The World of Email Marketing Is Changing...
When evaluating whether or not to deliver email to an inbox, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL, etc., are no longer looking solely at the sender’s IP, which can be shared with others and allow email senders some sense of anonymity.
While ISPs still encourage senders to avoid spam complaints, increasing weight has been placed on measures of engagement as a means of determining a sender’s quality. This change reflects a shift in the behavior of email recipients towards flagging emails as junk rather than formally complaining or reporting an email as spam.
ISPs now track your individual domain (i.e., yourcompany.com), and are concerned with how engaged your recipients are with the email you are sending. Engagement is a measure of how likely recipients are to open and/or click on the emails that you are sending, and this is estimated by measuring the past performance of your email sends across all recipients on that mailbox. They use this information to decide whether your next email message lands in the inbox – or in the junk box – of your intended recipients.
This was not the case as recently as a few years ago, and it represents a huge paradigm shift in how ISPs are measuring and managing the email they chose to deliver to their users.
A Shifting Paradigm
ISPs control the last mile of email delivery, and ultimately make decisions about what emails get delivered to the inbox of their users. While a Marketing Automation or Email Service Provider can set you up for success in avoiding the spam box, the ultimate inboxing decision rests with ISPs and their particular inboxing algorithms.
Spam and undesirable commercial email has become a large enough issue that ISPs have been implementing changes to proactively route unwanted email into junk or spam folders, and in some cases block the email entirely.
These changes by ISPs improve the overall email experience for all of us by allowing only content a recipient wants to reach the inbox. The shift in monitoring recipient engagement on a sender domain basis helps ensure poor-quality senders are personally held accountable, and it protects inboxes at large from receiving undesirable content.
SharpSpring, as well as every other software platform that provides email delivery (HubSpot, MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, etc.), has built a business on sending effective email communication. While the advent of these changes may seem like a blow to the value of email marketing, studies show that email is still far and away the most cost effective method to reach customers and prospects.
Your Reputation Is Yours
ISPs track the reputation of individual sender domains. This means your domain reputation is more important than ever and is your responsibility to maintain. Switching email providers or marketing automation platforms will not remove damage inflicted on your domain reputation due to poor sending – that damage will follow you regardless of which provider you choose.
While the importance of sender domain reputation has increased, the IP pool(s) used through your provider will still have an impact on the deliverability of your content. SharpSpring partners with the industry leader in cloud-based email service, SendGrid (also partners with HubSpot, AirBnB, Spotify, Glassdoor, Yelp, etc.) to provide our customers with the highest-quality sender IP pools. Together, SharpSpring and SendGrid get the emails to the ISP for each recipient.
The ISPs then use the historical recipient engagement and content analysis to make the final inbox decision. Delivering highly engaging content to recipients who want to receive it will increase your overall email engagement and keep your domain reputation in good shape with ISPs.
Improving Your Domain Reputation
Your domain reputation is comparable to your credit score; it’s easily damaged and can be difficult to recover.
The number one thing you can do to help maintain a positive domain reputation is to only send email to people that are likely to be interested in your message by proactively eliminating “unengaged recipients”. Sending to recipients who do not want your email provides no value and can inflict harm on your sender reputation.
In addition to the above recommendation, following these email best practices will protect your domain reputation and improve the deliverability of your emails:
- Use email authentication protocols such as DKIM, SPF, and DMARC
- Use dynamic content to personalize your email marketing per recipient
- Segment your leads to strategically target similar recipient groups
- Make sure your content provides value to the recipient
Less is More
By adhering to these guidelines engagement will increase, more email will get into the inbox, and you’ll get more clicks by sending less email. Click and open rates increase when sending to a smaller, targeted list of engaged recipients, relative to sending to a large number of unengaged recipients.
Neglecting to pay attention to your recipient engagement will ultimately get your messages seen by no one. Sending to large lists of unengaged recipients will cause ISPs to start filtering your messages into junk folders, so your recipients - even the ones who want your content - will not receive your messages in their inbox.
