Email Marketing: Taking Control of Email Deliverability


Hey there I’m Evan Murphy, Email Deliverability Tech Lead and Assistant Postmaster with HubSpot. How can you take control with an email deliverability strategy for your business? What are the important factors you’ll need to consider to set yourself up for success? We’re going to break down an email deliverability strategy into two key parts: first, what you can do before you the send, and second, what you can do after the send. First let’s dig into what you can do for email deliverability before you hit send on an email.

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Before you hit send, you want to do a few things: First, collect consent, second, create contact lists, and third, analyze engagement. The first is collecting consent for you and your business. In the email world, consent can be defined as any time you collect verifiable permission from an email recipient to send them email. Your email recipients must take an action, like filling out a form and giving consent, to grant consent to you and your business. By collecting verifiable permission from your contacts, you’re building a good foundation for your email deliverability strategy and, in turn, building the trust you need to create lasting relationships with your contacts.

For example, if you bought a list or enriched one to obtain new email addresses, you do not have permission to send emails to them. You cannot purchase consent or permission. Consent must be given freely by the contact to your business. Purchasing a list is just not an option when it comes to building trust and obtaining consent from your contacts.

Just don’t do this. Instead, collect consent where your contacts are freely giving it to your business. Asking your website visitors to fill out a form, for example, is a great way to obtain consent from them. Next up, we’re going to look at how to create contact lists and the different lenses through which you can analyze the contacts you’re building trust with.

This means looking at your contact lists with three things in mind: Sources, permissions, and expectations. The first is the source. Before sending an email to your contact list, you need to take a close look at how folks actually got onto that list. What is their source? What action did they take to get onto your list? Was it traffic being driven from your blog or even pillar pages? Or have they been in your CRM for a while and maybe not engaged? The source of your contacts helps you determine if you should be sending to them.

If you can’t determine their source then it might indicate you won’t have permission to send them, email which brings us to our next step: permissions. Do you, or does someone at your company, actually have permission to send to the contacts on the list? What type of permission did your contacts give you? Did you actually ask them for permission to send marketing email to them? Having permission is the key to building trust, because you’re being straightforward and honest with the people you are emailing. You are asking for permission, not assuming it. Under the General Data Protection Regulation, this permission and consent is the key to being compliant but also to developing trust that will earn you the right to process and communicate people’s information.

Think about how and where you ask for permission. Where can someone tell you that they want to receive your emails and decide on the type of emails they wish to receive? Where are you giving them those options? This could be on the forms your contacts fill out, or by calling out the preferences link in the footer of your emails so they can update their email preferences at any time. How you’re asking for permission and how you’re logging that permission will be your fuel to continually building and maintaining trust and the permission to send to your contacts.

If you buy a list, you should assume you’re not the only one who bought those contacts. As a result, you’re often grouped together with other senders buying lists. Can you guess where you’re all being grouped together? The junk folder. Any email marketing vendor worth their salt will not allow you to send to a purchased list.

For example, HubSpot has it described in our Acceptable Use Policy. And we are are not alone. Many other email marketing vendors have similarly documented this in their policies. Keep in mind that your email marketing strategy is a long game, and you and your business are worth it.

Don’t throw away the reputation that you are building by chasing after easy customers: they don’t exist. So before sending an email, ask yourself: “Do I feel good about the source of this list?” If someone complained directly to you and they said, “Hey, stop spamming me!” would you feel confident explaining how they provided consent to your company? This is where verifiable consent becomes extremely important. Would they believe your reasoning? Would your answer violate the terms of service of your email service provider? If your answers make you feel uncertain, the best practice is to verify their consent, so there’s no question that you have permission.

Once you know the source of your email list and then you have permission from your contacts, there’s one last piece that you will need to have before thinking about pressing send. This is expectations. What expectation was set about the content these contacts would receive or the frequency in which they would receive it? Do the people on your list expect you to email them? Were you clear about the content you would be sending and the frequency in which you would send when they granted you permission? Have you taken extra care to remind them who you are, why they are getting this message, and when they granted you permission? When you’re trying to figure out why your emails aren’t doing as well as they used to — why they aren’t doing as well as you want them to, or as well as your boss expects them to — there’s no room to settle.

Hold yourself and your emails to a higher standard. There is nothing more frustrating than getting an email in your inbox that makes you feel caught off-guard or confused about why you’re receiving it in the first place. This is why expectations is an important lense through which to look at your contact lists. For example, when reviewing your email performance metrics, you might determine that when an email send doesn’t perform well, it might be because the content doesn’t align with what they signed up for, or perhaps they’re being sent more email than they expected. Setting expectations up front is a good place to start. Take a look at the frequency and the value that your contacts are expecting. This is where your content strategy will help you build trust and provide lasting value.

Focus on sending content that your contacts expect and that will also provide value to them. Let’s look at one great example of how a company took their learnings from poor email deliverability and created actionable steps to win back the inbox. Natera is focused on providing a healthy experience for people during pregnancy. After experiencing disappointing open and click rates, Natera analyzed what was happening on their email sends and set out with a new attitude in mind: Helping their community have the healthiest pregnancies possible.

