Deliverability Do’s and Dont’s of the Holiday Season

Nov 19, 2019
Brad Gurley

The holiday season isn’t just closing in — it’s already started for many marketers preparing for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and beyond. A big holiday season also brings big revenue goals, prompting many marketers to expand mailing lists and increase sending frequency to meet these goals. Before you make a decision that might derail your marketing efforts, here are a couple of recommendations to optimize your deliverability during the holiday season.

Higher volumes impact deliverability

Year after year, marketing teams feel pressured to generate additional revenue by sending mail to their entire database of recipients. Often, this includes customers who haven’t purchased or engaged with the brand in months or years, or even those who previously unsubscribed from emails. In theory, they believe that by sending to a broader audience, they will bring in additional income to meet or exceed revenue goals. This is a commonly held mindset: more recipients = more revenue.

In reality, this practice often decreases ROI and makes your mail less likely to reach the most engaged customers who are ready to purchase. Spikes in volume — especially when that includes recipients who are not engaged or didn’t request the messages — have the distinct likelihood of damaging your sending reputation and causing deliverability issues. And if you add in data from third parties like list brokers, append services, or FOIA databases, you’ve got a recipe for even more severe problems.

While ISPs/Mailbox Providers understand that many businesses will send much higher volumes during the holiday season, their anti-spam filters do not adjust or change to allow more mail through to their customer’s inbox during this time (In fact, many ESPs and their customers report seeing stricter filtering, likely attributed to the additional volume of marketing emails received during the holidays). Spikes in volume and high complaint, hard bounce, and unsubscribe rates are all factors that negatively impact reputation and deliverability no matter the season.

Many studies by ESPs and the Data & Marketing Association (formerly Direct Marketing Association) have shown the majority of revenue generated via email comes from the most engaged subscribers. This is where the quality truly outweighs the quantity of your list — suddenly mailing high volumes of disengaged recipients around the holidays is likely to hurt your sending reputation. When your reputation suffers, mail to everyone is less likely to reach the inbox, meaning your most engaged recipients are less likely to see the mail and act on it.

Plan ahead to have success

Most mailbox providers and anti-spam filters are utilizing machine learning and algorithms to determine what mail should get through, so marketers should avoid any significant changes to their programs and volume/cadence. If your subscribers are used to receiving 2-3 emails per week, you shouldn’t begin flooding their mailboxes daily with content they aren’t familiar with. With the holiday season being the most crucial time for a lot of business, it’s never the best time to test new templates, sending patterns, or authenticated domains/IPs.

Instead, marketers should plan well ahead of time, using re-engagement campaigns and audience segmentation to organically grow a quality mailing list, months in advance. This will help avoid spikes in volume/cadence while maintaining a larger, yet still engaged subscriber list. If you anticipate bringing on a new brand or authenticated domain for the holiday season, test well beforehand and adjust based on the response from your customers: Engagement rates improved? Great, it may be a good idea to use this new setup for the holidays. Saw a jump in complaint or unsubscribe rates instead? Hold off on using that one until after the new year. The results of these advanced tests should inform your expectations for any changes you may make with your programs.

Similarly, if you expect to start sending or greatly increase mail volume to regions outside of North America (particularly the EU and APAC), you will need to plan for the additional volume well in advance. It may be necessary to warm up additional IP addresses or domains to handle the additional volume, and providers in these regions tend to have tighter restrictions on the amount of mail allowed through their server connections.

Use all your marketing channels

In the interest of preserving your deliverability, you’ve decided not to email those unengaged recipients — great! But you still have revenue goals to meet and a group of customers you want to reach … what now?

Just because a subscriber hasn’t engaged with your emails in months, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a lost cause. This can be a great opportunity to learn more about your customers and leverage other channels of communication such as mobile push or SMS. If you’re a MessageGears customer, you can take advantage of our cross-channel solution to send a marketing campaign through email, mobile push, and/or SMS depending on the specific recipient’s preference or your own subscriber-specific data.

Additionally, we have the capability to report and provide consolidated analytics for each channel in an easily digestible manner. For an in-depth walkthrough of our platform and tools, please feel free to sign up for one of our monthly demo sessions, or reach out to our team directly for a one-on-one meeting.


About the Author

Brad Gurley

Serving as MessageGears’ Director of Deliverability, Brad spends his days watching mail queues, analyzing customer delivery data, and researching the latest updates to email technology. He’s been in the email marketing space for the better part of two decades and harbors a passion for educating senders on how to more effectively deliver mail to their subscribers. When he’s not busy updating MTA configurations, you might find him preparing a variety of smoked meats or leading a group of friends to the closest karaoke bar.