Become a Trusted, Respected and Engaging Email Marketer

A pair of hands holding an envelope

Trusted email marketers are those who recognise that email communications need to be as personal and relevant as any other customer interaction. The first rule of engagement is to use your response data to track how well your emails are received, and then build on this knowledge to get more of your emails clicked, opened and acted upon. ISPs will use your performance to decide if and when to deliver your emails to their customers. So the second rule is to engage with them and find out what they need to see. Read this blog to find out how to gain trust and respect in order to create truly engaging email.


Keeping track of emails at work is something you do all day, every day. Catching up with friends and family on email and social media is something you do at some time, most evenings and weekends. Email is part of everyday life. But it can often be a waste of people’s time. How can someone tell what’s urgent, important or relevant? How can you make your emails stand out from the crowd? How do you get a recipient to believe “you must read this” – and how can you convince an ISP that “you must deliver this”.

Today, marketing strategies are built around a range of online and offline channels, with email playing a very big part, but rather less of a role in terms of strategic engagement. Astute marketers spend a great deal of time analysing the behaviour of prospects and customers, tailoring their advertising and PR campaigns to suit, but spend rather less time thinking about what makes an email acceptable to their audience.

Customers simply won’t accept random email attacks on their inbox. And neither will their ISP. People use email to help manage their busy lives and won’t be interested in anything that doesn’t offer to make their lives easier or better in some way. At the same time, in a bid to add value for their customers, ISPs are becoming gatekeepers – protecting their customers from unwanted emails and making sure only ‘trusted’ emails get through.

To run successful email campaigns, you need to build confidence with your customer, by showing them that your emails are worth opening and merit attention. Positive interaction with your customer boosts your sender reputation with their ISP and so increases the likelihood of getting subsequent emails into the inbox. So, you need to be ticking the boxes that both the customer and the ISP use to rate you as a trusted, reputable email marketer.

The good news is that by following some simple steps with email best practice and using your response data to continually track, manage and fine tune your performance, you can achieve quite dramatic improvements in your email performance.

The UK online space is occupied mainly by just a handful of bigname ISPs with little to choose between one broadband service and another. One of the key differentiators for ISPs is customer service and this includes helping to overcome inbox overload and to filter out unwanted emails. ISPs are using algorithms to score your email reputation in real time, based on your track record with recipients and evidence of best practice in list and campaign management.

The more users they see as being actively engaged with your email communications on a regular basis, the better you’ll score. User engagement is the true test of whether you are sending relevant, wanted emails. And it’s how the ISPs will judge you as a sender...

The next year will see a huge rise in ISPs using engagement metrics to better protect their customers…

Charting the territory

Email marketers need to understand the ISP deliverability landscape, and use this to help as a starting point to drive better email engagement.

ISPs will:

  • Place emails from senders with high complaint rates in the spam folders. If a significant number of your customers mark your emails as spam the ISP will take this as a signal that your emails contain little relevance for most, if not all, recipients and your next email will be less likely to reach your customer’s inbox.
  • Bounce any emails from an IP address associated with a high number of complaints and/ or unknown addresses. To the ISP, a high number of unknown addresses are an indication that emails are being sent to recipients who have not opted to receive them. If ISPs think you are not keeping your data up to date – they will not deliver your emails.
  • Block emails from emailers that have a record of low or little engagement. This means that broadcasts containing offers in which the recipients have no interest, from businesses they have no relationship with will be unlikely to get into the inbox. When it comes to email, or any direct marketing exercise, if you shoot in the dark, you risk shooting yourself in the foot.
  • Reject emails that are at odds with industry standard set-up and authentication procedures. You need to play by the rules of online engagement for ISPs to trust your integrity.

By following best practice in email engagement you will give your emails the best possible chance of being delivered.

It’s relatively easy to get a sense of where you are in the deliverability stakes – simply by looking at your response data. This will tell you how many bounces you’re getting, and why and also help you to see which emails are opened – and importantly, which are not.

Preparing your email campaign

What makes an email deliverable?

High click and open rates are a sign of positive engagement, a high number of bounce rates suggests that your lists may not be up to date and contain addresses that are no longer valid. ISPs will use these signals to measure your deliverability. So you can get a good picture of where you are by thoroughly analysing your response data. And you can learn a lot about where you need to be by engaging directly with ISPs.