These guidelines may seem counterintuitive, but by sending to only engaged recipients you will achieve higher engagement (clicks and opens) by sending a lower volume of email. This reduces the risk of inflicting damage to your domain, and helps your messages avoid spam traps.
A Word About Spam Traps
Spam traps are email addresses used by ISPs to determine if senders are adding recipients to their mailing lists without permission. ISPs use spam traps to help make the internet a safer place by preventing undesirable content from ending up in a recipient’s inbox.
Hitting a spam trap is harmful to sender domain reputation and puts the domain at risk of being added to an ISP’s third party blacklist. ISPs block email traffic from domains and IPs on their blacklist, meaning that even your engaged recipients are at risk of not receiving your emails. Due to this risk, it is of utmost importance to make sure you are only sending emails to engaged recipients.
Spam traps fall into three categorizations: Pristine, Recycled, or Typo.
Pristine Spam Traps
Pristine spam traps are email addresses created for the sole purpose of identifying spammers. These email addresses have never been associated with a real person, and therefore they have never opted in to receive email marketing from any company.
Pristine spam traps are placed on the Internet where they can be accessed by web crawlers. If you have a pristine spam trap on your mailing list, it was obtained illegitimately and, if sent to, will cause harm to your domain reputation.
Recycled Spam Traps
Recycled spam traps are reclaimed email addresses that have been out of active circulation for a period of time. As these email addresses are not active or tied to an actual individual, any email correspondence that lands in these inboxes was sent without the permission of the recipient.
Hitting a recycled spam trap is typically a symptom of sending to an old list that has not been actively managed to adjust for recipient engagement. You can protect your domain reputation by making sure to clean your list of recipients who have not engaged with your email marketing over a period of time.
Typo Spam Traps
Typo spam traps are email addresses that contain common typos, created to replicate email addresses that may have been recorded incorrectly. Two examples could be firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, as the domains used here are similar to popular email domains.
Typo spam traps are generally created when collecting email addresses at point of sale. For example, when checking out at a department store you may be asked for your email to sign up for a rewards program. An error occurs in data entry, and firstname.lastname@example.org is collected instead of email@example.com.
You can help avoid typo spam traps by using double opt-in for your email mailing lists. This ensures that email addresses collected will only be added to your mailing lists once a recipient clicks a confirmation email. As recipient addresses with typos will not receive the confirmation email, these potentially harmful addresses will be kept off of your mailing lists.
Remember, engagement is key to email marketing success. When preparing the content of your emails, put yourself in the shoes of the recipient. Is the content relevant? Is there value in the message? Has the recipient engaged with you in the past when sending similar content?
Best Practices for Engagement
Not sure where to start with managing engagement? Use the below as a checklist for best practices.
- Only send highly engaging emails
- Segment your lists for improved targeting
- Do not use purchased lists
- Purge your lists of old email addresses
- Continually measure engagement
- Use extra caution when sending to marginally engaged recipients
The Bottom Line
As ISPs continue to shift focus onto domain reputation as a metric for deliverability, SharpSpring is dedicated to helping our partners navigate these changes. With a combination of our email engagement tools and a proactive compliance team, we are here to help protect your domain reputation, while boosting recipient engagement with less email.
- Email marketing is undergoing changes in how ISPs make inboxing decisions
- Recipient engagement and a positive domain reputation are instrumental in the success of your email marketing strategy
- Your domain reputation is yours to maintain and will follow you across providers
- SharpSpring is your partner in helping you protect your domain reputation and boost recipient engagement
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Is this a SharpSpring specific policy?
A. No. This is a policy of ISPs that SharpSpring (as well as all other email service providers) must comply.
Q. If my sending domain reputation is poor, can’t I just start over with a new ESP?
A. Unfortunately not. Your sending domain reputation is monitored by ISPs, meaning that even if you send from a different provider, the ISPs will still know your domain, and will inbox according to its reputation.