January 31, 2013 | Sean Wirt
I recently read an interesting blog article by Christian Schappel over at Deliverability.com titled "3 Things You Need to Know Before Hitting 'Send.'" In the post, Christian discusses the results of a recent study that tries to uncover the best time to send email. Of course whether there actually is a best time of day is an ongoing topic of debate within the email marketing industry.
Experts will publish these blanket recommendations and then everyone begins sending email at that time – ultimately causing the opposite effect. So when you see a recommendation to send between 8:00 and 9:00 AM – the best time to send your email is any other time of the day!
Determining the best time to send your email is very unique and specific to your brand and your vertical. With the emergence of Flash Commerce, many brands are beginning to “own” a moment in the inbox. This moment is largely dictated by their business model and the expectations of their subscribers – consumers are creatures of habit; they get used to seeing messages they want and expect – at a specific moment.
To determine the best time for you to send your messages, you need to ask yourself a few questions:
Who is my audience?
The demographics and psychographics of your customer can help you to understand their potential email behavior. For example, are they working moms that are checking their email from work – or do they wait until they get home and the kids are all in bed?
Does my business warrant or require a specific moment?
For Flash Commerce sites – getting the email into the consumers hands first thing in the morning plays in to the urgency of these limited-time offers. Does your business require that?
Does your offer warrant a specific moment?
Maybe you don’t need to send ALL of your email at the same time of day every week – it could be that you have an offer or a singular program that is time-sensitive.
When are the majority of recipients opening your email?
If you are sending first thing in the morning and most of your opens happen late in the evening, you may want to consider sending a little later. It will keep you nearer to the top of the inbox, potentially increasing your ability to get the message opened and seen.
Ultimately, in order to discern the best time for you to send your email, you need to test it. And keep testing it. Because the reality is that it is a moving target that can be greatly impacted by the time of day decisions that other brands are making as they hit your customers’ inboxes.
Posted by: Sean Wirt at 11:13 AM
December 20, 2012 | Sean Wirt
One of the current hot topics in the world of deliverability right now stems from email receipts that retailers are adopting for in-store purchases. If you've bought anything in a larger retail chain in the last couple of months, you likely know what I'm talking about. As you're completing your transaction at the check-out counter, the sales associate asks if you would prefer to have a printed receipt or have a digital receipt emailed to you. In a lot of ways, this makes sense. The consumer has one less receipt to keep track of in their wallet or lost in the bottom of a shopping bag, and an email receipt makes it instantly searchable in their inbox if they need to reference it later on. This all sounds perfect. If only it were so.
Veteran email marketing journalist Ken Magill has reported that some retailers are taking an email deliverability hit because of typos that are occurring when sales associates enter a customer's email address. Here's the problem. These typos have caused Spamhaus, the well-known anti-spam crusader and blocklist provider, to begin blocking email sent from typo-affected retailers. One prominent example is The Gap's recently inclusion on Spamhaus' blocklist, which is being attributed to these typoed email addresses.
What's happening is that Spamhaus operates a number of spamtrap or "typo-trap" domains that are variations of popular online brands. The idea is these typo-traps allow Spamhaus to identify senders with bad data collection processes. It would be one thing if the typoed email receipt was the only message to hit the typo-trap; the trouble starts if the retailer automatically signs up that bad email address for ongoing marketing promotions. The continual mailing to these addresses can kick you onto Spamhaus' blocklist. So what do you do?
You may not agree with Spamhaus putting legitimate brands on their blocklist for the bad email captures at point of sale (and many marketers don't), but if you want to ensure your messages get delivered there are a couple of things you can do to help – and some you should be doing anyway.
If you currently use email receipts at retail locations (or are thinking about it), you should invest in a system that can identify bad domains at the point of capture. If the sales associated is immediately warned of a bad domain when they input it into the system, they can either correct it or ask the consumer to confirm the correct address. The other option is to have the device require double entry. Not only will these tactics help keep you off blocklists, it will also ensure the consumer gets the receipt.
