Thursday, March 14, 2013
Everything was going fine. You had set up your email marketing campaigns properly, all of your subscribers were double opt-in, you were sending emails on the right frequency, and your content was exactly what you had promised.
As far as you knew, people loved this stuff.....
But then, out of the blue, Gmail and the other ISPs started blocking your emails! But why? Why? Because those subscribers aren't interacting with your email anymore. They've become disinterested. They've become what are now known as 'the un-engaged.'
Just sending email to your subscribers isn't good enough
Just sending email to your subscribers isn't good enough any more. Unless your subscribers are engaged with your email, as in the subscribers open the email, click something, forward it, and reopen it later, you're going to find your sending reputation diminishing. In short, you're going to find yourself blocked.
But to begin with, how do I even know what my email sending reputation is?
You can check your score at SenderScore.org. This is a score, from zero to 100, to gauge if your IP address is thought of as a bad sender or a good sender. First, ask your email service provider what your IP address is, then check it at Sender Score. Hopefully it's above a 90. If it's not, it's time to take some action.
Your mother told you to share
Most small business email senders are sending email from a shared IP address. What's that? Well, an IP address is kind of like the street address where you live. If you live in an apartment with six of your loud, obnoxious college buddies, that means you're sharing your address with a bunch of nimrods who tend to get you in trouble. The police visit on Friday nights, telling you people to quiet down. On the other hand, you could instead be living in a much quieter apartment community with all kinds of noise covenants and rules that tend to keep the nimrods out. Since IP addresses are expensive, sharing IP addresses makes sense. Maintaining a little law and order across the users that share the IP address helps keep the sender score high, and spreads out the costs among other small business owners.
So how do I maintain a good email sender reputation?
Well, let's put it this way. Good senders find their emails in the inbox, bad senders do not. Here are some things to do and not do.
- Send only to real subscribers. Duh. Notice that I didn't say "send only to my random email address list I got from my old pal Salvatore Testosteroney Degongio". Sorry, it doesn't work that way.
- Don't send unexpected content. If your subscribers aren't getting the content they expect and at the frequency they expect, they stop engaging, they get mad, they pout, then they click the Report Spam button.
- Send only to valid email addresses. Um, it'd be a good idea for you to not send email to the same bunch of broken email addresses repeatedly. Scan your list to make sure there aren't misspelled domains in there like @ggmail.com, @hotmaidl.com, or @IcantSpell.net. These should be removed automatically by a good email service provider
- Don't purchase an email list. Do not purchase lists, ever. I know, I know. It's so tempting to go out there and just buy a big, fat email list to really get the word out. Well, you might as well go buy a big, fat lard sandwich while you're at it. The lard sandwich will have the same effect on your figure as the purchased list will have on your email sending reputation. The only difference is, you can't get liposuction to fix a bad sending reputation. Why is purchasing an email list such a bad idea? Because the people on that purchased list don't know you. They will click the Report Spam button faster than Elizabeth Taylor could find her next husband. Not to mention the fact that you never know how old that list is, and how many dead email addresses are on it. Sending to too many bad email addresses will get you blocked. Also, don't think you've found a loophole because you've "rented" an email list of subscribers who "opted in to third party messages." Even these subscribers will click the Report Spam button because they don't recognize you and they don't remember having checked a box on some webform that said "I agree to receive email from third parties, even if I don't care about their email content."
- Don't append email addresses. Email appending is a numbskull idea whereby you have amassed every piece of data about your customer, except their email addresses. You then use a service that can match your customer's data to their email address. "Hey! Great! Now that I have their email address I can just add them to my email newsletter list!" Please don't. Really, this is a bad idea. How bad of an idea? Well, do you remember that time in high school when you snuck out of the house and went to that Nirvana concert? And got caught coming back home at 2:23 AM? Yeah, that bad of an idea.
What happens if I am a bad sender?
- You'll end up on a blacklist. Yikes. That doesn't sound good. There are a lot of these lists around the internet. Some are important, some are not. You want to avoid sending content that gets you put onto a blacklist. If you find yourself on an important blacklist, your email deliverability will plummet, choke, cough, and die whilst uttering gurgling noises.
