Commentary

It's 2011, Do You Know Where Your Email Is Delivered? (Hint: It Might Not Be The Inbox)

Last week my company released its semiannual Deliverability Benchmark Report. We reviewed data from marketers around the world to determine how much email actually makes it to the inboxes. 

Frankly, the news wasn't great.

We did see a slight uptick in inbox placement rates (IPR) for North American marketers. It now stands at about 86%. The increase since we first began publishing this data is so small as to be barely statistically significant. In fact, I think it's fair to say the number basically hasn't moved. Which is surprising, given that the industry in the U.S. has been discussing deliverability for more than six years now. 

In Europe, particularly the U.K., we see a worse trend -- there, the number is actually going in the wrong direction, even though the overall IPR is slightly better than it is here. While Europe came a little later to talking about deliverability, it has still been a topic there for well over two years. 

In Latin America, the numbers are really low; only about 62% of legitimate email makes it to the intended inbox. This is less surprising, since marketers there are just starting to learn about spam filtering and what can happen when ISPs don't recognize your email as wanted in the inbox. Finally, we see a pretty low overall IPR in Asia -- 78% across the region -- with numbers even lower in China, with an average IPR of only 62%. 

So what's going on? I attribute the lack of movement in IPR to three things: 

1.     On the continuum of marketing disciplines, email is still relatively young: While email can look positively elderly next to the shiny new channels like mobile and social, it's important to remember that email is still a relatively new marketing channel. While it's easy for readers of this column to think of email technology as old hat, there are companies -- and, in fact, entire geographies -- that are just coming to the email party. Many concepts we think of as obvious, including deliverability, are new to these folks.

2.     The "that must be happening to someone else" syndrome: We still encounter many marketers who are well aware of spam filtering and blocked email -- and are completely confident that it never happens to their company. This is a little understandable. Many email metrics reports are still set up to report on a "delivered" metric that often shows 98% or 99% -- a number that reflects the bounce rate, not IPR. In fact, we still often see major email companies issue reports that show "deliverability" is up -- and many publication report it that way. But all those reports show is that bounce rates are improving. A good metric, to be sure, since dirty lists can hurt IPR. But still confusing to many marketers.

3.     Revenue is its own reward: Many of my fellow Email Insider writers lament a similar phenomenon when it comes to any new idea under the email sun: email suffers from its own success. Because it is so insanely cheap (relative to other options) and so insanely responsive (relative to other options) the incentive to look under the hood and make changes is not always there. And, in a sort of related point, some companies don't look at the related costs associated with poor deliverability. For example, we recently did a case study on our client Citrix, a B2B company that provides online conferencing solutions. For them, the big downside to customers missing out on emails was a high cost on the customer service side: if someone missed a "your meeting is now" message, they would complain. They certified their email, improved their IPR and reduced customer service complaints. 

So how are you doing, relative to the benchmark? Are you beating the averages and getting your email into the inboxes that matter?

1 comment about "It's 2011, Do You Know Where Your Email Is Delivered? (Hint: It Might Not Be The Inbox)".
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  1. Charles Balazs from MZ, September 27, 2011 at 10:40 p.m.

    I'm either very fortunate or am missing something in calculating this metric. I get a number of spam reports, so if I subtract this tiny number from the number of successful delivers, is that my inbox placements? I would think not, because that doesn't count 'soft' spam reports, where the provider sends something to the spam folder without the user hitting 'spam.' So, how are we getting the actual number of true inbox placements?

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