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Plug The Black Holes In Your Mailing List

Email Marketing

Gareth Cutter

28th July 2016

Plug The Black Holes In Your Mailing List As many as one in five email marketing messages fail to reach recipients' inboxes, a recent report has suggested. While 3.3% of those emails simply get routed to a 'Spam' or 'Junk' folder, a staggering 17% simply go missing with no notification of a hard bounce.
As many as one in five email marketing messages fail to reach recipients' inboxes, a recent report has suggested.

While 3.3% of those emails simply get routed to a 'Spam' or 'Junk' folder, a staggering 17% simply go missing with no notification of a hard bounce. The figure is supposedly worse for B2B business emails.

There are two possible implications to these findings that businesses should be taking note of:

  • Each undelivered email diminishes the overall return on investment (ROI) of an email marketing campaign, normally the highest of all direct marketing channels
  • Long-term sender reputations could be at severe risk as email service providers monitor sending activity very carefully - businesses might find themselves black-listed if they don't take action

These two reasons should be motivation enough for businesses to examine their mailing lists closely for 'black-hole' addresses, where the emails are not being received but hard-bounces aren't being registered either.

How do you find these addresses? Short of contacting each subscriber personally to ask if they received your last email, the best option is to narrow it down using a process of elimination. Any address that has not registered a definite response e.g. clicked on a call to action within six months, is a candidate for further examination.

You can narrow the number down further by removing any addresses that have reported opening a tracking image. Most emails are now sent with images that notify the sender when they have been activated (the email has opened). If the image has rendered but no click-through has been registered, there is most likely a problem with subscriber engagement, not deliverability.

If on the other hand, there has been no tracking image rendered, this can mean one of two things:

The recipient has images turned off (a problem especially common for users of Outlook and Thunderbird)
The email is not arriving at its intended destination
There is little visible distinction between these two particular scenarios. While users of Yahoo, Gmail and Hotmail might be less likely to have images turned off than those with 'professional' clients, it is by no means a given, and to reserve special treatment for Outlook and Thunderbird might be to ignore problems elsewhere.

It's a false economy to assume that a bigger mailing list is automatically better if recipients are either unable or disinclined to receive your messages. Your marketing department should send a reactivation email to these unresponsive addresses, asking recipients if they'd like to opt-in and continue receiving your mails, emphasising what's in it for them if they do. The responses will give you a clear indication of a) who's still receiving and b) who's interested in your promotions (don't forget to ask them to include your address in their contact address book as this will improve deliverability rates).

You might, on the other hand, decide to retain these unresponsive addresses in case they one day turn into repeat customers, once enough trust has been established. This will depend on your long term attitude toward the email marketing campaign, and whether you feel these unresponsive addresses are costing you too much. However, be wary of unresponsive addresses acting to the detriment of your engaged subscribers; you don't want poor deliverability issues through black-listing to interfere with your relationship with them.

While you might never be able to completely eradicate 'black holes' from your list, you can manage them so they don't swallow email marketing's prized ROI. Follow these simple best practices and you'll find your ROI rising in proportion to your efforts. If you have any questions or comments about the above, please get in touch.


Gareth Cutter 28th July 2016