- You'll have a lot of spam complainers. These are those whiney, snively, pouters who once subscribed to your email, but now are clicking the dreaded Report Spam button. A few too many of those cheese-heads and you're deliverability will suffer.
- You'll end up emailing to a spam trap. The deadliest of the deadly. What's a spam trap? It's an email address used as a trap by the internet service provider (ISP). The ISP might take an old, unused email address and start monitoring it. You see, the ISP knows no one is using the email account, and yet somehow, you, reveling in your brilliance, just sent a "subscription" email to that dormant email address. Hmmm. How could this email address have signed up for your email if no one ever logs in to this account?
- What happens if I email a spam trap? Well, let's put it this way. Did you ever see the movie "As Good as it Gets" with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt? Oh come on, admit it, you've seen it. Do you remember when the receptionist asked Nicholson, who plays the role of an author, "how do you write women so well," and he responded, "It's simple. I start with a man, and I take away reason and accountability." Well, the look on the receptionist's face right after he said that is the look that will be on your face should you ever find you've emailed to a spam trap email address. Even if you had a good sender reputation prior to this, sending to a single spam trap address just might cause your sender reputation to be flummoxed, thrashed, and not-so-politely tossed into ye ole spam folder.
I want to be a good sender. What do I do?
Use a real From address: In your From address, use a real email address that you monitor. Don't use no-reply@
LuAnnesNailsPawnAndLaundromat. com. Your customers need to be able to reply to you. A “no reply” address kind of puts a damper on that. If subscribers can't reply to you, they can't reply to you, right? Replies are part of overall engagement metrics just like clicks and opens.
Tell your subscribers to do something! Tell them to take action like visiting a link or forwarding the email or adding you to their safe senders list or stop trying to get them to drink flavored coffee like "hazelnut-vanilla-bamboo-nut-
creme-de-blah-blah." You don't like flavored coffee and never will. But, seriously, having calls to action in your email will increase your engagement rates.
- Don't email more often than you said you would when the subscriber signed up. When Loraine in the cube next to me signed up for a weekly email of great coffees to try, and then they started coming daily, she just got all bent out of shape and her hair started to frizz. Before you start sending your email on a different pace than you promised your subscribers, think "Loraine = frizzy hair = bad."
- Don't send content that is different than you described when the subscriber signed up. If you said this was an email newsletter about "advances in industrial pneumatic cabodingulators," don't send emails about "Bigfoot: Man or Myth." (By the way, he's real. Just saying.)
- Personalize everything you can in the body of the email. This doesn't stop at "Dear FirstName." You need to think about what personalization you could use in the subject line, the email body, and the footer. Think about what data you have about your subscribers, particularly those that have purchased from you. If they purchased product A, which is a carbodingulator, maybe they'd be interested in the related distributomolecularizer that you just rolled out. Use your customer data to determine what content to send to what subscriber.
- On your website opt-in forms, don't pre-fill a checkbox at the end of the form that says "Receive our email newsletter." Having the checkbox is fine. Having it pre-filled is not fine. You want your subscribers to actively have to check that box if they want the email. Otherwise you'll get a list full of nimnods who were rushing through your form and didn't un-check the box. Then they click the Report Spam button.
- Choose the right list! When selecting the email list that you are going to send to, you'd be surprised how common it is for the marketer to accidentally select the wrong list! Ouch. Be careful! Taking an Ambien and then driving a car is a bad idea. And as far as your email sender reputation is concerned, stay off the Ambien too. If you are asleep on the job and send to the wrong list (or select the wrong suppression list) you can get quite a rash of spam reports.
You must maintain a stellar sender reputation, or go look for a new job when your CEO wants to know why his company's email reputation is in the rubbish bin. What other suggestions do you have to be a good email sender?
About Nate Goodman
Nate Goodman (@ThoughtReach) is an email software designer with over 11 years in the email marketing, social media, and CRM space. Nate is known for two things: sipping Fair Trade coffee all day long and not being able to keep a straight face after playing a practical joke on his co-workers. Nate authors the Thought Reach blog about WordPress websites, email marketing, and social media topics. Follow the Thought Reach blog by email.