If you want to be able to add the email address you collected for future email promotions, you can consider using a confirmed opt-in (COI) process where the customer has to respond to a confirmation email before they begin receiving email communications. This also puts the consumer in control of whether they want to receive email communications from you after an in-store sale, which can reduce complaints from customers who weren't properly informed that they would be receiving marketing messages as a result of the email receipt.
You can also choose to only use the email address once to send the receipt and not save it to your database. You lose out on this information, but you also don't risk continuing to email to a bad address.
Consumers seem to be embracing the email receipt for in-store purchases, so marketers need to be strategic about the best way to implement it that won't affect their overall marketing efforts – either by turning off customers or getting put on a blocklist that could potentially affect email marketing promotions across their entire customer base.
Posted by: Sean Wirt at 11:47 AM
June 28, 2012 | Sean Wirt
For the record, I am not a fan of email appending programs. If you are not familiar with the term, MAAWG defines appending as "taking known demographic information and using various methods to determine an email address for the purpose of adding people to a list or otherwise sending them email messages." So, for example, you may have an account with a department store, but the store does not have your e-mail address. The store may hire a third-party company to try and find email addresses for those clients whose email addresses are not in their database. Last fall, MAAWG published its "Position on Email Appending," in which they describe it as an "abusive practice."
Recently, I started receiving member email from a credit union in Indiana. The problem is that I don't live in Indiana, nor am I a member of this particular institution. A quick search showed me that there is a Sean Wirt who lives in the area served by this credit union; however, he is not me. The most likely scenario is that this credit union engaged in an appending program that went awry.
The problem with the verification method they chose is that they clearly appended data using name only. The same web search showed that there are at least three Sean Wirt's in the U.S. – 1 in Florida, 1 in Indiana and 1 in North Carolina (me). I am unaware of any data related to me that would suggest that I would be a member of a credit union in Indiana. Once they decided that my email address was the correct one, they did not even attempt to confirm with me that their information was correct – they simply started sending me their newsletters. Even better, the newsletter was not CAN-SPAM compliant, as it had no unsubscribe link!
So, what's the moral? Don’t append! If you ignore this advice and do it anyway, at least give the recipients a chance to tell you that they aren’t who you think they are and/or give them the opportunity to opt-out immediately. If all else fails, make sure your emails are CAN-SPAM compliant!
Posted by: Sean Wirt at 9:36 AM
May 31, 2012 | Sean Wirt
I've been a BIG fan of Shari's Berries and ProFlowers for years! Whenever my family is in a pinch to send last-minute gifts, we almost always send berries. As a fan, I subscribed to their mailing list years ago so that I could take advantage of their great deals. Occasionally, I noticed that some of their messages were going to my spam folder in Gmail. Knowing the effect this had on my receiving their messages in my inbox, I naturally clicked the "Not Spam" button in Gmail. (Of course, many "average Joes" don't realize the impact that has, but I won't go off on that tangent!)
Anyhow, a few months back, I started noticing that the subject lines of some of my messages From Shari's Berries and ProFlowers were targeted at Gmail users. There were subjects such as "Gmail Users Weekend Sales Event: 59% off a Gift Mom will Remember Forever" and "Our Easter Flash Sale for Gmail Users is Now! 63% off Delicious Easter Strawberries." I remember being at a MAAWG event when I received the first one and pointed out to colleagues what a great idea it was. They even went so far as to send out a message with this subject: "Gmail Notice: Please check your settings today." I distinctly remember forwarding that one out to our deliverability team saying something like "Wow! Check this out!"
The email included step-by-step instructions on how to report the message as "Not Spam" and also how to add the "From" address to their address book. Not only did they tell you how to do it, they gave you a visual depiction of the process – love it!
