Deliverability is a Challenge for 8 of 10 Marketers By Kirill Popov and Loren McDonald Our recent survey on marketers' experiences with deliverability turned up one big contradiction and a surprising black hole of knowledge about what really is more likely to get your email blocked or filtered. 1. The contradiction: Eight out of 10 email marketers say getting email messages delivered is a challenge for their organizations. However, only 1 in 10 ranked improving it as a top priority. 2. The black hole: Marketers apparently don't realize how spam complaints can influence message blocking and filtering. Nearly 90% of respondents track hard bounces and unsubscribes in each delivery, but only 58% monitor spam complaints. Also, 53% say their email content and coding or permission practices have the greatest influence, but only 13% cited spam complaints. Some highlights from the survey, which assessed emailers' attitudes toward deliverability issues and their experiences (detailed results follow): Filtering by ISPs and corporations is the biggest delivery-related challenge marketers say they face, with nearly 50% of all respondents citing either ISP or corporate filters. Another 25% said they lack the expertise or resources they need to address their deliverability issues. Marketers are beginning to understand that "deliverability" means more than just getting an email through a filter – that the email must function properly for people to take the desired actions. Respondents split evenly on how they defined "deliverability" – 43% cited "delivered to recipients' inbox" and another 43% said "delivered to inbox correctly AND rendered correctly." Just 11% said just getting the email into either the spam folder or the inbox was enough. Half of all respondents said they modified their email templates in order to boost their delivery rates. Another 25% said they adopted at least one authentication method: SPF, SenderID, DomainKeys Identified Mail. Key survey results follow: Survey Results: Missed Opportunities May Thwart Improvement Goals Finding 1: Most marketers monitor campaign-related metrics but not those that give more detailed delivery reports. 87.1% Unsubscribes 85.6% Hard bounces 58.4% Spam complaints 32.2 % Estimated block percentage by ISP 7.4% None While 82.4% of marketers say they monitor delivery rates, delivery-specific metrics such as bounces, unsubscribes and spam complaints don't measure deliver to your key ISPs or corporations or inbox placement. Knowing who is blocking your email can help you target the problem and boost delivery. This information can turn up in either your delivery reports sent during and after a campaign or from a thirdparty audit.
Finding 2: Most marketers say they monitor delivery rates. 82.4% Yes 13.6% No 4.6% Not sure Marketers who outsource (e.g., use ESPs or agencies) are the most likely to monitor delivery rates (89.9%), while those who use purchased software are the least likely (72.5%). Finding 3: Most marketers monitor campaign-related metrics but not those that give a broader picture of campaign performance. 87.1% Unsubscribes 85.6% Hard bounces 58.4% Spam complaints 32.2 % Estimated block percentage by ISP 7.4% None While 82.4% of marketers say they monitor delivery rates, delivery-specific metrics such as bounces, unsubscribes and spam complaints don't measure deliver to your key ISPs or corporations or inbox placement there. Knowing who is blocking your email can help you target the problem and boost delivery. This information can turn up in either your delivery reports sent during and after a campaign or from a third-party audit. Finding 4: Deliverability is a "significant" challenge for 3 of 10 respondents. 30.5% Significant challenge 51.8% Somewhat of a challenge 10.3% Not a challenge at all 7.4% Don't know/Not sure When we looked deeper to see how people who reported significant deliverability challenges viewed other questions in the survey, we found they were more likely to define deliverability as inbox delivery with images and links enabled. They're also the most likely to track campaign delivery metrics and ISP blocking. Finding 5: Filtering is the thorniest deliverability issue, followed by hard bounces and lack of knowledge. 48.3% Filtering by ISPs 45.1% Filtering by corporations 31.5% Too many hard bounces 25.4% Lack of expertise or resources to address deliverability 15.3% Appearing on blacklists 11.8% Challenge-response requests 11.8% Too many spam complaints 9.6% Do not have any deliverability issues Given all the attention on working with filters, it's no surprise to find they rank high on marketers' radar screens. When we looked deeper, we found that ISP filters are the top concern for marketers that utilize
