Since the introduction of Gmail, the game changed for many email marketers. Their spam filtering algorithm’s sophistication forced email marketing companies to up their email practices. Which is, of course, a good thing!
As Google leads the way in the battle against unsolicited email, other internet service providers (ISP’s) could do nothing else but follow. Nowadays, if you take the time to train your inbox, spam is becoming less and less of an issue for the end user, the recipients of email and even readers.
But make no mistake – a mind-boggling amount of spam is still being sent out. A year ago, approximately 89% of all emails sent were spam, which translates into 260 billion spam emails each day. Yes, billion.
Spam filters nowadays rely more and more on user feedback – the ‘mark as important’ button in Gmail, the ‘mark as spam’ buttons that are the default for all ISP’s, the time users spend actually reading an email (and if so, whether users click on the link inside the email). These are just a few examples of engagement metrics that determine your deliverability. Everything is being monitored and impacts the future deliverability of the emails you send.
As an email marketer, it’s no longer just about getting your email delivered in an inbox, it goes beyond that. Once your email is delivered, that’s when the real fun starts 🙂
From that point onwards, it’s no longer just about complying with spam guidelines, no longer about having your technical infrastructure in place, no longer about IP’s, DKIM’s, DomainKeys, MX Records, SFP’s, Sender ID’s, Mailservers, DNS’s, DMARC’s and all those other technical requirements for getting through spam filters. From then onwards, it’s about delivering great value to your reader, being engaging in your email copy, being creative with your calls to action. It’s about being relevant.
Now that ISP’s are getting better and better at keeping actual spam “as we used to know it” (remember those Viagra emails?) out of our inboxes, the way we define “spam” is slowly but surely evolving. Today, spam is no longer about Viagra or about chain letters, or phishing emails asking us to wire money to some foreign account (well, it still is, but as a user we don’t notice those as much anymore because ISP’s have become so good at their jobs). Today, for a user’s perspective, spam is irrelevant email. Whether a lead signed up or not, is not as important.
This changes they way we think about permission marketing. Because even though your lead explicitly gave you permission to email him or her in your opt-in form, if you are unable to engage them in a conversation or build a relationship with them, your email will still be marked as spam. Even though “technically” you’re not spam because of the way spam is defined, from a legislative point of view, from the user’s perspective your emails are spam.
As marketers utilizing email as a marketing channel we have to be aware of the fact that the definition of spam is changing.
Unsolicited e-mail, often of a commercial nature, sent indiscriminately to multiple mailing lists, individuals, or newsgroups; junk e-mail.
We need to bear in mind that the way your readers define spam is what eventually matters. Even though the definition of spam above is still accurate, it has a big focus on email appending, which we all now, is not sustainable on the longer term. ISP’s have become so good at blocking emails that follow the definition above, making their users’ inboxes filled with a little bit more peace and quiet.
By doing this, ISP’s have allowed their users to redefine what they think of as spam, and this is what I think they came up with:
Irrelevant or unsolicited email that is unable to engage the reader, nor meets the expectations that were set during a potential sign-up process
It goes without saying that this latter definition doesn’t replace the former, but adds on to it. What this definition forces us marketers to do, is focus on delivering quality content and place ourselves in the shoes of our readers more. Plus, if you choose the right autoresponder, they’ll mostly take care of the technical backend.
It all starts with managing expectations before the actual sign up, meeting those expectations seamlessly from the very first email and over delivering whenever you can. Of course better targeted traffic helps a lot as well. Besides that, keep a close eye on your performance metrics. Test variations of your email copy and your calls to action regularly. Get to really know the your list and segment accordingly. An authentic long term relationship is what we need to be aiming for.
If irrelevance is the new spam, it’s up to us to find out what it means to be relevant!