Email Marketing Reputation. Explained. Part 4.

In previous blog posts we’ve looked at reputation management and some tips to see how we can keep up to date with our data. However, at some point or other, despite everyone’s best intentions, there will be people who no longer wish to interact with your email.

Hopefully they’ll respect the ways of email list management and unsubscribe in a nice attributable way, and we can then respect their wishes. Most people do behave in a sensible manner and use either the unsubscribe link in the email (you provided that in there, didn’t you?) or from the header (don’t worry about that one, we put that in there). However, some people do unsubscribe in other ways.

Sometimes they get the feeling that you’re not listening to them because they sent a reply to the campaign to you to tell you to stop. You reviewed the information and put it on your to-do list, however the day got away from you, and the campaign you sent out that evening got to that recipient’s inbox before you’d had the chance to manually suppress that record. So they decided that they’d rather inform their ISP that you’re not listening to them and they put a complaint in about you.

Complaint Lists.

The bigger ISPs (Verizon, Microsoft and Google) all run what are called Complaint Lists. This is where (unsurprisingly) they manage and maintain a list of complaints about email campaigns. Whilst exact practices for handling complaints are hard to come by unless you know the ISP, what happens in principle is this: They review the header information of the email that you sent out, and take a note of the IP address (remember that IP reputation we discussed in a previous blog) and Header information. From this they start to compile a list of campaigns from either your subdomain or the IP you’re sending from.

If an ISP sees a significant number of people complaining about the same message, it will start flagging these on a Complaint List against the IP Address from which the messages originated (remember, they’re buried in the header and can’t be changed). Once this starts happening, then you have to be careful because once you near 0.5% of the recipients you’ve targeted on your campaign at that ISP, you will start to be viewed as a Bad Sender and that’s when you can run into problems. This score gets used in the rules to determine how your next email campaign will be handled next time. Just like the stock market, however, these scores can go down as well as up. I’m guessing you’re wanting the scores to go down as they’re a negative factor in deliverability. And if you’re behaving like a good sender, they will go down.

It should go without saying (particularly in light of the various Privacy laws enacted around the world such as GDPR, CAN-SPAM, PECR etc) that being able to prove that the person you’ve sent to actually requested this stuff is the best situation because you have what is called Proof of Optin. This isn’t a get out of jail free card, but does at least show that at some time the recipient interacted with you and you are only doing what you told them you’d do all along (you did tell them you were going to email them, right? And they did agree that that was OK? Good, just Checking!)

Sensible precautions

It should go without saying but always ensure that you can prove optin for people you’re sending to. Historically, companies that have bought data are on very dodgy ground here, particularly if the list in any way pre-dates legislation. Even today, most bought data is fraught with risk so we would strongly advise against using it (it’s even part of our Terms and Conditions that you mustn’t use bought data). It therefore makes sense to ensure that you’re using the best possible data collection methods and always make it clear to recipients (either by a Welcome Automation or similar series of messages to explain) what you’re going to be sending these people, and how often you’re going to be doing it. This minimises the likelihood that someone’s going to complain. The last thing your marketing team needs to be doing is to spend time fixing a reputation that was damaged because of an oversight or a desperate attempt to grow your audience which backfires on you.

We have already reviewed Complaint Lists above, so let’s review two other key factors:

  • Unsubscribe rates
  • Targeting dead domains

Unsubscribe rates

Unsubscribe rates are (unsurprisingly) the rate at which individuals unsubscribe from your campaigns. I realise this is a painful subject because nobody wants to hear that they do not want to be heard. But sadly in this world, people do unsubscribe. There’s two or three things to consider when reviewing this:

  • Feedback Loops
  • List-Header unsubscribes
  • Unsubscribes

As I said none of these are particularly desirable, but let’s look into feedback loops to de-mystify what these actually are.

