Category Archives: Email Marketing

The Days of Unsolicited Email are Over

What is Unsolicited Email?

Sending email to any email address with which your company does not have a direct relationship is considered Unsolicited. Unsolicited email has also been called “spam” but we prefer to reserve that term for email that has a malicious component. Legitimate businesses may send an unsolicited email without it being nefarious. To get an email address legitimately, your company, domain, marketing team must have direct contact with the owner of the address.

Who is still sending Unsolicited Email?

Amazingly, many legitimate businesses are still sending unsolicited emails and some of them are quite dependent on it. While marketing best practice is to only use email addresses that have been double opted into receiving email, it is still very easy to purchase lists from events, 3rd parties, list scrapers and “related businesses”. One favored tactic is to bury the right to give the “company or its partners” the right to use an email address in the Terms and Conditions of the website or application. Most of the time, this is a legal way of ensuring that it is acceptable to send email using an email marketing service on behalf of the domain, but it can also be legal padding for reselling the email address.

It is very tempting for small or startup businesses to purchase “seed lists” to get started on their email. This is now highly risky for your brand.

What is killing it?

Inbox Providers, like Google, Yahoo and Outlook/Office365 are in a constant battle to not only eliminate malicious emails like spam, phishing attempts and malware from the inbox, but also improve email relevance.

Email is relevant when:

  1. The recipient opted to receive email from the sending domain.
  2. The user does not mark the email as spam or more it to the spam folder.
  3. The user opens the email (typically because the subject line or sending domain is interesting).
  4. The user clicks on a link in the email (typically because the content of the email is interesting).
  5. The user moves the email from the Spam Folder to the Inbox.

Inbox Providers are now aggregating statistics for email sending domains across all their hosted inboxes. This means behavior in one inbox affects your email delivery to other inboxes at the same Inbox Provider. Inbox Providers cannot measure #1, but they can, and do, measure the other parameters. High rates of being marked as spam, low open rates and low click-through rates are huge indicators that the email is unsolicited. Over time, domains that send large amounts of irrelevant, unsolicited email will be dumped in the spam folder. This type of Domain Burnout can be fatal for a domain.

How can MxToolbox help?

If you have burned out your sending domain, we can help you setup a new domain, but realize, unless you change your email practices, this will happen again. DMARC, and a DMARC management tool like MxToolbox Delivery Center will help your sending domain achieve the best possible email delivery. In addition, our Inbox Placement feature will tell you if your campaigns are being dumped into the spam folder or making it to the Inbox and which Inbox Provider you are having trouble sending to.

Getting to the Inbox

The Inbox is The Target for email marketers. If the email doesn’t make the Inbox, then no one can open it or click on all our wonderful pitches. Getting dumped in the Spam or Junk folder can be a death sentence for your email marketing. There is a taint of suspicion to legitimate email that ends up in Junk or Spam folders. Is the email real or an exceptionally good phishing attempt? Is the sender spammy and not to be trusted? It leaves unanswered questions to your recipients.

Best Practices for making the Inbox

To achieve Inbox Placement, you need to develop an email marketing strategy based upon relevance, supplemented by good technology. The days of scatter shot email are gone. Emails must be tailored…

  • Target your Marketing to a Specific Persona – Know who you are communicating with. Too often email is used to attempt engaging a broad audience and fails miserably.
  • Have a Clear Objective – What is your goal? Engagement, a sale, a return to the shopping cart, the store, the site, a whitepaper, etc.?
  • Use Engaging Subject Lines – Do not be generic. Avoid “we have a sale” unless you are targeting bargain shoppers.
  • Make the Content Relevant and Interesting – How many emails do you receive every day that are completely irrelevant to your business or your interests? Those go in the trash right? (We call that Stealth Unsubscribing) Write content that resonates with the interests of your target persona.
  • Be Brief – Rather than have a laundry list of things to discuss, make it simple, direct and brief. Add too much and it reduces engagement.
  • Make Clear Calls to Action – Clearly ask for the click, the sale, the download, etc. Whatever your metric, make it clear.
  • Limit Your Linking – A few links are good to drive traffic to your website. Add too many links and you become confusing. Which is the most important? If there is really ONE objective, why do you have 20 links? This is just another scattershot approach.
  • Be DMARC Compliant – DMARC compliance allows you to demonstrate clear ownership of your emails and provides a level of trust for recipients. Inbox Providers are increasingly wary of non-compliant email and favoring compliance. To have the best chance to make the Inbox, your email must be DMARC compliant.

Why do “soft” factors matter as much as technology?

Relevance keeps the recipient from ignoring your email, marking you as spam, deleting your email without reading it or unsubscribing. Inbox Providers are now factoring in behavior across their inboxes for future email delivery decisions. A boring, irrelevant email might just be the last one that makes the inbox.

How can MxToolbox Help?

