Email marketing is a crucial channel for nonprofit marketers. In fact, email accounted for 28 percent of all online revenue for nonprofits in 2017. Given how nonprofits rely on email to connect with their donors, volunteers, and advocates, it may come as a surprise to learn that nonprofit marketers are struggling to reach the inbox. A recent study by Return Path found that, on average, 19 percent of nonprofit emails are sent to the spam folder—more than double the overall spam placement average of nine percent.
So what’s causing this loss in email opportunity? Poor sender reputation.
As mailbox providers receive incoming messages, they check the reputation of the sender to determine where to deliver the message. Senders with a strong reputations are delivered to the inbox, while those with a poor reputations are delivered to the spam folder. There are hundreds of signals that determine your reputation which contribute to determining how your mail is delivered. Following are the two biggest factors that may be harming your reputation, along with tactics to help nonprofit marketers reach their advocates’ inboxes.
List Hygiene, Cleaning an Email List
List hygiene refers to the quality of the email addresses you have on your mailing list. Mailbox providers look at the quality of your list when determining whether to accept your messages and where to place them. There are three types of “bad” addresses which impact list quality.
- Spam traps are emails created to identify marketers with poor list hygiene. Having even one spam trap on your list will lead to a significant decline in deliverability.
- Unknown users are email addresses that don’t exist, have been terminated by the mailbox provider, or were abandoned by the end-user. Mail that is sent to these addresses will be returned with an unknown user code.
- Inactive addresses are subscribers who have not taken any action with your email in a long time.
To maintain a healthy email list, try the following:
Use a list validation service. By running your entire list through a validation service, you can eliminate invalid emails and ensure that every address is owned by a real, active user. You should also re-validate periodically as you add new advocates to your list.
Monitor your list and remove inactive addresses. Suppress and remove subscribers who have not engaged with your email program within the last 60 days. This will help you identify addresses that could potentially harm your reputation.
Email Marketing Spam Complaints
On average, nonprofits receive spam complaints on 0.65 percent of their emails. That’s about one out of every 150 emails sent! Not only is this well above the overall average for spam complaints, but it’s also more than three times the recommended complaint rate advised by most mailbox providers (no higher than 0.2 percent).
Complaints are a direct signal from your subscribers that your content is unwanted. As such, mailbox providers factor complaints heavily in their placement decisions, because they want to create the best possible inbox experience for their users.
To combat complaints, try the following:
Sign up for feedback loops. A feedback loop is a service that tracks the messages that receive subscriber complaints and sends a report back to the sender. By signing up for feedback loops at all the mailbox providers you send to, you can get insight into when and why subscribers complain.
Identify why subscribers complain and make adjustments. Once you are signed up for feedback loops, you can begin to analyze the complaints you’re receiving. Are you seeing complaints when you first start emailing new subscribers? Are certain campaigns generating a lot of complaints? Have you made changes to your program and seen complaints spike? Use these signals of subscriber dissatisfaction to identify where you need to improve your subscribers’ email experience.
Email marketing and deliverability expert Tom Sather has worked with top-tier brands on effective email marketing programs, and to diagnose and solve inbox placement and sender reputation issues as a strategic consultant with Return Path. As the company’s senior director of research, Tom is a frequent speaker and writer on email marketing trends and technology. His most recent analysis of new inbox applications’ effects on consumer behavior was widely cited across leading business media outlets including the Financial Times, Ad Age, and Media Post.