Delivered May Not Mean To the Inbox

Stephanie Miller, email marketing expert
By Stephanie Miller
VP, Global Market Development

It’s no surprise that email marketers are often confused about the difference between a bounce rate and an inbox deliverability rate. Most email broadcast systems in the U.S. and Europe report something called “delivered.” It’s usually a pretty high number – like 98% or 93%. And your ESP would like you to judge them on that number, because it’s really high, and it’s easy for them to be confident that it will stay high.

The problem is that most vendors define “delivered” as the inverse of your bounce rate – the number of records on your file that either no longer exist (a hard bounce) or are having temporary delivery failure (a soft bounce), perhaps due to an out of office reply or a full mailbox or some glitch in the ISP server.

Most marketers who keep their lists clean and have good permission practices have a bounce rate of 1%-5%. Even if you outsource your bounce handling to your ESP, you are still responsible for how they manage the removal of names – so be sure you understand what they are doing on your behalf. Your bounce rate is a good number to have included in your reports. It tells you something about your list hygiene. But it tells you nothing about what happens to your emails. Moreover, your choice of ESP has little influence this number. It’s all about the cleanliness of your file and if you remove hard bounces correctly and frequently.

What’s the number you really need on every single metrics report you look at? How many messages actually reached the inbox so you can try to earn a response on them. Let’s be honest. Very few subscribers will search for your message in their junk folder or contact you if they didn’t receive it at all. You know about spam filters and probably know that some of your email gets lost. However, many marketers don’t know the full extent of the problem. In fact, about 20% of email marketing messages globally never reach the inbox (source: Return Path client and ISP data).

Twenty percent is a big number. Imagine your revenue boost if all of your response metrics – opens, clicks, purchases, downloads, page views – went up by 20% this week.

The fact is irrefutable: You must reach the inbox if you want to earn a response.

Luckily, the factors that go into whether your messages reach the inbox are under your control as a marketer. You can improve your inbox deliverability rate by following best practices around complaints, permission, list hygiene, blacklists, frequency, relevancy and yes, bounce processing. Be sure that you know your inbox deliverability, and know it by campaign and by domain (e.g.: Yahoo! vs. Orange vs. T-Online and so on). Make sure you get this number in addition to whatever your ESP or MTA reports as “delivered.”

Knowing that your bounce rate is low is a good thing. But it won’t tell you whether or not your email is reaching the intended recipients. And this means that that decisions you are making to optimize response are based on faulty metrics. You think your click rate is low because the headline didn’t work. But if a big percentage of your subscribers didn’t receive your message then they couldn’t possibly click. Your headline might be fine. It’s your deliverability that is the problem.

Learn more about the factors that contribute to whether your messages actually reach the inbox in this Best Practice Guide

To find out how Return Path helps companies monitor their inbox deliverability and increase response rates, contact us.

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