Using a Mass Email Service Effectively in 2020 – A Marketer’s Guide
This detailed guide talks about How can you use a Mass Email Service Effectively, especially if you are a marketer! The guide begins with formulating a model which can help you inbox your mass emails effectively, with 4 specific case studies. Later we move onto three major attributes you must look out for in your mass emailing service to achieve better deliverability!
While getting the entire email marketing program right- from choosing the right email service provider to deciding the right strategy, may seem a little complicated. This entire process is governed by very simple rules. You need to reach the inbox of the right user with the right content at the right time! Your emails need to stay as far away from the definition of spam as possible. And when it comes to Mass Emails, Spams become a very common notion and choosing a good Mass Email Service becomes all the more difficult.
Email marketing is growing at a fast pace. For those of you who doubt this: according to a recent survey by optinmonster-
102.6 trillion emails are sent every year and by 2022 this number is expected to scale up to 126.7 trillion! Statistics indicate that the average ROI is 38:1 for email marketing.
Hence no marketeer who is in sync with the market trends would play down email marketing.
Since it contributes heavily to the gross ROI of the marketing program of the brand, the marketeers must get it right!
Come 2020, with the increasing awareness of data security, the concept of zero inbox, you will be caught very early in the game if you don’t get your basics right! The latter part of 2019 saw updates from Gmail spam filters which caused emails landing in spam for users who had been targeted frequently but they never responded to the brand.
For a select set of brands, Gmail has started throwing prompts to the end-users to unsubscribe if they haven’t responded to the brand in the last 30 days. Basically the implementation of the sunset policy is crucial now: identifying users who have churned out and pulling them out of the mailing list.
So, Is there a Definite Model to Inbox your Mass Emails?
Generalizing is a sin in email marketing and each brand is like a unique case to crack. And when it comes to Email Deliverability of Mass Emails, you cannot have a go-to model!
However, there is one basic rule I follow while consulting any brand: I call it the 3R Model.
They should have the Right Mailing List, they should be assigned the Right Email Infrastructure and they should be using the Right Email Template.
The ways to attain the 3 check-boxes will vary for each brand, typically the first checkbox: choosing the right mailing list.
The Right Mailing List
For some, choosing the right e-mailing list is just another step, but if you are serious with the inboxing business - Choosing the right email list is a very important step.
Let's look at three of the major aspects that you should keep in mind while building an emailing list:
- End-User Affinity
- Sunset Policy
While choosing the right mailing list, you have to assess the affinity of the end-user. The 2 questions you may want to ask are :
- Does the user have an affinity to my brand?
- Does the user respond to promotional emails in general?
We will briefly go through the four possible cases as a result of the combination of different answers to the above pair of questions.
The second question can be answered by many data cleaning algorithms which look at social media presence and other factors to predict the affinity of the end-user on email as a channel.
If the end-user doesn’t have affinity to the brand & he doesn’t respond to promotional emails in general,first make him loyal and then try to engage him on email as a channel. Your focus will be on affinity. Building brand loyalty on the channel of email marketing becomes difficult if the user doesn’t respond to promotional emails.
You may try to catch the user’s attention by sending your campaign to his primary folder, but there’s always an underlying risk: the user may convert or the user may report the emails to spam. Additionally, there’s another problem-to land in the primary tab, you need users who are active on the email marketing channel.
If you don’t have active users, it becomes even more difficult, causing you to compromise on the design, making it less content-heavy and playing around with keywords to have the essence of triggered email communication.
If the end-user doesn’t have an affinity to the brand and he responds to promotional emails in general, send him reactivation campaigns with offers.
If the end-user has affinity to the brand but doesn’t respond to promotional emails in general, introduce some personalized offers only on email as a channel eg.reply-based campaigns enticing end-users to send auto filled replies, thus getting the brand’s sender id added to the user’s address book, referral emails encouraging users to forward the emails to their friends.
If the end-user has an affinity to the brand and he responds to promotional emails in general, start sending him your promotional campaigns right now, don’t wait!
Now that you have buckets of users based on affinity, it’s also necessary to consider the other attributes which can be associated with the users. We need to understand the right content to be sent and to make this happen, studying end-user behaviour is fundamental.
We need to understand the users based on the last transacted product, the purchase life cycle of the user and the number of drop-offs. End of the day, the idea is to create RFM models for all the attributes. eg. You can have an RFM model for a transaction, which will need you to map last transacted date and no. of times transacted.
Segmenting the offline and online data is also very important. This brings us to another interesting topic: getting your offline customers to respond to your emails. Most of the times, offline customers just want to finish the checkout process.
