Three Messages That Kill Deliverability

More than any others, these three message types drive complaints. They hit spam traps.  They are sent to dead accounts. They get ignored. They get deleted without opening. They’re your worst-performing emails: the ones responsible for your biggest blocking and bulking problems. Unfortunately, they’re also among your most important. As we review thousands of email programs and millions of messages every day, we find these three are the source of a disproportionate number of deliverability issues. The good news is that as bad as their impact can be on your email program, there are many concrete steps you can take to fix these problems.

Killer # 1: The opt-in confirmation. Sometimes no good deed goes unpunished, including following best practices to ensure that your new subscribers know they’ve joined your list. Clearly ISPs don’t want to discourage opt-in confirmation. The problem comes when this message does exactly what it’s supposed to do: weed out undeliverable addresses. Some people enter bad addresses by mistake, others do it intentionally. In worst cases the addresses are spam traps.

So what to do?  This is a tough problem. Depending on your mailing program, it’s frequently best to send these messages from a dedicated IP address.  You can require users to enter addresses twice to prevent typos, although this will probably depress sign-up rates.  There are a few “real-time” list hygiene solutions that some have tried with various levels of success.

Killer #2: Your welcome email. You do the right thing by welcoming subscribers to the email they opted in to receive, reminding them when and why they joined your list. So why do they immediately opt out when they see this? Worse, many identify it as spam. Others act as if they don’t notice it. Meanwhile ISPs notice it right away and interpret subscribers’ reactions as an indication of unwelcome email  -- exactly the opposite of this message’s intent.

Sending a welcome email is a core best practice, but it triggers more complaints than any other message type (well, maybe tied with opt-in confirmation). The biggest reasons we see for this problem relate to timing: The message  simply arrives too late. Recipients’ interest in your program can wane quickly, or they can forget altogether that they signed up. You can eliminate most problems triggered by welcome emails by sending them right away. Making sure that your message is recognizable when it hits the inbox is important as well;  the subscriber needs to know immediately that this message is coming from you.  For some of our clients, a really strong monetary incentive (for example, a 30%-off coupon) seems to reduce complaints for welcome messages.

Killer #3: The first regular message. This is exactly what your subscribers opted into. It’s the staple of your email program, the cornerstone of your strong sender reputation, your biggest revenue driver, and the same message that your core audience is clearly happy to receive. So why are so many first-time recipients either ignoring it or flagging it to their ISPs as spam?

The two most common reasons why new subscribers react differently from others are mismatched expectations and unexpected cadence. It’s important to make sure that new subscribers know exactly what to expect from your email program when they sign up. Show them a sample message, or give them access to previous messages when they sign up. Remind them again when you send their welcome message. And tell them when this first message will arrive. Make sure all subscribers know your messages’ frequency. Set expectations as accurately and thoroughly as possible. Surprises are unwelcome.

Special Bonus Killer: transactional messages. The first transactional message your subscribers receive can trigger a surprising volume of complaints and negative engagement scores. To be fair, transactional messages tend to have the fewest inbox placement problems -- but when there is a problem, it frequently has an outsized impact on your business. In this case, setting expectations is no panacea; we see disproportionate problems with transactional messages despite the fact that these should be among the most welcome, most anticipated messages you can send.

The most common cause is a disconnection between transactional messages -- order confirmations, shipping information, even receipts -- and marketing email. Complaints and low engagement often accompany messages that come from an unfamiliar sender (e.g., “Confirmation” or “Customer Service”) or even from a different domain than your marketing messages arrive from. Once opened, transactional messages often look nothing like the marketing messages recipients are used to seeing. In a crowded inbox. A message from an unknown sender, with a strange look and feel, may be easy to overlook.

 

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6 comments about "Three Messages That Kill Deliverability".
  1. Chad White from Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud , August 29, 2012 at 10:52 a.m.
    Let's be honest: These three emails don't kill deliverability; poor permission practices do. That's why consumers don't respond well to these emails; they didn't want them in the first place. The problem with opt-in confirmation emails is that most shouldn't be sent. A good welcome email makes them obsolete. The problem with that first regular email is that even in 2012, many are not preceded by a welcome email. And the problem with transactional messages is that they're among the most poorly branded emails. Unrecognizable "from" names, cryptic subject lines and archaic design with the emails all cause poor customer reactions to transactional emails.
  2. Jordie Rijn from EmailMonday , August 29, 2012 at 11:09 a.m.
    Why do people complain or press spam when faced with a welcome email? Two reasons: 1 They don't know or recognize your brand 2. They didn't want the email. It’s not the welcome email that does it, the same would be true for any first email that would be sent. A welcome email or a welcome series is a big opportunity to maximize both factors (recognition and managing expectations / highlighting benefits). I believe the welcome email getting an unfair bad light in this article from the nature of the welcome email being one of the first emails. A welcome email wont kill deliverability.
  3. Don Golden from Precision Sample, LLC , August 29, 2012 at 1:46 p.m.
    "In worst cases the addresses are spam traps." I think this is the first time I've seen someone from an ISP or deliverability solution admit to the fact that spam traps aren't as necessarily hidden as they'd all like us to think they are. The truth is that there are blackhat groups online that purport to fight spam but really just hate any sort of marketing or advertising email and ACTIVELY submit spam traps into registration forms to disrupt email delivery of compliant mailers.
  4. Justin Williams from StrongMail , August 29, 2012 at 2:33 p.m.
    Have you actually seen that welcome emails sent out immediately perform better than one's sent out later? How immediate? It would be interesting to see a graph charting deliverability of welcome messaging based on time after signup.
  5. Jen Mcgahan from MyTeamConnects , August 30, 2012 at 4:31 p.m.
    I agree that the first few emails seem to be the make or break period for new subscribers. That's why the opt-in offer should have great value and show promise of better stuff yet to come.
  6. Stephanie Fischbach from Pay Per Visit Email , September 10, 2012 at 11:43 a.m.
    I definitely agree with Jordi and Chad regarding best practices and brand awareness being tied to poor deliverability with both welcome emails or newsletters in general. I think another important tip to remember if relevancy and valuable content. Make sure that prior to signing up for your newsletter, subscribers have a clear understanding of what they will be receiving, when and how it can benefit them, and you're more likely to get longer lasting subscribers. Great discussion, guys!