To help you understand how to improve your email performance ISPs provide plenty of help and advice to help you comply with their best practice guidelines. Google goes into some detail about its expectations and how it manages spam emails. Hotmail, Yahoo & AOL all provide ‘postmaster’ best practice and guideline information. Microsoft offers a PDF download containing advice for bulk email senders. There are also plenty of industry blogs and news services on the subject of best – and worst – email practice. Google, Yahoo and Windows Live all have blogs, as do deliverability service providers like Pivotal Veracity and Return Path.

Make the most of that vital, first impression

Start engaging as soon as a new person registers. Send a welcome message, with an introductory offer. Set expectations as to when they can expect emails and in what circumstances – say, every Wednesday, for as long as they’re opted in and opening the emails.

First impressions count – for more than half of recipients, finding the first email valuable is the top reason for opening the next, and the next.

An engagement strategy built on an insight into customer behaviour will be able to establish the running order of an email campaign, as well as how to use a series of messages to build trust. In an engaged email relationship, it’s OK to send a ‘surprise’ email from time to time, as long as you’ve discovered – from research and analytics – that it’s something people want.

Build specific, engaging and relevant landing pages for your emails into your campaigns that expand on what is being offered and provide instant gratification. Don’t just point responders to your homepage in the hope they’ll find their way.

How can you get the green light from the ISPs?

It’s all about building and maintaining a reputation for being a trusted emailer.

ISPs like to see volume to assess how engaged recipients are before having the confidence to grant full inbox placement (i.e. they will deliver your emails to the customer’s inbox). They want to see high click and open rates over a substantial sample, but once they see positive engagement, they will soon adjust their filters to deliver more of your emails. Positive engagement is the sign of a responsible sender and your reputation as a sender is the most important criteria used by ISPs to determine deliverability. As with any business relationship, it can take time to build reputation and it’s a continuous process. Whatever you do today will affect your reputation with ISPs tomorrow and your ability to reach new customers.

ISPs are wary of IP addresses they have not seen before and will monitor your mailings for a time before accepting you as a reputable sender. So use IP warming tactics to give them sufficient time to monitor the volumes you are sending – and assess how well they’re received. IP warming builds trust by steadily scaling up email volumes and sending the strongest data first can help you achieve high open rates from the start. By the time you are rolling out major email campaigns to a wider audience, the ISP knows who you are. They will have observed clicks and opens, unknowns, bounce rates and complaints from previous campaigns. When going through any IP warming process it’s vital that you track and analyse results hourly, by ISP, so that you can adjust your strategy based on the responses you’re getting.

Lay the foundations for a successful campaign

Start with the basics. A clean, qualified list of recipients

Like any direct marketing exercise, email campaigns rely on targeted, high quality data. However engaging the content or attractive the offer, if the email address is unknown the email simply bounces back. If your mailings have a high proportion of inactive email addresses, the ISP will assume that it’s been some time since you emailed these addresses (i.e. a long time since you engaged with the recipient).

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Keeping your lists in good order will reduce bounce rates, improve your reputation and increase email deliverability. You can start by:

Examining how you collect your list data

  • Is the email address validated on data entry?
  • Is the sign-up process relevant in the context of the emails you send?
  • Does the customer journey through the registration process reflect your brand?
  • Would someone expect the email they get from you once they’ve signed up?

Thinking ahead

  • What data do you need to understand if and when a recipient expects an email, and why? Strike a balance in asking for information that helps you provide relevant content, but don’t ask for too much. The simpler and quicker you make it for people to signup and share information with you, the better
  • How can you design data collection to help meet the objectives of your email communication?
  • Do you plan to segment your data in the future for targeted communications and if so, what data do you need to do that?

Don’t just email your whole database just because you can. A smaller, active list of engaged recipients is always better than a larger assortment of good, bad and indifferent.

Use the email confirmation as an excuse to start the engagement on the spot. Always confirm emails on registration and remove any email addresses that bounce back.

Your email metrics will tell you this and also point to inactive recipients that could be reactivated. Check from time to time that inactive people are still happy to receive your emails. It’s OK to ask if someone wants your emails, and that, in itself, shows positive engagement.

Get the recipient’s attention. Quickly

Relevance gets attention – and relevance comes from understanding your customers and tailoring offers, subject lines and content. You want your customers to think ”This looks interesting, I want to know more”. If it takes more than three seconds for them to reach that conclusion, they probably won’t bother to open the email, let alone read it. Use the subject line as a teaser and be sure to get your proposition across in the first couple of lines of the email. Your email is more likely to get opened if it works without images. People usually have to click to download these. Images help to grab attention, but you cannot rely on them to explain what your email is about. You need to give strong clues in subject lines and headlines and body copy to maximise response.