A study revealed that 45.68% of the users enter invalid email ids at the eCommerce stores.
The way we can counter this is by changing the data collection process: get the end-users to validate their email ids upon entry to the store and reward them with some loyalty points after the email ids are validated. These small hacks can ensure that the email ids in your mailing list actually add value to your business and you can make the most out of the mass email service,
As discussed earlier, identifying which users are not responding to your emails any more is necessary. The travelling salesman may revisit the door that didn’t open, but after a certain threshold of visits, he won’t knock on that door again! I can’t blame the marketers, but more often than not, owing to the ease with which they can connect with their customers in digital marketing, they forget this analogy.
The travelling salesman analogy applies to digital marketing and especially to email marketing.You need to choose your email service provider well, such that despite it being a DIY environment, they are able to get a second pair of eyes to revise your email marketing strategy and identify the churned users in time.
We can, of course, bucket them out of the regular mailing list and send win-back campaigns later on.
Also Read: A Definitive Guide to Sunset Policy in 2020
The Right Email Infrastructure
Once done with an email list, next in line is the infrastructure which is going to deliver those emails. Let's start with choosing the Email Service Provider!
The Email Service Provider
Choosing a right Email Service Provider is of the essence. Consulting in a DIY environment is better than no consulting in a DIY environment. The quality of solutions and the pricing must be evaluated together. You can peek into the pricing comparison among top email service providers like Sendgrid & Mailgun and other statistics on the following link-
The Sender Ips
The IPs assigned must be dedicated or shared with other brands which have a high inbox placement ratio and high open rates.
The Choice of the Sender Domain
The choice of the sender domain-the domain name used to send the emails-is crucial. The domain must not be listed in any real-time RBLs and must have had a good mailing history.
Since triggered email communication tends to have a high response rate, because these are emails triggered by the users and they expect the emails in their inbox, it’s highly advisable to stay as close to this infrastructure as possible. The ideal approach is to go for a sub-domain of the domain used to send triggered communication, which in most cases is the website domain.
Some brands also send promotional emails and triggered communication from the same domain.
This is a very good setup if the promotional mailing list is responsive.
Since we are talking about infrastructure, a little off-topic, I have recently come across many tech guys associating the score on senderscore.org with the IP reputation w.r.t. Gmail. If you are focussing on Gmail inboxing, Senderscore is not the right monitoring site: it may or may not coincide with Gmail Postmaster IP reputation results.
Gmail spam filters only refer to postmaster IP reputation and this reputation is visible for any envelope domain sending more than 500 emails.
Alerts & Monitoring
Coming back to the right infrastructure, you need to check with your email service provider about all the alerts and the monitoring system: basics like tracking Spamhaus listing, IP blocks need to be taken care of. The key to averting delivery errors is close monitoring of the user complaint rates. Spamhaus, Spamcop, Barracuda, Composite Blocking List(CBL) are some of the top email blacklists.
You can check if your domain is blacklisted by Email Blacklist Checker Tool
Another important aspect of the infrastructure is passing the right authentication.Google postmaster won’t let you measure the sender domain reputation until you sign DKIM on the sender domain.I have assisted many brands in improving their delivery rates after switching from vendors like Amazon and Sendgrid just by making sure DKIM & SPF success rates are 100%.
Since these authentication techniques were introduced to evade spam, all the prominent ISPs closely monitor email authentication. You will be in the good books of the spam filters if you pass all the authentication checks. I have also seen many cases wherein Gmail inboxing took a hit because DMARC was failing.
Marketers may also want to look at the delivery errors on Gmail postmaster. Gmail postmaster will display spikes in the delivery error graph whenever the IP is sending emails at a faster rate and larger volumes than it has been warmed up to send.
Or if the IP has a missing PTR record(PTR records help you map your IPs with a hostname) or the IP is listed in any RBL or the IP has very low reputation with Gmail spam filters or there’s a reject DMARC policy on the sender domain and DMARC is failing or the sender domain itself is listed in any RBL or the content is malicious. Delivery errors must be closely monitored and fixed immediately.
It’s important to understand how infrastructure forms the base of your email marketing program.For those of you who have watched Game of Thrones, your infrastructure is like the wall in the North and you must have a vigilant Night’s watch deployed to send you the right alerts at the right time.
The Right Email Template
It’s important to note any new email template which hasn’t been used earlier would not cause spam issues. There are two problems w.r.t. Email content, that any marketer wishes to solve:
- The template must not have an associated negative reputation, thus land in the user’s inbox.
