Inactive Subscribers Don’t Hurt Until They Do

One of the questions I get asked a lot is “My mail has always delivered 100% inbox and out of nowhere it’s going 100% to the spam folder. What happened and how can I get back to the inbox as quickly as possible?!” As I previously discussed, mailbox providers (MBPs) have very little time to focus on delivery issues, because their top priorities are keeping their users safe and happy.  So there isn’t much that the MBP will do for you in this case, and it’s up to you to make some changes to get your mail back to the inbox. The good news is, it’s usually not too complicated. The bad news is, it can mean big cuts to your list by removing inactive subscribers. In the end, removing inactive subscribers is often the action needed to get your mail back to the inbox and in front of your customers. [Note: Register for our webinar here for more information on how inactives can hurt deliverability and inbox placement.]

We all know by now that “This is Spam” (TIS) and “This Is Not Spam” (TINS) are critical metrics that MBPs use to measure how much users want your mail. For most MBPs this is one of the clearest forms of feedback and largely determines where the mail should be placed, the inbox or spam folder. While it seems pretty straightforward, it’s unfortunately not as clear as we’d like to believe.  We want to believe that subscribers only report spam on true spam content and would never complain about mail they signed up for; however that’s not always the case. Users are unpredictable, and the reality is that users report spam on anything they don’t want to see at that very moment, even if they signed up for it.  For this reason, using feedback from users can be difficult. 

Fortunately, MBPs have other data beyond TIS and TINS to help determine mail placement.  For instance, we know that MBPs are also driven by how much users are interacting with email – reading, deleting without reading, etc. Unfortunately for email marketers, a large percentage of users are generally indifferent about their marketing mail. They don’t mind getting it, sometimes they want it, they often don’t read it, and occasionally they complain about it. The 2010 MAAWG Email Security Awareness and Usage Report found that “In every country, at least three-quarters of respondents consider email from friends and family to be extremely or very important (82% extremely/very important on average across the six countries). Email users also tend to place a great deal of importance on receipts or shipping details for purchases (70%), notifications of bills to be paid (64%), and notifications from a bank or another financial institution (58%). Email users in all countries tend to give less importance to newsletters (20%), marketing materials (15%) and other emails that they have subscribed to (22%).”

Because these indifferent users do not often complain, your mail may consistently be delivered to the inbox despite the fact that some of your metrics – namely how interested users are in your mail – are not great.  This can create a false illusion of a very good reputation when in fact, your reputation might be borderline due to the inactive users. In this situation, you’ll generally see good deliverability as long as those users remain indifferent. Problems occur when those indifferent users suddenly decide to complain about your mail. Maybe it’s new copy you used, a new campaign you kick off, an increase in frequency – whatever it is, more users than usual will complain and in the blink of an eye, your 100% inbox delivery has turned to 100% bulk.

Now what? 

Well to be honest, it’s not going to be easy to fix and it can take a long time to see your mail go back to the inbox. This is where those inactive users play a key role. To get back to the inbox, end users need to tell the MBP that your mail is wanted by clicking TINS. The fewer inactives on your list, the faster your TINS rate will push you back to the inbox. The more inactives on your list, the longer it will take (larger denominator, takes more TINS to move the needle). So, removing inactive users from your list can greatly increase how fast you get back to the inbox.

When you find your mail suddenly bulking, it can be hard to quickly pinpoint the cause. What changed? Why might users have responded negatively to recent campaigns? However there are some things that can be done to help resolve the issue quickly. 

  1. Be prepared to take action. Realize that just because you’ve getting to the inbox doesn’t mean your reputation was stellar and has taken a huge dive. Chances are you were borderline and just need to get back to borderline to get back to the inbox. Inactive users may not cause you to bulk if other metrics are looking good (such as TIS and TINS).
  2. Remove your inactive subscribers. If something happens that triggers bulking (e.g., a campaign that gets higher than usual complaints), suddenly those inactive users will cause you major problems. First, it’s likely to be the inactive users that complain. Second, once you start bulking, those inactives will keep you from getting the TINS necessary to get back to the inbox.
  3. Have a plan. If you suddenly start bulking, you will need to make changes to get back to the inbox. Get the executive approvals in advance so that when the time comes, you know what changes you can make without wasting any time.

As always, prevention is the best medicine. If you manage engagement ongoing, removing and re-engaging inactive subscribers, they won’t cause you a problem in the first place. Want to learn more about how Mailbox Providers use engagement in their spam filtering decisions? Reigster for our webinar this Wednesday, May 22nd at 1PM EDT.