Election day and yet another email scandal? Just when you thought the presidential campaign season couldn’t get any more dramatic, accusations surfaced recently that Gmail is hiding presidential candidates’ emails.

Based on what we know about Gmail’s email practices, what we see in our own inboxes and what Gmail’s guide for bulk senders recommends, the problem appears to be more about not understanding how the Tabs system works and having sloppy list acquisition and aggressive sending habits. 

But, the Gmail dustup – especially the high number of emails going to spam – is a warning that you need to clean up your act if you want your emails to hit the inbox.

Why election emails are different

Election campaigns and commercial email marketing programs operate in different worlds. 

  • Election campaigns don’t operate under the same rules as commercial marketers. In the United States, CAN-SPAM regulations on commercial email don’t apply to election campaigns or officeholders’ email. 
  • Campaign volunteers usually don’t have the same email expertise as professionals. So they’re more likely to commit “worst practices” like buying, renting, borrowing and trading email lists and unrestrained frequency that can run afoul of ISP policies. 

However, the ISPs, which guard the gateways to their customers’ inboxes, don’t distinguish between political and commercial emails.  

7 ways to hit the inbox more often

There’s no silver bullet that will get your election emails delivered to the inbox every time. But following these general best practices can help you connect with your supporters more often.

1.) Do everything you can to collect fresh, first-party email addresses instead of relying on outside email lists

You don’t have a lot of time to build up a good email list. But you have one thing your brand marketing buddies don’t: more face time with people who are either committed or leaning in favor of your candidate. 

Ask for email addresses everywhere:

  • On every page of your campaign website
  • In print mailings
  • At fund-raisers and meet-and-greets
  • When collecting signatures on petitions from donors and other first-party sources
2.) Don’t use third-party lists until you clean and validate them

You don’t know how your list sources obtained those addresses, whether they’re up to date or valid or if the address owners care about your candidate or cause. Using a free service that pings each address to see if it’s live won’t fix the problem. 

  • An email validation service like FreshAddress’ SafeToSend offering, will check all addresses, correct problems and protect your list by flagging potentially hazardous or low-value addresses like spamtraps and disposable addresses. 
  • When you send, remove hard-bouncing or spam-complaint addresses. Repeatedly emailing these addresses can also get your messages blocked.

Bonus tip: Get more tips on list growth and hygiene our new white paper, Email List Hygiene and Growth Strategies for Political Campaigns.

3.) Use an email service provider

You might be tempted to save a few bucks and send out election campaign messages from a Gmail or Outlook account. Resist it! ISPs, both sending and receiving, often treat mass mailings going out from personal email inboxes as spam.

  • Many ESPs offer sophisticated sending abilities, like segmenting and timing messages and managing email lists, especially when handling unsubscribe requests.
  • Reputable ESPs are set up to meet ISPs’ strict sender requirements for identity and validation.
4.) Be transparent in your messaging

Your sender or “from” name should mention your candidate. Avoid using a different personal name unless your supporters would recognize or expect it, and stay away from “do not reply.”

In 2008, Barack Obama’s election campaign made history with a one-word subject line: “Hey.” It worked then, but don’t count on it for 2020. Instead, write a subject line that will motivate your supporters to open the email. 

Vary your message, too. You probably ask for donations in every email, but nobody is going to respond to a money rap every time. Your goal is to send messages that your supporters will open and act on regularly. That also signals to ISPs that you are a trusted sender.

5.) Watch how often you send and who’s sending emails

If your election campaign doesn’t maintain a tight rein over email, you can end up doing what we’re seeing right now in our inboxes – five, six or more emails daily from one campaign or related supporters. 

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas but without the presents!

  • Plan your email schedule, and limit access to the send button.
  • Ask third-party supporters to inform you before sending a message on your candidate’s behalf. 
6.) Use message templates that follow email best practices for size, length and formatting

Another point in favor of going with an ESP is that many will include formatted message templates you can modify. Funky coding, all-image emails and messages with a lot of hidden type to fool content filters will trigger spam filters or get blocked.

7.) Go multichannel to expand your reach and target your messaging

Postal append can add postal addresses to your email files. This will let you send direct-mail campaigns to supporters for whom you have only email addresses. It also gives you location data you can use to segment your list and target your messages to supporters who live in different areas. 

These targeted messages will be more relevant than mass sends, and they can generate more opens, clicks and action.

Email isn’t easy, but the solutions can be

Building an email program that drives value for your candidate or cause takes time and care. The effort you invest now will pay off down the road in more informed and engaged supporters, higher donations, more activity and better connections. 

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