Dec 14, 2010

Daily Senders & Deliverability

Wow, your company is really taking off, and that daily email to four thousand subscribers has exploded to forty thousand subscribers.  Pretty soon it will be four hundred thousand, and maybe one day you’ll reach four million!  We’re really excited for you, and now that you’re growing, it’s time for us to have "the talk."  That’s right, it’s about revisiting your email marketing strategy.

Perhaps you’ve observed your bounce rate going up while your open and click rates went down.  Maybe you’ve had increasing problems with blocks, slow delivery, or a number of other issues.  As daily senders, you’re likely more aware of your deliverability than most, and it’s going to take a joint effort between you and your ESP to make sure it stays healthy.

The Facts of Life

You see, those first four thousand subscribers were in love with you.  They wanted your email every day, even if it was a text-only campaign with no colorful images sporting those eye-soothing rounded corners.  They never complained to their ISP about you.  If your email ended up in their spam folder, they dragged it out, added you to their address book, and sent a kind email to let you know there may be trouble.

That kind of devotion is rare, and it naturally diminishes as you grow.  The next group of subscribers love you, but they aren’t "in love" with you. Then you met a bunch of people who just like you.  I mean, they like you a lot, but they don’t like-like you the way your core subscribers do.  It’s okay, we understand.  If we can just re-inspire those original warm feelings, you’ll be seeing the love from your campaign stats in no time.

What You Can Do

I’m about to give you a secret sauce of magical solutions that will improve your campaigns in every way, but you won’t like it.  In fact, you’ll laugh at how naive and ridiculous some of these ideas are.  I’ll be so embarrassed!  For my sake, maybe you should just skip ahead.  No?  Okay, but I warned you.

Magical Solution #1

Send less email.  It’s simple really, only send your daily email to subscribers who want it every day.  Offer a weekly or monthly version to everyone else.  Your open and click rates will go up, and fewer people will feel compelled to hit the "Spam" button.

Pro Tip: You can target your most loyal and newest subscribers at the same time. When choosing a list for your next campaign, click "send to segment." Then set the Member Rating and Date Added filters as in the picture below. If you’ve had a spat of complaints or hard bounces and omnivore had to send you a warning, list segmenting is the quickest way to rehabilitate your account.

Segmenting a List Inside a Campaign

Segmenting List Inside a Campaign

Magical Solution #2

Improve your content.  If you need to send to your entire list every day, then make sure the content is rich and well rounded enough to be compelling to all.  ISPs are creating tools that put more and more power in the hands of your subscribers.  Every unopened email could be hurting your chances of reaching the inbox next time.

If applicable, consider segmenting your list by content.  Instead of sending the same long email to everyone, send the tech portion to your tech people, the shopping portion to your shopping people, and so forth.

While preparing for this blog, I came across something Ben wrote a few months ago.  It caught my eye as a good example of how you can and should take a hard look at your click stats.  The people who are exclusively clicking your tech, italian food, outdoor equipment, or potty humor links are prime candidates for targeted campaigns.  Yes, I am giving you the green light on an all potty humor email… for the customers.  I certainly don’t find that kind of thing amusing.  I’m too mature.  What was your user name again?

Magical Solution #3

Revise your list collection strategy.  Make sure your list is double opt-in to avoid hitting any spam traps or fake email accounts.  Be very clear with everyone who signs up that they will be receiving a daily email.  If there is a newsletter checkbox when a subscriber creates an account on your site, call more attention to it.  Subscribers who aren’t expecting your email are more likely to mark it as spam.  If enough people do this, the ISP may block you entirely, and by "you" I mean us!

What We Can Do

I know, I know, I’ve asked you to make a lot of hard decisions, and you want to know what we can do to help shoulder the burden.  After all, isn’t that why you signed up with an ESP in the first place?

