Marketer Concern: Email Hit By Problems, Inbox Rates Drop

Despite the rise of social networks and texting, marketers still rely on email as a highly engaging and measurable way to target consumers. New research, however, suggests that the channel is fast deteriorating from increased ISP filtering, sinking sender reputations and inbox overload.

As a result, for the first time in three years, inbox placement rates (IPR) declined 6% during the second half of 2011, according to email and reputation management firm Return Path.

Worldwide, that brought inbox placement rates to a record low of 76.5% -- compared to 81% in the first half of 2011. Historically, IPR have remained steady at around 80%, with one in five marketing emails blocked, or delivered to consumers’ spam folders.

Matt Blumberg, CEO of Return Path, blames the rapid decline in IPR on what he calls a “perfect storm.” In no particular order, “clients are having difficulty in getting their emails delivered, ISPs are tightening requirements on reputation metrics and the number of companies using email to market continues to increase,” Blumberg said.

“We see both higher overall email volume and an influx of relatively unsophisticated senders -- resulting in decreased inbox placement rates,” Blumberg added.

According to Blumberg, ISPs are using metrics that are generally unavailable to marketers through traditional deployment platforms, as well as leveraging new data to determine spam from not-spam. 

These metrics include engagement data, subscriber panel complaint data, and trusted subscriber data making deliverability extremely challenging for marketers not using data-monitoring tools. 

Marketing metrics are also sliding in the wrong direction, whether due to slashed marketing budgets, new staffing or reliance on third party ESPs for reputation monitoring, he notes.

A third major reason for declining IPR is that consumers are overloaded, especially during the busy holiday period.  Many consumers enthusiastically sign up for new emails, whether to access special deals, get interesting content or as part of a purchase process. When the emails arrive in the inbox, the amount appears overwhelming, with consumers using the “report junk” button to unsubscribe from excess emails to cope with the avalanche.

Reversing the trend of increasing inbox rates from the first half of 2011, North American inbox rates experienced significant declines with an 8% drop, bringing inbox placement rates closer to 79%. 

Spam folder placement jumped 19% to 7.4% in the second half, and missing, or blocked email, increased a whopping 38% -- a 13.3% missing rate -- during the same time frame, according to Return Path. 

Return Path also analyzed a panel sample of over 40,000 Gmail mailboxes and over 110 million messages from July through December of last year. 

All told, 93% of Gmail subscribers now have priority inbox enabled, up 15% from Return Path’s previous study, but Gmail inbox placement rates declined to 79% with 21% of mail being delivered to the spam folder.

Out of the 79% of mail delivered to the inbox, only 8% were marked priority, a 54% decline compared to Return Path’s previous study.


1 comment about "Marketer Concern: Email Hit By Problems, Inbox Rates Drop".
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  1. Thomas Sather from Return Path, March 20, 2012 at 5:01 p.m.

    I would also add that despite inbox rates declining, marketers can still achieve near perfect inbox placement rates by following best practices, managing their sending reputation, and ultimately giving their subscribers the best possible experience possible in their email program. We see marketers achieve near 100% inbox placement rates all the time despite the continuous and ever changing deliverability rules.

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