The State of Email Marketing and Best Practices

Towards the end of 2010, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), TouchBasePro and Email Connection released the Bulk Email Deliverability Report South African 2011. The report is extremely important for all South African enterprises that make use of email marketing, which despite waning popularity is still remarkably effective. According to the report, up to 20% of the budget spent on email marketing is wasted, i.e. it doesn’t get through recipients.

Cordell Brewer, director of TouchBasePro attributes the wastage primarily to poor domain name reputation, which means that emails don’t make it past spam filters. An article on SA media and marketing news portal Bizcommunity cites statistics from Europe, Asia and the US, which show that 14 – 20% of email marketing messages don’t make it past spam filters, and Brewer believes that similar results could be found in the South African market.
Email marketing remains popular because it’s cheap and it’s effective. US statistics reveal that email marketing is the most effective form of direct marketing, delivering double or triple the ROI of other direct marketing methods. However, to be effective and achieve maximum ROI, emails first have to break through the barriers and reach consumers. As a result, there are a number of best practices which have been recommended for online marketers. The Bulk Email Deliverability Report outlines 10 of these best practices:

1) Improve data collection and check opt-in history: some spam detectors measure the quality of a sender’s reputation by the quality of its email programme. Ensure that you keep proof of opt-in, date of email acquisition and the date of each email campaign and monitor results and inconsistencies closely.
2) Manage expectations and relevance to reduce complaint rates: subscribers need to know exactly what they’re signing up for; if possible they should also be given the opportunity to decide how they want to receive information – html or plain text, daily, weekly or monthly. All relevant information should be clear and concise and above the fold on the registration page.
3) Unsubscribes and complaints: subscribers must be given the option to change their minds. Tastes and needs change and what was once considered vital news could become spam, before your emails get reported as such, rather provide subscribers with an easy method to opt-out of your emailing list. Unsubscribe links should be clearly visible. If you have a problem with being reported as spam, place the link at the top of the page where it is not likely to be missed.
4) Check inactive recipients for spam traps: these are fake or abandoned email addresses that are intended solely to catch spam, which is ignored. Some spam filters are able to detect spam traps in your email database and may decide to block you as a matter of course.
5) Monitor your sender reputation and blacklists: this is the most important factor affecting email acceptance. ISPs tend to use external companies to check sender reputation data and it’s a good idea to sign up to these companies so that you can also get an idea of how your email campaigns are perceived. Check regularly to see that you have not been blacklisted on any blacklist operators websites.
6) Use the infrastructure that works for you: this means you can either manage your email campaigns internally or outsource them. If you outsource, ensure you go with a reputable company, if you keep it internal make sure you have all the relevant checks and systems to stay on the right side of the spam filter.
7) Conduct pre-broadcast testing: this entails testing for delivery issues and format issues. It’s also important to monitor your inbox delivery rate.
8) Certification: certification schemes certify the integrity if email senders and can help campaigners get by spam filters. Note that certification does not guarantee that you’ll make it to the inbox; you still have to jump through hoops and maintain other best practices.
9) Manual whitelisting: this entails analysing delivery patterns and determining where problems consistently occur, then, quite simply, you have to create a contact list and work your way through it to have your company removed from the spam list.
10) Build up your reputation slowly: this requires time and patience and religious adherence to best practices.