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Send better email: A deliverability analyst’s no-nonsense guide to avoiding the spam folder

Email is an important channel for acquiring, supporting and retaining users. However, if not done properly, you can damage your sending reputation, meaning users won’t get your emails at all 😞

Ultimately, fewer emails arriving at their intended destination means fewer conversions for you.

“We’ve spent the past few months working hard on improving the systems that ensure stable, consistent deliverability for our senders”

We’ve spent the past few months working hard on improving the systems that ensure stable, consistent deliverability for our senders. We also wanted to share some tips and best practices to ensure front-and-centre placement in the prized, primary inbox.

At Intercom, we have automation to detect poor email habits among our customers. We look at many different metrics to determine the health of a sender, good or bad. Here are the signs your email deliverability is in the red zone and how to fix them.

3 tips to improve low open rates

The average automated email sees an open rate of 20-30%. Some industries see higher or lower rates, but this should be the target range. If your open rate is way below industry average, you might be sending irrelevant content or worse, your emails might be going straight to the spam folder 😬

⚠️ If your emails are going to spam folder, reduce your audience to users who have opened your email within the last 30 days and expand it slowly until your open rates improve.

1. Don’t email disengaged users

It’s super tempting to email your entire user base in hopes of weeding out a lost opportunity or two, but invariably you’ll get caught in spamtraps instead. Sending every email to your whole userbase can actually damage your brand and your sender reputation and has been shown to be ineffective. Our Analytics team have shown that if customers haven’t opened your last 10 emails, the likelihood of them opening the 11th is less than 2%. That likelihood drops to 1% after 14 emails.

The likelihood of a user reading your next email decreases in relation to how many emails they haven't opened previously

2. Make your content personal

If an email isn’t relevant and personal to your customers, it won’t get opened. People shouldn’t only open your emails in order to unsubscribe. Why not trigger your messages to send based on certain actions, which helps guarantee proper context for your existing and potential customers?

Graph of the most frustrating ways brands lack personalization in your emails

3. In defence of clickbait…

A catchy subject line can make all the difference between archive-without-reading and open. You can beat out all the competition in the inbox by grabbing your audience’s attention. To ensure you pick the best subject line for your users, why not A/B test?

3 tips to reduce high spam complaint and unsubscribe rates

A healthy spam complaint rate is about 0.02%, allowing for 2 in every 10,000 messages to be marked as spam. Some people do it by mistake, but if you see high complaint rates, it’s a sure sign that something is wrong.

1. Get permission – use confirmed opt-in

Have you ever signed up to a website and been asked to click a link in your email to complete your sign-up? That’s confirmed opt-in. Confirming your users is the best method for ensuring a better open rate for engaged and valid users.

2. Validate emails at sign-up

You can implement email validation at sign-up to check if email addresses are real. This helps prevent fake, mispelled or invalid email addresses from joining your app, which thereby improves your bounce rate and the odds of triggering the spam police.

3. Always include a low-friction way to unsubscribe

Don’t force users to take more than two steps to unsubscribe from your emails. Make your unsubscribe link clear and frictionless, or people will flag your email as “spam” instead.

Add an unsubscribe button to your email marketing

A tip to decrease high unsubscribe rates

Unsubscribe rates are a particularly important metric since Google doesn’t report all spam complaints, instead just a sampling. If you’re seeing a high unsubscribe rate, that typically means your emails aren’t relevant to users or that the frequency of your sending is a little off. At Intercom, high unsubscribe rates always get a closer look and anything over 1% is alarming to us.

Investigate frequency of sending

If you’re messaging users too often, on a strange schedule or out of the blue, they are more likely to see the content as irrelevant. Best to send with a consistent schedule.

Adobe’s recent Consumer Email Survey showed that the thing users dislike most is getting email too often:

Graph of the most annoying things when receiving an email offer from a marketer

3 tips to decrease high email bounce rates

A bounce is a message which has not delivered successfully. For example, a message could bounce when: the email address does not exist or the recipient has blocked delivery. High hard bounce rates are bad news for everyone because invalid addresses will eventually be repurposed as spamtraps after repeated attempts at delivery and then you’ll really end up in the doghouse.

1. Don’t purchase or scrape lists

You wouldn’t walk into someone’s house without knocking, would you? By that same token, we only allow permission-based email on Intercom. You should only ever message valid users who want to receive email from you.

2. Verify addresses at sign-up

Does your website let people sign up with nonsense addresses? If you have a high traffic site, that might be the root of your issue. Why not use a real time validation service like Kickbox or Webbula? For the truly techy, why not suggest corrections to typos in real time and prevent dead leads?

Example of email verification

3. Clean up your email database every 6 months

If a user or lead hasn’t interacted with your platform in a few months, it’s likely time to say goodbye. Protect the quality of your recipient list and keep costs down by removing those users who aren’t adding value.

How to monitor your email sending reputation

Set up Google’s Postmaster tool to monitor performance of your email. If you’re having issues on Google, you can be sure you’ll start to see issues elsewhere soon enough! This tool can help you to get ahead of problems before they ruin your sending reputation.

“If a user or lead hasn’t interacted with your platform in a few months, it’s likely time to say goodbye”

One of my favourite tools to track all of the signals critical to your email program is 250ok – it’s pure, sparkly magic. If you’re unsure what’s happening with your emails after they leave the inbox and you’re not getting the results you’d expect, I can’t recommend this tool highly enough. You can check inbox placement directly by sending your message to it.

If you’re an Intercom customer, we can test your emails for you, just ask our Customer Support team. If you’re interested in learning more about improving your email deliverability or reading our suggested best practices, please see our email sending guidelines and our docs on improving your open rate and email deliverability. Happy – and safe – sending. 😊

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