Article | October 16, 2017

5 Ways Retailers Can Boost Their Email Marketing ROI

By Jen Ribble, Director of Public Relations at Return Path

drug delivery trends

The holidays are approaching and smart retailers know email is an effective channel for reaching customers. In terms of ROI, email is the most effective marketing channel, generating an average of $38 for every dollar spent. And consumers consistently rate email as the top channel for brand communications — regardless of age. From millennials to Baby Boomers, a majority of consumers prefer email.

It’s clear the email channel is as relevant and valuable as ever, but in order to perform effectively your email campaigns have to actually reach their intended target. Think about this: If your email promotions and discount offers are getting filtered to the spam folder, how many sales are they going to drive? So the most basic — and most effective — thing you can do to maximize email ROI is to improve your deliverability. The following tips can help to make sure your emails reach the inbox this holiday season.

  1. Understand Your Sender Reputation
    Sender reputation is one of the most important factors in determining if and where email is delivered. Mailbox providers use sender reputation to make a baseline judgement as to whether or not an email is legitimate.

To better understand your sender reputation, you can use a free tool like Sender Score, which expresses reputation as a number between 1 and 100. The higher the score, the better your reputation and the less likely mailbox providers will send your messages to spam. Sender Score mimics the way mailbox providers evaluate a sender’s reputation, taking into account factors like spam complaints, blacklisting, and spam traps.

According to Return Path’s 2017 Sender Score Benchmark Report, inbox placement increases dramatically with improved sender reputation — especially at Gmail, Microsoft, and Yahoo. Senders scoring above 91-100 (the best possible reputation score) had significantly more of their messages delivered to this inbox, while those scoring below 90 saw more mail diverted to the spam folder.

  1. Check For Common Problems
    Numerous factors play into email deliverability and it can be challenging to pinpoint the problem when deliverability metrics start dropping. If you’re experiencing deliverability issues, start by looking into these common issues.
  • Spam complaints. Any time a subscriber marks your messages as spam, it’s a strong signal to mailbox providers your content is unwelcome. According to the Return Path study, senders with the best reputation — those with a Sender Score of 91 or better — had a complaint rate below 0.5 percent. To keep spam complaints in check, use a preference center to help ensure you’re sending the content subscribers want, at the frequency they want to receive it. You can also sign up for feedback loops with individual mailbox providers so you’ll be notified any time a subscriber complains.
  • List hygiene issues. It’s absolutely critical to compile your email list through legitimate means and to promptly remove any email addresses that produce a hard bounce or complaint. Sending to unknown users or spam traps is a sure way to get your email sent to spam and could eventually lead to blacklisting with one or more mailbox providers.
  • Blacklisting. A blacklist is essentially a list of domains and IP addresses known to be sources of spam. There are numerous blacklists and each mailbox provider considers one or more of these in their reputation calculations. Use a blacklist lookup tool regularly to make sure you haven’t landed on a blacklist. If you find you have been blacklisted, the process for delisting is normally available on the blacklist website.
  • Lack of authentication. Authentication standards like SPF, DKIM, and DMARC help mailbox providers to confirm a sender’s identity. If the identity of the sender cannot be authenticated, mailbox providers may reject the message or put it through additional filters to determine whether it should be delivered. Without authentication, the chances of having your email filtered or blocked by major mailbox providers will increase.
  1. Recognize The Importance Of Gmail
    With more than a billion active users worldwide, Gmail is the world’s largest webmail provider. A quick scan of your email list will probably reveal a significant percentage of Gmail users, so understanding how to reach Gmail inboxes is critical for retailers — but unfortunately it’s no easy task.

Historically, Gmail has been quite secretive about their deliverability policies. Unlike other major mailbox providers, Gmail does not use common resources like third party whitelists and public blacklists. They also provide limited support for senders looking to research their Gmail deliverability.

There is some good news, however. Gmail has recently begun to relax the secrecy around their deliverability requirements, starting with the launch of their postmaster site in 2015. Using this site, verified and authenticated senders can access bulk sender guidelines, dashboards, and Gmail’s unique feedback loop. Retailers with a significant number of Gmail addresses on their email list should familiarize themselves with these resources.

  1. Know Your Subscribers
    Every retail brand knows the importance of a loyal, engaged customer base — the repeat buyers, the brand enthusiasts, the unpaid spokespeople for your company. But there’s another important benefit to having loyal customers beyond the steady stream of revenue they provide. They can also help to ensure your email messages reach the inbox.

In an effort to combat spam and other threats, mailbox providers have developed sophisticated algorithms to understand what content their users truly value. More and more, mailbox providers like Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and AOL are including engagement metrics in these algorithms to catch unwanted email before it’s delivered to the inbox.

Engagement metrics go beyond sender reputation to look at things like how many messages are read, replied to, forwarded, and deleted without reading. By understanding subscriber interactions with a particular sender’s messages, mailbox providers are better able to determine whether those emails are wanted by subscribers.

These same metrics can help you understand why your deliverability is suffering.

  1. Consider A Whitelisting Service
    Whitelists are the “secret weapon” of top email marketers. A whitelist is a record of senders who meet established standards for reputation, engagement, and sending practices, thus proving themselves to be legitimate and responsible. Whitelisted senders receive special perks and benefits which may include less stringent filtering, zero throttling, and other perks, resulting in higher inbox placement rates.

Individual mailbox providers may offer proprietary whitelists, but they can only provide benefits for mail sent to their own users. Most retailers have subscribers at multiple mail clients, so it may be worthwhile to look for a more universal whitelist that offers preferred deliverability with multiple mailbox providers.