1: Avoiding Spam Filters
The first step to achieve a high delivery rate is getting past the spam filters. Spam filters are quite sophisticated; they network with each other to get the latest and greatest information on spammers and their tricks. If you get noticed by a spam filter, you'll have a difficult time successfully delivering emails. To avoid this, you'll need a good understanding of what spam is, how it's tracked, and what you can do to avoid the filters.
1.1: What is spam?
Technically speaking, it is the sending of nearly identical messages to numerous recipients electronically. Loosely defined, spam is any kind of unwanted or unsolicited electronic communication. Without best practices in place for sending email to survey respondents, you may find your invitations are heading straight to the SPAM folder. Your invitations may be marked as spam for several reasons. Most commonly, this is due to:
- Sending invitations to a non-opt in list
- If respondents are not expecting an email from your domain or are unfamiliar with your domain, they are more likely to mark the email as spam. Any future emails sent to the respondent will automatically be filtered into their spam folder. If enough emails sent to one ISP are marked as spam, the ISP will start automatically marking all emails sent from your domain as spam and may or may not deliver them.
- Sending too many emails
- An increase in invitations and reminders does not necessarily correspond to an increase in response rates. More than likely, you will irritate your respondents, who will begin unsubscribing or marking your emails as spam. Additionally, only send to as many respondents as needed. If your list or panel consists of 10,000 respondents but you only need 500 completes for your survey, only send to a subset of respondents.
- Opt-in respondents mark the email as spam
- Either your unsubscribe link is too hard to find or the respondent doesn't remember opting in to receive email from your domain.
- Your invitation has a high spam score
- Any invitation with a high spam score will be caught by spam filters.
- Damaged sender reputation
- Any of the items above can lead to a damaged sender reputation. Once your reputation is marred, you are more likely to be blacklisted by spam firewalls, such as Barracuda. If your IP or domain is blacklisted, all email you send will be blocked by ISPs who utilize that firewall.
1.2: Spam filters: How are spam scores calculated?
Spam filters determine if an email is spam by comparing its contents against a long list of criteria. Criteria typically include specific phrases and text strings, like “Click here!” or excessive use of punctuation. Other items are taken into consideration as well, such as the proportion of HTML to text. Each time the filter finds a suspicious element, it assigns it a point. An email is flagged as spam when the number of points exceeds a certain threshold.
Email invitations created within Kinesis are spam-scored using SpamAssassin tests. SpamAssassin is a open-source software that finds spam based on content-matching rules.
|Common Spam Tests|
|Removal phrase before a link, such as "Click here to be removed from future mailings"|
|A high ratio of HTML to text|
|Poorly formatted HTML|
|Contains 'Dear (Something)'|
|Excessive use of punctuation|
|Unusually large or brightly-colored fonts|
|Obfuscated or misspelled words such as affordable, ambien, money, obligation, offers, online, etc.|
1.3: Spam firewalls
1.3.1: What are they?
Spam firewalls, also known as email security appliances, prevent unwanted traffic from reaching an organization's server. There are many firewalls on the market; they talk to each other and also refer to spam reporting services, such as SpamCop, to learn who spammers are.
Some of the most popular spam firewalls include:
1.3.2: How do they work?
If enough respondents report your email to a service such as SpamCop, your sender information will be made available to spam firewalls, who will in turn blacklist your sender IP.
1.3.3: How do I get off a blacklist?
The only way to get off a blacklist is to make a request to the firewall. Depending on the firewall, you may or may not be able to do this. The strictest firewalls will only accept whitelisting requests from their own customers. That is, the same organization that marked your email as spam is the same organization that can get you off their firewall's blacklist, so be sure to use only opt-in lists!
1.3.4: Who uses them?
Businesses and other large organizations are most likely to use spam firewalls. Barracuda is particularly popular among organizations. If you are launching a survey to business sample and you've been blacklisted by Barracuda, you will see very high bounce/SPAM rates on your invitations. Consumer sample is not usually affected quite as badly as business sample by blacklisting. Many popular email services, such as Yahoo and Gmail, tend to use spam filters that are customizable for each person's inbox. This means you may have a higher deliverability rate, but does not necessarily mean that your mail isn't sorted directly into the respondent's spam box.
1.4: SPAM Laws
Anti-spam laws have increased dramatically over the past decade. These laws are designed to protect consumers from unwanted electronic messages. Each country/region has it's own set of laws. While Kinesis does not dispense legal advice, there are some guidelines for the most popular regions below. However, it is ultimately up to you to be familiar with the ins-and-outs of the anti-spam and data privacy legislation of the region you are sending survey invitations to.
