Today, it’s hard to think about email marketing without marketing automation. Marketing automation is deeply involved in everything from sending out email broadcasts to delivering autoresponders after a form completion. Because it’s involved in so many core, day-to-day tasks, many of the system’s additional capabilities can go unnoticed.
Take email deliverability for example. Everything starts with good deliverability. It means more messages reach their recipients, which translates to more conversions down the line. Unfortunately, this area can be a struggle. Major issues, like being put on a blacklist, can be downright crippling to your efforts.
Marketing automation systems, particularly the more advanced systems, have the ability to help you better your email deliverability. Some often-underutilized capabilities – namely in data management and automatic email suppression – can go a long way in circumventing deliverability issues.
Below, we’ll take a look at three ways you can use marketing automation to better your email deliverability.
1. Suppress repeat bounces
Bounces go hand in hand with purchased data. But even if you got a hold of all of your data through opt-ins, some list decay is natural.
As people change jobs, retire, and get married, their information changes. This can lead to emails that are invalid or no longer exist, and thus hard bounces. Combine that with full inboxes, downed servers, or messages that are too large, which can also cause an email to soft bounce.
Spam filters use bounce rates as a factor in determining the reputation of a sender. They see a high bounce rate as a sign that the sender has little familiarity with the recipients. A good rule of thumb is to aim for a hard bounce rate under 1% and a soft bounce rate under 5-7%.
What you can do
Generally, hard bounces are taken care of by default in marketing automation systems. A contact who hard bounces will be excluded from future broadcasts. Soft bounces, on the other hand, don’t typically have the same strict rules.
Depending on the system, soft bounces might be suppressed for a brief period (~24 hours) or not suppressed at all following a bounce. That means soft bounces who reside on frequently targeted lists can seriously drive up your bounce rates through repeat bounces.
To resolve this issue, comb through your marketing automation settings and look for the contact/data management settings. Most systems will have an option here to suppress a contact after X number of soft bounces. The defaults can be a bit liberal. We’d recommend suppressing a contact after three soft bounces (or about a week’s worth of sends if you’re a high-volume sender).
More advanced systems will give you additional options. Some allow you to wait after sending to a contact that soft bounced and still suppress after a certain number of total bounces. A hybrid approach like that helps to keep temporary issues from suppressing a contact indefinitely.
2. Filter out junk/undesirable data
If your database includes any type of user-provided data, then you’re going to have (at least some) bad data. It’s as simple as that.
Users will find new and exciting ways to falsify their information and get past forms. It goes with the territory. Chances are, someone who would go to such lengths to avoid being contacted wouldn’t be a good fit anyway.
The biggest issue is this practice tends to fill your database with bad records. Made-up addresses can lead to hard bounces for your autoresponders, while deliverable “junk” email addresses can amount to a lot of wasted sends.
Sending volume is another factor considered by spam filters. Spammers rely on high volume to make up for abysmal conversion rates. Accordingly, spam filters look for large sending volumes as a sign of spam.
What you can do
Your forms are your first line of defense. The better your form validation, the less junk makes it into your database. Check for single letters, strings of letters in alphabetical order, the word “test,” swear words, and numbers where they shouldn’t be.
The next part is more manual. You’ll want to look at your database as a whole. Some marketing automation systems have good built-in sorting and management tools. For others, it’s easier to export and sort in your program of choice.
When you’re going through the data, you’ll want to look for
- Fake addresses that slipped through your validation
- Role accounts (marketing@, support@, admin@, etc.)
- Non-opportunities (students, job seekers, etc.)
- Contacts disqualified by Sales
- Personal email addresses (if you’re B2B)
You don’t necessarily need to remove all of the above from your database, but you should remove them from the lists receiving your marketing messages. That will serve to eliminate wasted sends and free up some seats in your automation system to boot.
3. Remove inactives
If you send to the same audiences over time, as most marketers do, you’ll notice some interesting trends in email engagement: Generally speaking, you have a group of regular participants, a group who participate sporadically, a group who have only participated once, and a large group that’s never engaged at all.
It’s the final group that we’re most interested in here. Essentially, we want to find contacts who have had ample opportunity to engage, but have not engaged for a significant period of time. These contacts have a very low likelihood of engaging on future broadcast, making them essentially wasted sends.
As was the case with data, unnecessarily high sending volume can trigger spam filters. High volumes of low-converting traffic are especially bad. Removing from inactive contacts both lowers your sending volume and increases you conversion rates (by removing those unlikely to convert).
What you can do
To determine which contacts are inactive, you need to nail down two benchmarks, the number of emails they’ve been sent and time between emails.
The number of emails are important because they represent the opportunities to engage. A contact who only receive a few emails over the course of the year might be paying attention, but not interested by any of the specific messages.
Tracking the time between emails prevents you from sorting out contacts who are temporarily unavailable. High-volume senders could hit the same contact four or five times in a week. A contact who is on vacation could easily miss all of those emails – or maybe even more between preparation and catch-up from the trip.
Play with your values and run reports. You’ll want to see the number of contacts impacted before you make any permanent changes. Adjust to be more aggressive or conservative, based on the deliverability impact you want.
(It’s also important to note that inactive contacts shouldn’t be completely discarded. You can run targeted re-engagement campaigns to try to revive them.)
Though it may not be the first thing that comes to mind, marketing automation can be an important tool to improve email deliverability. Give some of these tactics a try, get more value from your automation systems, and watch more of your emails make it to the inbox.
Let us know what you think:
- What marketing automation system do you use?
- Is email deliverability a problem for you?
- How do you use marketing automation to improve email deliverability?