This guide was originally posted in November of 2019 and was updated in October of 2020.
Many of us spend ample time and effort in improving our email marketing strategies and efforts, all in preparation for the holiday season. Even for those of us who find our most critical time falling outside of November and December, we feel the impact of holiday eCommerce efforts on inboxes globally.
We want to reach our customers at relevant times without fail, but this time of year may prove problematic as mailboxes will be full of so many sweet deals and enticing offers from our strongest competitors, amongst others. Contrary to popular belief, email filters employed by the Receiving Community function in the same vein they have all year. There are no new thresholds, rules, or ad-hoc policies put in place, geared specifically towards the onslaught of mail hitting their systems. There is, however, an abundance of incoming email.
Key dates to remember
As we set up our programs for success this holiday season, there are a few things to keep in mind. We’ll outline the make-or-break dates for November and December, quick tips for email deliverability success, and popular topics that arise as the calendar year comes to a close.
While Black Friday and Cyber Monday tend to steal the limelight, there are a number of additional dates in the months ahead that you’ll want to keep tabs on:
- Small Business Saturday is a big hit with small and direct-to-consumer businesses.
- Giving Tuesday is the day we see end-of-season giving really begin to ramp up.
- Green Monday is a “holiday” created by eBay that has stuck for some.
- Super Saturday is always the last Saturday before Christmas.
Quick tips for success
Where to begin
First and foremost, if you have not begun ramping up volumes, get started now! With the influx of mail received by the ISPs and MBPs, any spikes in volume may contribute to deferrals or mail delays.
Gmail, Verizon Media Group, and Outlook all receive huge amounts of mail in the months ahead and, at times, systems may struggle with email acceptance. You will need to prepare for delivery delays, spam folder placement and/or deferrals, all of which are a direct result of the ISPs and MBPs managing the influx of mail during this critical time.
Also, email programs that have achieved deliverability success throughout the year may begin to experience issues such as misdirected mail (spam folder placement) or delayed delivery, when no significant program changes have been made. This is directly related to the fact that Receivers will be making more split-second decisions as mail volumes increase and email practices that have proven successful all year long, may now cause an issue.
Remember to focus on positive reputation factors such as low unknown user attempts (hard bounces), complaint rates. and spam trap hits, in addition to positive engagement within the email channel. This is recommended throughout the year but is especially important as the competition for inbox space heats up.
Receivers are tracking these reputation factors in addition to positive engagement factors such as the time recipients are spending with your email, how they are reacting when mail is delivered to the spam folder and whether or not users are starring or marking messages as important. While it is valuable to know when someone visits your site or makes an in-store purchase, if ISPs and MBPs do not have access to this data, they will be unable to associate it within the email channel. Keep this in mind as you begin to further segment your audiences and start delivering more in-depth targeting.
Segmentation during the holidays
Provide your core audience, along with audiences most likely to purchase during the holidays, (take advantage of your behavioral data) with unique and compelling offers to reward their engagement and loyalty throughout the year.
Keep your core audience front and center, mailing consistently and frequently, and make sure they know what to expect from you.
Minimize your outreach to those who are unengaged. Any ad-hoc win-back or re-engagement campaigns should be kept to a minimum during this time, as Pre-Holiday preparations should have included these types of campaigns.
Timing is everything
Avoid mailing at the top of the hour. Our partner Sengrid states, “Avoid sending at the very top of the hour or 15, 30, or 45 minutes past the hour. Why? Most marketers use these times to send their email campaigns because they come to mind first. This practice causes a backup at the ISPs which can cause your emails to be deferred. Instead, schedule your 11 am emails for 10:55 instead (and don’t forget to observe and record the results!).”
Set proper expectations and keep it relevant
Setting the proper expectations with your customers will help to avoid any negative responses stemming from list fatigue or unwanted surprise. A Welcome Series will help you set the stage with your customers, show them what you intend to deliver, and will drill home brand recognition so that no one forgets signing up. If you are able, you may even put the control in your recipient’s hand by utilizing a Preference Center and providing options. The ability to opt-down as opposed to simply opting out has proven beneficial historically and allows the recipient to fuel relevancy for us as senders.
Keeping your customers content through proper expectation setting, while maintaining relevant, is key to deliverability success, especially as we wrap up 2020. We are all aware of the key role engagement plays in email deliverability these days and these factors go hand in hand with true engagement. When it comes to Inbox delivery, fueling engagement is always important and we do not want to lose focus on engagement while we are making our way through this busy season.
Be prepared to pivot
Stick closely to your marketing calendar, but be prepared to pivot. This is the time of year that planning really does pay off; it is also a time of fast-moving changes and adjustments. Have a plan B, or even C ready to go, and do not be resistant to change, as it may be necessary in order to reach your goals.
The one constant we do know about this time of year is to expect the unexpected. You’ve planned ahead methodically, increased volumes slowly leading up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday and still, something will arise that is out of your control. Don’t let this derail your efforts, instead, pivot!
Strong partnerships support email deliverability success
As we partner with you this holiday season, we want to remain in the know. If you decide to make any changes to your DNS, Authentication, or MX records, please let us know so that we are able to triple check before you send. This goes for any time of year, but it’s especially important during the holiday season.
Along the same lines, our partners take steps to optimize your mail delivery year-round and will also be taking additional steps in the months ahead. These additional adjustments from partners are invaluable and ensure your programs are best set up for deliverability success while there is fierce competition to the Inbox.
Taking time to prep for the holiday season with our deliverability guide will contribute to a successful email season as we wrap up 2020. If you have any questions or would like to take a deeper dive into holiday season preparations, please reach out directly to your CSM. We are here to help and would love to partner with you for a successful holiday season ahead!