What's the number one way that people want to hear from you? Email. According to research from Exact Target, up to 91% of consumers use email every day. And, based on consumer preference, email is the number one direct channel for daily marketing communication.
Email's popularity is great news for associations and businesses because email it's a cheap and easy way to get in touch with members and prospects. But despite the high likelihood of members preferring that you email them, there are still obstacles that prevent your emails from being effective.
Deliverability is right at the top of that list, especially since the 2016 Deliverability Benchmarking Study from Return Path found that up to 30% of emails are never delivered.
With nearly 3 out of every 10 emails missing their mark, your members may not be getting the valuable information they need and your organization may not be getting its message across. What do you do when your emails never make it into your members' inboxes?
To ensure that you and your members actually receive your emails, deliverability needs to be part of your strategy. You need to focus not only on the content in your email, but your settings, email list, and reputation.
If you are sending emails through an email marketing tool, marketing software, CRM or membership software, it is important to make sure your software has the capabilities you need. You also need to set it up to support the following guidelines so you can take full advantage of these deliverability secrets.
4 Secrets to Improve Email Deliverability
These four overlooked tips will help you craft credible emails that internet service providers (ISPs) send straight to the inbox.
Secret #1) Set Up Your SPF and DKIM
We'll begin by looking at your technical settings.
- SPF: SPF stands for Sender Policy Framework, which is a tool used to identify the servers that are allowed to send messages from your domain name (remember, your domain name is your web address, such as socious.com, i.e. @socious.com).
- DKIM: DKIM stands for DomainKeys Identified Mail and is a tool that lets your server provide a signature code in your emails. That signature is unique to your domain name and is based on several parameters within the email including sender, recipient, and subject. When the recipient receives the email, it looks up the signature to make sure it is still valid based on those parameters.
Both SPF and DKIM are standards for email authentication. They use your domain name to trace emails back to your organization, ensuring that they were sent from a trusted source (you) and were not forged. Without the right SPF and DKIM settings, email account providers, like Google and Yahoo, may think your emails are dangerous, or just spam, and they won't pass them on to your members.
Make sure that SPF and DKIM don't stand in the way of your emails being delivered. Set up your emails to come from your domain name and double check that your technology systems have their SPF and DKIM settings correctly applied. These setting can be found in your Domain Name System (DNS) configuration.
CRMs or association management software with a built-in email engine makes managing these settings easy. Often, they're included in an "email deliverability" section and there's typically help documentation with specific steps to follow if you have trouble.
If you're a Socious customer, you have access to a built-in email system and help documentation for your MemberCloud software. Once you have SPF and DKIM set up on the DNS side, it's also easy to use MemberCloud to point to that authentication and even test that it's working correctly.
Expert Tip: You should set up SPF and DKIM for your organization's email account, but don't forget about your personal or staff emails. They should also be connected to your authentication processes so that your one-on-one emails with members and prospects don't get blocked.
Secret #2) Improve Your Sender Reputation
According to Kissmetrics, the biggest reason why emails are not delivered is because of a low sender reputation. Your sender reputation, also known as your sender score, is determined by third parties like Return Path and used by email account providers to determine whether or not they should deliver your emails. Your spam complains, blacklists, and subscriber engagement, among other factors, will all affect your score.
You can check your sender reputation for free with Return Path. If your score is above 80, you're probably seeing high delivery rates. If your score is lower than 70, then your emails are being heavily filtered and it's time to work on improving your reputation.
To improve your sender reputation, make sure people want to receive your emails by creating a single or double opt-in process for your email list.
- A single opt-in is where members check on a box or fill out a form to receive updates (or don't uncheck a pre-checked box).
- A double opt-in has this same form or checkbox, but also asks members to confirm their subscription in the first email. They won't receive any more emails without the second confirmation.
Opt-in processes, especially double opt-ins, help ensure that members want your emails and won't hurt your reputation by reporting you as spam.
To further boost your score, create hyper-relevant emails with helpful information. Send those emails to a targeted audience consisting only of members and prospects who are most likely to be interested in opening and clicking on your emails. When you create these kinds of hyper-relevant, targeted emails, you have a better chance of engaging your members and thus improving your sender reputation.
Secret #3) Clean Your List
The quality of your email list can have a big impact on your deliverability because ISPs keep track of how many emails you send and how many are delivered. Unknown senders, spam traps (also called honey pots) where emails are not used by a real person, but instead by an ISP or anti-spam organization, and hard bounces will all hurt your deliverability.
Hard bounces, for example, occur when you send an email to an address that has been closed or no longer exists. Every time you send a message to those invalid addresses it cannot possibly be delivered, which is why it triggers a hard bounce that ISPs record and remember. Too many hard bounces will cause ISPs and email account providers to lower your delivery rate.
To mitigate list quality problems, keep your data clean and your entire email list updated. Get rid of any email addresses that trigger a hard bounce as soon as you notice the issue, preferably, right after the second hard bounce. Why wait until the second? Sometimes there is a technical issue causing a hard bounce. It is important to get rid of dead email addresses, but you don't want to can a good contact prematurely.
Secret #4) Encourage Whitelisting
Whitelists, another factor that affects your sender score, are what you're put on when recipients add you to their address book. Whitelists show that you are trusted by recipients and that your messages are wanted. Once you're on a whitelist, your emails will go directly to that members' inbox and the more whitelists you're on, the better your sender score and delivery rate.
To encourage whitelisting, ask your recipients to add you to their contact list. This is easy to do with your new subscribers, as your welcome email can include a short sentence asking members to add you to their address book. A double opt-in email is another good place to request that your members whitelist you.
Expert Tip: In addition to whitelisting, your members should have the ability to unsubscribe from emails.
Many countries including the United States, have even made it illegal not to provide an unsubscribe option. Follow the rules and include a simple, easy-to-find unsubscribe link that your recipients can use any time they decide your emails are no longer helpful. Think of unsubscribe links as a useful tool for decreasing spam reports. Why bother with spam when unsubscribing is just as convenient?
Email Deliverability Takeaway
Getting your emails in front of people is about more than just the content inside the messages. It also has to do with your data, such as your email list, and how trusted you are as an organization. Make sure you provide relevant messages to people who are interested in hearing from you and you ensure that recipients, email providers, and ISPs know your messages can be trusted.
If you take steps to secure your reputation and be helpful to your members and prospects, email will become an even more effective tool for delivering value and messages about your organization.