The Deliverability Series is a collection of conversations intended to shed light on the intricate nature of deliverability and compliance.
Chris Arrendale is a Software, Email Marketing and Deliverability professional. He’s a known expert for problem solving in the email deliverability, privacy, and software space and is also an active member of multiple email organizations. Arrendale is the CEO & Principal Deliverability Consultant of Inbox Pros and has worked as a Deliverability Expert at several reputable consulting firms and ESPs.
Can you tell me a little about your experience with email deliverability and what you currently do?
Well, before I was in the deliverability space, I was consulting in the legal software space and helped professional firms with their email marketing. Afterwards, I dove deep into the deliverability field and started managing the deliverability team at Silverpop. Worked there for a while, went to a startup company, and worked for Real Magnet for a little over a year. After that I started consulting. Working for an ESP is a lot different than consulting, because you have to worry about provisioning, onboarding, vetting, and continually monitoring clients on a daily basis. Typically, the strategy and the support at an ESP mirrors the consulting that I do now. For example, a typical client would come to me and say, “I have a list that’s 2 or 3 years old, what should I do with it? I’m thinking about trying new content or about changing my sending domain, what sort of strategies do you want to put into place around that?” That’s typically what I’m doing now with consulting.
What types of clients do you have and what problems do you typically solve?
I deal with clients that range from having 2-3 employees all the way to the enterprise. I’ve got B2C, B2B, and clients that send B2B and B2C. It’s really kind of taking a step back from what they’re currently doing and going through each step. For instance, I’d say, “You’ve got the sending domain, the IP and the infrastructure all set up and clean - what about your list, what about your creative? How often are you hitting these people? Are people opening on mobile? Is it designed for mobile?” So it’s really looking at a client’s strategy from a deliverability perspective. Has a client’s complaint rate gone up because they’re now sending too much? Have the unsubscribes gone up? Have open rates gone down, but complaints increased?
If a client’s list increases/decreases by a certain percentage, then rates for bounces, engagement, etc. should reflect that, right?
That’s exactly right. So you’ve got to look at it from both sides - you’ve got to wear your business hat and your deliverability hat. If 90,000 people didn't want to hear from you, don’t like your emails, maybe they never signed up for them, but they’re getting them still and they can’t get off your list for some reason. Sending to the 5,000 or 10,000 people who do want to be on your list - your conversion rate, click rates, and open rates are going to go up, which means your engagement is going to go up. If I am sending 100,000 emails to Gmail, and now you tell me to decrease that to 50,000, of course my open and click rates are going to go up, because now I’m sending to less people. It’s all a numbers game, because the ISPs are looking at your metrics - the complaints, the spam traps, the bounces.
We’re like the intermediary between ISPs and people who work at ESPs. ISPs are concerned with delivering only the mail recipients want to see. That’s the bottom line: xyz123 [at] gmail [dot] com wants that email, and Gmail is going to do everything possible to deliver that email.
But on the email marketer side, their job is to try to grow their business or increase the bottom line however much they can. So by sending more emails, or sending better emails, there’s more potential to grow their business. You have to balance both sides.
"If I am sending 100,000 emails to Gmail, and now you tell me to decrease that to 50,000, of course my open and click rates are going to go up, because now I’m sending to less people. It’s all a numbers game, because the ISPs are looking at your metrics - the complaints, the spam traps, the bounces."
What do you think a typical client’s biggest pain point would be?
That’s a good question. I would say the majority of clients who initially come to me complain that their open rates or their click rates have dropped recently, or dramatically. That’s usually the typical question - “Why did my open rate or click rate drop across the board, or at [insert ISP or network here]?” Clients are always concerned with these two metrics but I also recommend they look at conversion rates, bounce rates, complaint rates, and unsubscribe rates. If an unsubscribe rate spikes, I’ll ask questions like, “Who did you send to? What kind of creative are you using? Was the recipient expecting your email?”
I would say another question, or another issue, that clients come to me with is “How am I doing?” or “Can you do an audit for me? [Can you] take a look to make sure I’m set up properly and all DNS records are in place? Should I be on a dedicated IP versus a shared pool? Or, should I be on a shared pool versus a dedicated IP?” My job is almost like being a financial representative or financial consultant (ie. How am I doing? vs. Am I saving enough, am I spending too much?). A lot of people are simply looking to get a quick fix: to make clicks and opens increase. I would say the majority of issues I find associated with clients’ problems have to do with the list - due to no segmentation, or sending irrelevant email to recipients that weren’t expecting it or haven’t seen an email from them in quite a long time. Another thing, as far as the list goes, is if you’re sending over and over again to the same person, and they’re not responding in any way, maybe you’re not sending the right creative at the right time, maybe you need to change the email message altogether, maybe you need to reach that person a different way.
If a marketer chooses to solely use an agency or ESP, is it the level of expertise or the amount of advice they receive that differs from what you provide?
I would say a little of both. I work with a lot of agencies - creative agencies, marketing agencies. Typically they’ll be more on the creative or the list acquisition side or growing your list, whereas I’m more on the infrastructure and the technical side, but we work hand in hand. I work with a lot of agencies, because they understand one side and I understand the other and we can combine thoughts and things like that. And in terms of deliverability, if you’re going to go to your ESP or marketing automation provider, it may be an extra charge for deliverability coaching. So if you’re using an agency or an ESP, they can outsource some of the deliverability work to someone like myself. In many cases, it makes much more sense to outsource that type of work than have somebody full time in the company.
"I would say the majority of issues I find associated with clients’ problems have to do with the list - due to no segmentation, or sending irrelevant email to recipients that weren’t expecting it or haven’t seen an email from them in quite a long time."
I’ve asked what a typical client’s biggest pain point is, but what’s yours when it comes to deliverability?
Honestly, not getting enough data back from the ISPs, webmail providers, and networks that my clients send to. Microsoft provides a Smart Network Data Services portal for the owner of the IP to see how much volume was sent to the network, complaint rate, the number of traps they hit per day, and sort of a reputation color. It’d be great if every ISP offered that.
Typically, you have to rely on the ESP’s reports - opens, clicks, bounces, complaints, and unsubscribes - but it would be a lot better if I were to get that data straight from Gmail, Yahoo and AOL. Having some sort of deeper insight into how the ESP looks at that client. You have to fill in the gaps with the data you get back from the ESP, with external data sources, and doing things like seed testing, reviewing feedback loops and looking at the complaints. My biggest pain is - I love data, so getting more data to look at and review can actually color the picture for a client.