Wednesday, August 8, 2012
ReturnPath's George Bilbrey confirmed for us this month something we already suspected -- that Yahoo has upped its reliance on "engagement" as a spam filtering metric.
Engagement, defined as denoting who is interacting with the email messages you send, is a data point that webmail providers like Yahoo and Gmail are able to measure. They run the user interface -- they track all the button clicks and know which email messages you open, view, click on, or delete unread. This data is compiled by these email-receiving sites and they use it to build an "engagement score" of you as a sender. Building scores to denote good senders versus bad senders isn't anything new, but Yahoo is now really taking it to the next level, relying on this specific engagement-based data more heavily than ever before.
What this means to you as a sender of email messages is that if your subscriber base interacts with your messages at a higher rate than everybody else, you're practically guaranteed solid delivery to the inbox every time. If your subscriber base interacts with your messages at a lower rate than everybody else, you're much more likely to find your mail relegated to the spam folder. Low opens means low engagement means bulk foldering. If you want to keep your spot in the inbox, you need to do everything possible to ensure that you're sending only to your most engaged subscribers. It is important to ensure that you're not just sending email messages to all subscribers forever -- at some point, if they're never opening your emails, you need to stop sending to them. Every mail you send to an unengaged subscriber puts you closer toward falling out of the inbox and you'll end up landing in the spam folder.
Gmail's filtering is much the same way nowadays. Lately we're observing that a lot of otherwise good senders are struggling to get to the Gmail inbox, and we think it's due to that increase of engagement-based spam filtering. Our 2012 Subscribers, Fans and Followers report entitled "Retail Touchpoints Exposed" shows that in our testing, 20% of "Hot 100" retail senders are seeing their messages go to the bulk folder at Gmail. These aren't bad actors -- these are well-known brands. Their good marketing practices didn't change, the spam filtering changed. What's happening to them at Gmail today is likely to happen to them at Yahoo tomorrow (if it's not happening already). If you're not already focusing on engagement, if you don't have a subscriber lifecycle management plan in place, you're about to find it tougher for your messages to find their way to the inbox.