Last week, a friend of mine called in a favor. He was prepping for a big job interview and while he had great experience in interactive, he was begging me for a “crash course” in email marketing. As a true EMN (Email Marketing Nerd-ess), I couldn’t wait to impart some of what bounces around in my head all day.
After about 15 minutes, I’d already used the word deliverability 50 times. I wanted to be sure my friend understood that shooting emails out and delivering emails wasn’t the same thing.
“So, how do I know if deliverability is bad?” Wow, I thought. Isn’t that a great question. I found myself offering him the Metrics to Watch speech. The list of warning signs goes something like this:
Metric to Watch #1: Bounce Rate – meaning, those emails that actually send a bounce message back at you. They could bounce because the address you tried to send to doesn’t really exist (a hard bounce) or mail is temporarily not getting through for any one of five hundred reasons. My example to him was if your bounce rate is higher than your reported Open Rate, you have a problem. (OK, this is oversimplified: in this case you’d have a BIG problem.)
If it’s your first send ever to a list you’ve been collecting for three months, a 5% bounce rate wouldn’t surprise me. If you’ve been collecting emails for three years… er, well, let’s just say you should do some list cleansing first. Ongoing, your permission-based list (since I pointed out that’s the only way to go) shouldn’t see much higher than a 1% bounce rate unless you’re sending B2B on Black Friday, getting tons of Out of Office messages. A valid marketer who uses an email service provider or some other method of automatically handling bounces should have a pretty clean list.
BUT, I explained to my friend, a low 1% bounce rate doesn’t mean you’re getting 99% of your emails delivered. (Unfortunately.) Email clients like Gmail and AOL don’t have any obligation to you, the sender, to deliver your mail. And if they decide you’re shady, they can decide not to deliver your emails… and never tell you about it. So how do you know? This brings us to the second metric.
Metric to Watch #2: Open Rate by Domain – meaning what your Open Rate @yahoo.com or @aol.com was in comparison to the overall average. If your Open Rate for a campaign is 22% and only 5% of your Yahoo! subscribers opened, that’s a big warning sign. In the best case scenario, you’re getting through to your subscribers but the images in your email are turned off (because Open Rate is tallied when images are pulled into the email). Be sure you have a “View as a webpage” option at the top of your emails. This will help you get a more accurate count of Opens since each click assumes an open as well.
Equally likely, your low Open Rate at Yahoo! is because you got junked or – worst case scenario – you didn’t get delivered at all. You can also get an idea of if this is the case by seeding your list and watching whether emails go Inbox, Junk or disappear.
Metric to Watch #3: Unsubscribes & Complaints – meaning people are telling you, with their mouse, that you’re not interesting. Everyone gets a steady flow of unsubscribes (“opt-out”) or complaints (“This is Spam”), but generally, a clean, happy list will stay between 0.1-0.5%. A spike in one or both of these metrics should set off some alarms. If suddenly a full 5% of your list is calling you spam, something went wrong. You may have sent something so uninteresting, out of character or (yikes) offensive that your subscribers are letting you know it’s not cool. Worse would be that something went logistically wrong: sending to the wrong list or an old copy of a list or broken images (since broken emails can look kind of like spam to a user).
My friend seemed sufficiently terrified about not reaching his email subscribers, but at least now he knows how to measure his success or failure in order to do something about it. I pointed him in the direction of some good deliverability help. Check out The eMail Guide’s posts on improving deliverability for some other smart people’s thoughts.
Takeaway: Keep an eye on your emails’ performance metrics like bounce rates, open rates and complaints to “listen” to your email subscribers and what they want and need.