Banes of deliverability: data source's role in e-mail bounces

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In my earlier article in the banes of deliverability series, we focused on ways to improve e-mail deliverability by avoiding customer complaints. But complaints aren't the only obstacle on the path to making sure that your message gets in front of its intended audience — the infamous e-mail bounce is another.

Remember the old phrase, “Garbage in, garbage out?” This maxim applies directly to e-mail marketing, because if your data source isn't in good shape, your e-mail campaign won't be either — and bounces will skyrocket. Here are a few questions to consider when you're looking at the impact that your data sources are having on your e-mail marketing efforts:

First, ask: How old are the data? When it comes to the contact information, preferences and other customer or client information, working with a data source that's months or years old will lead you down a path of frustration. If your information hasn't been updated recently or hasn't been maintained at all, expect your first few mailings to yield a high percentage of bounces. Time and time again, I see old data ruining the deliverability of senders. Unlike wine, data doesn't get more valuable with age — indeed quite the opposite, it loses value and become problematic with age.

Next, ask, Where did the data come from? Was it a list created as the result of a one-time download opportunity? Or is it an opt-in newsletter list created from your Web site, Each kind of data source has its own pros and cons. Long-term in-house lists, like a newsletter list, are often more regularly maintained. Those lists that are the result of a one-time-only activity, like downloading a white paper or special report, often tend to have higher numbers of undeliverables, especially if receiving an email at that address isn't an integral part of the campaign.

Speaking of acquiring lists, e-mail list vendors, like all other businesses, offer varying levels of service and satisfaction. And like many other businesses, careful research is necessary to ensure that you're getting a list that will truly help your e-mail marketing efforts. Understanding where and how your vendor gathered contact information for their lists, the opt-in processes they use and the results other clients have been able to achieve using their lists can all help you make an informed decision.

Also, make sure your vendor is removing undeliverables (bad addresses). You'd think this goes without saying; however, I've seen many cases where a list vendor knowingly included undeliverables in the data they sold. Perform your due diligence and you'll be protecting your marketing budget and your company's reputation.

Finally, when looking to grow your list, consider custom lead generation. In custom lead generation (co-registration is one type of this) a Web site gets opt-ins to your list from its traffic by placing your offer on their site. With good lead generators this often works better than buying lists since there is an opt-in specific to your list and the data is usually delivered in real time. Of course, there are good custom lead generators and problematic ones so make sure to do your due diligence here also.

Understanding how your data source plays such a large role in the e-mail bounce cycle is one of the first steps in insuring that your emails are arriving at their intended destination. Updating and maintaining accurate data sources will save you time and marketing dollars — and will maintain your excellent reputation among your clients, customers and vendors.

Josh Aberant is the privacy and standards manager at Lyris, Inc. Reach him at jaberant@lyris.com.   

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