- The template must be engaging enough for the end-user to click and visit the landing page.
The problems should be solved in the aforementioned chronological order because the email needs to land in the user’s inbox first. Once this is solved, we can focus on getting the end-user to click on the CTA buttons.
There’s nothing like a predefined ideal template as far as email deliverability is concerned. For good email deliverability on Gmail, the template shouldn’t have been used earlier for email campaigns which landed in the spam or had a lot of abuses and spam complaints. Gmail spam filters learn and evolve.
So all in all, your email template must be new and different from any template with a bad email history or it should have been used earlier with a good email history.
Besides this there are other do’s and don’ts like not using alt, title & map tags, not using commented codes, keeping the mail less image-heavy thus making it easier to load,(many Email Service Providers may advise you to have 40% image and 60% text-but these numbers may vary according to the campaign requirements) and not using any blacklisted phone numbers/addresses in the content.
These rules will take care of the deliverability rate of your email campaign. Now you have to ensure that the content that you have sent leads the user to the landing page. This is the part where you need to think from the end-user perspective.
A few hacks I can think of:
- Make your CTA buttons prominent. For mobile phones, the CTA buttons must be available within the first scroll.
- Place your logo strategically. The logo always builds brand affinity. If you are sending a promo email campaign with plenty of scrolls, place the logo at the top. If you don’t want to place it at the centre, place it at the top left because people read from left to right. If you are sending a transactional email communication with only 1 scroll, you may place the logo at the bottom.
- Use catchy and trending words for your CTA buttons. The words should be in sync with your offers. Eg. Get Now, Book Now etc.
- Never have horizontal scrolls: the width should be under 600 pixels.
- Don’t include java scripts/flash. These aren’t supported by most email clients.
- Play smartly with colours: Try to keep the dark colours reserved for the smaller sections eg CTA buttons, links etc.
- Lighter the better: try to reduce the size of the email by moving some of the content to the landing page/getting rid of redundant styles. Also keeping the size under 102 kb would help the email not get clipped by Gmail.
- Preheader text: It’s the part of the email campaign which complements the subject line. If the email lands in the inbox and the user has a brand affinity, a study revealed that the subject line and preheader had a 60:40 contribution respectively towards opens! Make the preheader text catchy and in sync with the subject line.
- Short & catchy subject lines: the subject line must grab eyeballs. It must not reveal the entire context of the email but drop a hint to the end-user! The intent of all email subject lines must be to invoke curiosity so that the end-user opens the email to know more. Name personalization helps in some cases as it makes the end-user feel important.
- Make your email campaign sound like the campaigns on the other channels like web push/app push. According to a survey by Litmus in 2018, only 24.8% of the brands who took part in the survey, had their email programs highly integrated with the other channels. Hence making your campaigns highly integrated with the other channels will give you an edge over 75.2% marketeers!
What Makes an Email Service Provider a Perfect Mass Email Service?
So, till now we have gone through the three important R's that you must take care for if you want to inbox your mass emails. Now we understand that sending mass emails is tricky, but it's not you who has to take care of everything.
You need to pick that Email Delivery Service which can help you deliver your mass emails without any fuss and gets you the desired results. Let's start with one major attribute that you must look in your ESP, AI-Based Delivery!
AI- Based Delivery
AI-based delivery makes your email marketing program come to life. I have a very nostalgic analogy to explain this.
When we lived in Kolkata, my mother would always take me to the Durga Puja pandal when the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ ceremony happened. Basically Pran Pratishtha in Hinduism is the process by which an idol is consecrated with the help of a few magic mantras.
AI-based delivery is basically that magic mantra for your email marketing program. Prediction models studying the end-user behaviour of the mailing lists and deciding when to target who makes you hit the sweet spot.
A few interesting examples of AI in email marketing:
Prioritizing the delivery based on probability to open
While we are aware of the process of warm-up, when an email campaign is sent, it goes through a reputation building process with Gmail. All the machine-learning spam filters go through a cycle of learning and reacting. When a mass email send out happens, Gmail learns from the response rate of the initial batch of users.
This is an interlocked process: if the user has a history of opening emails from the same sender ID, the emails are more likely to inbox and if the initial batch of users render good open rates, the campaign tends to have good reputation with Gmail and the chances of it landing in the lesser active users’ inbox increases.
Hence the idea is to always send the campaign at a higher speed to your active users and at a throttled speed to your inactive users. Such a model can be automated and if your ESP can take care of this process, you are one step closer to ensuring that less than 5% of your email send-out has landed in the end user’s spam box.
