Seven Myths And Two Truths About Inbox Placement

Conversations about email deliverability seem to exist in an "echo chamber" -- there's a lot of noise. A bit of information that is only partially correct quickly becomes accepted wisdom.  Here's the data and facts you need to challenge even the most confident of colleagues - and to ensure your email program is optimized for reaching the inbox and earning a response.

First, the myths:

Revenue equals subscriber interest.   Too many marketers are lulled into a false sense of security by the seemingly unquenchable revenue generated by the email channel.  A thorough analysis of your response data will likely reveal that most purchases are made only by a small percentage of your file. This means that many businesses are leaving a lot of money on the table.  Segmentation, triggered messages and choice will go a long way toward engaging the rest of the file -- and earning higher revenue.



Marketers/senders are getting better at reaching the inbox.  Actually, our data show that globally, marketers are only treading water - the numbers are pretty consistent for the past four years.  There is still about 20% of permission-based, legitimate commercial email that never reaches the inbox in North America (15% in Europe).  Those messages don't earn a response either.

Engagement is the new reputation.   Actually, reputation metrics have always been about engagement, which is what complaint data and sender reputation reflect.  Many ISPs use subscriber-level data today: Hotmail has a panel, Yahoo is experimenting with click-through rates as a qualifier of subscriber active status, and several global ISPs use "This is Not Spam" data from the junk folder as a way to track "false positives" (messages in bulk that subscribers want in the inbox). 

Marketers/senders are at the mercy of the ISPs.  Not so.  Marketers absolutely control their destiny when it comes to inbox placement.  The statistic that 20% of messages are not being delivered is just an average. This means that some marketers -- specifically those who pay attention to the subscriber experience, monitor inbox placement at the campaign level and keep complaints low -- have inbox placement consistently in the 95%+ range.  Many senders accredited through Sender Score Certified and other third-party services earn close to 100% inbox placement at participating ISPs.  There are many examples of marketers improving inbox placement by changing their behavior.


I know my inbox placement rate is high because I see a number called "Delivered" in my email broadcast system report.  This is such an unfortunate language barrier.  "Delivered" for most reports is simply a measure of the bounce rate.  Inbox placement (or inbox deliverability) is a different number and reflects what percentage actually reaches the inbox.  Don't be fooled by average inbox placement for all clients of your broadcast vendor; be sure you know the real number for your campaigns.

Seeding my campaigns is enough to monitor sender reputation.  Seeding is essential -- it's the most intelligent proxy and an efficient way to quickly track inbox placement rates.  Do it.  However, it's not enough to truly manage sender reputation.  You also need feedback loop data, blacklist information, volume and other reputation data to fully understand your situation.


Sender reputation is irrelevant for B2B marketers.  It's actually more important. Many corporate system administrators use the same types of data as Yahoo, Hotmail and other leading ISPs do -- and in many cases, their standards are even tougher.  The reality is that B2B marketers have to work twice as hard as B2C marketers because smaller files make each email address that much more valuable, Layer in the fact that B2B files are comprised of people's work email addresses, which change frequently (unlike in the consumer world, where people keep their email accounts for 5+ years).  Finally, B2B email is about persuading the subscriber to engage with your content over a long period of time in hopes of building a relationship that will lead to a large sale.  There is no unquenchable revenue number to mask poor performance in B2B.

Next, two truths:

By drilling down to the subscriber level, you can quickly pinpoint reputation issues. A detailed analysis of complaints, unsubscribes, opens/clicks and other subscriber level reputation metrics by dimensions (activity level, email program, how long subscriber has been on your list, data source, etc.) allows businesses to quickly pinpoint where their big reputation issues are. We've seen results that are near-magical.   In many cases, you can simply stop mailing a group of addresses with very little economic impact, but huge improvement to reputation.

Certification has very real benefits. Regardless of the certification vendor, you will find very strong improvement in response at participating ISPs.  Moreover, certification provides an insurance policy against changes in how ISPs block and filter.  They can change filtering, but you'll still be in the inbox with certain privileges (like images on by default).

Let us know if we've missed a myth or truth that you find essential.

2 comments about "Seven Myths And Two Truths About Inbox Placement".
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  1. Greg Sherwood from Denver Business Centers, February 17, 2010 at 1:26 p.m.

    Well written and well thought out.
    Thank you for the insight and recommendations.

  2. Bill Kaplan from FreshAddress, Inc., February 24, 2010 at 6:40 p.m.

    Nice top level overview of deliverability, George and Stephanie! Here are two more truths to add to the mix:

    1) Deliverability metrics: While it's preferred to land in the inbox, the truth is almost everyone checks their junk folder before discarding emails. This is because almost everyone knows that some legitimate emails get into your junk folder and some junk email lands in your inbox, irrespective of what filtering system your ISP, webmail, or company uses. So the often repeated statistic that "20% of emails are not delivered" is simply not accurate.

    2) Sender Reputation is a great term but only useful if companies understand that the millions of computer servers out there handling billions of emails/day are computers, not people, and consequently rely on algorithms, data points, and statistics to determine whether or not to allow your emails through. If you want your emails to get through, the truth is you need to play the game and keep the percentage of invalid email addresses, spam complaints, and spam traps in your list below the ISPs' allowed thresholds. In other words, once you've got the basics down with regard to authentication and content, etc., your deliverability is simply a function of the quality of your list hygiene and the engagement of your customer base.

    Successful email marketing does not have to be rocket science. Adhere to best practices, build your list as carefully and conscientiously as possible, and perform regular hygiene on your files on a regular basis - the rewards will be yours for the taking!

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