Many companies consider the period from October to December as their peak season for email campaigns, trying to reach as many customers as possible leading up to the holidays. Every business is different, though. Your peak season may be tied to a semi-annual sale, Mother’s Day, or even International Polar Bear Day (Feb. 27, by the way). No matter the occasion, you want to have a strong email deliverability strategy to make sure your messages reach inboxes.
If you’re thinking about the perfect way to get in your customers’ inboxes — and avoid the filters — here’s how you can prepare for that, starting today.
Ready for the holidays?
Well before people start opening gifts, marketers need to think about enticing customers to open emails. Here’s how you can start.
As you start preparing your strategy, one important thing to note is that internet service providers (ISPs) and email platforms tend to be on high alert during the holiday sending season. As volumes increase, the email platform’s infrastructure has a higher burden and your subscribers expect them to keep junk mail out of their inboxes, so they’re only seeing relevant emails.
Generally speaking, this makes it a bad time to introduce new sending IP addresses or domains in your campaigns as it may be tougher to increase volumes and establish a solid reputation.
Understanding the basics of email deliverability
Many people think email deliverability is simply the ability to reach your customer’s inbox. But there’s more to it than that.
Deliverability is more of a lifecycle that begins with initial infrastructure-related setup and ends with the customer receiving your targeted message. How the customer engages with that email can influence additional follow-up messaging.
Choosing the right domain to represent your brand, ensuring it is authenticated, personalizing your content, segmenting your audience, and acting on how and where your subscribers engage all factor into the larger deliverability lifecycle.
These two best practices around email deliverability are the keys to long-term success:
- Setting the tone early by following authentication guidelines and targeting your most engaged subscribers shows email platforms that your mail is legitimate and is wanted by their users — your customers.
- Maintaining that reputation over time by avoiding things like spikes in volume, introducing purchased list data, or sending irrelevant/unexpected content. This keeps your content arriving in your customer’s inbox.
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1. Start by warming your IP addresses
Much like how you can’t take a holiday dinner from raw to fully cooked in one minute, you can’t go from 0 to 100 in your email strategy overnight.
You need to take a gradual approach to ramping up your email delivery. This is called warming your IP address — slowly and methodically increasing your volume.
The goal with warming is to build up roughly 30 days of sending history and data, letting ISPs get familiar with messages coming from your address. Try to send to too many people too fast, and your account could be considered suspicious or spammy — landing you in the dreaded junk mail folder, or even a block list.
2. Building a solid foundation for email deliverability
Ideally, you’ve planned ahead for peak volume dates and have the appropriate number of sending IP addresses in place and warmed to sufficient volumes.
The general rule of thumb is to never more than double volume from one send to the next. With that in mind, if your peak audience will be 6 million emails a day, but you average 2 million a day, you will need to plan a gradual approach to reach the 6 million mark in a single send.
Planning for peak volume from an infrastructure perspective means ensuring you don’t just have warm IPs, but that you have enough IPs in place to reach your audience.
A single IP address can send around 2 million messages in a 24-hour window before ISPs and email platforms will start to slow down or defer traffic from a sender.
To keep mail arriving in a timely manner to your subscribers, we suggest sending no more than 2 million messages a day on a single IP address. In the scenario above, where the goal is 6 million emails a day, the business should use 3 sending IPs to get that mail delivered as quickly as possible to their subscribers.
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3. Avoiding interference from higher-ups — and spam traps
Let’s say you’ve got enough IPs in place and you’ve warmed them to establish reputation and to accommodate your peak audience. Now it’s as simple as hitting send, right? Not quite.
Marketers are often pressured to deliver the most return they can get, and those discussions seem to ramp up around peak sending seasons.
Companies are always looking for the best way to increase conversions and web traffic, so it’s inevitable that someone in the room — who doesn’t understand sending reputation (or how hard you worked to build it — will suggest a send to your entire subscriber database, or worse, purchasing a list of subscribers. It might sound like a good idea to them, but it would wreak havoc on your email deliverability.
As noted above, ISPs and email platforms are on high alert for behavior that’s out of the ordinary. Increasing your send volume by anything more than double your daily average will get you noticed and is likely to get you added to a blocklist. Being blocked at a given domain means not converting any of those subscribers into dollars.
Say you’ve dug into older segments of your audience and started emailing subscribers that haven’t engaged in years. Now you’re likely hitting spam traps, which are abandoned inboxes converted for the purpose of tracking spammy behavior.
Hitting spam traps will get you listed on ISP level blocklists and hitting multiple spam traps could get you listed with the likes of Spamhaus. Spamhaus shares data with numerous ISPs/email platforms, so a listing there could signal the end of your peak season before it ever gets going.
Warm up to IP warming
Check out our in-depth guide on warming a new IP address (or domain), including daily volume suggestions.
4. Focus email deliverability where it counts
The key to email deliverability isn’t to reach as many subscribers as possible. It’s to get highly relevant content in front of actively engaged subscribers who are the most likely to make a purchase from you.
Here’s how you can focus your list to get the best results. The guidance below would be considered the ideal segmentation scenario to avoid bounces/spam traps and ensure engagement rates are maximized.
- Engaged (target audience): click/open <1 month
- Under-engaged (chance to winback, focus on relevant content): no click/open in the last 1-3 months
- Uninterested (odds of winback are low, probability of spam complaints increases): no click/open in the last 3-6 months
- Unengaged (no chance of winback, high chance of spam complaint or bounce occurring — these subscribers should be removed from campaigns): no click/open in the last 6+ months
In some instances open/click data can be misleading and may not accurately represent your most engaged audience. If you have access to conversion data (such as tracking email click>website>purchase), you may want to take advantage of those metrics to give you a much more accurate view of engagement.
We’ve heard companies say this approach seems aggressive and call out their unique use cases around seasonal sending, but it’s important to keep in mind that ISPs and email platforms don’t deal in “unique scenarios.”
Their approach to monitoring and filtering is very formulaic in nature, and with good reason. Monitoring hundreds of millions of inbound messages every day requires preset algorithms to handle most of the work.
In May 2023, Google announced it would begin purging accounts with two years of inactivity, beginning in December 2023. This means that reaching deep into your database could cause increased bounce rates to bad addresses. That is a behavior indicative of spammers and is likely to lead to blocking or spam folder delivery at a minimum.
This is why it’s important to keep the focus on engaged subscribers who you know are invested in your brand. Long-term email deliverability success won’t come from overwhelming your subscriber list with the same content week over week. Focus efforts where the relationship still exists and personalize that content to keep customers engaged.
Continue your email deliverability success throughout the year
Following this guidance will set you up for success with your peak season campaigns. This way, you can ensure your email arrives in the right inboxes at the right time, getting your messaging in front of those most likely to make a purchase.
Whether your peak season falls at the end of the year or on World Nutella Day (Feb. 5!), these tips will help you stay in your customers’ inboxes all year long.