At least, if everything you know about it is everything that I knew about it before last week. I attended an NTEN 501TechClub event where Brett Schenker of Salsa Labs spoke on how the large mail services identify Spam emails. It turns out that my understanding that it was based primarily on keywords, number of links and bulk traits is really out of date. While every mail service has their own methods, the large ones, like GMail and Yahoo!, are doing big data analysis and establishing sender reputations based on how often their emails are actually opened and/or read. You probably have a sender score, and you want it to be a good one.
Put another way, for every non-profit that is dying to get some reasonable understanding of how many opens and clicks their newsletters are getting, Google could tell you to the click, but they won’t. What they will do is judge you based on that data. What this really means is that a strategy of growing your list size could be the most unproductive thing that you could do if the goal is to increase constituent engagement.
As Brett explained (in a pen and paper presentation that I sadly can not link to), if 70% of your subscribers are deleting your emails without opening them, than that could result in huge percentages of your emails going straight to the spam folder. Accordingly, the quality of your list is far more critical than the volume. Simply put, if you send an email newsletter to 30,000 recipients, and only 1000 open it, your reputation as a trustworthy sender drops. But if you send it to 5000 people and 3500 of them open it, you’ve more than tripled the engagement without soiling your email reputation.
I know that this goes against the grain of a very established way of thinking. Percentage of list growth is a simple, treasured metric. But it’s the wrong one.
Here’s what you should do:
- Make sure that your list is Opt-In only, and verify every enrollment.
- Don’t buy big lists and mail to them. Just don’t! Unless you have solid reasons to think the list members will be receptive, you’ll only hurt your sender score.
- Put your unsubscribe option in big letters at the top of each email
- Best of all, send out occasional emails asking people if they want to keep receiving your emails and make them click a link if they want to. If they don’t click it, drop them.
- Keep the addresses of the unsubscribed; inviting them to reconnect later might be a worthwhile way to re-establish the engagement.
Don’t think for a minute that people who voluntarily signed up for your lists are going to want to stay on them forever. And don’t assume that their willingness to be dropped from the list indicates that they’ll stop supporting you.
Even better, make sure that the news and blog posts on your web site are easy to subscribe to in RSS. We all struggle with the mass of information that pushes our important emails below the fold. Offering alternative, more manageable options to communicate are great, and most smartphones have good RSS readers pre-installed.
One more reason to do this? Google’s imminent GMail update, which pushes subscriptions out of the inbox into a background tab. If most people are like me, once the emails are piling up in the low priority, out of site subscriptions tab, they’ll be more likely to be mass deleted.