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Email Deliverability & Retail Relevance: A Primer for Retail Marketers

By Kellye Snodgrass | January 23, 2019

When someone says “email performance,” what comes to mind first?

For most of us, it’s email engagement metrics like revenue per email, click-through rate and open rate. After all, these metrics indicate whether or not the timing, subject line and content of the email was relevant enough to recipients to spur them into action. As a result, regularly monitoring these engagement metrics and taking steps to improve them is critical to maintaining a robust email marketing program.

But there’s another important email performance metric that you must satisfy before any engagement can even take place: Deliverability. And — spoiler alert — all of this performance comes full circle because those email engagement metrics you already track play a crucial role in improving deliverability.

The Low-Down on Email Deliverability

At a time when email continues to reign supreme for retail marketers, success and growth all starts with email deliverability. That’s because no one can open, let alone click or make a purchase from, your emails if those messages never get to them in the first place.

email deliverability funnel

So what exactly do you need to know about the all-important metric of email deliverability?

What is Email Deliverability?

At the most basic level, successful email deliverability means your message arrives in your customers’ inboxes as intended. Email deliverability fails when your message gets blocked by an Internet Service Provider (ISP) or routed to a junk or bulk folder. Of course, email deliverability gets a lot more complicated than that.

How Does Email Deliverability Work?

While the outcomes for email deliverability are fairly black and white, the factors that impact whether not emails get delivered are far more complex. Those factors include:

  • Reputation: How reputable is the email? Email providers will take into account the sender reputation (which includes past email engagement), the reputation of the IP from which the email was sent and the domain reputation of any links included in the email. Complaint rates, bounce rates, spam traps, blacklist appearances and compliance with CAN-SPAM, CASL and GDPR guidelines all impact reputation.
  • Engagement: How much are recipients engaging with your emails? Most customers on retailers’ email lists use Gmail or Microsoft, and both of those ISPs now focus heavily on how recipients engage with email to determine whether or not emails make it to the inbox (or, in the case of Gmail, the folder in which it gets filed). As a result, subscriber engagement with emails can cause inbox placement rate to fluctuate as ISPs use these metrics to determine how to filter emails.
  • Content: Is your email content “spammy”? The content quality of your emails also matters when it comes to deliverability. Specifically, email providers will evaluate everything from language used, HTML formatting and the relevance of content (per the above note on engagement) to the types of links included, the image to text ratio and the presence of an unsubscribe link.
  • Authentication: Is the email coming from where it says it’s coming from? Modern spammers are savvy, and they often spoof senders to make a spam email look like it’s coming from a reputable domain. But modern email providers are savvy too, and they verify IP addresses to authenticate emails in search of spoofers.
  • Infrastructure: Is the sender equipped to send emails at scale? The more emails you send, the more important the infrastructure you use to send them becomes. For example, if you’re a high volume sender, you need to ensure you and your email service provider have conducted the appropriate IP warming to be able to send emails at scale without getting flagged as spam. You also need to use feedback loops to monitor for email complaints, such as when recipients mark an email as spam, and for hard and soft bounces.

How to Set Your Email Deliverability Standards

Given the importance of email deliverability to the success of any email marketing program and the complexity that goes into ensuring emails actually land in your customers’ inboxes, it’s critical to understand what you’re up against.

Arguably, the most important metric when it comes to deliverability is the inbox placement rate, as this measures what percent of your emails actually make it to customers’ inboxes (as opposed to getting bounced or ending up in a spam folder).

According to Return Path’s 2018 Deliverability Benchmark report, the average global inbox placement rate is 85%. However, several leading email marketing platforms exceed this standard, with the industry-leading benchmark coming in at 96%.

These numbers are critical to keep in mind as you set your own goals for email deliverability. And as Return Path notes: “With every email that fails to reach its intended recipient, brands lose the opportunity to connect with customers and ultimately make a sale.”

How to Meet and Exceed Your Deliverability Standards

Once you set your goals for email deliverability, what steps can you take to meet and exceed those standards?

At the most basic level, you need to adhere to CAN-SPAM, CASL and GDPR guidelines, keep your list clean, maintain consistent send volumes (and conduct proper IP warming for any significant increases in sends), ensure proper HTML formatting and avoid using spammy language in your subject lines.

Taking those steps are a must to achieve an acceptable level of email deliverability. But there are some additional efforts you can make to raise the bar and realize industry-leading inbox placement rates. Two efforts, in particular, can make an enormous difference:

1) Focusing on Relevance

Relevance is the name of the game for modern retail marketing when it comes to attracting and engaging consumers, so this should already be top of mind. That makes it a win-win that relevance also helps improve inbox placement.

In terms of deliverability, focusing on making every email you send relevant to recipients — even your batch emails — can make a big difference when it comes to everything from email deliverability to email engagement to brand reputation.

Personalizing your emails to create more relevant content for each recipient not only improves bottom of the funnel performance metrics like opens, clicks, conversions and revenue per email, but it can also impact email deliverability. ISPs monitor these email engagement metrics for every sender to determine sender reputation, so if your customers don’t open your emails or move them to spam, ISPs read those behaviors as signs that those emails aren’t good and ding your sender reputation accordingly.

The key to success here is to find opportunities to make personalization at scale possible, for example by thinking thoughtfully about your audience segmentation for batch emails, using predictive audiences to proactively personalize your email marketing and tapping automated triggered emails to react to customer behaviors and changes in your product catalog.

2) Seeking Forward-Thinking Email Technology Partners

Many traditional email service providers charge based on the number of emails delivered to ISPs — regardless of whether those emails actually land in customers’ inboxes or end up in their spam folders.

But what if you could partner with a platform that only charged based on email engagement? Every time you send an email, your ultimate goal is to get recipients to click on a link in that email and influence a purchase, and the only way that can ever happen is if the email lands in those customers’ inboxes. Imagine the difference in performance if both you and your email marketing platform were equally as focused on getting that engagement, not just making it past the first line of defense provided by ISPs.

From Email Delivered to Purchase Made: Get Campaign Inspiration from Leading Retailers

As you look at deliverability and beyond, what does it take to create a truly relevant email experience from start to finish? Check out our Bluecore Marketing Lookbook to see a variety of ways you can engage your customers to create a relevant shopping experience and to get inspiration from leading retailers.

Kellye Snodgrass

Kellye Snodgrass

Kellye is a member of the Product Marketing and Operations team and is one of Bluecore's first Product Marketing hires. She's spent most of her career in marketing technology with a special focus in the eCommerce space. When she's not online shopping on one of our customers' stores, she loves to write about data-driven retail marketing strategies that not only drive performance, but are easy to implement