Email Deliverability and Beyond: Avoiding Bounces is Only Half the Battle

Database Quality: The Foundation of Email Deliverability

Bouncing emails are the scourge of any email marketing program. They can result in an array of negative outcomes including lowered response rates, lost revenues, wasted marketing resources, and, in the worst-case scenario, even blacklisting. Most email marketers keep a close eye on their email deliverability rate, as they should. Even with a stellar delivery rate, however, you could have serious data quality issues lurking beneath the surface of your email database…ready to strike at any moment.

Email Address Quality: It’s Not Just Skin Deep

For legitimate marketers, 90% of email deliverability issues are caused by hygiene problems with the underlying list. While it might seem counterintuitive, the deliverable email addresses in your file are likely to be the cause of your problem. Let’s take a closer look at these “deliverable but undesirable” email addresses, which you need to keep out of your marketing database in the first place or remove through regular email hygiene and correction processes after the fact:

  • Spamtraps: Deliverable but highly damaging, spamtraps can wreak havoc on even a scrupulous mailer’s program. A spamtrap is an address that has been identified by an anti-spam organization as one that “only” spammers would message; deploying a message to one of these addresses can result in immediate and often prolonged blacklisting, making them a significant concern for email marketers. While fighting spam is a worthy goal, spamtraps can inadvertently target conscientious mailers. The reason lies in how spamtrap addresses are generated. Many spamtraps are actually old and inactive addresses that have been identified as “dead” by ISPs; therefore, any mailer with a large percentage of inactive email addresses on their list can be at high risk for hitting a spamtrap. Equally worrisome for marketers, spamtraps can potentially be entered into databases either maliciously or simply through an inadvertent registration error. (For more info, see our article on spamtraps in the Oct 2011 edition of FreshPerspectives).
  • Spam Complainers, role accounts, and malicious addresses: Messaging individuals on the DMA’s “Do Not Email” list or those who have a history of recording excessive “this is spam” complaints can result in blocking or blacklisting issues. Similarly role accounts (e.g. tech@ or info@) typically result in high spam complaints as multiple recipients wind up receiving communications that they never individually registered for. Finally, malicious addresses (e.g.Abuse@aol.com) might be entered in by a disgruntled customer or unscrupulous competitor. The last place you want your emails sent to are the abuse departments at the major ISPs.
  • Disposable email addresses: Various providers offer consumers “dummy” or disposable email addresses for use in web registrations. Mailinator, Spamex, and SpamGourmet are just some of the disposable address providers on the market. Building a long-term relationship is difficult to do with a subscriber using a disposable email address. Furthermore, since some of these accounts forward to other email addresses, it’s best to keep these out of your database from the start.

Tips to Increase Data Quality and Improve Deliverability

So, what’s the formula to encourage your customers and prospects to provide you with a quality email address (i.e. one that’s deliverable, accurate, and primary)? And how can you prevent toxic and damaging email addresses from entering your database?

While there is no silver bullet, there are some steps we can suggest for the front-end, that is, at the point of email registration:

  • Answer “What’s in it for me”: Give the registrant a clear understanding of the benefits of furnishing you with their email address. Perhaps it’s a complimentary newsletter with unique content, shipping confirmations, exclusive sales or discount notifications, or contests. Ongoing access to “insider” benefits helps ensure that your customer will see value in the exchange.
  • Reassure: Make it clear how you will use their address and how you will protect their privacy.
  • Assist in self-proofing: Be sure to cover the basics: is your text box long enough (the average email address is 23 characters), is the typeface large enough to be easily legible? Confirmation pages can help with self-proofing. Encourage people to type carefully, but avoid having them type twice (many users will simply copy and paste their original entry into the second field, avoiding any potential error-catching benefit).
  • Reward accuracy: Make it clear that you will contact them at the registered address with valuable content, or perhaps a sign-up incentive such as a coupon or reward. Clearly communicate this at the point of registration to incentivize quality registrations. And be sure to send a follow-up email to close the loop and thank your subscriber for registering.
  • Use technology: Real-time cloud-based services, such as our Real-time Email Address Correction Technology (REACT), identify and correct errors while blocking damaging entries on the front-end, before they even enter your database. Use technology like this to prevent faulty, spamtrap, and disposable addresses from making their way into your file. And also be sure to conduct regular email hygiene on your existing file to ensure your database remains free of the thousands of hazardous addresses that are created each day.

Make a Commitment to Quality

When it comes to data quality and maximizing your email marketing revenues, avoiding bounces is only half the battle. Surprisingly, it’s your deliverable email addresses that will sooner bring a screeching halt to your email marketing program. Spamtraps, role accounts, malicious addresses, and spam complainers result in significantly more blacklisting issues than a high bounce rate. Other deliverable but low-quality addresses, such as typos and secondary accounts, can also result in lowered response rates, wasted effort, and even spam complaints. To best leverage your email marketing investment, check and correct your email registrations BEFORE they get into your marketing database and then perform regular email list hygiene on the backend to ensure your list stays fresh. Happy returns are just around the corner.

Email Hygiene Whitepaper

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