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The holiday season is almost upon us, which means marketers (especially those in retail) will begin to increase their sending frequencies, and will also widen their nets to reach out to as many contacts as possible. As a result, at Mailjet we’re expecting to see very high volumes coming from our senders and the risk to deliverability increases as a result of emails being sent to older and more inactive contacts.

Both of these actions can lead to poor deliverability if not done with care.

Of course, this isn’t something that only Mailjet faces, as anyone in the email industry – from email marketers, other email service providers, and deliverability services (like our friends at 250ok) – can attest to. So, in an effort to do our small part to ensure the email industry is best prepared for the holiday season, we thought we’d share some tips on how we are approaching it this year.

Plan ahead for the holiday season

In short, just like preparing for your holiday parties and gift exchanges, the best piece of advice we can give to you is plan ahead!

We understand that most retailers make the bulk of their revenue during Q4, so the stakes are high. But at ISPs like Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo!, the email volume level is also incredibly high, and they can tend to take longer to mitigate deliverability issues during this period of high email activity.

While we cannot magically fix all issues, preventing a deliverability issue through responsible sending and a well-planned holiday strategy is how we can help ensure success this season.

Here are some key dates with huge sending volumes to keep in mind this holiday season:

  • Nov 23rd – 28th: Week leading up to Black Friday, to advertise upcoming sales.
  • Nov 29th: Black Friday (historically the biggest email day of the year).
  • Nov 30th: Small Business Saturday.
  • Dec 2nd: Cyber Monday.
  • Dec 9th – 24th: Weeks leading up to Christmas, to advertise holiday sales & wish their customers a happy holiday season.

In fact, at Mailjet, we often see an email volume increase of nearly 60% on Black Friday, and 17% on Cyber Monday. The only day that has ever been higher was the day GDPR came into effect in May 2018.

Email Volume in 2018

Source: Mailjet (2018)

Considering the fact that sending high email volumes during the holiday season is a global trend, it’s important to remember that ISPs have to handle this additional load of emails from everyone around the world.

This can lead to delays in email delivery and sometimes even temporary deferrals for good senders, since the ISPs servers are overloaded with messages. Holiday sending activities are also known to lead to stricter and more aggressive ISP spam filtering (making it harder to hit the inbox), and longer turnaround times on responses from ISP Support teams when email service providers like Mailjet reach out to them to resolve deliverability issues.

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The key to strong deliverability during the holidays is to plan ahead and have a well-thought-out approach.

The most common mistakes we tend to see during the holidays

Increasing sent volume “overnight”

An example of this would be going from a smaller and more targeted list of “active recipients” (those who have signed up, opened or clicked on an email within the past 3-6 months), to contacting “everyone in their contact list” without ramping up to the larger volume slowly, over the course of several sends.

ISPs will perceive any large increases in volume from one campaign to the next as “spikes“. These are viewed very suspiciously by the ISPs, since they mimic spammer behavior, and can lead to spam folder placement and blocks.

To play it safe, any increase in volume from one day to the next should not be more than roughly 25% larger than the maximum daily volume you’ve sent within the past two weeks. For example, if you typically send to 100K recipients, you should target no more than 125K in the next campaign, then 156K, and so on). Given this compounding growth, you should get to your necessary list size relatively quickly.

Senders with great data quality and reputation can sometimes get away with much larger increases in volume, but this is not recommended, especially during the holidays.

This recommendation is especially important for senders on dedicated IPs, but it is also important for shared pool senders because some ISPs (like Gmail) track reputation at the sender address and domain-level, so spikes in volume from one particular domain can also be viewed as suspicious.

Sending to inactive contacts who haven’t been targeted in a long time

Some examples of this include “addresses which have not been emailed to since last holiday season” and “anyone who has not been sent an email in more than 3-6 months“.

Sending to inactive contacts can lead to high hard bounce rates and spam trap hits if the addresses being contacted no longer exist. Both of these can cause deliverability issues.

We can also expect to see low user engagement (i.e. opens/clicks) as well as higher-than-normal user complaints and unsubscribes if someone hasn’t been contacted in such a long time that they “forgot” they signed up. These also lead to deliverability issues, particularly high complaints.

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It’s ok to reach back to your more inactive segments, but do so carefully. It’s important to remember that you will make most of your money (and receive the highest engagement) from your active recipients. The only way to optimize your ROI on your active subscribers is by ensuring 100% of your email is going to the inbox. Sending to inactives can compromise this.

We recommend to keep the new “inactive” segment to no more than 10% of the daily volume you plan to send as a start. If the test goes well, then you can try increasing it the next time you send. But do it slowly!

If you see signs of any of the problems mentioned above, you can pause and re-assess if it’s still worth targeting inactives (knowing it will lead to poor inbox delivery for both inactives AND actives).


Increasing the frequency of sending to the point where users are overwhelmed by “inbox noise”

This is another very common example around the holiday season. An example would be a company that normally sends newsletters about sales once per week, and is now sending 3x per week (or daily!).

If recipients are not used to this high frequency and become overwhelmed or annoyed by it, or simply don’t find the content useful at that frequency, it can lead to higher complaint and unsubscribe rates, as well as lower open and click rates. All of these reactions are viewed negatively by ISPs, leading to junk foldering and blocks.

It’s OK to increase frequency, but you need to provide valuable content that is worth the recipient’s time, attention and inbox placement.

Also remember that it is not only you who is sending more email during the holidays… it’s basically everyone on the internet! Which means you are fighting for recipient attention. More email in a recipient’s inbox (from you, and the rest of the internet) means less chance for one particular email to be read. As a result, you might see slightly lower open rates due to seasonality.

Time for you to get ready

We prepared a small presentation for our Customer Success team below, which can be a helpful guide and summary of these ideas.

Remember, if we can leave you with one piece of advice: “plan ahead”.

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