The Great Divide: Why Best-Practice Marketers Get To The Inbox, While Average Ones Don't

By now many readers of this column probably know that our latest Global Email Deliverability Benchmark Report found that it’s becoming more challenging to reach the inbox than ever before, with worldwide inbox placement rates (IPR) declining from 81% in the first half of 2011 to 76% in the second half of the year. Think that’s the bad news? It’s actually not. Drilling deeper into the data, things actually look much, much worse -- especially for some companies.

Deliverability rates show a deep divide between best-practice marketers and just average ones.  When we exclude marketers who are vetted by our program for following better-than-best practices, we see only 71% of opt-in email making it to the inbox. 

The results look even worse for regions with more mature markets.  When accredited marketers are excluded, the United States IPR declines from 81% to 71%, and Australia dips from 91% to 81%. The European landscape drops to 78% from 85%, with France seeing the biggest drop with a 14% IPR decrease.

Getting email delivered to the inboxes in emerging markets, regardless of how you look at the data, is still the most challenging, with only 65% of emails being delivered to inboxes in Brazil and a paltry 20% of email being delivered to inboxes in China (from outside of China).

When we look at deliverability by message type, we see IPRs ranging from 60% for messages classified as being urgent, to 86% for newsletters.  Email receipts (80% IPR), welcome messages (70%), and confirmation emails (78%) were all surprisingly low, showing that marketers have major room for improvement just by focusing on their various message streams.

We attribute the drop in IPRs for opt-in commercial email to the following:

1.  Inbox providers are tightening spam filtering.  Gone are the days when spam filtering relied solely on content to separate wanted from unwanted email.  Reputation filters have become sophisticated enough to block emails based on subscriber feedback, subscriber engagement, and a variety of other metrics.

2.  Sender reputations are declining.  At the same time that ISPs are actually making reputation filters tougher, we found that marketers were struggling with subscriber complaints (when a subscriber marks mail as “spam” within the webmail interface).  Coupled with an increase in both volume and email frequency, subscribers handled the holiday deluge by reporting offending marketers as spam.  In fact, complaint rates increased a whole percentage point leading up to the holiday season.  Compare that to a 0.1% complaint rate that marketers need to stay under to keep their email delivered to the spam folder.

3.  New kids on the block.  With an ever-changing email deliverability landscape and more and more people and businesses using email as a marketing tool, there’s a lot of confusion on what it takes to reach the inbox.  Most marketers still cling to the content myth -- that the words in their email or subject line are the main driver for spam folder delivery. (They are not.  It’s reputation.) Others just aren’t equipped to know how to measure their IPRs, and instead rely on email bounce reports, which unfortunately don’t report on what landed in the spam folder, or what was silently tossed aside by the inbox provider.

What do smart marketers do that average marketers don’t? These tactics separate the best from the average:

1.  Go beyond the minimum best practices. You can follow some of the basic best practices and prevent outright blocking, but that won’t necessarily get your messages to the inbox.  Focus on creating value to your subscribers through the use of relevant content and marketing automation. Subscriber engagement will ensure your subscribers not only love your email enough to read it, but even to move it from the spam folder to the inbox. 

2.  Keep tabs on your emails.  If you aren’t monitoring where your emails are delivered, then you’ll never know if you have a problem.  Most email service providers (ESPs) have this capability today, or you can use a third-party monitoring service, or even do a simplified version yourself by creating your own seed accounts at the inbox providers that matter to you most.  Unless you’re tracking deliverability, you’ll never know if you need to improve.

3.  Email marketing is easy.  Good email marketing is hard.  When looking at your deliverability by subscriber segments and message types, it’s easy to get carried away in industry averages.  Focus on your own program and your own benchmarks.  There’s a lot of “it depends” in marketing; only you can know what’s right for your company, by doing deeper analysis of your own data and thorough testing and measurement.

Did the decrease in inbox placement rates surprise you?  What else do you think separates smart marketers from average ones?  Share your comments below.

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1 comment about "The Great Divide: Why Best-Practice Marketers Get To The Inbox, While Average Ones Don't".
  1. Chad White from Salesforce Marketing Cloud , April 12, 2012 at 11:29 a.m.
    George, it looks like you're seeing the same performance gap that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago: http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/171141/widening-email-performance-gap-between-haves-and-h.html Deliverability is one area where best practices are extra important. There's a worrisome trend of email marketers disparaging best practices and lauding unique cases where best practices are broken with success. Your findings provide further evidence that this kind of thinking is hurting our industry.