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Email Marketing in a Filtered World

Email filters have become extremely effective at parsing what they believe to be important.

They are equally effective at hiding what should consume less of our attention.  As someone who receives hundreds of emails a day at work, I am eternally grateful. As a digital marketer, I am not pleased. 

Gmail introduced their filter tabs some time ago. Default tabs include Primary, Social, Promotions and Updates. Gmail dutifully files messages under the tab it believes is best. Microsoft Outlook introduced Clutter. No tabs. Just one, single, giant virtual Clutter drawer. The problem, of course, is that your email marketing messages, even when carefully planned and crafted, risk being filtered. Lower deliverability rates. Lower open rates. Lower ROI.

Dodging these filters can feel like a relentless mission in the quest to get email marketing campaigns read by clients and prospects. At stake here is your open rate and overall email marketing ROI. Whether or not you end up in the filtered mail, depends a lot on reputation score. Your reputation is a factor of your firm's specific email marketing practices AND the overall reputation of the email marketing platform you use.

Gmail, Yahoo, Office365 and MS Exchange all score your reputation differently using their own proprietary methods. This score drives where your email lands. The cards can be tipped in your favor by delivering good content and following email marketing best practices.


How Email Marketing Platforms Drive Reputation

Technology platforms that are specifically designed for Email Marketing are referred to as ESPs or Email Service Providers. ESPs each have different reputations. Ones that offer dedicated IP addresses and allow sends from a private domain facilitate higher reputation scores. Marketo , Eloqua , Salesforce Marketing Cloud , Silverpop , and Bronto all fall in this category.  

  • Why is a private domain important? Sending from your private domain allows email campaigns to look like they are truly coming from your firm versus the ESP’s platform. This provides a better connection to your brand and higher subscriber engagement.
  • What is a dedicated IP and how does it impact reputation? An IP is a digital address. Email campaigns are sent from a specific IP. Think of your IP address as the digital "neighborhood" that your email campaigns come from. If you use a shared IP, you can't control who else is in the "neighborhood" and what messages they are sending (think adult content). Your digital neighbors are an indicator of the company you keep and can cause your reputation as a sender to suffer. Use a dedicated IP to send your email campaigns.
  • Email authentication increases your sending reputation and should be set up within your ESP account. SPF and DKIM are two protocols for mail authentication.
  • New ESP accounts need to be warmed up. Warming involves slowly increasing the volume of sends over the course of a few weeks. Watch your spam complaints and deliverability during the warming period.

Subscriber Management and List Source Score Quality

  • Welcome your subscribers with a campaign specifically targeted for onboarding. Share some of the exciting content they will see as a new subscriber. This will remind them who you are, what they will get and why they will get it. This typically lowers spam complaints and, thus, filtering.
  • Always use opt-in. Most ESPs suggest a double opt-in approach.
  • Poor quality lists can result in your account with the ESP being blacklisted. This can be difficult to untangle and will negatively impact filtering.
  • Should you buy a subscriber list? Usually not. The exception here is a trade show, industry association or group with which you already have some association. Purchased lists frequently result in spam complaints which impact your sending reputation.
  • A new, large subscriber list should be warmed or you risk higher spam complaints and a negative impact on your reputation.

Subscriber Engagement Shields from Filter

  • The single most important criteria for filtering is subscriber engagement. Subscriber engagement is measured by opens, reads, replies and forwards. Higher subscriber engagement with your campaigns results in less filtering.  
  • Encourage engagement by:
    • Specifically requesting subscribers add you to their address book or safe senders list or pull your campaign from the Promotions tab to the Primary tab.
    • Be consistent with the From Address. Changing your From Address can start the whole process over. Use a Reply Address that is either a person or a role in your organization such as contact@ or editor@.
    • Be consistent in your send frequency. Campaigns that are spaced too far apart can result in subscribers not remembering your firm and unsubscribing. Campaigns that are too frequent can increase unsubscribe rates as well. 
    • Above all else, deliver compelling content.
  • Beyond encouraging engagement, certain format triggers can cause the content to be filtered. Avoid special characters such as exclamation points, ALL CAPS and trigger words such as free or limited.
  • A high image to text ratio will also trip the filters. Strive for a 50/50 split.

Monitoring Results

  • Most ESPs offer robust testing for spam results prior to sending. Be sure and test using different email client simulations.
  • For ultimate testing, set up test accounts at the various ISPs such as Gmail, Office365 and others. Include those test accounts in your subscriber list and log in to see how the campaign performs for each specific ISP during your testing.
  • Monitor your deliverability and open rates for spikes and trends.

As email marketers, we need to be good stewards of this communication channel. The filters are certainly not going away. In fact, they continue to grow smarter. The best antidote is to use best practices to deliver highly engaging content to the right subscribers at the right frequency.

Contact us to learn more about how your brand can master email marketing in a filtered world.

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