By the end of 2019, MarketBeat will have sent over 1.5 billion emails since I launched the business in 2011. We’re currently sending out more than 60 million emails per month to our 1.25 million subscribers. Our ability to send large amounts of email to our customers has scaled nicely over the years, but it hasn’t been without its challenges. No matter how clear you are to your subscribers when they opt-in about what they will receive, there will be some people that never open your email. There will be others that click the “report spam” button, and there will be users and bots that type in garbage emails into your opt-in forms. If your email campaigns generate too many of these negative signals, you may find that your messages start showing up in your subscribers’ spam folders.
Email deliverability is a challenge for every online business, especially ours. Our service is 100% opt-in, and we don’t send unsolicited email messages, but we still run into problems due to the scale and frequency of our email campaigns. We closely monitor whether our messages are hitting our users’ inboxes through Glock Apps and eDataSource to know when we might have a problem that needs addressing. When we do run into problems that happens a couple of times per year, we have identified a few hacks that can send positive signals to Gmail, Yahoo, and AOL that can get your messages showing up in your users’ inboxes again.
Subscriber Engagement is The New Key Metric
If you were having email deliverability problems ten years ago, an expert may tell you to make sure your SPF and DKIM records are set up properly, to check and see if you were on any email blacklists and to make sure your messages are CAN-SPAM compliant. While that’s still good advice, it’s just not enough anymore. You may find that your messages are showing up in subscribers’ spam folders even though your infrastructure is set up correctly and you are not on any blacklist if your users aren’t engaging with your messages.
Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, and other email service providers are increasingly looking at whether users are opening your messages, how long they are reading your messages for, whether they click on a link in your email or whether they respond to your email. If an email provider sees that your users spend a long time with your messages, click on links in your email and reply to your messages, they will see that as a positive sign that your users want your messages. To fix your email deliverability problems, you need to send as many positive signals (clicks, replies, etc.) to email providers that you can while eliminating the negative signals (spam reports, unopened emails, bounces, etc.)
Ask for Email Engagement
A while back we noticed that our spam folder rate for Gmail had been ticking up, so we decided to send an email to our Gmail subscribers from our normal sending address simply asking them to reply that they got our message. That generated thousands of replies that said, “Yes, I got the message.” which was a very positive deliverability signal to Gmail. We also used it as an opportunity to ask them to move our messages out of their promotions folders into the primary folders, which is another positive deliverability signal.
Here’s the message we sent:
Hi there –
We’ve had some other Gmail users tell us that some MarketBeat messages have been delivered to their spam folders.
Can you reply to this message and let me know that you’ve received it?
P.S. You can make sure MarketBeat emails make it into your inbox by taking this email and dragging it into your “primary” folder in Gmail. A popup will ask you “The conversation has been moved to ‘Primary’. Do this for future messages from [email protected]?” Click “Yes.” You will see that our emails will go to your primary folder in the future.
Our Gmail open rate went from 17% to 22% soon after we sent this campaign, which would suggest it was a success. We can’t really know for sure because of the limited data we can monitor through Gmail, but the increased open rate after the fact was a win in my book.
Unsubscribe Your Zombie Users
At some point, you just need to give up on your old subscribers that aren’t opening your messages. If someone hasn’t opened 50-100 messages from you in a row, they probably aren’t using that email anymore or they simply aren’t interested in your messages. At that point, you should probably just unsubscribe them.
Email service providers use the percentage of people that open your message as a key indicator of whether recipients want your messages. You can hack this engagement metric by simply unsubscribing anyone that hasn’t opened a message from you in a long time. For MarketBeat, that’s about 90 days because we send an email every day. If you send a weekly email, consider unsubscribing someone that hasn’t opened a message from you within the last 18 months.
By bulk unsubscribing your inactive users, you will boost your email open rate, which email service providers will see as a positive engagement trend. You also won’t lose out on any revenue because these users aren’t opening your messages anyway, and you may even save money by reducing the amount of email volume you send through your email service provider.
Send Longer Emails
One of the newer metrics that email service providers track is how long people read your emails. If someone opens your email, scans it for five seconds, and closes it, maybe they weren’t that interested in your messages in the first place. If you can write a long and engaging email that takes your subscribers a while to read, email service providers will see that as a positive engagement signal.
Clean Your Email List
A few times a year, I’ll run my entire email list through a service like Kickbox that will find invalid email addresses on your mailing list. Kickbox can take an email address and determine whether it’s a real valid email address that you should try to mail. It will check with each addresses’ email service provider to make sure it’s a real, valid address that can receive email. It will give you a list of invalid email addresses on your list that you can then remove from your email list. By only sending mail to real people that want your messages (and not honeypots, discontinued addresses, people that have previously reported your messages as spam, invalid domains, etc.), you are showing email service providers that you engage in good list hygiene and are following best practices.
Check Your Email Setup
If you think you are doing everything right and still aren’t sure why your emails might be having problems, you can send a test email to the free service mail-tester.com. It will run your message through a variety of different tests to check for issues that you may not be aware of (such as an improperly-setup SPF record). Mail Tester is a great way to uncover blind spots with your email program that you may not be aware of.
Finding out that some of your messages are landing in your subscribers’ spam folder is annoying, but not the end of the world. By sending positive engagement signals to AOL, Gmail, and Yahoo and mitigating negative signals from your unengaged subscribers, you can mitigate your deliverability problems and get your email campaigns back in your subscribers’ inboxes.