A Definitive Guide to Sunset Policy in 2020
Moving onto 2020, Email Deliverability is changing in many manners! One of the new jargon which is recently introduced in Email Arena is - Sunset Policy! But, trust me, it's not just a jargon but a concept you must look out for! Here in this article, I will try to explain the sunset policy and why implementing a proper sunset policy is must!
Good Email Deliverability depends on a host of factors but mainly the below triumvirate:
- Users reached out.
- Clear and Concise HTML content
- High reputed infrastructure in terms of IPs and domains.
If the above three are aligned and passing good hygiene tests then the Email Deliverability in 90% cases should be sorted out. All Mailbox Providers welcome engaging mails from their senders and penalize those senders who receive less engagement, Thus those users who are engaged positively with your brand communication are your loyal subscribers and they deserve to be treated well.
But what about those who have not shown any interest in opening your mails?
What is Email Sunset Policy?
Sunset Policy is an Email Marketing jargon used for a data pruning practice where the inactive users in your mailing list need to be removed from it if they are not responding to your Email Campaigns after a certain period of time.
Thus the Sun clearly needs to set on these email addresses and hence the name. The time period for which these inactive users should be kept in your CRM system, needs to be defined by you and will vary across brands.
Sunset Policy has become a buzzword for Email Deliverability lately, because of the negative implications of continuing to send emails to your non responders and Mailbox Providers taking corrective action for their users.
Having a good Sunset Policy can be a dealbreaker for a successful Email Program as it affects your Email Deliverability and hence the chances of your brand’s mails going into inbox or spam.
Now before we jump onto our Case study, we need to define the connection between good list hygiene and your Sunset Policy.
How to maintain a Healthy List Hygiene?
If you are into Email Marketing for a Brand, then your mailing list needs to be in proper shape.
That means it should be devoid of any kind of inactive email users who have not shown interest in your brand for a period of time, probable abusers who are annoyed to receive your brand’s mailing, invalid or unverified email users etc.
- To start with, have a confirmed opt-in process for sign up on your website and collect only those email subscribers who have agreed for your Email Newsletters.
- Filter out any unverified or invalid ids by using some email validation tool to root out those users from your list.
- Keep checking the email engagement of the users on your list to know how they respond to your mailing.
- Categorize them into Loyal , Active , Less active , Dormant ids.
- Your dormant ids will require your utmost attention here as if they are not opening your emails for say last 90 days then , they need to be targeted differently in order to win them back. More on it has been explained later in this post.
- Your Email Deliverability is closely linked with your list hygiene and nowhere did I see this more relevant than my company’s efforts to set a Sunset Policy for a newly onboarded client.
Here’s how we solved the issue and arrived at an indelible truth:
We onboarded an Ecommerce Retailer specialising in pharmacy products facing Deliverability issue with Gmail in September:
Challenge: Client facing low Email Deliverability in Gmail
Their inboxing statistics read something like this:
Inboxing across ISPs stood at 63% over a period of 30 days with Gmail being 64% and Yahoo 84%.
The overall spam percentage was 32.64% and for Gmail it was 36%.
Before onboarding them, we spoke with the Brand and tried to get their historical background in terms of inboxing , database and engagement in front of us to have some ground for analysis.
Once we analysed the statistics we identified the following issues that they had:
1. They were receiving high spam complaint rate of 0.2% in the past 1 week, which had brought a deterioration in the IPR.
2. Mailing was done on complete database of 4 million Email addresses for each generic offer campaign four times a week, out of which we discovered that 2.5 million were active and rest inactive.
(No wonder they had a spam rate! The sending frequency was double their preferred count)
The Reputation of sending domain was medium and authentication was getting passed accurately.
The open rates were decreasing in terms of their trend for last 3 months.
Here’s how our Deliverability Consultants Went about Solving it
We analysed their database from their existing ESP and compared their open rates on sending a generic campaign to active users and the same campaign to rest of the database.
We arrived at a certain pattern where the campaign sent to inactive users was giving less engagement than active users.
We figured out that the client was not getting much engagement from the rest of the users who were not engaged with the brand heavily. The conversions for these users were also low. This was bringing down the Inboxing for all the users as the Gmail reputation was getting affected after a high volume campaign.
Almost 1 in 100 users were clicking on the mails and getting re-directed to the website.
Thus, we arrived at a certain approach to suppress highly inactive users and created a strategy to target other low frequency opens.
1. Suppress last 2 months inactive users
Hence in the phase one of the plan to get their Deliverability back on track, we decided to suppress the last 60 days non opens from their database. These users might have been touched more than 10 times in last 2 months but yet not opened the mail.
So essentially we were targeting the opens for last 2 months. This brought down the spam rate to 0.1% and Gmail IPR increased to 80%+
There was still some oscillations in inboxing occurring and hence we needed to dive in deeper to understand the root cause of the issue.
