Email is probably just one of many ways that you connect and interact with people through your brand. It’s a quick way to tell your customers, friends, and subscribers something that might not be easy (or even possible) to effectively convey in person. Within minutes, thousands of people can get the same message – say about an in-store event you’re having next month. Try doing that in person or on the phone and you’d spend weeks traveling door-to-door or glued to your office chair. You’d probably miss your own event.
Let’s imagine for a moment that you decided to embark on that door-to-door adventure. What do you think you'd find?
Hopefully, plenty of people would open the door, recognize you and welcome you into their home, happy to hear about your event. But you'd also find some people cooking dinner or chasing their kids around in the backyard; they might open the door, but they're too busy to give serious attention to your message and don't invite you in. Perhaps a few people would take one look at you, wonder why you're there and dismiss you hastily. Others might not even know why you're there, and wait for you to simply disappear without acknowledgement.
Your email campaigns have pretty similar patterns, and we call that subscriber engagement. Email responses parallel each of the above scenarios. You see people who open, click, and act upon your email; people who open and skim; people who see it, register who's sent it, but ultimately delete it; and people who ignore it altogether. These responses help define your reputation with your recipients and with their chosen Internet Service Provider or email hosting provider.
How you stack up
Generally, you’re looking for open rates that exceed 20%. Industry averages fluctuate year to year, vertical to vertical, and purpose to purpose. You’re never going to catch everyone at the best time, but you want a core of subscribers that you can rely on to show interest. Beyond that, you want content that can convince that person with their hands full or who’s sleepily checking emails over a bowl of cereal to come back later when their attention span recovers.
Take a look at your latest mailing's results and compare them to similar mailings from the past. The first thing you’re looking for here is consistency. An upward trend is a good thing, and spikes above your average can point you to content you created that was really effective. Find what you’ve done well and turn that into your own set of best practices for your brand.
If you’re averaging open rates from 15-20%, you might want to spruce up your content, but as long as there’s not a clear downward trend, it’s unlikely you’ve run into an issue with your reputation. That said, if you see a downward trend or if your average open rates are below 15%, it’s safe to say that your reputation is an issue.
Fixing what’s broken
So, how do you repair a damaged reputation? Start with what you know. Even a low open rate means that someone was interested. Focus on those people; make sure you cultivate those relationships. Dig into data about people that aren’t opening or clicking. If they’ve been on your list for more than a year and never opened or clicked, lose them … just do it the smart way.
Consider sending a special email to folks who haven't opened or clicked in the last year. Ask them to confirm their opt-in, and remove them from your list if they don't. That might be hard for you to do, but if a person hasn't opened or clicked in the last 12 months (and if they aren't re-engaging now), it's time to let go. As Shakespeare once said, it's better to have loved and lost than to have sent people a bunch of emails they weren't interested in.
Once you’ve cleaned up your reputation, you’ll want to maintain it. This process starts at the collection of an email address and ends when they opt out (so, hopefully never).
1. Set clear expectations for the content and the frequency of your messages.
2. Pay attention to subscriber feedback and use that data to plan your communications.
3. Make it personal. Automation workflows, personalization fields, and segmenting can help you tailor a subscriber's experience and boost engagement.
4. Do all of this with the idea that you are reinforcing your brand’s relationship with individual people.
Some of you still aren't convinced. I can hear you saying, "No! I'm not letting go of these addresses. I built this list from the ground up! These people signed up, and they're mine to keep!” But I have to be frank: The days of list size determining your success are over, if they ever happened at all.
Think of it this way: You send to 10 people at a domain, one opens and nine ignore it, and this exact pattern occurs once a month for a year. What do you think your reputation is with that domain? Are you a sender of well-received emails, or do you send emails that the average person isn't interested in?
If you want your online reputation to be positive – and if you want to increase the likelihood that your emails will end up in future recipients’ inboxes rather than their spam folders – it's time to let go of those old email addresses. Focus on the people that really love what you do and on converting casual interest into rapt attention. As you build a core audience that shows interest, you increase your chance of hitting inboxes and making great impressions on new subscribers right from the start.
About the Author
As Emma's Deliverability and Compliance Lead, Art Quanstrom leads our efforts to create and enforce our policies for the use of our email platform, as well as guide the evolution of those policies.More Content by Art Quanstrom