Nov 12, 2012

Prepare Your List for the Holidays

While we’re finishing our Halloween candy and looking for the perfect turkey recipe, I thought it might be a good idea to prepare for the uptick in seasonal email volume. We wanted to understand what it was like for marketers during the holidays, so we compared nearly two years of MailChimp’s traffic to look for trends.

You’d think it would be simple to compare two years of data, but there was a problem. Our growth rate makes a pretty graph, but it also obscures any other patterns. We solved the issue by journeying to the north pole and… just kidding. We normalized the data to account for growth, and once we did, the results were pretty startling.

Click the image for a look at the details.

So, what are you looking at? Well, we overlayed 2011 and 2012 seasonal traffic, and certain swells in volume really lined up. We mapped the major U.S. holidays to make things clearer. You can find volume bumps for Easter, Mother’s Day, and July 4th. Labor Day gets a bump, and Memorial Day gets a bump, and, holy moly, Christmas! The swell in volume for Christmas starts on Cyber Monday and only goes up from there. It’s unlike any other time of year.

I’ve heard the holidays are a good time to take a step back and reflect. For an email marketer, it’s a good time to see things from your subscribers’ point of view. With this in mind, we’ve put together a few ideas to help you get through the holiday season from the comfort of the inbox.

Seasonal Email Fatigue

Maybe you want to send holiday greetings, recipes, and coupons. Or perhaps you want to talk about volunteer opportunities and canned food drives. Hey, maybe you want to make sure everyone who bought something last year knows about the new items you’re offering this year. It’s all good! But remember, when you’re talking about holiday-season email, more is not always merrier.

If seasonal trends tell us global volume is about to explode, there’s a good chance your subscribers are about to get a ton of email. I’m not saying you shouldn’t send that holiday campaign. I’m just saying that flooded inboxes lead to frustrated and repeated mashing of the “spam" button.

For the ISPs, it’s a battle to keep their customers from getting too much unwanted mail. Content and engagement based filters are going to be running hot for the next couple of months. Reaching the inbox is going to be a challenge, but I think we’re up for it.

Here are some basic steps you can take to protect your deliverability.

Get Added to the Address Book

ISPs look at the address book like a personal whitelist, so getting your subscribers to add you to their contacts is the single best thing you can do to assure inbox delivery.

For new signups, we already include the “Add us to your address book" merge tag by default, but consider making a prominent plea right at the top. You can also set an autoresponder to go out a week after signup to reinforce this message. For your current subscribers, try sending an “add us to your address book" campaign to a targeted segment of low engagement subscribers.

Further reading:
Getting Added to Subscribers Address Books
Where does my vCard contact info come from?

Be Careful With Your Aging List

A lot of users have an old list sitting around somewhere. These are subscribers you haven’t sent to in 6 months or more, but you’d really like to send to them holiday updates.

First, I have to say you’re playing with fire. Read these helpful compliance tips and consider reconfirming your list.

If you absolutely must send to these subscribers, take things slowly. If you send to an old list all at once and it performs poorly, ISPs might decide your From address or the link to your homepage is a spam indicator. It can be really hard to convince an ISP to remove your domain from their content filters. Beside reaching out to the ISP for support, you often have to rebuild your reputation. That means you have to spend the next few weeks sending small and targeted campaigns to your most active subscribers.

You’re better off slowly reaching out to your aging list. If your stats come back with strong open and click rates and your complaints are low, awesome! Open the floodgates. If you start seeing a higher than normal bounce rate, you can slam on the brakes and look into list cleaning.

Further reading:
What exactly is engagement?
What do the delivery numbers in my reports tab mean?

Target Weakness

Looking through your reports, you might notice a particular ISP that consistently underperforms in open rates. This is a good indication that you’ve got reputation or engagement issues. You need to get the ISP to reconsider their opinion of you, but how?

It’ll take some time, but I’ve seen this method have good results in the past. In this case, we’ll assume your open rates to Yahoo.com are lower than they should be.

First, segment out your Yahoo.com subscribers with high member ratings. Consider using a static segment since you’ll need to send repeated emails to this group. Our goal is to spend a few weeks sending to people who will definitely open and click in order to flip your open rate to Yahoo.com.

After a while, you can fold in subscribers with lower member ratings, but only do a few at a time. Use A/B split testing to find your most effective content. You can also add new fields to your list and send out an update profile campaign. Anything that helps reduce irrelevance is good.

Further reading:
How do I add more fields to my list?
How can I add an update profile link?