1.4.1: USA: CAN SPAM Act of 2003
Any organization sending commercial electronic mail to respondents in the USA must comply with the CAN SPAM Act of 2003. Kinesis handles many of the requirements within the software but there are some requirements regarding the email body and the email list itself. To ensure that you are fully compliant:
- Do not use deceptive subject lines
- Provide a physical address
- Always include an opt-out link
- Do not use emails that were electronically harvested
- Additional information
1.4.2: Canada: CASL
Canada's anti-spam legislation goes beyond CAN SPAM and addresses not just email, but also SMS, IM, spyware/malware, phishing, pharming, and social networks (the law applies to any "commercial electronic message"). The main sectins of CASL go into effect on July 1, 2014 while the full law comes into effect January 1, 2015. The law applies to all messages sent to recipients in Canada as well as messages sent from Canada to recipients outside of Canada. Although an exception is made for survey research, it is important that no commercial content be included in survey invitations. To comply with CASL, you must
- have the consent of the respondent before sending them email
- identify yourself
- identify on whose behalf the message is sent
- include an opt-out link
- Additional information
1.4.3: Australia: Spam Act 2003
Australia's Spam Act includes messages covered via email, SMS, MMS, and IM that originate overseas or from within Australia. To legally send bulk email in Australia:
- you must have the consent of your respondents before emailing them
- identify yourself
- provide information on how the respondent can contact you, such as addresses and phone numbers
- include an opt-out link
- Additional information
1.4.4: European Union: ePrivacy Directive
The EU has established a directive regarding privacy and personal data. Please note that EU laws are left up to individual countries to implement, and that in addition to these, individual countries may have their own set of laws as well. When contacting respondents in the EU, you:
- must obtain the respondent's consent prior to contacting them via email
- must include a valid address
- cannot conceal the identity of the sender on whose behalf the communication is made
- Additional Info
2: Getting into the Inbox
Assuming that your invitation has passed all SPAM firewalls and filters, the next step is guaranteeing that your email is delivered to the respondent's inbox. A few easy steps can help ensure a successful delivery:
- Do not send too many invitations at once. If any email provider sees an exceptionally high volume of emails coming from a single IP, they are likely to block the emails. This can be especially problematic for larger providers such as Yahoo and Gmail. To ensure a successful delivery, do not send more than 20,000 invitations per hour.
- Do not send to respondents who do not recognize your domain. Respondents will be likely to mark you as spam.
- Do not send too many emails to any one respondent in too short a period of time. Respondents are likely to set up filters to keep you out of their inbox if they don't unsubscribe altogether.
3: Improving Open Rates
Achieving a high email open rate is highly desirable, and it is often a key metric for shedding light onto the effectiveness of a campaign.
Why is it important? The value of a high open rate is obvious. You need people to willingly open your email before they can perform any action. Without the open, there is not going to be any "close"—i.e., the recipient clicks a link, makes a purchase, or signs up for an event.
3.1: Sender Domain
Choose the right "From" name for your sender email address. These should reflect a professional brand image to encourage recipients to open the email. The email should also be relevant to what you are offering to your respondent.
3.2: Opt in lists
Use double opt-ins.
Signing people up for an email list with single opt-in vs. a double opt-in can have a huge effect on open rates, months after people have subscribed. Double opt-in (sometimes called “confirmed opt-in,” where subscribers have to confirm their email address before they’re subscribed) ends up being well named. Using a double opt-in can, well, almost double open rates.
3.3: Subject lines
- Keep the subject line short (under 50 characters is best), and make sure you make one important point. Always keep your objective in mind and ask yourself, "If I received this email, would my interest be piqued and would I understand what the company wants me to do?" Read the subject line out loud and test it out on friends or colleagues to get instant feedback. The subject line needs to relay timely and pertinent information. Avoid exclamation points or overly enthusiastic language that might make your offer seem less legitimate.
- Never try to trick your audience with a misleading or vague subject line. Despite your desire to be clever, most audiences want to spend no more than 15 seconds reading your email, so get to the point quickly. Make sure the subject line focuses on just one topic; there's simply no room for two different points.
- Personalize the subject line by including the recipient's first name and other pertinent information. This step immediately shows recipients that they have provided at least some of their most basic information to you, which establishes an element of trust. You can also include some location data ("Event in Los Angeles"), as well, if you have that information in your customer database.
- Build a sense of urgency with your subject line, and ensure there is an incentive for the recipient to open the email. You want to suggest scarcity without sounding too "salesy." You can imply there is scarcity to your products or services in order to encourage immediate action. However, avoid putting a date directly into the subject line so it does not become dated to those who check email only every few days.
3.4: A/B Testing
For on-going campaigns or to improve panel management, it may be worthwhile to conduct A/B testing on invitations. This is a very simple process whereby invitations are split into two or more groups and only one aspect of the invitation is changed. Items typically tested are:
- subject line
- placement of survey link
- mention of or testing of two different incentive types
- email design
These tests will allow you to gain a better insight into what captures your respondent's attention and improves response rates.