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Improve your email reputation

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 07 Oct, 2013
Essential Essential topic

An introduction to factors that affect email deliverability and steps you can take to improve inbox delivery

When it comes to getting your emails into the inbox aka email deliverability, reputation is everything. In an ideal world, every email marketer would have good intentions, and there would be no need for email providers like Hotmail or Gmail to block any emails.

The reality however is that 70 percent of all emails that are sent worldwide is spam. Email providers have trust issues when it comes to parties that send a large amount of emails, and have every reason to.

To avoid being a "false positive" where your legitimate marketing mail is viewed as spam, there are plenty of techniques that help you gain trust of the various email providers and build a good email reputation. I will give an overview of these in this post.

What is email reputation based on?

Every email provider has different methods to determine someone’s email reputation, but overall they’re based on the following four factors:

  • 1. Spam complaints

Let’s start with the most obvious one. When recipients mark your email as spam, this is far from good for building up a good email reputation. Getting a few spam complaints is no big deal, but the more complaints you get, the more likely an email provider will think you’re sending spam.

Minimise your spam email complaints

There are things you can do to minimize the number of spam complaints for your email campaigns:

  • Only send messages to people who opted in for your emails. This should be a no-brainer. Not only is it illegal to send emails to people who didn’t sign up for them, unsolicited emailings are also the exact reason why the spam button was invented in the first place.
  • Always include an unsubscribe link. The harder you make it for someone to opt-out for your emails, the more likely he’ll just hit the spam button instead.
  • Include a list unsubscribe header in your email campaigns. Several email clients including Gmail and Hotmail/Outlook (PDF) offer an unsubscribe feature to their users for commercial mailing lists. This feature adds an extra button to the interface of the email program, making it easier to unsubscribe for your emails instead of marking them as spam.

Also, make sure to sign up for feedback loops. Various email providers like Yahoo, Hotmail/Outlook and AOL offer this service where email marketers can automatically process spam complaints into opt-outs. Of course this won’t stop subscribers from clicking the spam button in the first place, it will prevent you from keep sending emails to recipients that marked them as spam.

  • 2. Open rate

For email providers, the percentage of recipients that open your emails is important because it says a lot about their relevance. If you have a low open rate, this means that apparently your emails are not interesting for your recipients.

Techniques for improving email open rates

There are many techniques that’ll help you increase the open rates of your emailings. Here are the most important ones:

  • Identify yourself: make it perfectly clear for the recipient who the sender is. Someone might not recognize you and think you’re a spammer. So make sure to always use your name, your company name or both.
  • Write an appealing subject line: a well written subject line invites the recipient to open the mail. Be sure to stick to a maximum of 50 characters (20 if you have a lot of mobile readers) to prevent it from being cut off in most email clients.
  • Compose a strong snippet or pre-header: this is the first text that’s displayed underneath or next to the subject line. Often the snippet contains text like ‘Unable to read this mail? Open the web version.’ You can do better.
  • Send emails that are relevant to your audience. According to research conducted by Smarter Tools, an average email account receives about 65 emails a day. Common sense tells us that we can safely assume that a lot of those emails are moved to the trash can without getting so much as even a glance. The only way to make your emails stand out, is by using the information in your database to send relevant emails.
  • Test your emails before sending. Try various versions of your emails using A/B tests. What subject lines work best? What is the best time to send your emails?

Furthermore, be aware that an opt-in’s sustainability isn’t endless. People might lose interest in your e-mails. Send recipients that haven’t opened them in a while an email to ask them if they still want to keep receiving your emails. No reaction? Count your losses and consider this address to be an opt-out.

It might feel a bit unnatural to actively clean up your opt-in list this way. But don’t forget that it’s better to have one person reading your emails, than then of them discarding them without giving them so much as even a glance. Or marketing them as spam.

  • 3. Bounce rate

There are many reasons why erroneous addresses end up on your email list: someone changed his email address, or made a typo when signing up for your emails, etcetera.

Whatever the reason is, sending messages to erroneous email addresses is fatal for your email reputation. For an email provider this is a tell-tale that you’re working with an emailing list that is not up to date, and that you might be spammer. Some email providers might even convert these addresses to spam traps.

So be sure to always monitor your email results for bounces and remove erroneous addresses from your emailing list.

Of course you can also prevent erroneous email addresses from ending up on your email list by letting people enter their email address twice by signing up.

Better yet, use a double opt-in system where you send someone an email asking his to confirm his subscription.

  • 4. Send frequency

Because spammers don’t tend to have a consistent send frequency, email providers look at how frequent you send your messages. If you suddenly start to send more emails than usual, this might damage your email reputation.

Also, sending too few emails won’t help you build an email reputation because there will be simply too little data for email providers to analyze.

Monitoring your email reputation

Because your email reputation is crucial for the delivery of your messages, you should always keep a close eye on how you’re regarded by email providers. There are various online tools available that help you monitor your email reputation, such as:

In a nutshell.. there are various techniques that help you build and maintain a good email reputation, the ones listed above probably being the most important and well known ones. But whatever technique you’ll find useful, they all have one thing in common: in the end it all comes down to common sense.

Just be relevant and don’t send emails that your recipients don’t want to receive.

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