Targeting users based on their preferred time slot to open emails
Switching back to our travelling salesman analogy, the time at which the door is knocked plays a crucial part. You don’t wanna be knocking at the door when the user is sleeping or when he is occupied.Time of send-out plays a key role. This is very crucial. Reaching the end-users at the right time is very useful for generating better open rates. According to a survey by Sparkpost, there was a 43% jump in open rates after targeting the users in their optimized engagement hour.
The idea is to bucket users based on their preferred hour of the day to open emails and target users in the preferred hour only.
Two important parameters to be looked at are:
- Mean-time to first engagement: The average time in hours, from delivery of an email to the recipient’s first open. This should below.
- The day of the week: the open time may vary according to the day in the week. Weekends and weekdays would have different open trends.
The AI model must be fed at least three months of data so that the right open trends are predicted. While the data feeding part is on, try to play around with your send-out timings so that there’s enough data.
Next thing you ought to look out for is- Content Personalisation!
Sending dynamic content has become more frequent over the last 2-3 years. Not only targeting the right users at the right time is important but also sending the right content is an equally important aspect when it comes to rendering opens.
There are models which will help you cross-sell, picking up the products from the product catalogue based on the last transacted product.
Should I cross-sell or should I resell the same product?
Product life cycle comes into the picture over here. If the same product can be purchased again, you must resell. In the clothing eCommerce industry, you would like to upsell the same type of products based on the last transacted product. i.e. if the last transacted product was a T-shirt, you may want to pick up T-shirts from the product catalogue.
On the contrary, if it’s the eyewear industry, cross-selling would help. If the last transacted product was spectacles, you may want to upsell sunglasses.
Similarly, in the OTT industry, dynamic content makes a huge difference. You would want to target users with content based on the recommendations from the recommendation algorithms.An example of such a campaign is as follows :
Look for an ESP which can help you make your emails land in the primary tab for your active users.In Pepipost, we have a team of experts who can run several rounds of testing, to ensure that a certain combination of pre-header, subject line, footer, sender ID and template layout are used for the promo emails such that the emails land in the primary tab for active users.
Getting your emails to hit the primary tab would give at least a 50% jump to your open rates, but you have to know your audience well. If the mailing list doesn’t have a brand affinity, it could cause increased no. of unsubscribes and spam complaints.
Sometimes primary inboxing can’t be sustained as the end-users are used to receiving the emails in the Promotions tab.
I was assisting an e-commerce brand from Indonesia and they wanted to try primary inboxing. We tried it for a week or two and after that Gmail started assigning a negative signature to the template and the sender ID, due to the increase in spam complaints delete: read ratio, causing the emails to land in spam.
Woah! This has been a long guide! Didn't really think it to go that far! Email marketing in 2020 isn’t going to be an easy ball game. You need to get your basics right. All departments: From your marketing strategy to your monitoring skills will count. You must also keep yourself updated with the recent developments.
With Gmail AMP use cases becoming more and more popular, we are entering a new era of email marketing.
Ensure that you are selecting an ESP which is equipped to handle all the latest feature launches. Currently, Pepipost is one of the few ESPs in India which supports the AMP MIME version. You must have heard a lot about AMP. Very briefly describing AMP as a feature: the intent is to reduce the end-user hops and let the end-user complete the entire journey within the email instead of having to navigate the landing page. The use cases mainly fall under 2 categories :
- Use case involving a contact form/feedback form which can be filled within the email itself and passed to your CRM using a POST & GET method.
- Use case which replicates the website within the email.
The former requires integration. The latter is easier to implement.
Besides the new features like AMP, annotations & mark-up, don’t overlook the basics. Always maintain the hygiene of your mailing list, know them well by mapping the right attributes. Have the right infrastructure assigned, open the right no. of SMTP connections with Gmail, in proportion with the volume you are sending and target the right segments with the right content.
In 2020, you can’t get the right ROI from emails by getting it right in a few departments. Imagine that your email program is like a Cricket team, and all departments in a Cricket team must fire for the team to be the best: the top order, the middle order, the fast bowlers, the spin bowlers and the wicketkeeper.
Similarly, you need to ensure that your database is well segmented, your infrastructure has a good reputation and you are sending content with no prior negative reputation and that your content grabs the users’ eyeballs!
I hope that this guide justifies with your mass emailing needs and requirements! Feel free to drop down your queries in the comment section below.
Thank you for reading!
Some Additional Reads:
Learn more about Importance of AMP for Emails