Reaching the Inbox Equals Revenue by Stephanie Miller @StephanieSAM

Reaching the Inbox Equals Revenue

There is a lot that can go wrong in email marketing after you hit “send.” In fact, about 20% of most email marketing never reaches the inbox – it goes to junk or missing altogether. We never see a bounce error message for those messages. They are just lost in the ether. And if the message is not in the inbox, it cannot earn a response. Imagine the revenue lift you would enjoy if all your metrics (opens, clicks, page views, conversions) rose by 10% or 20% – just by getting more of your messages in the inbox.

Many marketers are confounded at this. Why would the ISPs like Yahoo!, Gmail and Hotmail, along with thousands of B2B corporate system administrators, block our messages, especially if we have permission from subscribers?

The ISPs do it because it’s best for their customer – the subscriber. Subscriber complaints, measured with every click on that Report Spam button, serve as a proxy for subscriber satisfaction. Complaints are the largest element in sender reputation – the data that ISPs use to block or let messages reach the inbox. Subscribers complain (click the Report Spam) button when they are not happy with messages or if they arrive too frequently. They complain even if they gave you permission, are customers of your company, or even when they claim to love your brand. What they want is email that is helpful to them – helps them be smarter, do their jobs better, be more productive, beautiful or wealthier.

Help your subscribers, and they will engage with your marketing messages. Bore or annoy them, and they will complain.

Your practices and the number of complaints your program earns make up your sender reputation. You need to know your sender reputation in order to manage it. Check it free at sites like www.senderscore.org and www.dnsstuff.com. Sender reputation is one of the few “leading” indicators we have as email marketers. It tells us the likelihood of our messages reaching the inbox in the next 30 days. (The score is from 1-100. The lower the score, the less likely your messages are to reach the inbox.)

It also tells you the likely causes of a poor sender reputation. This might include complaints (subscribers clicking on the Report Spam button), unknown users (a high number of hard bounces that are not removed from the file prior to the next mailing), volume (either very high, very low or inconsistent sending can cause problems) and if you are listed on any major blacklists (external reputation).

Every email marketer has a Sender Score, which is a reflection of your sender reputation. It’s there whether you know it or not, or if you manage it or not. The major ISPs in North America and Europe (Yahoo!, Gmail, AOL, Orange, T-Online, etc), use this data in varying fashion to determine if your messages will reach the inbox. Content does matter, but we find that reputation is the real reason beyond the vast majority of inbox delivery or failure.

The good news is that keeping your Sender Score and your inbox delivery high is as easy as being a good marketer. Care about your subscribers and send them messages that they want to receive. Complaints will be low and your Sender Score will improve.

Smart marketers know that the key to maintaining revenue is to customize email messages in order to earn more purchases and transactions from an existing base of customers. More frequency (sending more promotional messages to these buyers) is not the answer. That is boring for the subscriber and not helpful. It doesn’t work in any channel – catalog, direct mail, store display, search or email.

There may be some in your organization who feel that sending more promotional email is too cheap to pass up. Certainly every time we send out an email broadcast, we earn revenue. However, just increasing frequency without increasing relevancy is short term thinking and could be disastrous for your list quality and inbox delivery. You may find that your unsubscribe requests, complaints and fatigue (subscribers completely ignoring your messages) all rise when frequency rises. Instead, take an active interest in helping your subscribers, and make sure your content and contact strategies are aligned with what the subscriber needs, not what you have to sell. Speak to their specific interests – what they like to buy, who they like to buy for, and how to get the most out of what they just bought.

A great way to develop a subscriber-focused content strategy is to understand the buying cycles and life stages of your subscribers. New subscribers may welcome more email than long time subscribers – or the opposite may be true! Subscribers up for product or service renewal, who recently purchased, who visited a particular section of your website, who abandoned their shopping cart, who clicked but didn’t convert, who downloaded a whitepaper, who haven’t opened or clicked in the last quarter — all those life stage points are great opportunities for tailored email messages. Even if the number of subscribers in each category is small compared to your total file size, the response rates on these types of high relevancy offers will blow away your normal rates

It’s worth actively managing your inbox deliverability. If 10%, 30% or (gasp!) 100% of your messages to Yahoo! or another ISP don’t arrive in the inbox for a 30 day period (the length of time many deliverability failures take to correct), what does that do to your revenue? Best to keep your sender reputation high now, before you find out how that lost revenue goes over in the executive suite!

Stephanie Miller @ www.returnpath.net Twitter @stephanieSAM

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