Be the Author of Email Delivery
Email marketers are the authors of a very particular story: the story of their email’s deliverability. Your own story starts when you turn on your computer screen and open the message editor in your web browser. So begins your email’s quest for the inbox.
ISPs, spam filters and your subscribers themselves all stand between your email and the inbox. The decisions you make will determine whether your email prevails against its obstacles or meets its untimely demise in spam folder limbo.
To help you practice making the right decisions, we’re going to walk through a little exercise. Read the following passages, and at the end of each, make your choice and click to the related page to see where your email ends up!
Chapter One: Character Introductions
You squint at your computer screen and contemplate your From name. Here comes your first plot point.
Catchy. It’s gotta be catchy. Something your subscribers will instantly connect with, right? Like Bangarang Bob. Man, that’s catchy!
Catchy, sure. Related to your brand or company? Not so much. Your company is called Red Delicious Apples, Inc. and your name isn’t Bob. This from name – despite its, er, distinct sound – is entirely inconsistent with your existing branding.
When your newest subscriber receives your message, she doesn’t recognize the sender name and treats it like some annoying spammer who thinks his alliteration is clever. She clicks the spam button, murdering your message and your reputation without a second thought.
Your email’s quest – nearly successful – has met a violent end. Go back to page 1 to start again.
It’s catchy, and that alliteration is killer! But your name’s not Bob, and it really does nothing to reflect your company, Red Delicious Apples, Inc.
Hmmmmm… you think (or perhaps hum aloud if you’re thinking alone). That sounds like a good place to start. “Red Delicious Apples, Inc” “Red Delicious Emails” Now we’re on to something. You enter “Red Delicious Emails” into the text field.
Later, when your newest subscriber sees your message in her inbox, she recognizes “Red Delicious” in your sender name and instantly knows that it’s the information she requested from your site’s web form.
Your email has conquered its first delivery obstacle.
Chapter Two: Spam Filter Battle Action
That blinking black curser taunts you again, this time winking at you from the message editor’s “Subject” line like it’s reading all your weaknesses. But you”ll beat it this time.
You recall finding a blog somewhere that unlocked the secret of subject lines. Something about being compelling to entice subscribers to read your content.
You sip your coffee and stare contemplatively into your mug. Maybe the cream swirls in your coffee can help you divine the magic formula. Exclamation points are compelling. So are loud statements.
CAPS LOCK GRABS ATTENTION!!!! AND PUNCTUATION REALLY DRIVES YOUR POINT HOME, RIGHT??!!?!!!
Wrong. Your email accidentally sets off its emergency flare in the dark, attracting the attention of spam filters and several grues. It’s not eaten, but the spam filters are hot on its trail. The ISP locks your email in the spam folder for good.
Spam Filter Battle Action8
Tread carefully, because phrasing is everything. A wrong move might not tip off the spam filters, but could have subscribers blowing the spam whistle themselves. Every issued spam complaint hurts your reputation and can interrupt the deliverability quest of your future emails.
You crack your knuckles and dab a bead of sweat from your brow. It’s now or never. “Red Delicious Newsletter: Top 10 Orchards plus Tips for Baking with Apples.” This sounds like a good one. It summarizes your message and teases at valuable content your subscribers should want to read.
Things are looking good for successful completion of your email’s quest.
You’ve slain the subject line, securing safe passage for your email over the Mountain of Design Elements. How do you equip your email for the trip?
The mountain passage can be treacherous and spam filter bandits often waylay emails traveling this way. Especially the unarmed pretty ones. Not to mention that all images and no text are in fashion for unsolicited email these days. Spammers think it’s clever to try outsmarting content filters with a lack of text.
The filters pounce on your email and drag it away through the woods, locking it high up in a tower until a subscriber recognizes your sender name and rescues it, like a damsel in distress.
You’ve heard the warnings about spam filter bandits traveling this way, and arm your email with some extra content to make sure it passes through safely.
Balancing your images with text shows the spam filters that your email has nothing to hide, and the ISP calls off its hired bandits, allowing your email clear passage to the inbox.
After crossing the mountain safely, your HTML email meets a traveling adventurer who calls himself Plain Text. Plain Text suggests they form a party and combine their strengths to blaze through to the inbox together.
You email has made it this far on its own. What does it need plain text for? You ignore the beckoning text box in the message editor and send your HTML email on its way alone.
No one warned you that spam filter bandits are stronger on this side of the mountain. They see your HTML email traveling alone without a plain text companion and easily ambush it. They’re too strong for your email to fight off alone. Your email’s journey ends as it’s tossed in the spam folder.
You consider the power that a plain text companion could add to your email’s survival skills, and agree that forming a team is a smart proposition. You copy the text from your HTML message into the plain text box, joining their deliverability strengths. When HTML and plain text travel together, they’re less likely to be mistaken for spam impersonators.
Not all inboxes can accept HTML emails, so sending an additional plain text version allows the ISP to choose which format is most appropriate, allowing your message clear inbox passage. The powers of HTML and plain text combined face the spam filter bandits head-on and conquer them, reaching the inbox successfully.
Chapter 3: Engaged Listeners
Since your email campaign’s maiden voyage, you’ve sent several more emails on successful journeys to your subscribers’ inboxes. As months pass, you notice some subscribers on your list who haven’t opened any of your emails. You’re not sure what to make of it.
Do you investigate the issue or leave your subscribers alone?
It’s good to stay positive, right? This feels like rejection, but it should work itself out in time if you just keep sending emails. Persistence is everything. Those subscribers will open your message eventually.
Or they’ll get fed up and report your emails as spam. Some people aren’t interested enough in apples to read weekly offers and updates about them. Your reputation takes another hit. And you just ran out of healing potions. Your future delivery quests may end in defeat.
You send you emails on a treacherous quest against spam filters to reach your subscribers’ inboxes. You owe it to future adventurers to understand why some subscribers aren’t opening their messages. You send in your best delegate to help with reengaging.
Your reengagement delegate asks some pointed questions like, “Are you still interested in receiving emails from Red Delicious Apples, Inc.?” and “Is there something we could do better?” He even presents an option to unsubscribe to the customers whose fruit preferences have changed.
Letting disengaged subscribers opt-out cleans up your list, and your emails now go only to the inboxes that really want them.
Turn to the epilogue for your campaign’s successful conclusion.
Your email escaped the spam filters by delivering value and relevance to your subscribers’ inboxes. Best practices upheld your sender reputation, which means that future emails should complete their quests, too.
What choices will you make for your next email’s story?
There are more variables that effect deliverability than the decisions you make about your email’s content. AWeber takes care of the technical side of deliverability – like authentication, certification and bounce rates – but here are some additional deliverability resources if you’re sending on your own without an email service provider:
Email Delivery Terms Explained
ISP Summary Information from Word To The Wise, with everything you need to know about sending to specific ISPs