Feedback Loops

Feedback Loops are a mechanism by which ISPs (providers such as Microsoft, Gmail, etc) let ESPs and general senders know that someone has declared that a message has been flagged as Junk or Spam. Clearly this is a bad thing but on the other hand it’s telling you something about that content (or more probably the subject line, since people don’t tend to read emails if they don’t like the Subject Line or the Sender).

In any case it’s worth taking a closer look at this. You should probably use something like our in-platform Spam checker to see if you’ve used words that may get you into trouble – using numbers to substitute for letters (a very old spamming technique was to replace these to offer a R0l3x or Br31tl1ng watch) or offering monetary rewards in the subject lines, capitalising the entire subject line or incentivising in some manner are all likely to be reasons why people object. Steering clear of these sorts of behaviour will definitely make a difference to deliverability overall.

Targeting Dead Domains

This is something to be avoided. You might say to yourself, well, if the domain is dead, why do I need to worry? The answer is simple: at some point in the future it might not be. And what’s so bad about that? I hear you ask? If a domain expires, and the people who purchased it the first time around do not bother to renew it, they are probably no longer in a position to use it. They might have ceased trading, or wound the company up, or it might have been bought out.

Either way, the domain no longer serves its purpose. And assuming that the people who previously owned the domain are still engaging with you as a business, the old email addresses are no longer valid. So where’s the harm?

Aside from the loss of credits for each of those you’re sending to, there’s the added problems that you’re skewing your numbers which you’re reporting on, and you’re potentially sending to a domain that could just reactivate at any time. The problem is that the people who reactivate the domain may not necessarily do so for the purpose of resuming business, but may decide to designate some addresses as spam traps.

At this point you’re now suddenly accused of targeting people who haven’t subscribed to your emails (and we all know how that could play with GDPR legislation for one thing). Further, you could wind up getting your IP address blacklisted. For a similar reason typo’d domains are a bad idea too. You might think you’re not going to run into problems with instead of, but sadly this is not the case.

Computers, you see, are either incredibly efficient or incredibly stupid, depending on your viewpoint. I mean, you and I both know that the recipient meant to say but typed Could you change it? Yes. Should you change it? No.

You’ve got no knowledge of whether this was intentional or not. Therefore you can’t make that judgement call. Again, you might think this was no great big deal but there’s two problems at play here – one, you’re using your credits targeting an individual you cannot reach, and two, despite the fact that that doesn’t look like a real domain, it is. And there’s an active mail server sat on it.

I can’t tell you if the recipients on that server are genuine or not, but this is just an example of how a previously non-existent or formerly occupied domain can get you into some pretty hot water. And we don’t need that, do we?

So what can we do about it?

List Hygiene

Cleaning lists is a great idea because you’re explicitly removing the people who are no longer interested in or have never engaged in the emails you’ve been sending. I’m not talking about removing people who’ve signed up and are reading your emails, even if they’ve not committed to a purchase recently, or ever for that matter. I’m referring to those individuals who you can’t target, because the emails have bounced or are now blocked. When you send to addresses that give explicit permission for it, you have a higher chance of getting your emails delivered. It should therefore go without saying that targeting people who are engaged, you’re more likely to make a sale.

It’s a good idea to make sure that your unsubscribe button works and send content that your subscribers actually want to receive. Call me old-fashioned, but it’s probably a good idea to stick with the obvious things you have explained that you’re telling people about. Going off at a tangent is sometimes unavoidable (for example, I’m willing to bet that you’ve had to explain your company’s policies and/or opening hours recently owing to these extraordinary circumstances), but as long as it’s the exception, rather than the norm, it’ll be accepted well, and shouldn’t create a large volume of unsubscribes.

Now that we know and understand these factors we can use this information to ensure we’re maintaining reputation and best practice. We’re always available for guidance and discussion surrounding this and other factors, so you can always reach out to your Account Manager or Customer Success Manager to seek guidance.

In the next part we’ll look at getting on a Blacklist, the hows, whys (or rather why nots), and what you can do in that situation.

Meet the author

Marcus Webb

Senior Technical Services Executive

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