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Many of the people that I speak with during my strategy calls are frustrated with their efforts to build an email list and engage with their subscribers. A common mantra of the internet marketing industry is that you must build an email list.
You’ve no doubt heard some of the common cliches such as “the money is in the list”. This article isn’t going to discuss the question of whether or not to start your email list, but rather the important topic of email deliverability.
One of the biggest frustrations that I am asked about each week relates to email deliverability. Typically the questions look like this one from Facebook.
Spammers Have Made Life Challenging
I’m sure that similar to me, you’ve received your fair share of spam and junk emails over the years. Unfortunately the world of bulk email is another example of “a few who have done the wrong thing, making life hard for the rest of us”.
There was a time when spammers could quickly and easily push a button, sending millions of junk emails globally.
The whole world of email has evolved over the years in a similar way to Google’s search algorithms, to weed out the bad eggs. This has made it harder for the rest of us but you can still be successful with your email deliverability by following the suggestions in this article.
Just always remember that similarly to Google, email systems and algorithms have evolved to protect email environments from suspicious looking activity. Now what you and I consider ‘suspicious’ is probably not the same as they do which makes it interesting!
Something it pays to think like an algorithm and ask yourself whether your activities are likely to be flagged by anti-spam systems. For example if you send 500 emails weekly to your list and then suddenly this jumps to 2,000, then this is likely to arouse some suspicion.
The Dreaded Gmail Promotions Folder
There’s nothing more disheartening than working hard to write appealing subject lines to get your recipient’s attention and engaging emails which they aren’t likely to ever see is there!
One of the main culprits that many people neglect to consider when raising concerns about their email deliverability is the dreaded Gmail Promotions folder. Gmail is so widely used that it’s virtually guaranteed that a proportion of your subscribers are using it.
As you can see, Gmail has a number of folders and you need to do your utmost to ensure that your emails are routed to their Primary (inbox) folder at all costs.
Why does this matter?
When your emails are routed to the Promotions folder, it’s a big turn off and a large percentage of your audience will never look in this folder. This folder is full of sales type emails with endless people trying to pitch them.
This means that they will never even know your emails are there or read them!
A report done in 2016 indicated that just 19.2% of messages directed to Gmail’s Promotions folder were read, proving that getting your messages delivered into the recipient’s inbox is extremely important. You need to do everything you can to ensure that your emails get eyeballs on them.
To help you get started here’s 10 ways to improve your email deliverability.
1) Ask Your Subscribers to Whitelist You
A discussion on tips how to improve your email deliverability wouldn’t be complete without suggesting that you ask your subscribers to whitelist you, would it! Think about it, there’s no better time to ask your new subscriber to whitelist you than immediately after they’ve subscribed for your freebie/lead magnet.
So create urgency and convince them to do it right now.
Don’t know what whitelisting means? Whitelisting simply means that you signal your email provider such as Gmail that all emails received from a particular sender are not spam or junk and are to be delivered to your main inbox instead of to their spam or Promotions folder.
In other words, your subscriber is telling them to ignore all their rules and fancy algorithms and simply deliver all of your emails to their inbox which is golden. To do this, simply include a request along these lines on the confirmation page that people are sent to when they sign up to your mailing list.
“To make sure you get (whatever it is they subscribed to receive) and my future emails, please add (email address) to your address book or whitelist me.”
Some of your subscribers are likely to read this and take action, helping you achieve your email deliverability goals immediately.
2)Avoid Including Overly Promotional Words
Try to avoid using words such as the following which are likely to land you in that Promotions folder, particularly in your subject lines:-
Also avoid using all caps or excessive punctuation such as these, exclamation points!!!!
3) Write a good subject line
Getting your subject lines right is an important part of email marketing because after all, they are the ‘make or break’ of your campaigns. They need to hook your recipients since otherwise they won’t get opened or viewed.
This article isn’t about the psychology behind writing good subject lines but rather on improving email deliverability and your subject line plays a crucial role. Here are some suggestions to avoid your subject lines contributing to your emails ending up in the dreaded spam or Promotions folder.
Email service providers typically include utilities that test the subject line, providing you with a report or score. This is an example of what Mailchimp displays after you enter your subject line which gives you some excellent pointers.
Another useful avenue is an independent subject line tester tool such as this one at SubjectLine.com. Simply enter your email subject line and it will provide you with a score out of 100 with explanations of what’s good and what could be improved.
4) Write In a Casual, Friendly Tone
You want your recipients when they see your emails to have the reaction that this could be from a friend so they need to view it. Therefore writing in a casual tone as if writing to your friend is an excellent approach to take.
5) Avoid Using Businesslike Mailbox Addresses
Avoid the use of mailboxes that sound very impersonal and businesslike. So for example, firstname.lastname@example.org is a better choice than email@example.com.
I’ve also seen suggestions that using mailboxes such as ‘support’ are ok because Google views them as supportive and more worthy of being delivered into the inbox.
