2021 is a fresh start. Are your email marketing campaigns primed and ready? Is your email marketing program a well-oiled machine or a clunker?
Whether you’re new to email marketing or a seasoned pro, now is the time to clean the gunk out of your email campaign to prime yourself for lasting success. Validity has the five-point inspection you need to help you diagnose issues, tune-up, and get your email marketing ROI in gear. This article helps you:
- Stop flying blind and chart your journey to success;
- Avoid block listings and other inbox placement snafus; and
- Put in place an email “insurance policy” to protect your brand.
Plus you’ll get tips and tricks to keep your program running smoothly today and tomorrow, thanks to a comprehensive and consistent tune-up you can apply regularly.
Read this article to get step-by-step instructions to take control of your email performance so you can hit the ground running in 2021.
- Strategies for benchmarking and monitoring improvements or declines in success
- Solutions for issues plaguing your campaigns, slowing down ROI
- Tips and insight into common performance potholes to avoid to stay on track
- Turn your email marketing program into a luxury ride impressing not only your subscribers but your stakeholders, too.
Table of contents
Introduction: What brings you in today?
Though life would be much easier, email marketing is not something you can “set and forget.” Sure, there is a multitude of ways to automate, standardize, and streamline your email operations to function like a well-oiled machine. But even the most efficient machines need ongoing maintenance.
Consider this guide your mechanic. We’re going to walk you through the five points of the inspection your email program needs to pass before you can consider it in good working order. This might be your first time servicing your email program, or maybe you just haven’t looked under the hood as frequently as you’d like, but no matter what brings you here, you’ll now have the tools to keep your email marketing machine running smoothly.
Audit your program to benchmark your performance
Since this is the first time at our shop, we’ll want to start you off from square one. This means we’ll want to first take a look under the hood to get a sense of what we’re working with here.
How many emails are you sending and how frequently?
Think of this as your miles were driven in an average month. Are you going long distances (huge sends) relatively frequently (weekly or more)? Or are you sporadic or more casual, only asking your email marketing to really work for you a couple of times per month with not a huge list of recipients? Keep these numbers close. Over time, you’re going to refer to your volume and frequency to build context around other metrics, like positive and negative engagement signals. This is your standard operating procedure, and it will likely be one of the first things you consider changing if you notice you’re not getting the mileage you need out of your campaigns.
When was your last tune-up?
Are you working with months, or years, of unaddressed data? Have you ever really analyzed your program for effectiveness? We won’t judge if you haven’t but be honest with yourself when thinking about what you’re facing. If this is the first time you’re trying to improve your email marketing performance, or if you’ve inherited a program you don’t know too much about, our advice is to consider this a chance to overhaul and make it your own. The more work you put into the first time you do this check-up, the easier subsequent checks will be, revealing clearer paths to optimization.
How’s your program running?
What metrics are most important to you, and how are you performing in each of those areas? If looking at these numbers indicate there’s some rattling under the hood, it’s a good thing! You have areas on which to focus. If you’re not sure how it’s going, that can be a good thing, too. This tune-up is a perfect opportunity to give you the visibility and context you need to understand your performance and improve it.
Authenticate your email
Like any piece of high-liability machinery, you want to ensure your email program won’t do any damage to yourself or the people it reaches. Without email authentication, you’re at risk for a devastating accident that could cost your brand money, reputation, and consumer trust. Even worse, if your brand is used in phishing or otherwise malicious email scam and recipients fall prey to it, you could find yourself the victim of a data hacking scheme, or your loyal customers could lose their own money. It is truly a disaster waiting to happen.
Consider this your insurance policy. Getting to an ironclad security protocol can be a tiered approach, so don’t be overwhelmed by avoiding it altogether. Start with learning about email authentication protocols such as DKIM and SPF to verify you are who you say you are. Then introduce a basic DMARC policy, p=none, then move to a stricter p=quarantine policy. Finally, enact the p=reject DMARC policy and consider yourself the gold standard in protection.
What is DMARC and what are the policies?
- P=none: You’re simply monitoring. This allows you to see any mail not originating from authorized sources and asks you to address them to your standards.
- P=quarantine: Now you’re a little more sophisticated. You’re asking mail without proper alignment to be quarantined. Instead of simply watching, you’re starting to take action on things deemed phishy.
- P=reject: Not today, phishers and email hijackers! Once you level up to the strictest, more secure DMARC policy, you dictate any email not aligning to standards be outright rejected rather than separated from the rest of the delivered mail.
How do you get DMARC going? Customers using our email solution Everest can rely on us to do the mechanics. Here’s your role:
- Pick a policy type
- Ensure you are sending your reports to our reporting addresses (this is included in the policy)
- Add the TXT record to your DNS provider
- Add the domain to Everest Infrastructure
- Watch the data flow in as you send mail!
Clean your lists
Dump all the dirty stuff.
And “dirty” is a big word here. Just like you’d never allow a mechanic to simply add more oil of unknown origin into your car, you need to ensure you’re getting rid of the gunk and only allowing premium material into your program.
It’s time to clean your recipient lists. This can be scary because you have a database of people you likely use in ROI calculations or pipeline forecasts, but the truth is, bad data is a major factor in missed goals. The hard truth is, a cleaner, the better list is more reliable and has a greater potential for conversions than a bloated list with duplicates, errors, and trap damaging your sender reputation.
Clean your lists based on several factors:
At the very least, if your unsubscribe process is not automated already, ensure anyone who’s unsubscribed is off your lists. It’s simple. It’s the law.