The answer to your question is yes, we can help.  Actually, all good ESPs are already doing a ton to make your deliverability great.  This is the part where I’m going to overwhelm you with technical jargon and not explain what any of it means because it would take too long: DKIM, Reverse DNS, MX Records, Engagement Monitoring, IP Reputation, Blacklist Monitoring, Bounce Handling, SPF, MTA, Registrar, Throttling, Spam Filters, VERP, FBL, Whitelisting, Certification, Static/Dynamic Error Handling, Email Headers, Seed List, etc

If you’re interested, all of those terms and processes are explained in our Email Delivery For IT Professionals guide.  For daily senders, here are a few subjects you may want to consider when talking to your ESP:

Dedicated IPs

More than likely, your ESP has a sizable pool of shared IPs that all their users send over.   At MailChimp, we actually have several pools of IPs separated by cleanliness.  That way, emails to your best subscribers go out over our cleanest IP pool, and we can isolate emails to unproven subscribers so they don’t interfere with the rest of your campaign.  However, high volume senders can benefit from leaving the shared pool and purchasing a dedicated IP.

I’ll discuss many benefits of a dedicated IP below, but they key is that we’re helping ISPs trust you.  As a daily sender, your volume can look aggressive and dangerous, and this raises flags no matter how good your content is.  By sending to an active list from a stable location, we can make that volume look more attractive.  If you’re trying to get your subscribers to fall in love with you again, think of the ISPs as parents. If you can get their approval, you’re a big step ahead of the game.

And uh, I guess that makes Freddie your wingman.  Yes!  Thank you, thank you.  I’ll be here all night.  Someone get me some water because this metaphor is on fire.

Ahem…

Custom DNS

So I mentioned that your ESP has a lot of IPs, and each one of those has a domain name.  The domain names probably sound innocent and dull, like email1.campaigns.com.  However, under ideal circumstances an ISP would like to see the domain name match up to the From Address in your campaign.  While most of our users have a great sending history without a custom DNS, a lot of high volume daily senders can benefit from this kind of attention to detail.

Bounce Alerts

Bounces are both undesirable and inevitable.  Even the best list collection policy can’t avoid getting a few problem email addresses every now and then. We like to know the general makeup of your lists so we can be more responsive when bounces do occur.  Each ISP has their own bounce syntax and requires their own unique response.  Knowing what to look for can really help us prevent small problems from becoming big problems.

Any good ESP will already be familiar with bounce messages from Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, AOL, Comcast, or any other big ISP.  Beyond that, location is a key factor.  If the bulk of your list is in South America, your European ESP may not be as familiar with the receiving ISPs.  That doesn’t mean you need to switch ESPs, but you should get in touch with them to make sure your issues are on their radar.

Throttling

If it were up to us, we would send your email as fast as computationally possible, but the ISPs would never go for that.  You see, they need time to sniff every email for the salty scent of spam or the sickly odor of viruses. If we send too much too quickly, they’ll assume all the email is bad and throw it away.  The very thought gives us stomach cramps, so we do everything we can to assure your emails are sending at the right speed.  For those on dedicated IPs, your throttle rate should be fine tuned to match your IP reputation.

ISPs are also fond of sending bounce messages saying, and I’m paraphrasing here, "Something smells odd, and we’re going to need time to investigate. Don’t send us any more email for an hour or I’m throwing it away and adding you to my list of enemies."  Ignoring those warnings can be very unhealthy, so it’s important your ESP respond as quickly as possible when those bounce messages occur.

You’ve Come a Long Way

For any email marketer, it’s probably worth reviewing your sending strategy every time your list grows by an order of magnitude.  With daily senders, those growing pains are going to be accelerated.  Just think, with a list of thirty-four thousand subscribers you’ll send a million emails a month. That’s definitely cool to email geeks like us.  However, at some point sending out more email becomes less valuable than sending out better email in the right way for your subscribers.  Like any good wingman, we want to see you succeed so we can brag about how we were there when it happened.