Inbox placement. We talk email deliverability with Michal Kidon, our Senior Account Manager

Michał Kidoń

When trying to decide which marketing solution is right for our organisation, we look at a platform’s feature and functionality set. Often however, we overlook one of the most important aspects prior to beginning a working relationship with an email vendor and that’s the level of expertise they can bring to the table once we begin our relationship with them.

Today, Adam Ambrożewicz takes the time to talk to Michał Kidoń, an email deliverability expert at ExpertSender about email deliverability and customer support.

AA: Michał, what’s one of the first questions that prospective customers ask you when it comes to deliverability?

MK:  Actually, that question depends on the type of customer that we’re dealing with or more specifically their business needs. E-commerce brands for example, have different priorities than those of affiliate marketers. The most frequent question however, relates to inbox placement, specific ISPs and how we can help them increase their deliverability rates.

This question is totally understandable, taking into account the growing number of email filters which force emailer marketers to pay special attention on how they manage their email campaigns. We guide our customers from the very beginning and because of this, they are already acutely aware of their deliverability challenges and how to deal with them.

AA: What’s one of the more popular ISPs they ask about?

MK: From my experience it’s mainly Yahoo, sometimes Gmail, but this of course depends on the market they operate in, but Yahoo is probably the most common one.

AA: Why do you think that the biggest problems tend to occur with Yahoo?

MK: Well, with both of these ISPs actually, user feedback plays its part, Yahoo and Gmail pay significant attention to what their users tell them about the communications they receive. How they react to them, whether they read their emails, whether they move their messages from the junk folder to the inbox folder or if they report messages as spam, which is perhaps the greatest factor which significantly affects the reputation of a sender. Therefore, it’s not only about the technical aspect on how to deliver messages but also paying special attention to how you organise your lists when sending to your subscribers. The more accurate your communication is, the better it is for your overall results.

AA: Do Yahoo and Gmail have a special feature within their platform which allows their users to give certain feedback about the quality of an email and does this impact on deliverability?

MK: Both these ISPs provide us with some statistics to analyse, although they differ slightly in terms of user feedback, Yahoo offers a regular feedback loop mechanism which allows us to see which particular subscriber submitted a spam complaint. We cannot only remove them from the list, but also analyse these reports and see if the ratios are increasing or maybe decreasing which also tells us if the customer is making progress with their campaigns. With Gmail on the other hand, it’s slightly different because although they do not share specific email addresses that submitted spam complaints, they do offer a solution which allows you to track the aggregate number of complaints over a certain period of time. It’s also a valuable tool to analyse the feedback that Gmail users provide.

AA: And you can see how your user feedback across campaigns changes historically over a certain period of time, whether they’re reacting positively or negatively?

MK: Yes, you can definitely match the days with the email campaigns you sent, so it is a very valuable tool, plus you obviously need to track the open ratios and other standard metrics that we gather because they can tell you whether the inbox placement rate is adequate or if there’s some work to do with your customer to improve the situation.

AA: We just talked about one of the more common questions that pop up from customers about inbox placement, but I’m sure you have an opinion on what questions every customer should ask, but often don’t, before making a decision on an email vendor?

MK: First of all, they should remember to ensure what kind of support they will receive, nowadays it’s relatively easy to find advanced technology, but not all ESPs can provide you with the same level of support. I believe that a customer’s success, starts with personalised and proactive support and building long term relationships with customers.

Another important matter is comparing the email vendor’s reporting capabilities because they differ greatly as well. Being able to analyse bounce or open ratios is nothing exceptional for instance. Let’s say however, that you add the scope of a certain domain family such as Yahoo which groups their domains, then view this group by specific IP addresses, this can then give you an additional piece of information about the deliverability performance of each IP address within an ISP family. This is clearly a big difference and a customer can use this information to modify the traffic share for a particular IP address to a respective ISP without modifying the entire traffic they generate; this can then become a decisive factor when deciding on an email vendor.

AA: When you’re talking about ISP families you mean, for example that Yahoo has various domains of their own?

MK: Yes, they provide different domains, it’s not only the most popular domain name yahoo.com, but they can have others such as ymail.com, rocketmail.com and all these smaller domains also go through Yahoo’s servers. They generate similar bounces; they affect the reputation that the Yahoo postmaster team analyses. So, if you can aggregate this information into one place, your customers won’t need to specify each domain separately and they won’t need to know all these domains for segmentation purposes. It’s therefore very helpful, as you can use domain families for reporting which allows you to see a general view of your deliverability performance rather than analysing each domain separately.

