Deliverability: the MailUp Story
Anyone dealing with Email Marketing knows how easy it is to underestimate the importance of campaign delivery rates and deliverability on one hand, while focusing on the development and management of technological infrastructure on the other.
We also experienced this when we established MailUp as a software house in the early 2000s. Our first steps involved following two main guidelines:
- Use basic architecture and software development models
- Meet customer needs.
We entered Email Marketing relying on our experience as software providers.
The ecosystem: providers,anti-spam, and community
We soon realized that this was hardly enough in the world of Email Marketing.
We found that the ecosystem surrounding each mailing campaign is vast and complex. This involves the providers that receive the messages, anti-spam systems, and the final recipients. Last but not least, this element is represented by a community of experts on the topic.
In such complexity, it is absolutely essential to shift focus from technological development to the fight against poor practice and abuse (essentially, spam).
We have two additional views:
- A product that works is not enough—besides being sent, emails must reach the recipient’s inbox
- Quite often the needs of the customer and final recipient do not match, making it difficult to strike the right balance.
Our survival was closely linked to email inbox reception rates and understanding this hidden world, so we rolled up our sleeves and tried to figure out how to bridge the gap.
From developing integrations to strategic support, from creating creative concepts to optimizing results.
Analysis and best practices
We acted on two fronts:
- Data analysis and data science: to improve the product, but above all to identify the most interesting models, both from the point of view of email delivery and from that of the provider’s assessment regarding the quality of the communication itself
- Best practices: they exist in email marketing as in software development, and identifying them is not so easy. We must learn from those who have contributed to developing technologies and have had direct experience in the field. This is why we approached different communities and work groups to deliver our contribution and learn from those who had more experience than us.
We joined the Certified Senders Alliance, the Email Sender and Provider Coalition, and M3AAWG, the working group that unites all of the industry’s key players in the fight against spam and the misuse of online communication services.
This allowed us to better understand where to focus our efforts and how to develop (yet not without effort) a system that can evaluate—with a certain degree of security—the quality of all traffic leaving our platform and our customers’ practices.
ESPs can naturally prevent incorrect practices by limiting their customers’ freedom of action, thereby preventing an individual’s error from having negative effects on the provider’s overall delivery rates. Moreover, the ESP must block the customer in the case of actual misconduct. Intervention is required when customers are allowed to correspond with recipients who have not explicitly requested receiving those emails, or when the number of low-quality messages exceeds that of relevant messages. ESPs that do not monitor the quality of communication leaving their infrastructure will have large-scale problems.
Over the past two years, MailUp has gone from 10 to 20 billion emails sent. In this case, demanding elevated standards in terms of deliverability and compliance is therefore much more than a simple formal requirement.
Traffic quality is a matter oftrust
What is traffic quality? Are we talking about bounces vs. delivered? No, not at all. Are we talking about open rates? Not directly—open rates are an effect. We are talking about trust between the sender and the recipient.
Yes, because if a marketer gains the trust ofhis/her recipients and ISPs (Internet Service Providers) through:
- Correct acquisition, correct involvement, and relevant individual messages
- An adequate unsubscribe procedure
- a clear permission reminder that helps recipients understand why they are receiving such emails.
Everything else follows as a result.
Our analyses have led us to understand thatonce the necessary technical and infrastructural practices have been taken careof, the secret to maintaining an excellent delivery rate over time is to havecustomers who are attentive to their relationship with recipients.
This is why our compliance team invests much of its time intercepting abnormal activities related to the platform’s use (i.e., uploading problematic recipient lists) and spikes in spam reports.
For this reason, when we consult our customers on deliverability, we no longer discuss bounces vs. delivered, but rather evidence relating to engagement and recipient relationships.
What are we working on
As soon as we could verify that all our long-term efforts were fruitful, we decided to help our customers improve by offering both our lessons learned in terms of deliverability and internal models, as well as tools developed over the years.
Initially created to better evaluate the quality of our customers’ recipient lists and the effectiveness of their email strategy, in most cases, these metrics have allowed us to identify the main long-term problem to face on a roadmap toward continuous improvement.
Now is the time to make these metrics public and integrate them into the Engagement platform. It is also a moment to let all of our customers monitor the involvement and responsiveness rates of their recipients in real time. But there is more: we are already working to create a new set of even more innovative metrics for customers to further refine their lists and message quality.
After all, it is a matter of perspective. Many times, marketers tend to think that everything will work out for the best by repeating the same processes over and over. In doing so, however, they may fail to notice significant variations in the main metrics (delivery, openings, etc.) while failing to consider the other side of the coin. Always doing the same thing could become the cause of a silent but lethal erosion of their reputation with some ISPs and the danger of realizing it too late.
This vision represents our methodical declaration about the future of the platform in terms of deliverability. Such a vision involves helping customers by providing different data sets to understand how to improve each individual metric and achieve excellence.
What does the future hold fordeliverability?
The way I see it, the basic principle staysthe same: the relevant content =excellent delivery rate equation will always be valid. The tools andtechnologies that enhance the trust between the sender and the recipient willprobably change.
Anyone who regularly attends Email Marketing conferences and stays up-to-date on the topic should already know what I am talking about:
- BIMI—Brand Indicators for Message Identification: a mechanism for displaying your logo alongside the sender name shown in the inbox of the different mail providers
- Schema.org / Gmail Markup: this system allows for providing information sent via email transversely across all Google services that have already enabled this function (i.e., sending an RSVP or booking a flight)
- AMP 4 Email: like Schema.org, AMP 4 Email also lets you make the email experience more dynamic, interactive, and constantly updated.
These are three pillars for sending emails that are personalized, actionable, and increasingly aligned with recipients’ expectations.
I have no way of knowing if and how successful these technologies will be, but the providers are already telling us something. What do all these technologies have in common? The authentication and alignment between the sending domain and the other domains used in the message. Sound familiar? Most likely.
Studying the concept of deliverability and data collection has not only allowed us to improve our positioning in this field. More importantly, it has allowed us to offer an accurate and increasingly efficient service to those who have counted on us. At MailUp, we are always proud to share our thoughts on the evolution of these topics with our customers in a timely manner, including ways to improve their delivery rate.
Our new challenge in the field of deliverability will involve the radical renewal of metrics, which are approximately 15 years old and may have never been fully understood by marketers. An excellent delivery rate is now the (new) starting point. The endpoint will be the practical application of our analyses for continuing on the path of constant improvement.