A User’s Guide to Email Deliverability

Chances are, you’ve been hearing the phrase “email deliverability” frequently over the past few years. It’s impossible not to notice the changes that have taken place even in our personal inboxes over time with the additions of tabs and Google’s Smart Unsubscribe feature pictured below.

For those who are new to the practice of monitoring and/or optimizing your email messaging to ensure it lands in the hands of the right people, consider this your intro guide.


Email Deliverability: What Is It?


Email deliverability is a metric for the rate of success you have at getting your messages into people’s inboxes. More specifically, email deliverability is about getting emails placed optimally within inboxes.

Email Service Providers, or ESPs, determine whether or not your emails will be delivered based on hundreds of different metrics that are changing frequently. If an ESP sees that emails you send are often marked as spam, deleted without being read, unopened, or not opened or clicked generally, they can (and will) start dropping your email into spam folders.

So who are these top ESPs?

  • Gmail
  • AOL
  • Hotmail
  • Yahoo

Common Causes of a Bad Spam Rating:

  1. Using an out of date email list: Sending emails to email addresses that have been abandoned or are otherwise out of date will increase your spam rating.
  2. Sending irrelevant email: Poor list segmentation can result in different audiences all receiving the same messaging and consequently for some subscribers, the information will be irrelevant, resulting in lower opens and clicks and higher spam rates. Dynamic content, thoughtful list segmentation, and personalization can help lower this risk.
  3. Making unsubscribing difficult: If it is difficult to unsubscribe, users may just mark your email as spam. Including a one-click unsubscribe link can help mitigate this.
  4. High complaint rate: Sending emails that are not relevant, with the wrong messaging, and at a frequency that the recipient finds too aggressive can result in high complaints or people tuning you out, resulting in too many emails going straight to trash.


How Much Does Email Deliverability Cost Nonprofits?


According to EveryAction’s 2018 Nonprofit Email Deliverability Study, nonprofits lost close to $30K on average in 2017 because of spam. 

For an email file made up of 100,000 names, a nonprofit sending 24 fundraising appeals per year stands to gain an increase of 25% more revenue by improving email deliverability. The report continued to dive into the impact of spam.


Steps to Improvement


The impact of not working to improve deliverability is stark. One organization sent 61% more emails YoY during the 2018 end-of-year season compared to 2017; however, despite that increased volume, they also saw a decrease in the number of donations and total revenue — and a more than a 40% decrease in email response rate.

During end-of-year 2019, we had tighter suppressions in place that allowed for the client to keep email volume high and increase email appeal revenue by 14% YoY. We also saw a sizeable increase in the number of prospects that converted to donors by email: 55% YoY (10x the increase from the previous year).

When email represents a significant portion of your digital revenue, especially during year-end, the need to act is very real. With year-end, just 9 months away (and planning right around the corner), now is the time to start to optimize your lists. By starting early it will give you an ample amount of time to execute the below strategies—and get your lists in the best shape they could possibly be in ahead of November and December. 

Here’s where we suggest you start working to improve your deliverability:

  1. Welcome Series Rehab – Develop multiple, tailored onboarding email series to engage the new members of the email file as they come on. Consider the top content and sources by which you’re acquiring new email names and create a structured workflow for each of them.
  2. Segment for Success – Monitor the creative, tactical and content of your regular emails (beyond email appeals) and measure performance by the various donor and lead segments on your file, either by segmenting before the send or analyzing retroactively. Determine if certain segments respond to the different approaches and iterate accordingly.
  3. Stagger Your Sends – Upon identifying the segments of your list that are most commonly engaging, consider mixing in engaged email recipients throughout your segments to ensure they help boost send groups. Then, stagger your email sends by the percentage mix of engaged to unengaged to help ESPs recognize your content as quality early on.
  4. Suppress Hard Bounces – Suppress email addresses that have a hard bounce count of two or more. Create a process by which to clean up hard bounce emails manually while they have a hard bounce count of one (for example, changing gmal.com to gmail.com).
  5. Suppress Inactives and Set Your Standards – Suppress email records on your file that have not engaged after an extended period of time. Some organizations treat donors that haven’t engaged with them differently than they would leads or prospects that haven’t engaged with them. Engage your internal teams to come up with a go-to agreement so you don’t have to recreate the wheel in times of urgency. The last thing you want is to send the wrong message during a crisis or key fundraising campaign like year-end. By having a plan in place, it will allow your team to pivot and execute quickly and effectively. 
  6. Develop a Goodbye Series – Develop an “offboarding” email series that’s designed to prevent people from becoming a member of the inactive suppression. These series should look, sound and feel different than your normal institutional messaging. These could be set up to send dynamically out of your eCRM over a few weeks before they join the inactive suppression.
  7. Check your HTML – Make sure your email code is compliant to a standard called W3C. You can use this tool to make sure your code is compliant: http://jigsaw.w3.org/css-validator/
  8. Reach Out to Your eCRM Provider – Inquire about if they have any resources/insights to help you. (Trust us, you won’t be the first to ask them.)

By taking these eight steps, you should see a boost to your email deliverability. As we test and prove new methods of improving email performance, we’ll be sure to let you know. 

In the meantime, we’re here to help. Contact us to chat about your email deliverability needs.

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