Observe how different browsers and email client combinations interpret your HTML before sending them and make sure the preview works in key email client/ browser combinations. Remember that most email clients will strip out background colours, and images will not be displayed. So design for the most common denominator and always give the recipient a plain text option.

Use your response data to make the content of your email relevant.

Use your email analytics to understand what content interests people: understand which links get clicked most or least, what content do people look at first and what do they overlook? Try to segment and personalise email conversations. Observe preferred styles – formal or informal, plain speaking or upbeat. Use your emails to build a conversation, a dialogue that shows you’re listening and learning how to respond intuitively to their needs – and always at the right time.

Matching and fine-tuning content to how recipients respond to different types of email at different times is an important factor in helping customers to feel engaged.

Validation & monitoring

Check that it’s working

People’s habits and preferences change over time. It’s important to build a testing process into your email communications strategy to track and respond to these changes. So test the key aspects of your email interactions, just as you would a direct mail campaign, such as the creative element, time of sending, subject lines, content, calls to action and the preference for short or long copy, HTML pages or text only. Do this for a group of recipients, make adjustments, and test again. By including a continual testing process in your communications to monitor changes in behaviour you’ll learn how to keep your communications fresh and interesting.

Most important of all, check what action the recipient took once they engaged with your email. Did the recipient respond to your call to action – such as visiting a landing page or your product web pages? Did they find what they expected, did they buy or book anything, and did they want to explore other products and services, or simply browse and then leave? Did you offer a choice of channels, and which was most popular? How easy was it for your telephone salespeople to convert and close sales? Even the smallest of changes to timing, subject, content and calls to action can make a big difference – perhaps as much as a 10 per cent improvement in performance.

These relatively simple steps towards understanding and achieving engagement and deliverability will provide enough of an insight to create engaging email campaigns to reach and encourage new prospects to register for more, thereby convincing ISPs to deliver everything that you send. It’s a win-win situation.

Remember. What’s deliverable now, may not be deliverable tomorrow

It takes time to build a reputation, but only seconds to ruin it.

ISPs are constantly reviewing and tailoring their deliverability algorithms to improve their customers’ experience. Continually measuring your performance is not simply good practice to win and keep customers, it’s the way to win ISP friends, grow sales and market share, and build brand awareness and loyalty. And it’s fairly simple to do:

Monitor deliverability by domain

  • Run weekly data checks on deliverability trends
  • Follow deliverability blogs and advice on best practice
  • Run daily checks on key ISPs
  • Monitor bounce codes, global infrastructure and authentication changes

Use a range of deliverability monitoring tools

  • Quick Totals Reports in Alterian Dynamic Messenger
  • Weekly Aggregated Email Response Statistics to monitor trends
  • Specialised deliverability applications from third parties

Feed results back into future email deployments

  • Throttle your sends to ISPs where deliverability is low: allow volumes to build up gradually
  • Reduce repeat emails where appropriate
  • Segment emails by performance and streamline lists and campaigns accordingly

A few small steps can make a big difference to your deliverability

Email marketing offers fast, frequent, targeted engagement with a wide audience, so it’s worth spending some time understanding how you can engage your audience. ISPs measure deliverability and how recipients engage (or not) and how you can make sure your emails play by the rules.

Run tests on different aspects of email engagement, use the feedback to fine tune your performance and test again. Instead of broadcast and big audiences, think conversation, reputation and trust – and email deliverability will surely follow.

Use the results to engage your customers

The tools of engagement

Optimised engagement and deliverability starts with understanding the landscape and exploring how advanced measurement and analytics can be used to continually track and refine your email communications so that they are always wanted, always delivered. To do that, you may want to seek expert advice and invest in a sharp set of tools.

Alterian can provide you with these, and much more, through its own service portfolio and partnership with market leading email optimisation service providers. Many customers who have attended our workshops have reaped enormous dividends, just by becoming more aware of customer expectations and applying new knowledge to clean up their data and make their emails more relevant and engaging.

Alterian’s Dynamic Messenger email software allows you to deliver high volume email campaigns with a high level of dynamically generated, individualised content. This enables you to start using your email to build relationships with customers, instead of just broadcasting standard, impersonal messages.

Dynamic Messenger is an integrated component of Alterian’s Customer Engagement Platform, which incorporates engagement management & analytics, web content management, social media monitoring and online response management with email deployment.

Whatever tools or tactics you choose to use, the most important factor is being prepared to make them part of everyday marketing routine. Optimised email engagement and deliverability is as much about commitment, as it is about technical know-how. It’s something you need to do,

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