So, it turns out, it's not what you say, it's how you say it.
Okay, what you say matters, too. But according to a new report, it matters less than you'd think, at least when it comes to getting your invited email messages into the intended inboxes. A new report dispels the widely held myth that message content is the key reason ISPs filter legitimate email marketing messages.
The Lyris EmailAdvisor ISP Deliverability Report Card for Q1 2007 is a quarterly research study that monitors deliverability rates for permission-based email marketing. Lyris ran more than 1,705 unique emails through the EmailAdvisor content scoring application. This application uses a subset of the content scoring rules from the widely adopted Spam Assassin open source project and scores the content for the probability that it will trigger spam filters. The average content point score was 1.04, well below the filter's generally accepted spam identification level of 3.0 or higher. A PDF of the report can be downloaded here.
The results reveal that message content is not a major cause of deliverability challenges for most email marketers. Of the top 10 types of content that most often trigger spam scores, only two appeared with a frequency that might cause concern. Fortunately, they're easily correctable for most marketers:
- Heavy use of images, which can increase spam scores up to a full point and render poorly in email clients with image blocking enabled.
- Sending messages with a "From Name" composed of numbers or symbols rather than an actual name.
No quick deliverability fixes (sorry!)
For those of you searching for the magic word -- the word that, once removed, will suddenly land your email messages in the inbox of every one of your recipients -- well, sorry. There is no magic word, no lever to pull, no button to push. But the good news is, you can improve deliverability.
Take the industry for adult content, for example. I'm talking about legitimate pornographic content: websites and distributors with paid subscribers who expect those emails to get through. There is no industry more closely watched and no email content more likely to trigger spam filters.
Yet, legitimate messages from purveyors of pornography or other sex-related content do manage to successfully land in inboxes. How? The senders scrupulously follow best practices and manage their reputations. They use double confirmed opt-ins, they scrub their lists regularly, and they're quick to respond when someone complains.
Ultimately, no matter what you're selling or communicating, successful email delivery comes down to your reputation as an email sender. And a reputation is something that can only be managed by strictly and consistently adhering to email marketing best practices.
Let's begin with where delivery challenges most often originate: with negative subscriber feedback. This feedback can include recipients who mark your messages as spam in their respective email clients or those who go so far as to call your ISP to complain.
Other factors that can adversely affect your reputation -- and therefore your deliverability rates -- include problematic traffic patterns (like bounces and spam trap hits), your mailing history, overly ambitious data collection practices, and a lack of sender authentication protocols.
So, what can you do?
- From your first communication, set up clear expectations. Tell people how to sign up or opt-in, and tell them exactly what they're opting-in to. Tell them how often they'll receive something from you and what it will be. Tell them how to opt out. Make them confirm the registration, and again remind them what it's for.
- Be aware of the company you keep. If your customer service department works hard to follow best practices, but your marketing department does not, then -- just like your mom warned you -- you'll suffer guilt by association. Don't learn this the hard way; if your friends smoke, your clothes will reek, too.
- Sometimes reputation is a matter of IP address. If it's new, the ISPs tend to be wary. Obviously, there are legitimate reasons that you might have a new IP address; if you're switching providers, for example. But if you have to switch, ramp up slowly.
And now for the inevitable exception that proves the rule. While we've already established that content is not the biggest bouncer at the door, sometimes a little sweet talk just might get you inside. For those who've maintained a positive reputation, followed best practices consistently and have a fairly clean list, but still can't quite achieve the deliverability rates they want, sometimes changing a content element can help. For example, one of my customers initially was getting blocked when sending just HTML, but when he added a text portion to the message, the inbox delivery rates increased.
But trying to "game" the content filters won't get you unblocked or out of the spam folder if people complain about your email.
Send what people want, prove your company to be a safe, trusted sender, and you won't need to sweat image sizes or funny "From" addresses.
Wendy Roth is the strategic account manager for Lyris Technologies. .