All of this background leads to my point. Industry columnist Ken Magill posted a Magill Report article last week talking specifically about ProFlowers' campaigns (ProFlowers and Shari's Berries are both parts of the Provide Commerce family of brands) and the effect they had on delivery. Ken writes: "But during the week of March 19th, ProFlowers' Gmail inbox placement rate jumped from 35.9 percent to 71.8 percent, according to eDataSource. Two weeks later, the rate surpassed 85 percent, according to eDataSource. The following week—and every week thereafter—the rate has been above 95 percent, according to eDataSource. ProFlowers started using subject lines targeted to Gmail users at the end of February and stopped in April, according to eDataSource. The results speak for themselves."
I love when marketers get creative in their efforts to improve delivery (especially when it works)! The lesson here is that when you think outside the box can you can be rewarded with GREAT results. If you find you're getting caught in the spam folder at one of your key ISPs and any overtures to their postmaster team hasn't produced any results, then don't be afraid to create a campaign to correct the problem.
Posted by: Sean Wirt at 10:51 AM
January 25, 2012 | Spencer Kollas
Now that the holiday season is over and we are all getting back into the normal swing of things, a lot of digital marketing folks are beginning to look at their email marketing lists and trying to figure out how to winback some customers who haven’t engaged with them a while. This is a common challenge across the industry, and I have heard many different recommendations from a number of experts in the field.
There are a number of steps you can take to prep for these types of programs and help ensure a successful campaign to win back your customers. While the creative and actual messaging is essential for a successful program, it's important to remember that all your efforts in those areas won’t matter one bit if you don’t put in the effort on the front end.
These three steps will help you prepare for this year’s big win-back campaign.
1. Determine What an Inactive Customer Means to You
If you're advising a client on a winback program, don't make the common mistake of making suggestions before you completely understanding their business model. It is extremely important to carefully examine their customer lifecycle and go backwards.
I will often hear experts say that if someone hasn’t opened or clicked on a message in 3 to 6 months (or some other arbitrary date range), you should simply remove them from your list. While this might be a decent starting point for the masses, I believe you could be missing out on some valuable customers. Let’s say for example that you send a monthly newsletter. Are you only going to give the person three opportunities to engage with you before you start asking them to come back? In their minds, maybe they never left and were just busy working on some high-level projects that prevented them from focusing on the information you have sent them.
2. Examine the Content You Are Sending Them
If there's one term that has been repeatedly drilled into my head more than any other in the many years I've been in this industry, it's "relevancy." If you are not sending your customers relevant offers and information, how can you expect them to be engaged with your brand and marketing campaigns? Take a look back at the last 6-12 months and see if your campaigns are still offering your customers something that they can’t get somewhere else. Is the information that you are sharing with them meaningful and important to them, or are you simply sending everyone the same offers with no regard for past engagement?
3. Don’t Send Win-Back Emails from the Same System as Your “Master” List
One of the most important things to think about and prepare for when creating a re-engagement campaign is to make sure you have a separate IP for sending these messages. Because of the nature of the campaign, you are likely to see a higher than usual unknown user and complaint rate. By creating a separate sub-domain and sending off of a separate IP, you are less likely to negatively affect the rest of your email marketing messages.
After you've taken the three steps above, it is time to focus on the messaging, creative and potential special offers you are going to employ to get your customers engaged with your brand again. Remember, doing the work on the frontend will save you time and agony on the backend.
One final note: when creating a re-engagement program, make sure to not overwhelm your customers with too many messages. If they have already become inactive for whatever reason, continuing to send them more and more mail is not going to get them to come back. In fact it will likely cause them to mark all of your messages as spam, which would be worse than simply losing them as a customer.
A well-planned and executed winback campaign is certainly worth the effort, and these three steps will help get you started.
Good Luck and Good Sending.
Posted by: Spencer Kollas at 2:32 PM
November 30, 2011 | Spencer Kollas
As we head into 2012, you should take a close look at your email marketing and list hygiene practices to make sure that you are maintaining a good sender reputation and maximizing deliverability. Good list hygiene combined engaging emails and sender authentication will help you build a solid email reputation with your top ISPs.
List hygiene may not be the most exciting aspect of email marketing, but it is essential for good deliverability. Simply follow the seven tips below to get your lists in order for the New Year.