installed software for email delivery(55%), while corporate filters bedevil 44.5% of marketers who outsource email delivery (email service providers and agencies). Finding 6: Marketers are generally satisfied with the delivery reports they get from their email solution (in-house) or provider (outsource). 55.6% Satisfied 26.4% Not satisfied 18% Unsure Note: When we analyzed responses according to how marketers deploy their email campaigns, we found the highest level of dissatisfaction among marketers who host purchased solutions on their own servers. Finding 7: More than 2/3rds of senders check messages for spammy content or coding errors using content checkers and test accounts at major ISPs. 68.6% Check content 20.9% Don't check content 10.5% Not sure Marketers who don't think they have a deliverability problem are also the most likely (75%) to vet messages before sending. For all respondents, the most popular content tools are content checkers embedded within email solutions (47%), test accounts (39.6%) and in-house spam filters (31.6%). Half of respondents use HTML editors to check for coding errors, while 32% use test accounts and 26% use embedded message checkers. Finding 8: Half of respondents said they modified their email templates to address deliverability problems. 50.3% Modified our email template 24.2% Adopted authentication (SPF/SenderID/DomainKeys Identified Mail) 21.7% No longer email to nonpermission lists 20.4% Utilized the services of a delivery-monitoring solution 16.9% Switched from shared to dedicated IP address 16.9% Did nothing 15.6% Formalized whitelisting process; established key ISP relationships 10.5% Switched ESPs or moved from in-house to ESP 9.6% Switched to double opt-in 5.7% Utilized a third-party accreditation service Modifying an email template can remove some elements that trigger blocks at ISPs, such as bad coding, over-large images and spamlike content, and it has less impact on the marketing budget than contracting with third-party vendors. The fairly strong adoption of authentication technologies is encouraging, while using an accreditation service is still very early in the adoption cycle. Finding 9: Although 82% marketers say deliverability is a challenge, less than 10% say it is a top priority in 2006. 31.8% Increase desired results 25.5% Improved open and click rates 19.5% Grow our list
10.4% Improve deliverability 9.7% Increase results from existing list 3.1% Other Business goals clearly outrank deliverability, and rightly so. But the problem with the respondents' dichotomy is that poor deliverability is clearly hurting the bottom line. A better delivery rate is the rising tide that raises all the other boats, from list growth to open/click rates and eventually ROI. Finding 10: Marketers say controllable issues such as permission practices and email content and coding have the greatest impact on deliverability. 27.4% Permission practices 26.5% Email content and coding 12.8% Spam complaint and bounce rates 11.9% Being on ISP whitelists 5.3% On or off blacklists Once again, marketers concentrate on factors they control directly – permission and content – although spam complaints, whitelisting and blacklisting generally have a greater effect. This attitude is likely because marketers can't see how those factors work at the ISP level. This question also reveals another disconnect: While 57% of marketers say they track spam complaint rates (Finding 3), far fewer relate them to email delivery failures. Finding 11: More than half of marketers who use ESPs or other vendors for email campaigns say they share the responsibility for deliverability with their vendors. 57.3% Shared responsibility 22.7% Our responsibility 20.0% Agency or ESP responsibility It's good to see marketers assuming the lion's share of responsibility for deliverability instead of assuming it's somebody else's job. Finding 12: Marketers would be most likely to pay for whitelisting services and delivery or reputation audits given reasonable cost and measurable improvement. 47.5% Accreditation/whitelisting service 43.6% Email/reputation audit 39.7% Delivery consulting services/enhanced ISP relationships 28.0% Redesign/recoding HTML by third party 19.1% Move to dedicated IP The implication is clear for third-party vendors of delivery consulting, reputation and accreditation services: If you can convey a clear ROI benefit to marketers, they'll be likely to cut you a check. However, their low rank on marketers' to-do or have-done lists indicate the market isn't quite there yet. If you were one of the 400-plus email professionals who filled out our survey in recent weeks, we thank you. We’ll follow-up on some of the issues emerging from the survey results in future ClickZ E-Mail Delivery columns and Intevation Reports.