How Holiday Email Sending Could Trash Your Email Reputation

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It's a small world photoHear that sound? Holiday and seasonal ads on the radio, carols playing on the Muzak… yes, we’re officially in the holiday season – and the biggest time of year to meet and complete your 2013 business objectives and numbers.

In order to do this, many marketers will increase their email outreach in an effort to boost sales and conversions. After all: email, year over year, is the cheapest form of outreach and the best return on investment, so it’s probably going to be a lot more productive than doubling up on your broadcast advertising.

But before you do what everyone else in the industry is doing, think twice. Abruptly ramping up your email program has the potential to cause some major deliverability and email reputation issues.

No one wants coal in their stocking, so let’s pull the curtain back and talk about risk.

You say… Let’s increase frequency.

I say… Increase the frequency ONLY if your clients are aware of (and expecting) the increase.

I see marketers do this all the time. The unalloyed problem with this approach is that it can drive your spam complaint and opt-out rates to increase.

You’ve worked hard to build rapport with your clients; part of the trust they have in you comes from your predictability. Any change to this can cause negative results. If your recipients are used to receiving an email only on certain days – and suddenly it increases from two times a week to five times a week – they can easily become irritated. And then it’s so easy to just hit that spam button.

You know this already, but it bears repeating: ISPs look very closely at spam complaints. Any upwards spike can cause major reputation issues for you, possibly causing you to end up in the junk folder instead of the inbox.

If you do plan on increasing your frequency, be smart about it and proactively make your customers aware, especially newer recipients

You say… Let’s increase the number of recipients we send to. 

I say… Increasing the number of recipients you send to is going to cause you more problems than not.

Just like increasing your frequency, increasing the quantity of recipients you send to going to cause problems with the ISPs.

When marketers come to me about issues they are experiencing this time of year, my first question is: “Did you add more email addresses to your marketing program?” More times than not, they have. Then I ask where the list was obtained. Most of the time I get a response such as “We found a list we had not sent to in a while, and thought we should include them.”  Ah, I say to myself, there’s your problem.

First of all, ISPs (such as AOL) are looking for just this type of behavior. Any large volume changes (in either direction, smaller as well as larger) will result in temporary deferrals to your AOL recipients. Meaning higher bounce rates.

Second, in my experience:  If you add in a list you just found, it most likely contains email address that are very old. Which also results in higher hard bounce rates (invalid email addresses). An increase in your hard bounce rate will cause issues with ISPs and result in more of your messages being blocked and or placed in the spam folder. If you decide to increase volume by purchasing a list, you’ll get exactly the same issues.

If you do decide to send to a recently found or purchased list, I highly recommend running your list through a list cleansing tool or email validation tool such as ImpressionWise or LeadSpend.

You say… All of my recipients are engaged. 

I say… If you are actively monitoring the engagement of your recipients and sending only to those who have opened and clicked in the last year­­ – then yes, they are engaged. If not, you have problems lurking.

The only way to ensure that you’re sending to genuinely engaged recipients is by strategically removing non-openers and non-clickers from your lists on a regular basis, such as quarterly. Engagement has become one of the biggest indicators to ISPs that you are a reputable sender. ISPs (such as Gmail) highly monitor this as part of their algorithms and if they realize that your unengaged-to-engaged ratio is high, then all of your mail could potentially end up in the spam folder. This type of monitoring can also greatly reduce the possibility of your email messages hitting spam traps and getting onto blacklists.

Plus, you can always build out a re-engagement strategy to try to save those likely recipients from being removed forever. I highly recommend working with someone familiar with implementing such a strategy, and building it together.

You say… I’ve never been on a blacklist before, therefore I won’t get on one now.

 stop!I say… It’s great that you’ve never been on a blacklist – but that doesn’t mean you won’t ever get on one.

There are many blacklists in the email world. Some are very small and don’t cause email reputation issues, but there are others, such as SpamCop and Spamhaus, that are broad-ranging and can cause many issues.

In the effort to ferret out and stop spammers, blacklist operators create “spam traps” and place them out in the Internet world. Spam traps are email addresses that were once valid but have since become dormant. ISPs and blacklists operators turn them into traps to catch spammers – and they also catch marketers not actively monitoring the engagement of their lists. (This is not a catch-and-release program; this can get you blacklisted.)

SpamCop is one of the most-seen blacklists. The company recently added two new groups of traps to their blacklist. (For more information on these new traps, read this post)

Spamhaus is another very large, widely used blacklist out there. They are notorious for increasing their listings during the holiday season. Being blacklisted by them is very serious and the delisting process can be very painful; they can demand that you remove many of your recipients from your list and keep you listed until that process is complete. This can mean days of no sending at all.

The good news

If you are sending to confirmed, opt-in, engaged recipients, your chances of running into either major blacklist are very low.

Overall, if you’re following industry best practices, your email reputation should remain good and your wonderful holiday season with great rewards is just around the corner. Know your goals, align your plan with your business objectives, and manage your risks. Be smart about it!

Happy Holidays!

PS: If you need help, Act-On’s Delivery Insight program is an umbrella of pro services that protect your sending reputation and enhance deliverability rates.

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Photo of Disney’s “it’s a small world” World by HarshLight, used under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

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  • Tim

    Good points here. I’m a believer that your email frequency should be often enough but not too often. There’s a fine line between the two, but better to play it safe and not sacrifice contacts and take a chance of getting spam complaints.

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