1. Scrub Your Lists Regularly. Keep your email lists clean by regularly running them against a register of known bad domains and removing duplicate addresses and role accounts. You can automate the latter by adding “info@*,” “sales@*,” and other common addresses to your suppression list. Your email system may also enable you to automatically suppress bad domains and role-based distribution lists.
2. Remove Bad Domains. Bad domains should be removed immediately. Closely review your failure reports, identify bad addresses and evaluate whether they are the result of a data capture problem or a non-existent domain.
3. Review Data Capture Processes– List hygiene starts with collecting good data. Make sure your sign-up forms prompt users to fix incorrect email address or syntax errors before they are submitted.
4. Actively Manage Hard and Soft Bounces – In addition to having established policies for automatically removing hard-bounced addresses due to bad addresses and unknown users, you should have similar policies for removing soft bounces after a pre-determined number of consecutive failures.
5. Promptly Remove Unsubscribes – Don’t wait the 10 days allowed by CAN-SPAM to process unsubscribes. Remove unsubscribed addresses immediately to avoid users hitting the “this is spam” button and damaging your sender reputation.
6. Mark Inactive Addresses for Reengagement – Transfer inactive addresses to another list that is designed to reengage them. A good rule of thumb for identifying inactives is no more than 12 months – but 6 months can be preferable depending on factors related to the seasonality of your business.
7. Sign Up for Feedback Loops and Whitelists – Sign up for available feedback loops at your top ISPs to monitor the number of spam complaints generated from your mailings. Similarly, maximize your inbox delivery by signing up for whitelists offered by ISPs and other providers.
Consider these tips when looking to improving your email marketing and overall list hygiene to streamline practices going into the future.
Learn about other email deliverability solutions we provide at StrongMail.
Posted by: Spencer Kollas at 2:55 PM
November 03, 2011 | Spencer Kollas
As a member of the EEC, I am an active member in a number of their groups, including the Speaker Bureau and the Deliverability Roundtable. Both of these email marketing groups have some fantastic people involved in them, but we can always use more. So take the time, become a member, and enjoy getting to know your fellow email experts and help drive the industry in the direction of the future.
Learn about other email deliverability solutions we provide at StrongMail.
Posted by: Spencer Kollas at 12:28 PM
October 12, 2011 | Spencer Kollas
Email marketing success is dependent on many things, not the least of which is addressing the latest innovations and changes to major email services…and Hotmail certainly qualifies as a major email service.
Just recently Microsoft announced some major changes to what their webmail services like Hotmail will look like and how users will interact with their email moving forward. One of the biggest reasons Microsoft made these changes was because they realized that getting rid of true spam was not enough. They understand that many people report legitimate emails, such as newsletters, offer campaigns and even notifications. Users might do this for a number of possible reasons
- They no longer want to receive the email and do not trust the unsubscribe links
- They feel it is easier to check a large number of emails at once and mark them as spam rather than going into each email and unsubscribing.
Microsoft calls this type of mail graymail, and they have created new ways to help users organize their inbox and remove the clutter. Previously Microsoft had implemented the “Sweep” feature which allowed customers to automatically move specific emails to different folders. They have now taken that technology a step further by creating a specific "Newsletter" folder where they will automatically put newsletters it delivered to users.
Another item that will potentially change the graymail issue is the implementation of the one-click unsubscribe. By utilizing this process, Microsoft will ask you if you want to unsubscribe from the mailing. Microsoft will then respond to the marketer notifying them to remove the user from future mailings. For any mailings received from the marketer after this process was put in place, the mailings will be automatically sent to the Junk folder as a way to address this complication with email deliverability.
Finally, another change that Microsoft has implemented is the ability to flag emails. Much like Gmail’s labels, or Outlook's flags, this functionality allows users to no longer have to mark messages at unread in order to go back and follow up on items but create flags in order to help them better organize their messages in their inbox.
