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Inbox placement: if customers don’t see the message, they can’t respond

Email marketers invest significant effort into making their campaigns as effective as possible, yet one critical factor often lets them down: inbox placement.

A campaign email might have a tempting subject line, persuasive body copy and a compelling call to action but, if it doesn’t end up in a target’s in-box, it all goes to waste. Interestingly, this is something that happens more often than many marketers realise.

The inbox is the target

Inbox placement rates are a fundamental metric for all email marketers. Before the success of a campaign can be measured, it’s vital to know how many messages actually got to the people on the distribution list.

Marketers need to know if significant numbers of emails end up in spam folders or are simply not delivered by mailbox providers due to filtering restrictions. If they are being stopped before the inbox, this issue needs to be resolved before any of the other campaign variables are considered and potentially changed.

Without having an understanding of the inbox placement rate associated with a given campaign, marketers risk getting a misleading impression about its performance. In fact, it can invalidate assumptions made about three fundamental aspects: overall program benchmarks, any tests performed, and the return on investment (ROI) achieved.

Accurate measurement is essential

Inbox placement rates act as a foundation for all other email program metrics. Unless you know that rate accurately, you won’t have a reliable view of the number of messages opened or clicks received from target readers.

For example, a marketer might notice that a particular campaign has scored very low open rates and therefore decide the content or subject line is ineffective. However, without a clear understanding of the inbox placement rate for that campaign, making changes to the message content might be a waste of time.

If the marketer had known that the poor response was due to a lower-than-expected inbox placement rate, this could have become the first point of change. The decision could then be made to resend the same campaign and measure the results. If engagement improves, this shows the original engagement was low only because few subscribers actually received the email.

Ensuring effective testing

As well as leading to an incorrect picture of a campaign’s overall performance, having a misunderstanding of the achieved inbox placement rate can  lead to inaccurate testing results.

For example, email marketers regularly undertake A/B testing on elements such as message subject lines. If the results of these tests are based on flawed inbox placement data, well-performing lines might be erroneously rejected.

Low response rates might in fact have been occurring simply because not everyone in the test sample was actually getting to see the message at all. Simply checking the inbox placement rates of all campaigns first will result in more accurate results from such alternative tests.

The bottom line: ROI

Every email marketing campaign has an associated cost. There’s the cost to design and create the message content and the cost associated with coding. Effective target lists also take time and money to create, and then there are the costs associated with message distribution.

If a marketer is not aware of any inbox placement issues that are occurring, a high proportion of all money invested in a new campaign could be wasted. If the problems are not addressed, the marketer risks throwing good money after bad.

It’s vital for every campaign to ensure that success can be measured and email ROI can be optimised.  As a reputable sender, email marketers should be able to achieve high inbox placement for every campaign that they conduct. In this way, achieved ROI will be consistently high.

Knowing just how many messages never reached the intended recipient’s inbox is a critical first step in conducting any worthwhile analysis of campaign performance. By monitoring the inbox placement rate, marketers can achieve a reliable view of how their email campaigns are performing.

Armed with this knowledge, they will be far better placed to make any tactical changes needed to make their future campaigns even more effective.

About the author:

This article was written by Theo Noel, Regional Director ANZ at Return Path.

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