Email Engagement

Are You Rickrolling Your Email Subscribers?

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Email is a rockstar tool for engaging with fans who sing your brand’s praises. But if you’re not following common email best practices, there’s a chance you may be Rickrolling your subscribers.

For those not familiar with meme culture, Rickrolling involves tricking someone into listening to Rick Astley’s 80s pop song “Never Gonna Give You Up.” While Rickrolling is an effective way to troll your friends, it will only disappoint your email subscribers and cause them to tune you out.

Let’s take a look at how Rick’s lyrics apply to creating an effective email marketing strategy. Feel free to sing along.

Never gonna give you up

It takes time to build a substantial subscriber list, so it can be hard to give up on addresses. But many major mailbox providers (MBPs) use engagement metrics like opens, clicks, unsubscribes, and spam complaints to determine your legitimacy as a sender. At a certain point, it’s better to give up on disengaged addresses before they damage your sender reputation.

If we’re looking to Rick for email advice, he’d remind us not to give up without a fight. Re-engagement campaigns give subscribers a second (and sometimes a third or fourth) chance to show they’re still in love with your emails.

Follow these steps to create a re-engagement campaign:

  1. Set a baseline for what you consider to be disengaged. (E.g., subscribers who haven’t opened or clicked through an email in more than six months).
  2. Craft a series of emails that incentivize interaction. Some re-engagement campaigns specifically ask subscribers to “Click here to confirm you want to continue receiving our emails,” while others include special promotions to entice subscribers to shop. Once a subscriber has taken action, you can consider them re-engaged.
  3. Suppress addresses that don’t respond. After the last chance email, stick to your word and suppress disengaged addresses from your sends.

Never gonna let you down

The best marketers know email is a conversation: It involves speaking and listening. Every campaign is a chance to engage your audience with content that matches their needs and interests. Don’t let your subscribers down with campaigns that ignore what their behavior is telling you.

If you aren’t already tracking subscriber preferences, there are plenty of ways to gain insight:

  • Create an email preference center. Encourage your subscribers to indicate what types of content interest them (promotions, newsletters, new product announcements) and how often they’d like to be contacted.
  • Look into your data. You may already know what customers want. Perhaps you see better conversion rates when you share quotes from product reviews. Look for patterns in customer behavior and apply effective strategies to create more engaging campaigns.
  • Use A/B split testing. Each campaign is an opportunity to learn about your subscribers. Split testing can help you assess audience preferences for subject lines, copy, or creative elements like “Shop Now” buttons or stylized text.
  • Send a survey. It never hurts to ask questions, especially if you don’t know why people sign up for your email program. Don’t be afraid to ask subscribers what they want.

Offering content that delights your audience keeps them clicking and helps your deliverability, since many MBPs look at engagement when determining inbox placement.

Never gonna run around and desert you

Sending emails on an unpredictable schedule gives subscribers the runaround because they never know when you might reach out. As a result, they’re less likely to anticipate your messages.

You should have different cadences for your various email streams. Here are a few examples:

  • Welcome series. After the opt-in, your initial welcome message should go out as soon as possible. Additional messages can be sent over the course of the following week(s) to introduce your brand, social channels, and other aspects of your business.
  • Promotional messages. It’s good to be top-of-mind when customers are ready to buy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to email them every day. If you’re in an industry with monthly or quarterly purchase cycles, you can probably get by with a weekly cadence. If your customers make frequent purchases, multiple sends per week may be right for you.
  • Triggered campaigns. Emails sent based on subscriber behavior (like abandon cart emails) have their own unique cadence. Follow up within 24, 48, and 72 hours of a customer abandoning their cart.
  • Account statements. You may be legally required to send these on a monthly basis, but don’t forget this is a set cadence, too. If you desert customers by not sending their statements, you can get hit with hefty fines.

Keep an inventory of every email stream to show how often you’re contacting individual addresses. Your most active recipients may engage with promotional emails, rewards program messaging, newsletters, and account statements.

Your less engaged audience may only open one newsletter per month. Give subscribers the option to receive fewer messages. This helps you maintain a regular schedule and lowers the likelihood of complaints.

Never gonna make you cry

Email subscribers may want to break up with your brand if you don’t have a secure infrastructure. Over 90 percent of cyberattacks start with email, and improperly configured authentication records leave you more vulnerable to spoofing and phishing attempts.

If private data is compromised, your subscribers won’t be the only ones singing the blues.

Your brand reputation can be damaged and you may be held financially liable. Regulations like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) hold companies financially responsible if personal information is exposed in an attack.

Fortunately, there are some easy ways to keep your emails safe from spoofing. Start by focusing on these three authentication protocols:

  • Sender Policy Framework (SPF) lists the IP addresses that can send email on behalf of domains.
  • DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) adds a digital signature to every email.
  • Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC) tells MBPs how to treat emails that fail SPF and DKIM checks.

For example, a DMARC policy set at p=quarantine tells MBPs to send emails that fail the SPF and DKIM checks to the spam folder. If a spammer tries to impersonate your domain and fails DMARC, their message won’t go to the inbox. With a DMARC policy of p=reject, MBPs will block emails that aren’t specifically from your domain.

Never gonna say goodbye

Email addresses that damage your deliverability and hurt your reputation deserve a big wave goodbye. We’re talking about spam traps, or addresses that are set up for the sole purpose of identifying spammers.

MBPs see spam trap hits as a sign of poor list hygiene, and they’ll dock your deliverability accordingly. Send a high percentage of spam traps and your domain could be blocklisted.

Fortunately, there are some easy ways to ensure you’re practicing good list hygiene:

  • Suppress inactive addresses. Addresses that haven’t opened or clicked in over a year are potential recycled spam traps. These are addresses that once belonged to an actual person, but after a period of inactivity, the MBP turned them into a spam-catching account.
  • Enable confirmed opt-in. When someone subscribes to your list, send an email asking them to confirm their opt-in. This removes any doubt that they want to receive your campaigns.
  • Conduct regular list validation with an email verification tool like BriteVerify. You can either scrub your subscriber list regularly to remove risky addresses, or better yet, integrate the verification tool with your sign-up process to prevent addresses from ever hitting your list in the first place.

Once you’ve identified bad addresses, remove them from your sends. You should start to see improvement in your Sender Score and inbox placement over time as MBPs learn you’re a responsible sender.

Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

It’s important (and in some regions, legally mandated) to respect subscriber privacy and preferences. Make sure you’re requesting permission as part of your opt-in process.

Opt-in forms should clearly indicate what subscribers will receive and subscriber benefits. Follow opt-in best practices, including:

  • Demonstrate value. Answer the subscriber question, “What’s in it for me?” As a subscriber, will they get early access to new products? Can they expect exclusive promotions? Make sure they understand the value of opting in, then deliver on that promise.
  • Make opt-in a choice. Auto-enrolling people in your email program is almost certain to generate a high number of spam complaints. It can also result in significant fines, depending on where your subscribers are located. Subscribers should give explicit permission before you contact them.


L-Astley, the wonderful thing about email is it doesn’t have to be the same old song and dance every time you hit send.

Whether it’s improving engagement, re-engaging inactive subscribers, or strengthening your infrastructure to prevent scams, there’s always something you can do to avoid Rickrolling your subscribers. Keep delighting them and they’ll never want to give you up!

To continue learning about email best practices, check out our eBook, Secrets of Best-in-Class Email Senders.