AA: A proactive approach to avoiding email deliverability problems is always better than reactively fixing them post-mortem. What are a few things that every email vendor should ensure that a customer does before sending out their first campaign?

MK: The first fundamental step is to do a proper interview with the customer. The vast majority of our customers have previous sending experience, so we have to know how long they have been collecting their subscribers and in what way exactly, because this also makes a big difference. We should also know how frequently their subscribers have been receiving emails and what efforts were made to deliver the content which they opted in for.

Finally, we should ascertain whether any email addresses generated hard bounces or had complaints submitted and whether our customer did anything to remove them from their list. All these factors are very important and every vendor should try to address them at the very beginning.

AA: What happens in the situation where a customer sending their first campaign has an emailing history which isn’t too interesting, where they haven’t sent to their subscribers for a long time and they’ve had very little activity. What’s something your customer should do before sending that first campaign?

MK: Well, I can actually see two scenarios, the first, where the customer just started their email program and are still building their subscriber’s list. My obvious advice would be to verify that the subscription process is well thought out and ensure that the email signup process on their website is sound. The subscriber should know what they can expect from the mailer and what content they’ll receive when signing up, so the more details there are, the better. If the sender is sending different content, it’s very nice to give the subscriber some choices. Provide a multi-select list for instance, with different categories of content that they can choose to receive. Another scenario that I would see is that of a sender who has not been sending to their list for a long time or obtained it from a partner.

In this case the quality of such a list, which is aging or maybe hasn’t been verified, can have a significant impact on the IPs reputation

In this case the quality of such a list, which is aging or maybe hasn’t been verified, can have a significant impact on the IPs reputation, therefore I’d never recommend sending to such email addresses. The client should verify the email addresses first and see if their owners are still interested, thus it’s a good idea to consider running a re-permission campaign.

AA: So those are some of the strategies we can use to avoid having any problems. Occasionally however, a customer does hit a spam trap, how can an email vendor help with a black listing removal?

MK: Before a customer starts sending emails, we conduct an investigation to find out if there are any potential threats, either related to the customer’s existing list or the subscription process for new subscribers which is equally important. Those threats are identified immediately, therefore significant issues with spam traps and corresponding black listings are very rare. Nevertheless, we realise that some customers who have multiple list sources or manage aging lists can sometimes have IP addresses or sending domains listed by black list vendors. In these cases, we advise our clients to cease sending their campaigns until the issue is analysed thoroughly.

AA: And how do you analyse what happened post-mortem?

MK: We take an in depth look into the situation of their account. We look into all the possible alerts that were sent and we try to verify the list with the customer to ensure they didn’t add any new emails from unverified sources. This gives us some details about the cause of the black listing. Other than that, we also look at the subscription process to see if any changes would have allowed unverified subscriptions to take place.

AA: In your opinion, what makes a good subscription process?    

MK: First of all, giving as many choices as possible to the potential subscriber, making them fully aware of what they can expect when signing up. Probably the best method to utilise is the double opt-in subscription process, because it allows you to confirm that the opt-ins are indeed planned and done by the people who will in fact become active subscribers on your list. This obviously limits the chances of building a larger list as might be the case with single opt-ins for instance, but the quality vastly increases, therefore we always recommend that double opt-in is the right way to go.

AA: Often customers want to send to a list as large as possible and they have a lot of anxiety when you tell them that, you know what, it might be better to only send to your engaged users making for a smaller list. How can you persuade a customer to follow such a strategy?

A dedicated IP space requires a warm up phase to build a solid reputation and for that you cannot send too many messages on day one.

MK: Basically, this is related to the ramp up process, so just the fact that our customers use a dedicated IP space means that they are building their reputation on their own. Obviously this is a huge plus, because it allows you to eventually send much larger volumes than you could on a shared IP space which has more limitations than a dedicated one. A dedicated IP space requires a warm up phase to build a solid reputation and for that you cannot send too many messages on day one. I realise that for some customers this may not be the answer they are looking for, but we try to explain to them that if they are consistent and build their volume gradually, the ramp up period may take only a few weeks and then they’ll be able to send very large volumes with satisfactory deliverability. This is a very important factor as ISPs look at the size of the sends, whether the volume patterns are balanced and how often the messages go out, so we do have to pay special attention on how this process runs.

AA: So a potential customer should look at their email marketing endeavours as a long term proposition and they’ll reap the rewards in the long term if they’re patient in the beginning.

MK: Yes, you will be rewarded in the long term, for sure.

AA: Thanks for your time today Michał, it was very insightful.

MK: I appreciate your time as well and I look forward to talking again in the future.