4 Tips to Help Your Emails Avoid Being Marked as Spam

 Henry Gutierrez 

A subscriber’s lifecycle within your email program goes through several stages, starting when they first subscribe and ending when they opt out. Understanding each of these stages is vital to a successful and profitable email program. In a recent study by Return Path, Lifecycle Metrics Benchmark, different engagement metrics were analyzed to gain a better understanding of how subscribers interact with marketers throughout a typical lifecycle, specifically in the first 12 months.

I often talk about how first impressions are everything, so it was especially interesting to see data on how subscribers interact with initial messages after acquisition. One metric that stands out is the impressive read rate for that first message from a brand (39 percent), compared with the overall average read rate of 22 percent for all emails.

Average Read Rate by Message chart

This may not come as a big surprise, but it’s something that I have to constantly remind marketers of. Spending resources on the welcome message and the initial subscriber experience really can yield results. It’s the message that people are most likely to open, and it’s what sets the stage for your whole email program and relationship.

Of course, getting your message read is just one part of the equation. It’s also important to understand how subscribers react to that initial message. The first message sent to a subscriber has a spam complaint rate of 4 percent, compared to an overall average of just 0.17 percent for all emails.

Average Spam Complaint Rate by Message chart

So why do subscribers mark the initial message as spam? There are several reasons this could be happening:

  • they didn’t expect the message;
  • they don’t know who you are;
  • the content wasn’t what they expected;
  • they didn’t know how to unsubscribe; or
  • frequency of messaging was too high

Here are a few tips to ensure that your emails aren’t among the 4 percent that receive spam complaints.

  • Personalization: Sending the same message to your entire list is like marketing from a bullhorn to anyone that passes by. It’s not very effective, and is likely to turn your subscribers off. On the other hand, personalized content creates a custom experience. It’s like approaching you and saying, “Hey Henry, we met last week. I saw that you like to purchase running shoes and thought you might like this.”
  • Clarity on acquisition: Remind the subscriber how they ended up on your list,  especially if they didn’t directly sign up for your email program. It makes people uncomfortable when someone has their contact information and they don’t recall giving it to them.
  • Set expectations: Your welcome message should provide some clear information about your email program. What content should they be expecting? What benefits do they get from being a subscriber? How often will they hear from you? Do they have any options on communication topics or frequency?
  • Let them go: Include an unsubscribe link, make it prominent, and keep the process simple. A spam complaint is much worse than an unsubscribe, and it can damage your reputation enough to create deliverability problems for the rest of your subscribers.

To help you make the most of that first impression, some members of the Professional Services team at Return Path put together this blog post showcasing some of their favorite welcome messages. I also recommend checking out the full Lifecycle Metrics Benchmark report for more insights into the first 12 months of the subscriber relationship.

This post originally appeared on Total Retail.

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About Henry Gutierrez

Henry is an Email Strategist for Return Path's Professional Service team. His current role includes executing client-specific projects to maximize ROI and deliverability. Overall, he has worked in the email industry for almost 12 years, with experience both as an analyst for an ESP and on AOL's postmaster team.

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