Remove any addresses consistently bouncing (hard or soft), any who have complained about your messages, and any addresses you suspect are spam traps. How do you know if you’re hitting spam traps? Use a deliverability monitoring tool like Everest to help you keep an eye on trap volume, otherwise, you could accidentally collect so many negative signals that you end up blocklisted, in which a mailbox provider completely blocks delivery of your mail. Fixing a blocklisting is way harder than proactively doing maintenance to avoid the damage, so if your ESP isn’t giving you the data you need, consider more advanced tools.
What is a Spam Trap?
Pristine: These addresses have never been used by real humans, meaning if you have one on your list, it wasn’t given to you by a person. Instead, it’s likely been scraped from a website, was a guess someone made based on a naming convention or likely domain, or otherwise relatively nefarious in nature. Pristine addresses are created by mailbox providers (MBPs) to identify poor collection practices and punish as necessary.
Recycled: While the address was used by a real human at some point, it sat inactive for such a long time that an MBP reclaimed it and turned it into one of their traps. Remember your first email address? Yes, cringe. If you’ve abandoned it like other things from your distant past, your first email address may be a recycled trap.
Typo: They are exactly what they sound like. Typo traps are simple misspellings in the domain, such as gmall.com or yaho.com, or even common names, like JenniffeerJones@whatever.com. The thought is, if there is a flagrant error in the address, it’s likely not typed in by the user themselves and is instead manually entered into a database where human error is more likely. Not all addresses with typos are traps, though, because everyone is liable to fat-finger, which is why a technology to screen those out is your safest bet.
This is the hardest decision to make, but it’s important to prune your lists of unengaged subscribers even if they opted-in and haven’t been complaining. If you notice certain addresses not opening your mail and deleting before reading for a determined period of time (this could be six months or even a year, this is based on your comfort level), you should remove them.
Why? The longer you continue to email unengaged subscribers, not only do you run the risk they’ll finally snap and report you as spam, but mailbox providers look at engagement signals closely. At some point, you start to look like you’re spamming people who don’t want to hear from you because they haven’t given you any indication they actually want your mail. Listen to your subscribers, even when it seems they aren’t telling you anything at all.
Replace your data filter
This isn’t an upsell or a hustle. Even if your email program is relatively new (or new to you), unless you have a quality filter, you could be letting in all kinds of junk data.
Old and dirty data clogs your CRM. In fact, without junk data, you’d have little to no problems with spam traps and hard bounces. If these are issues you face, you need to replace whatever filter you’re using… and we won’t judge if there’s no filter at all. Most email marketers aren’t using the latest data quality technology to ensure lists aren’t filling up with bad addresses. Much like authentication, you can do this in several ways.
- The basic form of address validation is simply confirmed opt-in. This is when someone supplies an email address on your subscription form and you send them back an email welcoming them and requiring them to confirm they meant to provide their consent. If the email bounces or they don’t complete the required step, the address isn’t added to the list.
- Not only is this step one toward better data, but it also provides you the record of solid consent if there is ever any question about your sending practices, especially if you live in an area with strict privacy legislation.
- You can also run already-collected addresses through a list validation technology like Validity’s BriteVerify. You upload your lists and the tool goes to work identifying good, bad, and risky addresses, with nuanced detail so you can choose which to keep and which to cull.
- If you want to keep things totally clean with the strictest filter possible, consider using Everest’s Single Address Validation API. This ties the validation technology to the address-collecting form field and enables you to keep bad addresses from your lists altogether. When a subscriber enters an address with a typo, for example, the field can catch it in real-time and suggest a correction. It can also catch potential spam traps or invalid addresses, helping you reduce the amount of bad data finding its way into your database.
The cleaner your data, the easier each subsequent check-up on your program will be, thanks to a standard of practice well beyond the bare minimum. Yes, it’s an investment of time and possibly money, but you’ll reap the rewards quickly.
Monitor between full-scale maintenance
Congratulations. We’re ready to close the hood and fire this bad boy back up. How are you feeling? Hopefully, you’re feeling cleaner, meaner, and ready to put the pedal to the metal.
While the work on the tune-up is done, your job keeping your email marketing machine in efficient working condition continues. Ongoing monitoring is vital for continued success. Did the email version of your check engine light flick on? Pop the hood again. And thus, the cycle of maintenance continues.
Here are the things you should periodically be watching to keep your program in gear. You’ll find these metrics relatively easily through your email service provider, but you can get truly nuanced metrics like delete-before-read, read time, the performance by mailbox provider and device, and so much more from a tool like Everest. The better your diagnostics, the clearer your path to repair.
- Inbox placement rate: What percentage of your email is reaching inboxes? If you stray negatively from your benchmark number recorded at the start of this exercise, it’s time to start tweaking your overall sending practices. This could be an issue with your sender reputation, your deliverability, and will need a holistic resolution incorporating list hygiene, content decisions, authentication, and more.
- Bounce rate: If you’re noticing more bounced emails than usual, your list is getting dirty. It’s time to clean. Refer to Check 3 to find strategies to implement, and if you’re already doing manual hygiene, it might be time to explore the technologies outlined in Check 4.
- Open and click rates: Are your opens or clicks on a downward trend, but you haven’t changed anything of substance? That’s likely the issue. Think about your frequency and volume, and consider if there are more ways to personalize and segment your approach. Maybe consider adding a preference center so subscribers can tailor your brand’s email cadence, or do some content testing across groups to see if you need to adjust your content overall.
What we learned
Of course, this is an inexhaustive list. Only you will know if something isn’t quite right, and now that you’ve become acquainted with how you want your campaigns to run and what it takes to keep them in good, working order, you can troubleshoot as you go.
Lots of email marketers only take their deliverability seriously when it completely breaks down, but not you. Not today. You have the tools you need to avoid a total wreck, and even in the case of an accident, you have a checklist to get you back in gear.