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Your Email Program and Getting Back to Normal

You don’t need us to tell you the world is different right now — every government agency, news source, social media feed, and even beer commercial reminds us of the current pandemic situation almost constantly. Unsurprisingly, email marketing has seen its share of impact from these changes, challenging senders to get their messaging right in the midst of widespread uncertainty. Through the MessageGears blog, we’ve done our best to help navigate this new landscape — Jeff Haws recently shared some of the hard lessons we’ve learned in trying times, and Nick Ziech-Lopez has been furiously crunching numbers to share as much data as possible about the trends we’re seeing during this particular crisis. They’ve both done a great job at presenting useful information; so well, in fact, that I don’t have much to add to their analyses.

Instead, I’d like to shift away from the specifics of crisis communications and more toward the next phase of your email program. As many cities, states, and nations begin a slow procession toward normal operations, we’re going to take a look at how a similar process will be critical to restoring or maintaining your sender reputation when you’re ready to take that step.

In early February, we began conversations with senders who were planning to severely limit their marketing communications due to the pandemic, as well as some whose volume was projected to increase significantly. In each case, we asked some specific questions around how they would transition back into a more “normal” sending pattern in the future. Based on those conversations and the data we’ve analyzed since then, here are three key areas of focus for when you’re ready to start moving your program back to normal.

Volume

Most senders know about the requirement to warm up new IPs or domains, but you may not be aware that this doesn’t just apply when you’re switching providers or infrastructure. Any significant change in volume may require a ramp-up period. Senders who have drastically decreased volume during the pandemic may need to plan for a few weeks of gradually increasing volume to get back to pre-COVID sending levels. The best way to develop a ramp-up plan is to work with your ESP or deliverability consultant for a custom schedule, but a good rule of thumb is to increase 50-100% volume day over day. You can also check out this post for some basic guidelines to help along the way.

It’s important to note that decreases in volume may also require adjustment periods, though they are usually much shorter. If you are sending 10 million emails per day and plan to drop to 1 million per day, we recommend gradually decreasing that volume over the course of a few days to a week. This will help ensure complaints and negative metrics from the larger sends don’t negatively impact the smaller sends.

Scale

Every sender gets negative feedback from their email program, be it a lack of engagement, bounces, or spam complaints. When sending large volumes, these negative metrics are often overshadowed by the positive signals and have little impact on deliverability. When those volumes decrease drastically, as many have during this time, even a few complaints or bounces can seriously impact your performance.

For example, a sender who typically sends 10 million emails per day and gets 1,000 spam complaints would have a complaint rate of 0.1%. While this is considered high, it probably won’t cause issues if all other metrics look good.

If that same sender drops to 10,000 emails per day due to the pandemic and gets just 10 spam complaints, their complaint rate is now 1%. A spam rate this high is likely to cause issues regardless of other metrics. You’ll need to be watchful of your complaint and bounce rates throughout the process, particularly in the early stages with lower send volumes. If possible, look at the complaint and bounce rates by domain or provider to ensure your metrics are acceptable across the board.

Consistency

A ramp-up plan is designed to gradually reach your maximum sending volume, but how often do you actually send that many emails in a day? Major mailbox providers monitor not only the maximum volume from your infrastructure but also how consistently you send. Large swings in volume from day to day can make it difficult for providers to establish your sender reputation and cause mail to be delayed or routed to the spam folder. Domains hosted by Microsoft (Hotmail.com, Outlook.com, etc.) are especially sensitive to shifts in volume.

To be clear, good inbox deliverability doesn’t require that you send your maximum volume every day. It simply means you should establish a regular sending pattern, sending roughly the same volumes every day (or day of week, depending on your regular cadence). Even larger sends that occur once or twice a month should be coordinated when possible.

We can’t tell you if the time is right to return your email program to what it was before the pandemic; that will depend on many complex factors that are specific to your business. Whenever you make that call, keep these three things in mind and your path back to normal should be a little easier to manage.

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