We provide free tools and paid to help you with email delivery. Most people start with our free Blacklist lookup tool to see if their sending domain or IP addresses are on a blacklist. While Blacklisting can prevent your email from making it to the inbox, it is no longer the most important factor. Two other tools have become important to Inbox Placement.

DMARC Compliance

To make the inbox, not only do your marketing campaigns need to be DMARC compliant, but all your email must be DMARC compliant regardless of source or volume. To achieve DMARC compliance for your email domain, you need a solid DMARC Reporting tool, like MxToolbox Delivery Center, and regular monitoring and management of your DMARC compliance.

Inbox Placement Analysis

Our Inbox Placement feature allows you to send a test email or campaign to us. We determine if the email will make the inbox at major Inbox Providers like Google, Yahoo! and Outlook.com/Office365. We also analyze important technology and soft factors like:

  • DMARC Compliance
  • Broken or copious links
  • Wordiness
  • Broken or too many images
  • Spammy verbiage
  • Other indicators of spam

Fortunately, Inbox Placement is a feature of all Delivery Center plans, so you can test your marketing emails and improve your DMARC compliance all in one place.

Does DMARC and email deliverability seem too complicated?

MxToolbox Experts are here with a Managed Services approach to your email configuration issues.

The Myth of Free Email Marketing

For the last 20 years, email marketing has been considered “free” marketing. The monetary costs to send an individual email have been negligible: once an email address is legally obtained, your marketing team can send all sorts of emails to that address with the only costs being the creative assets, the pitch and the price of the email marketing tool. With the main expense being the cost of getting the email address legitimately, you could try every pitch in your playbook until something sticks, right?

Unfortunately, recipients and inbox providers are looking for relevant, engaging content. Hammering away at any random pitch is now jokingly referred to as “spamming”. Let’s look at some of the costs and issues MxToolbox Experts see on a daily basis with our customers.

Note: DMARC compliance has ZERO influence on any of these issues. Being DMARC compliant and using a DMARC reporting service like MxToolbox Delivery Center is a minimum for email delivery. This article is about best (and worst) practices in email marketing.

Email Fatigue

Simply put – sending too many irrelevant emails to the same people until they are bored and tired of it. Eventually, they will unsubscribe or mark you as spam. At that point, you are done with that recipient.

For example: We worked with a company where every Product team wanted to target the CEO as a key decision maker. The customer sent weekly campaigns for each of their five products, so essentially a daily drip to the most important client. How long was it before the targets unsubscribed? (By the way, don’t expect C-level people to read non-targeted, non-customized email.)

The cost of email fatigue is an unsubscribe, a lost ear/eye for your products that could be relevant to the recipient. If you think you have something relevant to say, shouldn’t you say it first? Don’t use a shotgun approach, try a single, targeted shot.

Brand Erosion

Similar to email fatigue, recipients get tired of seeing emails that do not reflect their interaction with the brand. Typically, these are poorly targeted emails, emails off brand or offensive. Over time they stop doing business with your brand entirely.

Every week, I receive at least five emails from a major US retailer. Most of the email is “we have a sale!!!”, but it is completely generic and requires me to click on one of thirty links to do a search on their site to see if there is anything that interests me. I don’t. Why don’t they use their extensive history of my purchases to highlight at least one sale item I might buy? Why don’t they use my age and location to suggest purchases? It’s lazy and poor marketing and makes me concerned for the long-term of that company.

The cost of brand erosion is complete turn-off to the brand. This can lead past casual boycott to negative promotion to others.

Stealth Unsubscribers

When a recipient unsubscribes, it’s a clear signal that they no longer want marketing emails from you. However, users often unsubscribe by stealth – basically ignoring your messages by deleting them or marking them as read. This is a sign of email fatigue or brand erosion, but it’s subtle and you have lost connection to a potential buyer. They don’t hate you enough to unsubscribe, but, no longer pay attention to you.

By looking at open rates for individuals, you can see those that have tuned you out. Pull them from your lists for a while or revisit your campaign settings to find relevant content to reengage them.

Domain Burnout

Recently, MxToolbox has seen a spike in customers complaining that all their email is marked as spam. This is a symptom of Domain Burnout and can be for one or multiple inbox providers. Unfortunately, this domain is now tainted and may become permanently banned, unless corrected quickly.

In an attempt to make email relevant to their users, Inbox Providers developed algorithms that look at email volume by sending domain and the volume of email marked as spam. At a certain ratio, an entire email campaign is considered spam. Overtime, if this continues, the entire domain will be considered a source of spam and dumped in the spam folder.

We typically see this with domains that send large volumes of unsolicited email. However, as Inbox Providers clamp down on spam, we feel this is a significant risk for all small and medium sized businesses. Whether you are buying lists to get your business started or using old lists, care must be taken to limit the amount of email sent to suspect lists. Sending large amounts of unsolicited, or semi-consensual email will impact your domain’s reputation.

