Deliverability Benchmarks are Back – and 20% of Email is Still Not Making it to the Inbox

Posted by George Bilbrey on

Today, Return Path is pleased to present our Global Deliverability Benchmark for the second half of 2009. We conducted this study by monitoring data from our Mailbox Monitor service for email campaigns deployed from July to December 2009. We tracked delivery, blocking and filtering for more than 600,000 campaigns. In addition we reviewed non-delivered data for hundreds of ISPs in the United States, Canada, France, Germany, United Kingdom and the Asia Pacific territories.

Here are some highlights and key findings:

  • Twenty percent of email in the United States and Canada is still not making it to the inbox while 3% of email goes to the “junk” or “bulk” folder and another 16% goes missing
  • In Europe, 85% of email arrives as expected with 3.6% ending up in the “junk” or “bulk” folder and 11% not delivered at all
  • Asia Pacific does better than Europe and North America with 86.9% of email delivered to the inbox, 3% is “bulked” and another 10% is missing
  • Achieving strong inbox placement remains a challenge in the B-to-B sector with a delivered rate of just 75%

What does this data tell us about the state of email marketing? The answer is clear: deliverability is still a crisis for commercial email senders. We think three factors are at work:

First, many senders still don’t have access to reliable data on their deliverability situation. They rely on reports that show a “delivered” metric that tends to be 95% or higher. But in most cases this is not the Inbox Placement Rate – the percentage of mail that actually arrives in the inbox. Rather it is simply a reporting of the number of messages sent minus the number that returned a hard-bounce message. This creates a false impression that nearly 100% of email messages arrive as intended.

Second, email marketing is a high-ROI, low-cost channel – and when you’re making money on every campaign that goes out the door it’s easy to disregard opportunities for improvement. The reality is that senders are leaving a lot of money on table – on average, according this report, about 20%. For example, if you deploy a campaign to one million subscribers with an average conversion rate of 5% (50,000 buyers) for a value per conversion of $10, you should earn $500,000 in revenue from that campaign. But if 20% of your email never made it to the inbox, then the numbers look very different. With an 80% inbox placement rate, only 800,000 subscribers would receive your email and at the same conversion rate and value, your email revenue drops down to $400,000 for that same email campaign. Now multiply that by the number of campaigns you send every year and that can turn into millions in lost revenue. What senders fail to realize is that those dollars can be recouped simply by maintaining a good reputation and implementing basic best practices that are proven to improve inbox placement. While achieving 100% deliverability is key, even a 5% increase to your inbox placement, results (for this example) in $100,000 more in revenue per campaign.

Third, and perhaps most important, sending reputation (behavior) is THE driving factor that determines whether (or not) email makes it to the inbox. But senders are still failing to implement the best practices that make email deliverability more likely and more consistent. This includes very straightforward tactics like welcome messages, easy opt-out procedures and setting expectations at opt-in. These basic practices build the strong reputations that drive higher deliverability. When we take a look at senders with good reputations (Sender Score of 90-100) inbox placement rates are over 50% higher at Yahoo!, Hotmail and Google than senders with mediocre reputations (Sender Scores of 40-60).

What can you do today to improve your inbox placement rates? Find out your Sender Score here (www.senderscore.org) and read the full 2H 2009, Email Deliverability Benchmark Report here.


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About George Bilbrey

George Bilbrey is the founder of the industry’s first deliverability service provider, Assurance Systems, which merged with Return Path in 2003. He is a recognized expert on the subjects of email reputation and deliverability and is active in many industry organizations, including the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG) and the Online Trust Alliance (OTA). In his role as president of Return Path George is the driving force behind the ongoing innovation of our products and services. Prior to Return Path, George served as Director of Product Management at Worldprints.com and as a partner in the telecommunications group at Mercer Management Consulting. He holds a B.A. in economics from Duke University, and an MBA from the Kenan-Flagler School of Business, University of North Carolina.

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