Summer 2012: When Engagement Began to Matter

Since May we’ve been seeing more evidence that ISPs are gaining confidence in their use of engagement data. This is a trend we’ve watched closely, because bulk delivery decisions based on user behavior can make reaching the inbox even harder for lots of mailers.

Last week we got confirmation that engagement data has become a far more prominent component of deliverability at one major ISP: Yahoo.

We’d contacted Yahoo about a number of sender issues since seeing inbox placement rates drop by roughly 3% this summer, and poor user response was cited as a cause of bulking. More recently, the company warned that as it improves its ability to analyze behavior to determine what users want delivered to their inboxes, some senders -- even responsible mailers -- may face deliverability challenges.

While Yahoo’s increased use of engagement metrics to block email is new, the company has made no secret of its intent to use more sophisticated metrics to filter email. And it’s not alone. Microsoft has long incorporated Hotmail user response (Junk/Not Junk, Opens/Delete No Open) in its filtering; Gmail prioritizes email with high engagement into the Priority Inbox. As top ISPs compete for customers, improving their inbox experience will continue to be a primary focus. It’s important to follow this development because:

  • What’s now a relatively minor component of email deliverability decisions by handful of receivers may become a far more prominent factor in determining whether vital marketing campaigns reach the inbox.
  • Deliverability monitoring becomes much more complicated in an environment where individual users’ interaction with messages helps determine inbox placement.

Two things can help you reach the inbox as engagement becomes a factor:

First and foremost, keep focusing on delivering a great email user experience. The same practices that maintain your sender reputation – well segmented lists, authentication, active brand protection – can help prevent poor engagement from undermining your deliverability and campaign performance. But you might want to step it up. The bar has really been raised and marketers who are squeaking by with high-volume, low-response programs are going to start to lose out, at least with Yahoo.

Second, use versatile deliverability monitoring approaches to establish performance across the receiver landscape. Ideally, this means using panel data -- metrics showing actual recipients’ engagement with real email messages as well as the actual inbox placement for those exact users – to enhance the deliverability picture that seedlist data provide. Even as the biggest ISPs explore how user behavior should affect inbox placement, most will continue to rely on the reputation factors that have always influenced inbox placement rates.

Thanks to the Return Path Email Intelligence Group, and specifically Christine Borgia and Melinda Plemel, for their work to confirm this key industry development. I couldn’t have written this column without them.

Tags: email
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1 comment about "Summer 2012: When Engagement Began to Matter".
  1. Rita Allenrallen@freshaddress.com from FreshAddress, Inc. , August 2, 2012 at 6:38 p.m.
    Thanks for the terrific overview of many of the challenges of getting into the Inbox and managing your reputation with the ISPs. One critical recommendation is missing, however: the need to keep one’s list as clean and up-to-date as possible. The vast majority of deliverability issues stem from hygiene problems with the underlying list. The three most important factors that ISPs rely on to determine whether or not to deliver your messages are: 1) Excessive “this is spam" complaints 2) Excessive bounces 3) The existence of spamtraps, honeypot addresses, or other malicious but deliverable email addresses. An old or dirty list can bring down your entire email marketing program so ignoring email list hygiene is definitely one risk you can’t afford to take. For further details on how best to clean your list and keep toxic email addresses from ever getting you’re your database in the first place, please see http://biz.freshaddress.com/SafeToSendDeliverabilitySolution.aspx