Email Deliverability: It’s Time to Let Go of Stale Data

Wael Elasady
Email Marketing

In today’s email environment, your email deliverability relies on your sender reputation. Setting up a sunset policy and cleaning your database of cold records is one of the most powerful ways to improve your reputation and the ROI from your email programs.

It’s hard to go wrong with a good sunset (policy)

In the email world, there are no silver bullets to establishing a good sending reputation. Your sending reputation is established over time by following all best practices — from good data acquisition and management processes to making sure you have the correct technical setup and authentication to establishing an email cadence that makes sense for your target audience.

Still, whenever I ask the question “How many here are sunsetting their unengaged leads?” during a webinar, the answer is always surprisingly low — with only 30% or so of the marketers in attendance implementing some kind of sunset policy. 

In today’s email environment, which is dominated by big players like Gmail who determine a marketer’s sending reputation based partially on how much their inbox end users engage (open, click, read) with that sender’s mail, implementing a sunset policy is as close as you can get to a silver bullet. 

On the other hand, continuing to send email to a disengaged lead is a surefire way to end up with a bad reputation and land your content in the spam folder.

How to Develop a Good Sunset Policy?

The first step is to determine what disengagement looks like for you. The simplest way to do this is by using a static time frame. That is, suppress anyone who hasn’t engaged (opened or clicked) with one of your emails in x period of time. 

Most sunset policies usually fall into one of three categories based on your use case. 

Aggressive Sunset Policies

Suppress any leads who have not engaged with your mail in the past 3 months.

Aggressive sunset policies are typically used by marketers who are frequent senders (i.e., one or more emails per week). The idea here is if you are sending 5 emails a week you don’t want to wait for a whole year (260 sends without an open) to sunset a lead! 

If you have lower levels of engagement because of the nature of your industry or higher turnover in interest, this is the strategy for you. In this case, you want to quickly identify which of your leads are interested and target them while suppressing sending to those who are less interested.

Standard Sunset Policies

Suppress any leads who have not engaged with your mail in the past 6 months.

If you are a low-frequency sender and are unsure what sunset policy to put in place, this is a great place to start. It’s not too aggressive and will ensure that you aren’t keeping stale data in your list too long. Once implemented, it will also boost your email reputation.

Conservative Sunset Policies

Suppress any leads who have not engaged with your mail in the past 1 year.

This is a good approach for low-frequency senders (one or less emails per month) or those with seasonal changes that might cause end users to stop engaging for extended periods of time. This sunset policy provides ample opportunity for engagement before suppressing a lead

Getting More Sophisticated with Email Sunsetting

If you have limited time and resources, one of the above approaches will be a major step toward improving your sending reputation. However, if you have a little more firepower, here are several ways to develop a more sophisticated and targeted sunset policy.

Performance-based Sunset Strategy

This is a simple way to make your sunset more sophisticated, but it requires some monitoring and analysis of your email deliverability metrics. Essentially, you must adjust your sunset date based on performance.   

If you sunset after 90 days of no engagement and are hitting high open and click rates, then you likely have a very good reputation and might be able to ramp up your sending habits. In this case, you might want to test expanding that out to 100 or 120 days to see if you can increase your net opens and clicks without eroding your reputation. But to do slowly, as it’s easy to wreck a good email reputation by trying to play the numbers game.   

The flipside is also true. If you are set to a 1-year sunset policy but your open and click rates are low, it’s time to be more aggressive and move to a 6-month policy.

ISP-based Sunset Strategy

This strategy is based on the understanding that different ISPs and email providers have different levels of sensitivity to engagement — and that your performance might be different at various ISPs. Like the performance-based sunset strategy outlined above, this strategy requires consistent monitoring and analysis of your email metrics at individual domains and ISPs and making adjustments accordingly.  

For example, let’s say you have a 3-month sunset policy in place across the board, and you realize your Gmail leads are performing very well with high open rates and click rates. Meanwhile, your Hotmail leads have much lower open rates and clicks rates.

You can test expanding your sunset time period to 100 days on Gmail domains and lowering your sunset time period to 80 days on Hotmail-based domains. This can help improve your reputation at Hotmail by restricting sending to most engaged while helping you make the most of your good reputation at Gmail. 

Implementing a Back-Off Policy

A back-off policy is a supplement to a sunset policy. Let’s say you notice that your segment of leads who have not engaged in over 3 months is growing, and you are worried that this is going to hurt your reputation, but you aren’t quite ready to sunset those leads.

A good solution is to implement a back-off policy in which you reduce the frequency of sending to these leads. This can result in a segmentation that looks like this:

Engaged Data Set: New leads and those who have engaged in the past 3 months. 

  • Send your typical frequency of emails and campaigns. 

Back-off Data Set: Leads who have not engaged in over 3 months but are not yet 6 months quiet.

  • Slow down sending to 1/4th your typical frequency.  Ie: if you used to send weekly drop down to monthly sends.  
  • Try some re-engagement campaigns during this period. 

Sunset Set: Leads who have not engaged in over 6 months. 

  • Suppress sending completely. 

You and your team put in a lot of work to produce attractive and relevant content to share and engage with your prospects and customers. Don’t let all that hard work go to waste by letting those emails land in the spam folder. Whether you opt for a sophisticated and dynamic sunset policy or a simpler static policy, your email marketing will be better for it!

Act-On Is Here to Help  

Interested in learning how Act-On can help improve your email deliverability and reputation? Book a demo with one of our marketing automation experts. Or, if you’d rather poke around for yourself, move at your own pace by taking our interactive product tour.

Lastly, if you want to keep reading more about the importance of sound email deliverability best practices, please click the link below to download your free eBook