Engagement has become the single most important factor impacting inbox placement decisions. Over the years, ISPs have shifted their focus from content-related filters to a behavioral model, heavily relying on positive and negative engagement actions. Positive engagement primarily includes opens, clicks, forwards, and replies. Negative engagement includes deleting without opening, ignoring, unsubscribing, and marking as spam. Receiving explicit permission is the foundation of positive email engagement. Once a brand has permission, that relationship should be nurtured by regularly measuring and meeting the customers’ expectations through frequency and content.

A good open and click rate varies depending on many factors for different senders. Consult with your deliverability consultant to establish specific goals and baselines for your email program.

Email engagement is also a term used to describe one type of metric that helps to determine IP reputations. ISPs that own their own portals (Hotmail, AOL, Yahoo, Gmail, etc.) have a tremendous amount of data available regarding their customers’ interactions with their mail. They can see opens, clicks, and many other forms of interaction, even if mail is moved in or out of the spam folder. They can also see if the email address it was sent to is in the clients address book or not.

While you as a sender cannot track all of the same engagement metrics, opens and clicks make a good starting point. It’s important to note that ISPs only have visibility to email engagement. While other forms of engagement are important to as business as a whole, ISPs only have visibility and make filtering verdicts based on email metrics.

Quality over quantity

Organic list growth is the cornerstone of a healthy list. Many marketers put a tremendous focus on list growth, but from a deliverability perspective it’s important to build a quality list of highly engaged subscribers. Continually sending emails to a largely unengaged audience can decrease your sending reputation and greatly increase the likelihood that your email will land in the spam or junk folder.

Mailing frequency is important to consider when creating and maintaining an email marketing program. Setting the recipients’ expectations during your welcome message is a very useful strategy people like to know what to expect. Yet those expectations need to be met: sending email too often can cause customer fatigue and in some instances may lead to increased complaints and unsubscribes.

The right frequency is something each marketer must find for their specific marketing program. We suggest testing different frequencies to find the right balance for any specific marketing program. Keeping recipients engaged and active is one of the most important things a marketer can do to ensure the success of an email marketing program.

Changing interests

Subscriber interests are constantly evolving, and marketers need to understand that commitment to a brand may be temporary. Some subscribers will opt out, but many will just delete or ignore unwanted emails. From a consumer’s perspective, any message that is unsolicited or unwanted is perceived as spam. Therefore, marketers need to rely on permission-based marketing and monitor engagement for loss of interest. In order to achieve optimal inbox placement, we recommend that marketers strategically reengage subscribers using reactivation campaigns and a win-back strategy, which can be very useful tools to an email marketer.

A win-back strategy is when a special incentive is regularly sent to a specific portion of a marketing database in an attempt to reengage a list which has had low open and click activity. Positive responses are kept and the portion of the list that doesn’t respond is moved to an inactive status and would no longer be mailed to.

A reactivation campaign is similar but is used to reconfirm a list one time, which is useful when dealing with old, stale lists — ones that haven’t been mailed to for over 12 months, or even years. This type of campaign is also typically enforced by blocklists in order to resolve a block. The subscribers that are not successfully reengaged through this process should be excluded from future email promotions.

The best way to implement a win-back or reactivation campaign will be unique to your email program and should be fully customized for your business needs and situation.

Reply-to is engagement too

It is easy to just set your reply-to email to be a “no-reply” address, but this would be a mistake that overlooks the bigger picture.

When recipients reply to marketing emails, a response is expected. By enabling a reply-and-respond system, you will help boost your sender reputation. This will increase the likelihood of positive deliverability and inbox placement rates.

It is also a much better customer experience and will help to increase positive consumer perception of your brand. After all, nothing says “please do business with us” like “we want to hear from you.”

A final key part of the reply-to strategy is that if you do have a real email address they can reply to, make sure someone is monitoring it and it’s not just an auto-response. If not monitored, the missed expectations can frustrate the customer and lead to complaints or lower engagement.

Product specific resources

Adobe Campaign Classic

Adobe Campaign Standard

Additional resources

  • Learn more on re-engagement (or win-back) strategies in this section.