Email deliverability, unsubscribe rates improve, while open rates slip

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Overall delivery rates across all industry sectors increased two percentage points to 95% in 2010, compared with 2009, according to the Harte-Hanks Postfuture Index. Unsubscribe rates decreased from .32% in 2009 to .19% in 2010, and bounce rates averaged 5%, compared with 7% in 2009, according to the June 27 report.

The retail sector witnessed the highest delivery rates of all verticals featured in the index. Retail email delivery increased one percentage point to 98% delivered in 2010. Overall delivery rates across all industry sectors averaged 95% for 2010, an increase of two percentage points compared with the prior year.

The index offers three recommendations for email marketers: mailing lists should be kept clean by processing bounces and suppressing opt-outs immediately; messages should be targeted, relevant and at an expected frequency; and every email sent should be tested.

“Suppressing non-responders needs to be done,” said Liz Bross, VP of business development and digital interaction at Harte-Hanks. “It will affect rates, unsubscribes, and the sender's reputation with Internet service providers. Whatever you do, suppress your non-responders.”

She also emphasized building dynamic content for messaging.

“It's hard to do because it takes resources, it takes time and it must be thought through,” she said. “It's easy to say you don't have time but in the end it hurts your ROI if you don't." She said that subscribers will remain loyal as long as content remains relevant and expectations for frequency are met.

“The results of the report are not really surprising,” Bross said.  “We stressed the importance of targeting content to our client base. What we were hoping to see and what we saw is that list hygiene is improving and deliverability is up. Because unsubscribe, bounce and deliverability are better, we think it's because marketers are paying attention to frequency and relevant content.”

The index, which depicts a mostly positive-trending email industry landscape, was not without some negatives. Open rates averaged 17% for 2010, down from 26% in 2009, and 2010 click rates remained at 3%, compared with 2009.

“Open rates and click rates are down, but it's mostly because of competition in the inbox,” said Bross. She added that “click rates in the retail sector drove the numbers down because there's so much competition.”

Insurance open rates performed particularly poorly, decreasing from 68% in 2009 to 25% in 2010. The steep drop-off occurred because “initial email programs from insurance companies tended to be more customer-service oriented” as opposed to more current “promotional messaging with cross-sell and up-sell offers,” according to the report.   

“Insurance email marketers used to stay in a safe world but they've moved into more promotional messaging,” explained Bross. 

Direct marketing services company, Harte-Hanks, studied more than 2.8 billion emails sent by 99 clients on the Postfuture email messaging platform in order to complete the index. The nine verticals examined within the study are automotive, entertainment, financial, government, insurance, pharmaceutical, retail, technology and travel/hospitality.

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