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.