Getting your emails into inboxes is getting increasingly more difficult. Over the last two years I’ve watched my open rates slowly dwindle, and after speaking to many other high level coaches I know that I’m not the only one.
Why is this happening? I have a couple of theories, though I’m sure there are many other factors.
1. Email service providers are getting “smarter”
(And yes, that is said with more than a little irony). They know you hate spam, and they want to keep you happy while using their services so they are getting much stricter about what emails get through – and sometimes their smarty-pants methods actually end up blocking the emails you DO want.
Take Gmail for example which has implemented the “promotions” tab where they automatically filter any email that comes from a bulk sender. Unfortunately that means that essentially any email that comes from our list management services get filtered into the promotions tab – regardless if you’re sending a newsletter to thousands or course material a single buyer.
Oh, and once your email address has been flagged as being used with a bulk provider, sometimes even the personal emails you’re sending get filtered into promotions.
Of course, Gmail users can manually override these decisions – which many users aren’t aware they can do, let alone how to do it. (Because the email you sent them explaining why and how to do it ended up in their promotions folder #fail). And oftentimes the override doesn’t work permanently.
2. People are getting burned out with email.
This one requires a little more explanation. Email marketing has been long-recognized as the most effective tool in online sales. So of course, it’s the most used, and everyone and their mother is sending you email to try to sell you something.
In the last two years though, a couple of trends have developed that are seriously burning out the industry. I swear, I’m on a list of a few coaches that all they send are promotions for each other. Each week they are promoting someone else’s new (or not so new) product, and the next week it’s another one and the cycle continues. It’s exhausting.
It also creates a bit of a snowball effect for subscribers. For one, because all of these people are promoting for each other there is a lot of cross over between their lists and subscribers will be getting the same promotion from multiple coaches. And if you’re in a similar industry, even if you aren’t focusing on cross promoting – you probably still have a few subscribers in common. So those burned out peeps are also on your list too.
What does this have to do with deliverability?
Well, as I said before email providers are getting “smart” and they will score you as a sender based on the number of people that are engaging with your emails. Less engagement means your reputation goes down and your emails are more likely to get filtered to a spam folder. If you have lots of burned out peeps on your list and they aren’t engaging, your reputation is going to go down and less of your email will be delivered. No bueno.
So let’s talk about how to improve your email deliverability even with these obstacles.
1. Improve your reputation.
This is really the name of the game even though it’s easier said than done. They key is to show email service providers that your content is engaging and quality. In order to do that, you need to increase your average open rate. Here’s one way to do this, which I’ve adapted from a method my colleague Justin Krane shared while I was interviewing him for my Brand Tales Podcast (episode coming soon).
You start by emailing only your most engaged subscribers. In some cases you might have a sub-list that you know is super engaged, or you might do a search for those that have been opening your emails consistently for the last 30 days and put them on a new sublist. We’ll call this group A.
So for a couple of weeks, the majority of your emails will be to group A. Your average open rate will be higher than if you were emailing your entire list, and this will help improve your reputation.
After you’ve worked on group A for a while, it’s time to introduce group B which are those that have been active in the last 60 days. So for a couple of weeks you will start to include group B in your emails (or you might even email group B separately from group A just to be able to track the difference in open rates).
Then last, you want to try to get group C involved which are those that haven’t opened your emails in 90 days. At this point, just sending emails to this group is probably futile because they’ve been inactive for so long – part of that could be that your emails weren’t getting into their inbox and now they might because of the work you’ve done so far – or it’s just that they aren’t interested in your info at the moment.
In either case, they require a special campaign. And to be fair, you could use this special campaign on group B as well which I believe will only increase your results.
So what is this special campaign? It’s a reengagement campaign, where you send 3 emails that are offering a special gift to get them reengaged with your content. This shouldn’t require an opt in, only a click to a page. Once they’ve clicked, they are considered reengaged and you can move them to group B.
If they don’t click, then it’s time to say Goodbye and remove them from your list. Which brings me to the next piece of improving your email deliverability.
2. Scrub your list.
This method can be understandably painful, it requires deleting many of those hard-won emails off of your list, but it becoming increasingly important as a way to keep your reputation up, and keep your emails landing in inboxes.
You start with the people that have unsubscribed, which if you’ve been in business for a while will be an alarmingly high number and extra painful to delete. But just remind yourself that these people aren’t receiving your emails anyway, no matter how good you reputation is. And if they want to come back, they can always re-opt in.
Then you move to those that haven’t reengaged with your reengagement campaign and aren’t active enough to keep. This one is probably more heartbreaking because you know there is a possibility they’ll miss out on your emails and you may feel guilty about removing them. But it is for the greater good, and again if they really notice you’re gone they’ll let you know and you can happily welcome them back into the fold.
I did this when I moved from Infusionsoft to Ontraport and my proud list of 13k was downsized to a little over 8k. And as I look at the numbers for my next scrub (I’m being even more thorough this time) it could go down below 5k. *tear*
But the payoff will be a much more engaged list, higher open rates, I’ll be serving the right people, and my email deliverability will be better overall. So it is a trade I am willing to make, because you know what? Numbers don’t really matter if your community isn’t opening your emails.
3. Allow subscribers to customize their experience.
As you know, as a society we get marketed to a lot, and we get A LOT of emails and they can get overwhelming. While a subscriber may love you and what you offer, some topics are going to speak to them more than others, and sometimes a promotion you’re doing is of no interest to them and if you keep hammering them about a topic they don’t want to hear about – they’re going to disengage (and/or unsubscribe) and miss out on the emails that they DO want.
You may have noticed recently that more and more marketers are allowing you to “customize your experience” and unsubscribe from certain promotions they’re doing, or change your email frequency.
Marie Forleo and Derek Halpern are two that I’ve seen do this really nicely. When they are doing a launch and know they are going to be sending a crap-ton of emails around a topic that not everyone might be ready for they’ll include a link at the bottom that allows you to opt out of just that campaign instead of their entire list. It usually says something like “Don’t want to hear about ____ right now? Just click here and I’ll stop telling you about it.”
Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing does this as well in a different way, he sends emails daily and at the end of each one it offers you a link if you’d like to switch your frequency to weekly instead, with assurance that you can always switch back.
The more respectful you are of your list, the more they are going to like you and want to stay engaged. This customization also prevents people from unsubscribing from ALL of your emails, just because they might not be interested in a certain topic or promotion.
4. Keep up with your list hygiene.
In this day and age, it’s no longer just about list building, it’s about keeping people engaged. What I’ve described above is becoming best practices across the industry.
I believe the conversation around list-building is going to increasingly turn toward engagement instead of only straight numbers as we come to accept that numbers really don’t matter. From the consumer end, customizing preferences and being more careful about the emails your receive is also going to become increasingly important.
If you want to increase your email deliverability over the long term, you’ll need to keep up with your list hygiene and not treat these steps as a “one and done’ activity. My plan is to put these on my calendar at least once a quarter for either myself, or an assistant to revisit.
What methods do you have for increasing email deliverability and/or list engagement?
Please share them in the comments along with any questions you might have.