Turning Insight into Action with New SmartSeeds Data

Posted by George Bilbrey 

Last week on March 26, we made SmartSeeds data available in the Return Path and Partner Platforms. This is an exciting time for Return Path and highlights our dedication to evolution and innovation across the email ecosystem. It also means that we have a lot more engagement-driven data to surface to our clients and partners.

If you’ve worked with our Service Teams or attended our webinars, you’re probably well-versed in the importance of relative engagement as a key factor in deliverability and program success. In case you don’t know, our Consumer Network data indicates that inbox placement rates at Gmail and Microsoft are largely driven by how engaged each subscriber is with mail coming from you than from other sources. To get great inbox placement, it’s not enough to have engaged subscribers, they have to be more engaged with your mail than with mail from other senders.  Now, we’re using SmartSeeds data to turn indicators of relative engagement into actionable solutions that you can use to improve program performance, gain an edge in the market, and improve on your ROI from the email channel.

The Age of Reputation vs. The Age of Engagement
Around the year 2000, when we first began navigating the email deliverability space, content was king and a spammy-looking subject line could get you blocked. It wasn’t long before it became apparent that mailbox providers were filtering based on a new methodology. By looking at our data and talking to mailbox providers, we discovered that inbox placement was being determined primarily by what we now know are traditional “sender reputation” metrics that were calculated globally for an IP address (and later for domains). We often still refer to sender reputation as your email “credit score” – ie how your being viewed by mailbox providers and filtering entities. We call this period of ‘global’ filtering, The Age of Reputation.

As the industry continued to evolve, we noticed that mailbox providers (especially the larger ones like Google) were moving towards adding an additional approach to filtering – one that was a bit more complicated and nuanced as technology became more and more advanced. This is what we refer to as a move towards The Age of Engagement. Filtering was being based on relative engagement – where inbox placement is determined by how much a given subscriber engages with the email from your sending domain relative to all other sources of email in their inbox. In order for you to gain better inbox placement rates, you must drive higher engagement with your email vs other similar senders. Sounds a bit competitive, right?

Today, we know that both ‘global’ and ‘relative engagement’ filtering methodologies are used across the ecosystem. In fact, it looks something like this:

How to accurately measure inbox placement
At Return Path, we use our Deliverability Data to provide you with the insights and data you need to understand where you are being placed by mailbox providers. We use CoreSeeds, which all have the same relative engagement to provide insight into ‘global’  filtering. CoreSeeds indicate that there is a global problem that could impact most subscribers but they are not able to provide visibility into more subtle deliverability issues. We have found that the metrics from CoreSeeds are typically on par with placement from the most active segments of your list.  

Since the rise of engagement filtering, we have continuously strived to provide more granular insights so that senders can be certain that they are seeing all layers of filtering from multiple angles. That’s why to this day, we continue to leverage our Consumer Network (a subset of your real subscribers) and our new SmartSeeds to provide critical insight into the impact of relative engagement at major mailbox providers. SmartSeeds engagement personas and the Consumer Network panelists show very similar placement rates. Now, SmartSeeds and the Consumer Network can be used alongside CoreSeeds to provide insight into your email marketing program’s performance from multiple angles. The three in combination portray a complete picture of true deliverability – a holistic look at inbox placement rates that go beyond first level filtering (global) and provide insight into user level filtering (engagement). This additional granularity ensures that you have a deeper understanding of your inbox placement and aren’t mislead on where to focus your efforts due to incomplete data.

Tackling real problems for real marketers
If there’s something that I am particularly passionate about (and proud of), it’s the expertise and skill set that our Service Team has to offer for our customers. In my time at Return Path (which is most of its life), I’ve seen email marketing programs go from good to outstanding with the help of these talented individuals.

As of right now, the Return Path Service Team is using CoreSeeds, Consumer Network, and new SmartSeeds data to help marketers tackle deliverability issues and take programs to the next level. By optimizing email programs for the differing levels of engagement, we help our clients not just get delivered, but improve their program’s ROI.  We leverage many other data sources that our teams, and clients, use to help troubleshoot issues and create action plans for improvement. For so many of our clients, our Service team is a vital resource in executing email program updates that continuously improve our client’s business and bottom line.

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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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