Natera had a “problem” with spam, which actually led to a positive outcome. In their case, this meant a directional change in Natera’s marketing strategy. They used a multi-step process to change the way they send email, including first, focusing on a segment or source instead of the entire database. Second, not sending to those who were no longer interested in their emails, which is observing permissions and respecting that these people no longer wanted mail. Third, altering the language in the content itself, which is adjusting their content strategy to better meet the content and frequency expectations of their subscribers. Fourth, cleaning and improving contact lists. Fifth, shifting to user-focused content that builds relationships and trust. And finally, educating internal teams on how everyone should be focused on this strategy. Here’s a quote directly from Natera on winning back the inbox: “The goal is to build trust with customers and provide them with useful information they couldn’t get anywhere else.

The development of highly personalized nurture campaigns will help you serve up helpful, relevant content based on where the customer is in their personal journey.” These are the three ways that you want to evaluate your email list through: sources, permissions, and expectations. And finally, the third thing you want to do before you hit send on an email is to analyze email engagement. Trust is fundamental to any relationship, and your company’s relationship with your contacts is no different. When evaluating how your emails are performing, you’ll analyze how your contacts are engaging with you.

This comes down to how much they’re trusting you and how much you’re respecting that trust. When viewing the post-send metrics of your emails, you’ll see the engagement, the opens, the clicks and seeing how they’ve performed. These are the elements that you will want to look at and explore before pressing send on an email: first, collecting consent Second, creating contact lists, and third, analyzing engagement. Now that you know what you want to do before pressing send, it’s time to focus on what happens after.

How are your emails performing, and how can you continually take control of your email deliverability strategy to be growing your business through email? After you send an email, you need to look at the signals that your contacts are giving you. What happened during the send that you can learn from? Your post-send metrics fall into two buckets: positive engagement and negative engagement. In positive engagement, you’ll track opens, clicks and conversations started. You see this information in your post-send details on your email sends. Are people replying to your emails? Are they opening or clicking? In negative engagement, you’ll track the contacts who bounced, contacts who churned, and other list atrophy, like perhaps spam reports.

Let’s look at each of these metrics and what you can learn about how your email performed. In positive engagement, you’ll see how your email continued to build relationships with people. The metrics here will tell you that the email you sent not only sparked someone’s interest to open but they then took action on that email with a click. This is an example of what happens when you send to a list of people whose contact sources are verifiable, who you had permission to send to, and above all, who expected to receive the email. This is the dream. This is what you are striving for each time you hit send. You are engaging in a conversation with someone and that’s providing value to them. By paying attention to the trends you’re seeing here, you’ll understand how well you’re engaging with people and what you can keep doing to engage with them.

Now let’s look at the negative engagement. These are the metrics that might not make you break out into a smile but are equally as important. This is the bucket where you will learn the most about your contacts and what you can do to improve your email deliverability strategy. When looking at this bucket, you want to focus on what the contacts who have churned, unsubscribed, or essentially decided they no longer want to communicate with you have in common. You can break down what they have in common by focusing on a few things: source, the opt-in status, and then aligning around expectations. This means essentially taking the part of the before-send framework and applying it again: sources, permissions, and expectations. The goal of applying the framework is to identify which part of your strategy to prioritize based on where you’re seeing a trend. Let’s walk through how you will define what they have in common and the next steps you can take from what you have learned about their commonality. The first step is looking at the whole group of contacts that you send the email to and defining the origin of these contacts.

Where did they come from? Was it a tradeshow, a form submission, or even an imported list from another event? You’re looking to see if the contacts’ source created a negative reaction to the email. Looking at the source will lead you to confirming what type of opt-in, you had on them. When we look at opt-in, there are three levels: opt-in, opt-out, and neutral. When someone opts-in, they are taking an action saying yes you can communicate with me and process my data. This means you have opt-in. You can take it a step further and use a double-opt in mechanism to confirm that opt-in action and put the additional confirmation behind it. However, there is also opt-out, where someone is saying the opposite of this. They do not wish to receive emails from you. Or there’s a third neutral status where they have not taken an action to confirm or deny their opt-in.

Answering these types of questions will give you a better idea of what occured on the email. Then you can take this relationship one step further by aligning with what they expected to receive from you and your business. This means sending them targeted and relevant information. It’s one thing to provide your contacts with an email that you have permission to send them, but sending what they expect to receive and thus what provides value will be where your relationship with them can really grow. Take, for example, when you sign up for a monthly blog update but start receiving emails on a weekly or even a daily basis. It’s not what you expected, and you can lose trust in the business that is sending these emails to you.

Expectations can be a powerful thing, and when set properly, they can help you grow your business. Now when looking at this bucket of the individuals that didn’t engage with you, you can focus on what they have in common. Did you find the source was not verifiable, or did you not collect permission to contact these people? Or maybe they had not expected this email in their inbox. The common threads will help you understand the areas you need to focus on moving forward, then, your next steps are applying what you learned to the next email send, to the next set of contacts, and with a renewed sense of building trust. This is how you can take control of an email deliverability strategy for your business and take actionable steps to improve on each email you send.


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