Why is the Inbox Getting Harder to Reach?

Posted by Tom Sather on

If you’ve noticed a drop in your inbox placement rate (IPR) lately, you’re not the only one. According to a recent Return Path study, in the past year the global IPR has dropped five percent, with only 79 percent of commercial messages making it to the inbox. Senders in the United States are having an even tougher time—nearly one in four messages sent in the US end up in the spam folder or go missing.

The good news is that industries where email is critical to business success have used their expertise to stay above this trend. Companies that specialize in retail and apparel saw a one percent increase in their IPR. However, that still means nearly 10 percent of the messages they sent went unaccounted for, which can have a critical impact on return on investment.

Maintaining a sharp focus on subscriber engagement may be the best way for marketers to prevent declining inbox placement from interrupting consumer relationships. With the continued growth of commercial email and increasingly sophisticated spammers in the mailstream, mailbox providers are constantly refining their filtering technology to protect their users and keep unwanted mail out of the inbox. As mailbox providers continue to scrutinize commercial messages, keeping your subscribers engaged will signal that you’re sending mail users want. Monitoring your engagement metrics and avoiding these common email campaign shortcomings will help solidify your place in the inbox.

Low read rates
Using Return Path technology, we took a deeper look at the correlation between subscriber engagement and inbox placement. We found that one in four campaigns that missed the inbox also had a low read rate. If your messages aren’t being opened or are deleted without being read, mailbox providers may interpret this as user indifference and filter them out of the inbox, increasing the chances you’ll lose your connection with your customers. Engage subscribers by providing them with valuable content and encourage them to read and respond by testing for effective subject lines, offers, and creative.

High complaint rates
When subscribers complain, mailbox providers listen, so you better listen, too. High subscriber complaints affected 21 percent of the messages we analyzed, and they’re a common reason that campaigns are sent to the spam folder. Every time a subscriber marks your email as spam, the mailbox provider takes action. You’ll never make it into that person’s inbox again, and if enough subscribers complain, your future campaigns to that provider may be sent directly to spam. Taking steps to lower your complaint rate will help you avoid this problem.

Sending to unengaged mailboxes
The mailboxes you’re sending to can also affect your inbox placement rates. If you’re sending to accounts with little or no engagement—i.e., users rarely access their mailboxes—you run an elevated risk of being filtered. Mailbox engagement is determined by how often users log into accounts, as well as how active they are once they log in. If you don’t have engaged subscribers, these may be secondary accounts, and it may be time to begin efforts to reactivate them or ultimately remove them from your list.

Sending to spam traps
Spam traps are email addresses used to catch senders whose messages are clearly being sent without account holders’ permission. Senders that mail to these addresses are flagged by the mailbox provider and their messages may be blocked from the inbox. Healthy list hygiene will reduce or eliminate your chances of sending to a spam trap. Don’t buy or rent lists and always use a double-opt in process that requires subscribers to confirm their provided email address with a click action.

Retailers that actively work to ensure their email programs aren’t signaling low value or user disinterest to mailbox providers will continue to give their messages the best possible chance to reach the inbox and maintain their customer relationships. As the latest research shows, it’s not getting any easier to avoid the spam filter. However, this is good news for marketers that monitor and take action to maintain high levels of engagement, because increasingly it gives them a chance to leave their competitors behind—i.e., in the spam folder.

This article was originally posted in Total Retail


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About Tom Sather

Email data and deliverability expert Tom Sather has worked with top-tier brands to diagnose and solve inbox placement and sender reputation issues as a strategic consultant with Return Path. As the company’s senior director of research, Tom is a frequent speaker and writer on email marketing trends and technology. His most recent analysis of new inbox applications’ effects on consumer behavior was widely cited across leading business media outlets including the Financial Times, Ad Age, and Media Post.

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