Most email service providers will report messages that have been passed on to the Internet, and not “bounced”, as ‘delivered’; and subsequently reporting those metrics back to you in the form of a delivery rate. These delivery rates are often pretty high, and if your subsequent click thru rate is low…it must be the copy – not the quality of the list…right?
Think about it, when was the last time you saw any email service provider report saying delivery rates were less than somewhere in the range of 95-99%? What this figure typically means is out of every 100 emails sent on your behalf, only 1 to 5 of those come back as a bad email address or undeliverable (also known as a bounce). Once an email is sent, and it doesn’t register as a bounce, that has to mean it has been successfully delivered to a recipient’s inbox, right?
According to the Email Deliverability Benchmark Report released by “Return Path” back in July, deliverability failures continue to plague marketers but not necessarily revealed in deliverability reports. According to Return Path, what these reports don’t take into consideration is that some ISPs may go on to block the message or that the recipient may have spam filters in place. These exceptions leaves marketers with the impression that they are getting delivery rates of over 90% whereas around 80% was more likely. The reports goes on to say that for the first half of 2009 (January thru June); the average inbox placement rate for permission, commercial email in the US and Canada was 79.3%. Of the nearly 21% of email that is not delivered to the inbox, only 3.3% is sent to a “Junk” or “Bulk” email folder, while nearly 18% is simply not delivered at all – but not indicated as a bounce. Business email addresses protected by systems like Postini, Symantec or MessageLabs are even tougher where on average, only 72.4% of commercial email is delivered to the inbox through these enterprise systems. These systems are more likely to deliver messages to a junk folder as compared to consumer ISPs that are more likely to block email altogether. In the United States, of the top ISPs, the toughest inboxes to reach are those at MSN, Hotmail and Gmail. Marketers fare slightly better at Cox, USA.net and Time Warner Cable/Road Runner.
So what’s a smart marketer to do?
1. Don’t believe the bounce myth, that whatever gets sent and doesn’t bounce must have been received. The metric that simply uses emails sent vs. emails bounced is a bounce rate…instead ask for a deliverability rate. If they don’t know the difference…shop elsewhere. You should also inquire about the availability of other metrics like open rates or click-thru rates…if the so-called “deliverability rate” is high, but open rate low (say <10%)…you should question the accuracy of the “deliverability rate”.
2. Verify the accuracy and activity of the subscription base: Focus on those e-newsletters or list-builds that are acquired through proven online publishers who themselves have a vested interest in aggregating accurate and responsive online addresses and audience for their own business purposes and promotion vs. perhaps a 3rd party provider who is aggregating addresses from a mix of sources. Messages that your target audience doesn’t have access to will not generate a response.
3. Proven circulations are the way-to-go: E-newsletter publishers, especially those publications with a lengthy, proven track record, are likely to have a proven success rate and active readership. As a result, not only is the message more likely to be seen – the publishers should be able to give you a reasonable expectation range for subsequent activity for your campaign.
4. Take some responsibility for the issue: According to Direct Path most of the major drivers of poor deliverability rates are the direct result of marketing practices, not technical ones. These include complaints, which spike when email is unexpected or undervalued by the recipient and spam traps, which are most often found on old lists or have been built with poorly sourced data.
Link to the report (registration might be required): http://www.returnpath.net/downloads/resources/NOAM_deliverability_study.pdf