MxToolbox Expert Take

Email is not a free commodity. Every email address you receive has value and should be treated with respect. Mistreatment of an email address leads to poor email delivery and negative consequences for your brand. Take care to target your marketing, be careful with the volume, make your copy relevant and be mindful of the age of your email addresses. Remember for B2B contacts, people change jobs every 3-5 years.

Your email configuration should always be carefully configured and controlled. SPF, DKIM and DMARC are minimum requirements for email delivery. Use a DMARC reporting service like MxToolbox Delivery Center to ensure peak email deliverability. And, read our Blog to keep up to date with email trends.

Monitoring Complaints to Improve Email Reputation

As marketers, we all use some sort of marketing list for our email campaigns. These are typically opt-in prospects or existing customers. Sometimes we acquire lists from 3rd parties or put a case study or some other thought leadership behind a registration wall to obtain new marketing contacts. Regardless of where we acquire the email address, it has a certain value to us. But does the correspondence have value to the recipient? If not, it can affect your long-term sending reputation.

CAN SPAM

Before the CAN SPAM Act, end-users were inundated with junk email. This forced Inbox Providers like Google, Yahoo!, Hotmail and others to implement Junk and Spam filters to keep email at least somewhat relevant for their users. With the Act, marketers were now made responsible for policing their lists and removing anyone who opted out or unsubscribed. It’s an imperfect solution for several reasons:

  • Bad actors can completely ignore CAN SPAM.
  • Legitimate marketers can get email addresses from many sources, including the user, so the Inbox Provider cannot block unsolicited email.
  • Legitimate emailers can still “spam” a user with large amounts of irrelevant email unless that email user unsubscribes.
  • Unsubscribe methods may be complicated enough that users find it difficult and give up.

For these and many other reasons Inbox Providers have developed their own mechanisms to fight irrelevant email, spam and junk. These analyses can derail even well configured emailing domains.

Proprietary Junk and Spam Algorithms

Google, Yahoo!, Outlook.com/Office365.com, McAfee, Symantec and many other providers of inboxes or email gateway filtering software have come up with many ways to separate the valuable correspondence from the junk, spam and dangerous:

  • Blacklists – If the sending IP is on a blacklist, it’s probably spam. There are dozens of reasons for blacklisting, which includes being flagged as spam somewhere.
  • SPF Authentication – If the sender’s servers aren’t listed in the SPF record for the sending domain, it might be spam.
  • DMARC – If the sending domain fails, SPF checks or DKIM checks, then it might be spam. Our Delivery Center product started out as a DMARC compliance tool.
  • Attachments – Most inbox providers scan attachments for known malware and discard infected messages.
  • Subject Lines – There are certain subject lines typically used in spam and junk. These are easily filtered out.
  • Content – Content quality is an emerging issue for inbox providers. For example, dollar signs “$” or frequent use of FUD phrases might indicate spam. You can find more information about Content with our Inbox Placement tool.
  • User Feedback – Users provider direct and indirect feedback on relevance of a sender.

User Complaint Metrics Affect Email Delivery

Aggregating User Complaints is a great method for Inbox Providers to understand sending domain relevance across all their inboxes and discover emerging threats to their users. For example, your domain sends a legitimate marketing campaign and the Inbox Provider see the following:

  • ~20% of recipients open the email (based on global average open rates, yours may differ)
  • Some open the email and delete it without really reading it, indicating low engagement.
  • Some delete the email without opening, indicating apathy or disinterest.
  • Some mark it as spam or junk and even why they think it’s junk or spam.
  • Some click on your unsubscribe link, which can be tracked.
  • Some unsubscribe through the provider UI.
  • Some go to disused or invalid email addresses.

Do you know what these numbers are for your domain? Inbox providers are rating the deliverability of emails from your domain taking these new factors into account.

What can Marketing Do?

The good news is that Inbox Providers are willing to share your deliverability information with you! Called Complaints or Feedback Loops, Inbox Providers enable legitimate domains to subscribe to the complaints they receive from their users. Complaint detail can be:

  • The number of complaints received.
  • Email subjects that resulted in Unsubscribes, Spam Complaints or were marked as Junk.
  • Email addresses that bounce or were invalid.
  • Email addresses that unsubscribed at the Inbox Provider level.
  • Email addresses that marked emails as Junk or Spam.

Marketing can then:

  • Review campaigns that have a high complaint volume to improve them and make subsequent campaigns better.
  • Remove bounced and invalid email addresses from email lists. They’re wasting money and hurting your sender reputation.
  • Unsubscribe customers from marketing lists if they complained or unsubscribed. These complaints hurt your domain’s sending reputation and impact how your customers view your brand.

MxToolbox Can Help!

Our Delivery Center suite of email delivery tools now includes Recipient Complaints: aggregation, analysis and actionable insight that integrates with the top Inbox Providers’ feedback and complaint loops. Getting each Complaint/Feedback Loop integration setup can complicated, so MxToolbox Experts have created a simple, step-by-step guide for each integration: Yahoo!, Google, Validity, Mailgun, Microsoft and others. Get Started with Delivery Center and start improving your email reputation!