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SWOT Team: Preventing Email Bounce-Back

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You've gone through a dozen steps to make sure that your newsletter isn't mistaken for spam, yet it still gets caught in the spam filters. On top of it, a recipient of your newsletter has approved your missive as "not spam," but it continues to end up in the spam folder. How do you stop all this from occurring?

What steps can you take to ensure your email newsletters get through spam filters and prevent them from bouncing back?

Have another problem that needs fixing? 200,000 "MarketingProfs Today" readers have the solution. Share your marketing challenge and receive a complimentary copy of our book, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing.

This Week's Dilemma

Newsletters that bounce back


We provide helpful newsletters to our customers on how to make the most of the products they have purchased from us. Increasingly, our quarterly emails are received as spam and do not reach the customer. The reason I know this is happening is because I send the newsletter to myself and in my own inbox it's recognized as spam. The hard and soft bounce numbers are increasing. We have looked into what constitutes an email as spam and have found many ways to reduce the problem. Even though we've taken some steps to prevent this problem, some of our newsletters continue to bounce back. How can we stop our emails from being perceived as spam, or is this beyond our control?

—Westin, Direct Marketing Manager

Previous Dilemma

What if no one responds?

We have published an email newsletter for over a year, and we do our best to keep customers in mind by ensuring we're providing them with information that is useful to them. We have a column similar to yours where readers are invited to ask and answer questions. We make sure such questions are of interest to our target audience. Yet, there are times when no one writes with questions or responds to the question of the issue. What do we do in such situations when we're left empty-handed? What do we publish in the next issue, or how do we handle these types of situations without input from our target audience?

—Bonny, Marketing Manager

Summary of Advice Received

Bonny, our "marketing support" readers suggest reviewing the newsletter content and the time involved for readers to respond to each issue. They also offer suggestions for what to do when you don't have the input you need. Read on for details:

  1. Review the target audience's interests.

  2. Keep your question/survey brief and to the point.

  3. Try rephrasing the question or the subject line.

1. Review the target audience's interests

It's likely that you've got your target audience in mind when working on your question-and-answer section. Niclas Strandh, account planner and copywriter for Heimer & Company, shares his thoughts on the subject:

I wonder if you see the problem in your own question. If you aren't able to come up with something to write about—do you really know what interests your target audience? I mean, if you did, why don't you write something that you know they would be interested in? I think it's a rather risky business to be dependent on getting content from your customers/audience.

You should probably change your newsletter to be both content from the audience and unique content from you as a giveaway to your audience (who have done all work until now). Somehow you need to look over your editorial staff, and when you do—make a competition-analysis: is there something new that your audience is more interested in reading?

Are your questions the type of things that interest readers? If so, make sure they are brief and salient.

2. Keep your question/survey brief and to the point

You can try using your staff to ask and answer questions to get your newsletter going. Perhaps, after a few rounds, you'll get a feel for what does and doesn't click with readers. Cairril Mills, principal with Cairril.com Design & Marketing, explores ways to try to get readers involved:

If you're determined to keep the column, obviously you'll need to find *someone* to ask/answer questions, even if that's your own staff. But if you're not getting the response you want, it's time to look at why. It could be that people appreciate the Q & A section, but don't have time to participate. Is there a call to action in your newsletter that makes it easy for them to participate?

Another problem may be that they simply aren't interested in that format. Perhaps they just want short chunks of targeted info because they have limited time. They may also not believe that the quality of advice given is high enough—in my opinion, MarketingProfs succeeds in this area because the dilemmas posed are good ones and the advice received is extremely helpful. If your dilemmas are vague or your feedback is unspecific, people will see no value in it. Obviously, the best thing to do in this case is get feedback from your subscribers—whether with a focus group, online survey or what have you. Offer an incentive to participate in the survey.

Ask about each section of the newsletter to see what they truly value. Incentives are also good for getting people to participate in the Q & A. Have a drawing once a month (or some other regular basis) for a plummy prize that goes to someone who asked a question or offered advice.

Chris Scott, vice-president of Hodge Communications Inc., offers more advice on keeping things brief:

Rather than rely on general input ("Please ask us a question."), it would probably be more effective to offer pointed survey questions that eliminate the chance for the reader to feel "this is too much of a hassle for me to get involved with." For example, if you're a retailer, offer this poll question: "What's your biggest pet peeve when ordering goods over the Internet?" Your reply form should offer no more than four canned, clickable answers: too complicated, too risky, too impersonal and too long to receive goods.

Post responses to the poll in the next issue to follow up and make participants aware that their replies count. The key to interactivity lies in the creativity you put into the effort on the front end to keep the interaction fun, informative and interesting for the reader.

3. Try rephrasing the question or the subject line

Maybe the problem isn't that readers won't answer, but that they're not even reading the content, as Amy Rabinovitz, marketing consultant with AR Interactive, suggests:

For some readers, email newsletters are too easy to ignore. Even if they WANT to read them, they perceive there's no time to do so. Try a series of "other" mailings, with subject lines such as:

    1. A two-question survey
    2. Free copy of the one email Marketing Guide you really need
    3. Three quick hints that will maximize your (product name)

Another reader advises rephrasing the question or encouraging feedback by adding employee responses. Try a little creativity in creating questions and answers for a few issues and gauge the success rate based on the responses.

Ensure that the question-and-answer column addresses a topic of interest to readers while keeping their involvement as brief as possible.

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Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.

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