Cause and Effect: Countering Common Deliverability Excuses

Thank you for joining us for Deliverability Week! Don't forget to click on through to find even more great articles and content highlighting what deliverability is and why it matters. Today's guest post comes courtesy of Compliance and Deliverability Enablement expert (and queen of memesAlison Gootee. Take it away, Alison!

In 2024, email marketing is essential to many brands' success. Trillions of messages are sent every year, generating billions in revenue for businesses small and large. Due in part to email's ubiquity, senders are a diverse group with unique experiences, outcomes, and goals.

Despite the wide range of people and the products they market, one thing remains consistent across all verticals: excuses!

Because the principles of deliverability are universal and best practices apply to everyone, reputation management techniques are basically identical around the world and across all mailbox providers. In the simplest terms, senders of all sizes need to send valuable, authenticated messages to people who want and expect that mail.

If you're experiencing degraded deliverability, the most likely reason is that you're exhibiting signs of sending unwanted email and will need to stop doing that if you want your results to improve. Depending on your current practices, this might mean adding some protective friction to your signup process (like COI), sunsetting lapsed users, or both. Even after implementing improvements, it can still take several weeks or even months for reputation to recover.

Deliverability consultants are so familiar with repetitive sender rationale that there's even a bingo card. Though much about email has changed since Laura made that post in 2015, the conversations mostly haven't. Same discussion, different sender! A common thread throughout these excuses is that senders forget that their subscribers are human beings, not just email addresses. Most of the time, the problem isn't the pipes, it's your practices!

In honor of Deliverability Week, I'm debunking the most common sender defenses you might hear, or even be tempted to say yourself.

"We haven't changed anything."

When informing a sender that their spam folder placement or reputation-related rejections are the result of their own sending behaviors, this is often their first line of defense. The assumption is that because sending behavior has been consistent, the results should be as well. Unfortunately, deliverability isn't merely based on repeating the same behaviors indefinitely. It's ultimately about people and their response to your messaging, so you have to regularly review your processes and outcomes to ensure that you're continuing to provide value to those subscribers. If you haven't changed anything, then let declining deliverability be your sign: the time is now! Start changing.

"All we changed was [x]."

A close cousin to the previous excuse, senders often report diminished deliverability after making a seemingly minor tweak to their behaviors. It could be introducing a new signup form, switching ESPs, updating the criteria used to determine messaging eligibility, or any action that can impact the audience or their engagement. If you modified your content or targeting, then that change is likely at least partially responsible for any shift in the results.

"But we're legitimate emailers."

I get it. Your spam folder is probably full of malicious mail purporting to be from PayPal or selling spurious supplements, so it seems like the only reason mail should go there is if its origins or content are dubious. Spam filters operate based on several (hundred? thousand?) factors that go far beyond veracity, taking recipient interaction and list quality into consideration. Even the biggest and best brands in the world can be blocked or sent to the spam folder if subscribers react negatively to the mail.

"We make money this way!" (or its inverse, "We'll lose money if we make those changes!")

It's true, sending spam is incredibly lucrative. If spammers didn't make money, they wouldn't send spam in the first place. However, since your business is (as we just discussed) legitimate, and you have an actual product to sell, you don't need to rely on spamming to reach your business goals. In fact, sending spam can decrease your income when subscribers miss your mail due to it being filtered or blocked, or receiving it despite not having subscribed. Further, if you're seeking the support of a deliverability expert, chances are you're already losing money. Changing your methods will save you money in the long run, and ensure continued success from your marketing efforts.

"These messages are legally required!"

Are your company's lawyers instructing you to send the email, or is it at the behest of a judge? Your company's need to notify customers of a policy change doesn't grant you immunity from reputation problems that arise as a result of those sends. So, unless the law has specifically instructed you to notify through email, it's best to disseminate the information directly on your website or through another channel without a reputation-based delivery component. When your goal is to provide legally-relevant information to your customers, email isn't the best option because the potential for spam folder delivery or outright rejections is so high,especially if you're sending less-relevant content to more people than usual. If the message never arrives or isn't seen, then arguably, your company is failing to meet its mandated requirement.

"We're already doing everything we can!"

This defense may also include "We had our list cleaned", "these are our subscribers", or "we're following CAN-SPAM". The problem is, if you're already doing everything you can and still having problems, then everything is working as expected. It's just not possible to repair your reputation without modifying your own actions. Cleaning a list doesn't improve engagement; perfectly valid addresses can ignore your mail or report it as spam. Plus, if that's all it took then spammers would just pay to have their list cleaned, too! If your own subscribers don't respond favorably to your messages, then you're not sending the right mail to the right people. If you're following CAN-SPAM, and think that absolves you, you're wrong (and need higher standards).

Email has retained its popularity because spam filtering is so effective–if inboxes are full of unwanted junk, then we would all just abandon the channel completely. The only way to secure your spot in the inbox is to follow the rules. No excuses!

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