As a marketer, these changes should not change your approach to your email marketing campaigns. As we have always said at StrongMail, it is all about relevancy. If your campaigns are not relevant to your users, you will not see the returns you are looking for. But if your customers find your campaigns relevant they will look for those emails no matter where they land within their mailboxes.
Learn about other email deliverability solutions we provide at StrongMail.
Posted by: Spencer Kollas at 5:19 PM
January 27, 2011 | Spencer Kollas
If you've been having trouble getting into the inbox at Yahoo lately, it may be because of new Yahoo protocols for assigning email sender reputation that they began using in December. As first reported on Deliverability.com, Yahoo is now looking beyond just IP address and domain name of the sender to include the "From" name as well.
This means that your firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org are all being assigned different reputations, instead of an aggregate reputation based on any message from your core "@company" domain. Whatever is left of the @ sign is key, as Yahoo doesn't appear to be looking at the "friendly" From name.
Making things even more complicated, Yahoo is assigning unique reputations to each combination of From Name + Domain Name + IP Address. So, if you use two different IP addresses to send messages from email@example.com, then Yahoo is assigning a separate email sender reputation to each stream.
This change could have a positive or negative impact on your programs depending on your sending practices. If you've been playing it risky with one email stream because the other email messages you send balance out your email reputation, then it's likely that the one email stream will now go to the bulk folder, but you will continue to see good deliverability on the streams that more closely follow best practices. On the flip side, if one bad email slips out, it will only damage of the reputation for that From Name + Domain Name + IP Address combination.
The bottom line is that you should follow best practices across all of your mail streams and closely monitor deliverability for each From name that goes out from your domain.
Posted by: Spencer Kollas at 10:51 AM
May 18, 2010 | Spencer Kollas
As one of the largest webmail providers in the world, Microsoft has apparently decided that they will not sit back and watch others innovate. Instead, they have decided to re-invent themselves with the new Windows Live Hotmail.
I have spent a lot of time talking with users of Hotmail and other email clients, and based on those conversations, it looks like the new features they are introducing should be interesting for both users and marketers alike.
At the recent Email Insider Summit, it was discussed that there are three types of email users, and I believe understanding these types of users helped Microsoft build their new features.
- Piler—These are people that let their inbox grow and grow while only opening certain emails. They may have thousands, if not tens of thousands, of emails in their inbox that have never been opened
- Filer—These people keep most of their emails but make sure to put it in a certain file for future reference. There are less emails in the physical inbox, but all of the messages are easily accessible for the user when they need them.
- Dumper—Think of the Piler, but every so often (say weekly) they simply delete all of their email that they feel are not important enough to respond to or keep.
So why is understanding these three types of email end-users important with regards to the Re-Invention of Windows Live Hotmail? One of the major changes that will potentially affect marketers is the new Sweep function. This function will allow the users to keep their inbox clean while filing or deleting messages from certain mailers or types of messages such as social networking messages.
According to the Microsoft blog, after a lot of research, they decided to focus on 4 key areas to help their end users:
- Take back your inbox. We help you quickly get to the important messages and get rid of the mail you don’t want.
- Get more done with the mail you receive. Do more without leaving your inbox, so that you don’t have to open a bunch of browser windows just to get simple things done.
- Share over email. Stop hassling with attachment size limits – whether you’re sending hundreds of large photos or massive documents. View, edit, and share Microsoft Office documents even if you or the people you’re sharing with don’t have Office installed on their computers – PC or Mac.
- Connect from your phone. Sync your email, calendar, and contacts on your mobile devices – whether you’re using a smart phone like the forthcoming Windows Phone 7, or the iPhone, or a phone that just has a simple browser.
Another important item for marketers to understand is the new Windows Live Hotmail is also integrated with the Office Web Apps, which means you can edit documents directly from your inbox. There is also the new SkyDrive which allows you to store documents in a cloud so there is less concern around file size. I am still unsure how this will work with marketing emails, but it is something that we will need to keep our eye on.
You can find out more about the entire new feature set on the Windows Live Blog.