6) Do Your Research On Email Service Providers
Before you get started you are going to need to sign up with an email service provider. This ensures that your email marketing efforts conform with all the legal aspects of email marketing.
These providers are also set up to provide the necessary infrastructure and tools to help maximise your email deliverability. After all, that’s their prime goal and how they’re measured!
However, like everything on the internet, there are ample players in the email marketing sector and you need to do your homework thoroughly.
You don’t need to look around for long before you start seeing company names such as Mailchimp, Aweber, GetResponse and ConvertKit. I strongly suggest taking the time to visit websites such as Email Report Deliverability which provides detailed information on these sorts of companies including independent, extensive email deliverability tests.
It is important that you use independent sources of information to do this research because many internet marketers promote companies via affiliate arrangements. This means they are remunerated by the email marketing provider they recommend by way of a commission when you sign up so their recommendations may not be entirely impartial and unbiased.
I recommend organising your email marketing in a way that enables you to switch providers seamlessly where required. This is because this is a highly competitive, constantly changing industry and you may do better with a particular provider as your list grows etc.
You may also find yourself in the situation where your provider’s deliverability stats weaken over time forcing a change. Mailing lists can easily be exported and imported into the new environment. Just be cautious when using any bespoke functionality that is unique to a particular company that won’t be usable if you later move.
7) Regularly Scrub Your Email List
You need to be constantly vigilant with your email list to ensure that you regularly remove subscribers who are clearly not opening/viewing your emails. Remember that it is extremely important that you always strive to maximise your view/open rates.
This ensures that ISPs do not start to assume that your emails are not being opened. Email service providers include easy to view statistics to gauge this information.
To do this simply remove subscribers who have not opened any of your emails over the previous month. One caveat on this suggestion is that you are sending emails to your list on a regular basis. If you are not sending 4-5 emails to your list on a monthly basis then engagement becomes harder to gauge.
This is because your subscribers may forget who you are particularly when you send nothing to your list for a month or more.
This shows an example of how you can quickly and easily find subscribers who are clearly not engaged for removal from your email list.
I regularly see the accuracy of some of these stats questioned which is not surprising with the use of measures including security firewalls. There are many privacy tools that can be used to block this sort of information being traceable. Unfortunately trusting these stats unchallenged will increase the odds that you may remove some subscribers who are engaged and genuine.
One way to ensure you are not removing subscribers unnecessarily is by the use of an email sequence sent to those that you suspect are not reading your emails. This is to encourage them to either remain on your list or unsubscribe from it via a clear action.
One example I’ve seen had a subject line of “List cleaning in progress – are you in or out? :)”.
This may seem very direct, but ultimately it’s in your interests to get the timewasters off your list. Firstly, it will improve your email deliverability and secondly will reflect the true list subscriber numbers.
This is important because generally speaking you pay monthly based on your subscriber numbers. This monthly fee can be considerable if you have a list with thousands of subscribers or more. You don’t want to pay for the dead weight do you?
8) Use Double Opt-In
As I explained in my 6 Must Know Tips for Email Marketing article, to maximise your email deliverability, it’s essential that you make your list double opt-in. You are far less likely to have email deliverability issues this way and you’ll only end up with people on your list that intended to be added.
9) Send Text Based Emails Only
Whilst email service providers will dazzle you with all manner of email templates (see below for some current Mailchimp examples) I strongly advise against using them. Instead just send plain text emails. Once again, think about it from the viewpoint of the likes of Gmail.
A plain text email could be viewed as being something casual from a friend whereas a fancy template including images etc. is more likely to be viewed as promotional.
Yes, you guessed it, it’s off to the Promotional folder yet again!
I also advise against including images in your emails because many popular email programs such as Thunderbird (from the same crowd as the Firefox web browser), which I use, will not display any images whatsoever unless you give them permission via a message such as this. Most of your subscribers won’t bother reading them with emails with huge gaps in content which are useless.
10) Test Your Email Deliverability
OK, so you’ve been through these suggestions so what next? Well, why not go a step further and test each email that you’ve got ready to send to your mailing list.
Your email service provider will include a facility to do this such as this example in Mailchimp. To make your testing thorough I suggest you send test messages to a number of email addresses including a Gmail address.
This will help you ascertain whether the email is likely to be delivered to your recipient’s mailbox or to the Promotions folder. If it does arrive in Gmail’s Promotions folder then the next step is to try and work out what is triggering this.
If the cause is not obvious then try separating out parts of the email and send them only to the Gmail address and see whether they are delivered or not. Using the process of elimination with a bit of detective work should help you work it out.
You can also use a service such as Mail Tester which is a free service. To quote them directly, to “Test the Spammyness of your Emails”. With this service you simply send your email to the email address they provide and then it gives you a score out of 10 as shown below.
This should help get you started on the road to improving your email deliverability. Keeping these in mind and using the tools recommended will help ensure that your emails find their way to your mailing list recipients.
Don’t let your hard work go to waste by losing your email to the spam or Promotions folders. Do you have an email list and if so what has been your experience of email deliverability?
Please share your experiences in the comments below.
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