Engagement is currently one of the hottest topics in Email Marketing success at the moment because more and more ISPs and Inbox Hosts are using their users’ engagement with your emails to decide how to allow your emails in. In order to help optimise your inbox placement, content freedom and open reach: it helps to know what could be causing engagement problems and how to attend to them.
Here are four main factors for disengagement, unsurprisingly deliverability has the most copy about it but it should not be the biggest cause if you collect and treat your data well. All of these things need to be considered when you upgrade your programs to include engagement monitoring and targeting to optimise results…
The obvious one is list fatigue. People have been on your list for a while, you’ve been emailing them regularly with the same stuff for a while and some of them deprioritised you. They don’t opt-out but they don’t open.
You can get through to these people by mixing it up a bit, more with subject lines than anything else. These people are whom a re-engagement campaign are for; segment by engagement levels, find the people who have opened at all but not for a while and talk to them differently than those who have recently. These people are not opening your emails so the only touch point you have is the subject line, use it wisely, use it better. Be relevant, be novel, be different and even remarkable. Test, test, test!
And while you are at it, don’t forget: those that see your subject line still see you your subject line! So even if they don’t open the email, you have exposure, so consider the story you are telling them over time. Where is the ending? Christmas? Easter? Summer Holidays? All of them?
2. Abandoned inbox
The owner of this address has got a new primary address and just left this one alone. They have already updated their main subscriptions: Amazon, their bank, Twitter, Facebook etc. They may have , at some point, intended to check it every so often just in case there is something they want to move over and may have done a couple that they couldn’t live without, eg: Groupon, Wowcher; and left some they found could, eg: Livingsocial etc etc. but now they are continuing their lives in joyful ignorance of the contents of their now long forgotten former email address.
At some point it is likely that this inbox will fill up and start to soft bounce, rejecting the emails because it has reached it’s storage capacity; where possible these should be spotted and opted out after 3 or 5 sends because you know it’s abandoned.
Eventually, the inbox provider or ISP, will see that this inbox is abandoned and decide to close it in order to save wasted space.
Once this happens, emails to this inbox will hard bounce, so as long as you are able to catch and suppress your bounces, you will not longer email it.
On some occasions, the Inbox provider will decide to re-open the inbox after a certain amount of months (commonly 7-14) and turn it into a spam recycled spam trap or a “zombie trap”. This email address will stop hard bouncing and start to accept emails; it will not register any other activity but will be very bad for your sender reputation in that particular ISP. As long as you have been emailing every address at least once a quarter since the day it signed up and you have been efficiently managing your hard bounces, you will catch it at the hard bounce and avoid the trap. If you, however, leave a list too long, try to wake up an old list or attain a list from elsewhere (purchase, rent etc.) you run the risk if acquiring spam traps which you will not know about until you have sent many emails to that list and you segment based on opens or lack of.
It may not be obvious but people sometimes spell their own address wrong. Email to these address might not always hard bounce either, they will simply swallow email up like a black hole.
Sadly some typo black-hole domains have been acquired by email security organisations and act like zombie traps.
It is worth while avoiding getting them on your list in the first place but look out for them as you analyse records which have never reacted to an email from you.
If the typo is in the prefix you may never know it is a typo, so it is best to try to help the user spell it right when they first sign-up.
One variable which really helps to eliminate is your ability to get the email in front of the recipient in the first place. You cannot really know if they are worth trying to engage or if they are abandoned etc. if they are not getting the email for some reason or another, so you need to test for deliverability at some stage in a re-engagement process.
Normally this is one of the last things you do in a re-engagement process…
These problems can come in 5 main flavours:
- High Risk Content
Your content, from the copy to the HTML could be triggering content spam filters at recipient’s inboxes causing them to be catagorised as spam and consequently junked. This can from key words, image to text ratio, hidden content, phishing issues and more. How much of the content is tolerated can be decided upon by your sender reputation in that ISP…You get around this by experimenting with safer content just to get a reaction, eg: at least 60% text, upto 40% images & 3 images not all touching; plain text only with one or two tracked links or simply requesting a reply.
- Email Address & Domain Blocking
In clients like MS Outlook, if someone hits the spam button you don’t get to know about it, like you would from an ISP with a feedback loop; this means that when they hit the button your from address is blocklisted in that inbox, probably forever. There are a few inboxes which work this way, some installed clients some server side web-apps etc. Some can even tell the mail admin about it and cause them block all mail from that address to all users. Most of these are business servers of course. Some of these servicesYou can get around this by targeting people who have not opened in a long while from a different email address all together with a reminder of who you are and how they know you.
- Bad Reputation
If your reputation in a particular ISP is not good your inbox placement and general email acceptance can be at risk. As you may or may not already know, your reputation is a direct result of your recipient’s reactions to your emails in that ISP or inbox host. So recipients hitting the spam button a lot is bad and high number of opens and replies is good – the main point is to prioritise messaging rather than marketing and then give users the opportunity to manually safelist marketing emails with various flagging options.If you collect your subscribers in the right way, this should never be a real problem for you and you could explore Sender Score Certification to remove further ambiguity.
If your data collection methods do push the ISP’s and recipients’ definitions of permission, this is likely to be a problem for you. You will need to do a very good clean of your existing data and alter your methods or collection and emailing, in some cases severely, in order to prove to the ISPs that you deserve the inbox placement you want because you are essentially in breach of all of their Ts & Cs for email senders.
- Block listing
This is not really an engagement issue but more of a data collection and email compliance issue but will obviously cause lack of engagement because it is a sure fire way to avoid the inbox.
If you have previously hit space traps or been marked as spam by many recipients, you domain or IP address could have been blocklisted, this could have either been on a specific ISP or a more open backlist which other filters refer to. Most of these will allow you to apply for a delisting but there are correct answers to their questions and they can tell if you are lying. IP backlisting is slightly more common because there are more IP lists out there because it is an older and far more proven tool to stop real spammers. Some backlists are worse than others and some you are likely to know about because your ISP may have been listed as a result eg: Spamhaus.
The idea to avoid this is to only send to people who have provided their email address in the process of wanting to receive emails, not forced or sneaked; don’t buy lists, don’t scraped from the web and don’t guess addresses.
Once you have tidied up your act you can ask for delistings, although it would be worth experimenting with a new domain and IP.
Can you think of any more reasons, could some reasons be more important than others, do some reasons only apply to some senders?
[image source cynthiakane.com]