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Email Deliverability Essentials: Six Must-Know Tips


Email Deliverability Essentials:

Here are the most essential elements of an e-mail marketing campaign that will get your message to the inbox.

Will this get you “guaranteed inbox delivery?” No. Nobody can guarantee that. Even the best campaigns can run into occasional glitches that cause your mail to be filtered and have you seeking the guidance of an e-mail deliverability expert.

But what can be guaranteed is high engagement and few complaints will enhance or restore your sender reputation with the ISPs, giving you the best shot at reaching your goal: your subscribers’ inbox.

This list of deliverability best practices will help you avoid making the mistakes other mailers make and put you on the right path to achieving high deliverability.

1. It all starts with your subscriber list. Get explicit and high-quality permission.

  • Permission — Make sure you get explicit permission to send e-mail to an address. Also, do not bury permission in your privacy policy. Permission that is assumed just because e-mail addresses were given will often result in high complaint rates and low engagement levels. Also, when a subscriber gives you permission to send him or her e-mails about a specific product or service, they are only agreeing to receive information about that product or service specifically.
  • Set expectations — It is always a good idea to let your subscribers know what they will receive and how often they will receive it. Provide an example on your website of an e-mail so subscribers know what they can expect and the value they will receive.
  • Build your own lists — Do not buy or rent third-party lists or use a list that was derived from some other site with permission specific only to that site. Just because it’s “opt-in” doesn’t mean it’s your opt-in.
  • Don’t pre-check — Instead let the user check the opt-in indicating they want your e-mails.
  • Confirmed opt-in — Consider a confirm/double opt-in signup process. A confirmation e-mail message requires the subscriber to click on a link to confirm they want to receive your e-mails. This verifies the subscriber’s e-mail address and their interest in your e-mails. This helps ensure lower complaints and the ISPs love to hear that you’re doing this when it comes time for a consultant to go to bat on your behalf.
  • Don’t incentivize e-mail sign-ups — The quality of these addresses will likely suffer since a good percentage of people will use a fake address to sign-up just to get your incentive. This will increase invalid rates and complaint rates and could cause serious damage to your sending reputation.
  • Duplicate e-mails — Remove duplicate addresses from your lists so subscribers don’t get more than one copy of any e-mail.
  • Do not reactivate old subscribers — Many of these old subscribers have probably turned into spam traps. Remove addresses that have not opened a message in the last nine months or longer or that have not been mailed to in the last three months. Put in place a policy to re-engage subscribers that have not opened an e-mail in three to six months, so they will not fall off your list after nine months of inactivity.

2. Create a relationship with your subscribers. Let them know what they’ll receive from you and when they’ll receive it — and then deliver!

  • Provide an example on your website of the e-mails they will receive from you so the subscriber knows what to expect.
  • Send a welcome letter to your new subscriber no later than three days after they’ve signed up. This is a special message that thanks the subscriber for trusting you with his or her contact information and begins the personal relationship with your company.
  • Create a good impression by engaging right away. Send the first regular e-mail within 10 days of subscribing. Subscribers who start receiving e-mails earlier are more likely to engage your e-mails. This interaction also aids in establishing a good e-mail reputation with the ISPs.
  • Maintain a consistent “from” name and e-mail address, preferably your recognizable company name. Brand name recognition is key to reducing complaints. And be sure that name always matches the brand they signed up for.
  • Match the look and feel of the branding and style of the website where they signed up. This provides a comfort level with your mailing that is familiar to your subscribers.
  • Ask them to add your name to their address book. Include a prominent line in your e-mail asking subscribers to add you to their mailbox or safe senders list. This makes you basically “whitelisted” for that subscriber.

3. Be polite when asked to leave. You’ll improve your overall delivery rates!

  • Include a prominently displayed unsubscribe link. Case studies have shown that when there is an unsubscribe link near the top of the page, there are fewer complaints.
  • Honor all unsubscribe requests immediately. A good e-mail software program will do this automatically for subscribers that click on the provided unsubscribe link.
  • Remove invalid e-mails and spam complaints from your lists immediately. Resending to addresses that have complained or were bounced back as an invalid address sends up a big red flag at ISPs.

4. Beware of inactive subscribers on your mailing list. They may not report you as spam, but they hurt your engagement rates and your delivery.

  • Try to re-engage inactive subscribers with special offers or incentives. Do this regularly when an e-mail address becomes inactive for 60 to 90 days.
  • Try re-permission campaigns. Ask them to reconfirm their subscription before it expires.
  • Be aware that addresses that have been inactive for a very long time may have become invalid or converted to a spam trap.
  • Remove inactive subscribers from your list. Quality is more important than quantity. The importance of removing inactive subscribers from your list can’t be overstated. These subscribers don’t open or click, which drags down your engagement rates, your reputation with ISPs and your delivery. Senders who by halving the size of their mailing list by removing non-engagers, have actually increased deliverability and their revenue.

5. Don’t ignore the nuts and bolts

  • Testing your list, monitoring engagement and creating a readable message are essentials for a successful campaign.
  • Use an inbox monitoring tool or send to your own seeds at the major ISPs before the main campaign is sent. Also, test the actual campaign to see if any delivery problems occurred in live sending.
  • Test rendering – Know what your message really looks like on the various platforms. If your e-mail looks broken, you’ll disappoint your subscribers and erode your brand.
  • Run messages through a spam assassin tool to check content and other factors in your e-mail that may suggest spam to ISPs.
  • Test all links in messages before sending. A link that is not working leaves a bad impression and could prompt your subscriber to unsubscribe or mark your message as spam.
  • Use engagement statistics — high opens, high clicks, and low complaints, to see how “wanted” you message really is. Regularly A/B test to try to determine what really engages your subscribers. Look at campaigns that performed well (high opens/clicks, low complaints) or campaigns that performed badly (low opens/clicks, high complaints) to determine what works for your subscribers.
  • Include a text-only version of the e-mail. If a subscriber can’t receive HTML or is reading your e-mail on a cellphone without HTML capability your message will not be seen.

6. Comply with the CAN-SPAM law

If you are in the U.S., you are legally required to comply with the CAN-SPAM law. However, compliance with CAN-SPAM does not mean your e-mail is guaranteed to be delivered to the inbox — the law still allows ISPs to filter CAN-SPAM compliant e-mail.

  • Include a prominently displayed unsubscribe link in each e-mail that provides a simple method for unsubscribing, preferably a one- or two-click method.
  • Honor all unsubscribe requests within 10 business days, including those received via US postal mail or e-mail.
  • Include a valid postal address and return e-mail address on all messages. P.O. Box addresses are allowed.
  • Provide a valid header (routing) information.
  • Do not use a deceptive subject line.
  • Don’t use false or misleading transmission information.
  • Clearly identify sole sender of the message.
  • Clearly identify the message as an advertisement or solicitation.

By taking to heart these battle-tested principles for creating a successful campaign, you will increase your chances of reaching your subscribers’ inbox. Utilizing these keys and employing a trusted e-mail deliverability company will undoubtedly help to improve your e-mail deliverability rates.

(source: John Bollinger)

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