2. Work on the Email Design Layout and have clear CTA
The earlier creative layout that they were using was a single image content with one click link which used to redirect to their landing page.
We decided to have a layout which had a healthy proportion of Images and Text and have a clear button for CTA to direct the users on where to click to redirect. We suggested this as according to our observation this trick always brings an up tick in click conversion.
The Engagement soared with above average open rates and good amount of clicks (0.8%) on the campaigns.
We also concurred that this could also be the result of increased Email Deliverability, hence the increase in engagement.
The plan was working!
3. Suppress last 3 months inactive users and reduce the frequency
After a deeper analysis of the database we realized that the number of inactive users between 60-90 days were much higher hence we needed to suppress these users as well.
Also we strategized to reduce the frequency of sending the campaign and bring it down to 2 per week.
That would provide some space for the active users and not overkill with our promotional offers.
As a result of the 2nd experiment, the spam complaint rate reduced to 0% and IPR scaled up to 90% + in less than 2 weeks.
We were finally inboxing on Gmail, and our campaigns were providing a good amount of traffic to the brand website.
This also led to a higher revenue for the brand as their offer purchases had increased to twice the original.
The above experiment provided some hitherto unexplored learnings
- Inactive Email ids in your mailing list need to be churned out using an appropriate Sunset policy.
- Customers respond better when they see unique relevant content with clear CTA, and where they can control the preferred number of times they are reached out.
The need to set user-defined preferences
- The users can be asked from the onset to have their mail redirected to a preference center page where they can update the number of times they wish to receive brand communications on a weekly or monthly basis.
- These need to be stored and segmented in your mailing list so that these users are reached out only those number of times they have opted for .
- When users receive relevant content at the right time and they are not overwhelmed with your offers or promotions, they will respond better to your brand and your spam complaint rate will be kept to a minimum. This is a gift for any Email Deliverability Expert!
If you don’t have a Sunset Policy
- Mailing to Inactive Email ids who are not engaged with your brand, for more than 90 days will hurt your Email Deliverability hard.
- They will also not provide any revenue or conversions as these users have no brand affinity and are not interested in any of your new offers.
- This set of users are not impossible to convert but will require double the efforts than getting new subscribers on your online platform.
- Major ISPs allow the emails to land in inbox for those users who actually wish to receive content from that brand and at a frequency they see fir for themselves. Hence, mailing to inactive non opens at a higher frequency will hit your domain and IP address hygiene.
- Some cold or dormant email ids are converted into potential honeypots , mailing to whom might get your domain and IP blacklisted with major anti-spam authorities. That is one rabbit hole you don’t wish to enter!
Benefits of having a Sunset Policy in place
- Email users who are not actively engaged with the brand will not receive any mails, hence this will improve your Email Deliverability and Reputation with major ISPs.
- Conversions and website traffic will significantly improve as you will target only your loyal subscribers and new registered subscribers who enter your CRM system.
- Lesser spam complaints and uptick in inboxing statistics across ISPs.
- If an automated sunset policy is set for dormant email ids then it will lead to an efficient list hygiene for your mailing list which will in turn benefit your Email Strategy.
Steps to implement a good Sunset Strategy
- When you mail to users from your mailing list, keep a watch for how many users have not opened your mails for last 60 days even once.
- These users need to be kept separate and monitored for their engagement statistics.
- The next time range to consider is non openers of your campaigns between last 60 to 90 days.
- These users need to be targeted with special win back campaigns which include discounts, membership requests , loyalty offers , sale item offers etc.
- Post the 90 day mark, if those users are still not engaged with the brand then they can be targeted on a monthly basis with the following automated campaigns.
- They need to be sent “We miss you “ themed campaigns and request to provide a feedback incase they are not happy with the campaigns or offers that are targeted to them.
- Social media can be an important tool to use here with Facebook custom ads or reaching out to these users via other social media platforms like Instagram, Whatsapp, Text Messages to get them to remain as your customer.
- Sometimes users change their email ids and become active on a new email, hence it is wise to send them a mailer in a month to request that they update new alternative id if they have one.
- Post this period of 90-180 days if the users are still single-digit opens or non-openers then they simply need to be discarded from the system.
Having an Email Sunset policy for disengaged users is a hallmark of a clean mailing list and improved Email Deliverability across ISPs.
The frequency of the campaigns targeted to your loyal subscribers' needs to be set according to user preferences to avoid reaching out to them more than that is necessary and make it an overwhelming experience.
Having an automated Sunset policy set for email users who have gone cold will ensure that they are targeted with “different” campaigns to win them back as customers. After reaching out to them through multiple strategies for a period of 6 months if they remain disengaged, then it is time to churn them out of the mailing list.