs do not return a bounce code when they put your message in the junk folder. Many ISPs also don’t return a bounce code if they block your e-mail – and that varies widely by ISP. In our work with clients we find that very few top-tier marketers have a hard bounce rate that is more than 1% or 2%, which gives them a false sense of security when this is labeled as delivered.

The only way to know whether or not your e-mail is delivered to the inbox is to use a monitoring system that seeds your list with working e-mail addresses across all the top ISPs and then shows you what percentage of those messages actually arrives in the inbox.

3. Using revenue (or any other metric) as a proxy for deliverability. Many marketers take the position that if my e-mail earns revenue when I send it then it must be reaching its intended recipients. While revenue is certainly a great positive indicator that the e-mail is resonating with the people who do receive it, it doesn’t mean it got to the inboxes of every subscriber. In fact, using any response metric in place of actual deliverability metrics is not only wrong, it’s utterly backward.

You should be looking at deliverability metrics first, then calculating your response metrics off those numbers. If 20% of your e-mail never gets received then your open, click and conversion numbers are actually much better than you think they are. Doing this also highlights the revenue hit you are taking if your e-mail goes missing.

4. Thinking there is nothing you can do to fix your deliverability problems. Some marketers see that 20% stat and throw up their hands thinking there is nothing they can do about it. In fact that 20% is an average. We have plenty of clients that get 100% of their e-mail to the inbox – week after week, month after month. There is a lot you can to clean up your reputation and fix deliverability failures. Start by learning what your reputation is and where your e-mail goes.

5. Paying too much attention to content. Many marketers still focus on content issues as a way to deal with deliverability. Either they run their content through a spam content checker and declare it “good” as long as it passes. Or they do worse and just try to guess at what the spam word du jour is and avoid it.

There are a couple problems with these approaches. First, our research has found that about 77% of deliverability failures are caused by reputation issues. If your e-mail program is suffering from a poor reputation then your e-mail might not even make it to the spam filter – it could just get blocked at the gateway. Second, we also find that the opposite is true. E-mail with a really high reputation is often allowed to bypass the filters.

So taking out a high-impact word like “free” may actually be unnecessary. Using a content checker is an important part of the process, but unless you know you have a deliverability failure that is caused by a content issue you might want to hold off on making changes that could hurt your response. Know your reputation!

George Bilbrey is president of e-mail deliverability consultancy Return Path. Reach him at George.Bilbrey_at_returnpath.net.

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